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I've had quite a few spa experiences in my life but nothing quite so extraordinary as my visit to the famous Gastein Healing Caves in Austria. It was whilst I was on a wellness holiday at leading luxury spa, Grand Park. One of their top physicians, Dr Liane Weber is one of the visiting consultants at the caves and consequently, Grand Park has the most fantastic Gastein Healing Cave Treatment Programme.
Now the largest pain management centre in the world and a major health tourism destination, the Gastein Healing Caves have a staggering 90% success rate. The locals refer to the the caves as the Heilstollen and this year, they are celebrating their 60th Anniversary.
When they first went looking for gold in the Radhausberg Mountain, the inhabitants of Gastein weren't to know that they would find something far more valuable: naturally occurring low levels of radon gas. This 'Tauern Gold' as it is affectionately known, combined with the caves' perfect humidity and 37-41.5°c temperature, has been scientifically proven to help restore homeostasis in the body and strengthen the immune system. The gas, taken in through the skin and lungs, helps activate the body at a cellular level. Mild alpha radiation is released, stimulating self-healing of the body.
On first impressions, the caves are like any other professional and super slick clinic. The doctors on reception are immaculately dressed in white coats and, on arrival, you are directed straight to the immaculate changing rooms. You are encouraged to leave any mobile phones and cameras in your locker so as to avoid damage from the high humidity. Then, donning swimming costume, flip-flops and dressing gown, you sit through a short introductory to prepare you for what was to come. Nothing unusual so far but it is at this point, that you venture into the realms of the surreal: gates slide open and everyone is invited to board a miniature yellow train to be driven two kilometres into the mountain.
We sat four to a carriage facing each other with windows open either side. Some of the trains have beds for patients with more serious health complaints. As the train trundles slowly into the mountain, the heat rises and by the time you reach the healing gallery, the temperature is similar to that of a sauna and the sweat is pouring.
There are some comedy moments since everyone from the train driver, to the attendant physicians are wearing bathing costumes. I would be lying if I said there weren't also some 'what on earth?' moments, however my usual claustