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SWISS RETREAT

The glossy and glamorous have come to the legendary Clinique La Prairie for over ten decades. Nestled in the Swiss Alps on Lake Geneva in the French region of Switzerland, it’s easy to see why with the state of the art fountain of youth keeps attracting beauty seekers from across the globe. Our intrepid traveler Lance Avery Morgan shares a refreshing look at the famous resort.

What’s not to love about Switzerland? Nestled in between France, Italy, Germany, and Austria, it’s been a jet set retreat for over a hundred years. The world’s elite come here for privacy, luxury, and of course, those legendary health spa treatments. The appeal of the world famous Clinique La Prairie in Montreax is just as powerful today as ever, thanks to the clinic’s own rejuvenating renovation: a $50 million dollar building addition, and brand new selection of cutting edge treatments.

We’ve all heard about the Montreux Jazz Festival and the even more famous Clinique LePrairie for years. You’ve probably heard about “the treatments” at the clinic, as well as the skincare line of the same name. Yes, the rich and famous love to jet here to revive and renew – often absconding to the resort discreetly. The clinic doesn’t quite promise a fountain of youth, but the experts there have indeed developed techniques to decelerate the aging process.

The trip to Clinique La Prairie is easy and smooth. Fly from any major Texas city to London, take an hour connecting flight to Geneva, then enjoy a scenic train ride to Montreux. This region is known for its vineyards, grand dame hotels and the medieval fortress Chillon Castle; a monument with over 1,000 years of history that has inspired artists and writers from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Victor Hugo and Lord Byron. It’s an area of deeply rich history and beauty.

Among the quaint village of Montreux, Clinique La Prairie’s three main buildings await you: the original chalet facility (formerly a boarding school until the 1930s), a modern medical center built in the early 1990s, and the recently completed Wellness Centre, a spa complex that rivals any piece of contemporary world-class architecture. It’s all linked together with elegantly terraced gardens. Yes, the retreat is idyllic. My suite’s balconies opened to a view of the harbor at Lake Geneva, and beyond it, the Swiss Alps.

Plenty before me have enjoyed La Prairie, too, since it opened in 1931. Luminaries like Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Gloria Swanson and Miles Davis benefited from the clinic’s treatments, along with at least 50,000 more patients since the clinic opened. In fact, last year over 87 nationalities were represented by the devotees, who make the pilgrimage for their broad range of treatment – virtually anything except for heart or brain surgery.

The sometimes-controversial concept of cellular therapy, the clinic’s flagship service, dates back more than 3,500 years to ancient Egypt, yet it wasn’t until the 1930s, when the Swiss doctor Paul Niehans used cells taken from fetal sheep for healing purposes, that the world’s most glamorous personas sought it out. It’s interesting to note that Niehans was an aristocrat who moved in elite circles and through his friendship with fellow aristocrat Pope Pius XII, word about the injections and the clinic spread rapidly to form the international appeal it retains to this day. Those treatments remain controversial, but their incredible efficacy speaks for itself.

At the clinic, over 60 different cell injections have been tested to treat more than 100 medical problems ranging from acne and autism to cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The injections supposedly trigger a rejuvenation of the immune response system. Actually, that cellular rejuvenation, known as CLP Extract, is not as ghoulish as it might seem. Dr. Thierry Waelli, the chief physician of the clinic, explains. “The fresh cell extracts are put into powder form, and then frozen for freshness. The powder is diluted into a liquid substance and then two painless injections are given.” He goes on to say, “I have one client who is 93, who comes here from Mexico City. And has for over 30 years.” Dr. Waelli believes humans are programmed to live at least 120 years. “I call the cell injection process ‘intelligent doping.’ Why not live to be 100 as a reachable goal? Our patients have reached great success in life and we try to give the answers on how to manage better at any age,” he attests.

He also told me that allergies to the cell injections are very rare (they do patch tests to determine it beforehand) and that patients have a speedy recovery time of less than a day. The injection costs, with the stay, run over $20,000 and it’s recommended they be administered every two to three years for longer lasting results. Those under 40 years old need not apply for the injection treatments, but other aesthetic treatments like the popular cosmetic plastic surgeries, can certainly be performed instead.

Clinique La Prairie’s philosophy encompasses much more than the cellular treatments, however. The Clinique is devoted to helping each visitor retain – or obtain – a higher quality of life. That starts when you check into the facility to meet with a dietician so she can create the best meals suited for your stay’s healthy goals. A choice of three options for four courses is given, and those meal selections change daily, so there won’t be any starving on baby carrots and snow peas here. The clinic’s acclaimed chef Elfried Blaes and author of The Vitality Diet, states, “slimming must not be punishment.” Whether dining inside or al’ fresco at the newly completed (and gorgeous) restaurant in the Wellness building, her dishes are seductive to both the eye and the palette. Even the “light” dishes taste as wonderfully seasoned as the regular healthy entrée choices. The experts of Clinique La Prairie are convinced that certain foods and vitamins can play a far greater role in maintaining good health than originally thought by more traditional medicine experts.

To complement your new, healthy diet, you’ll want to take in an array of the world-class health treatments at the new Spa. Contemporary in scope, these therapies are influenced by old world practices. The Hydroform spa water therapy takes place in a heated saltwater pool. Jets of water exude from the walls of the pool, while your extensive water workout ensues. Administered by a water therapy expert, you’ll actually feel your muscles building and the fat lifting. After that, you’ll want to do the Jet Shower. Now bear with me here. You get into a shower while a therapist points a powerful water hose toward you down the narrow 20 foot stall to create an intense water massage effect. Think of it as a Water Wiggle on steroids for grownups. And wear a swimsuit that will withstand all the water pressure. Next, it’s onto the Thai massage. My masseuse was a young Thai woman who seemed born to perform the intense two-hour massage. Pulling, stretching and all sorts of intense two person calisthenics on the feather mat is just what’s needed to at least feel like you’re turning back the hands of time. Balance that with a soothing sea algae body wrap (from the Mediterranean Sea, naturally) and it adds up to be a series of concentrated, time reversing experiences.

These experiences, and dozens more available, are framed perfectly within the new Wellness Centre. At a cost of $50 million dollars, the architect Jaques Richter created the three story modern structure that’s built primarily of Swiss materials. The new facility combines elements of water, light and minerals. From the blue tiled pools to the numerous aesthetic treatment rooms, and to the Buddha-themed art installations, tranquility is the primary goal, Richter declares.

For those moments when we’re simply too busy for a jaunt to Montreux, we can always resort to La Prairie skin products. Avowed as the skincare nectar of movie stars and the world’s most beautiful people, the original product line was sold over ten years ago to a beauty product conglomerate. Now the clinic has created a skincare system, Swiss Perfection, which rivals the former eponymous product line. After trying out the face scrub, moisturizer and eye cream, I actually felt and saw an immediate visible difference. Maybe it was also due to the fresh mountain air and the 60-degree mild summer climate. The clinic’s multi-million-dollar technology, but not the fetal lamb cells, goes into these products to make them so effective.

Like a perennially blooming blossom, visitors return to the Clinique for the promise of rejuvenation. Twenty years ago, the ratio of patients at Clinique La Prairie was 80% women and 20% men. Today, that ratio is about 50/50. Asked why the change in percentage, owner Armin Mattli stated, “It’s simple. First, men are more clever now. Secondly, everybody wants to extend their lifespan. Eighty per cent of our clients decide to return.” And Switzerland is worth the trip, even to experience just once. The combination of opulence, a healthy environment, and world-class experts places this spa first on almost everyone’s ‘must do’ list. For those of us who seek everlasting beauty, and memories to match, Clinique La Prairie is a peerless experience you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

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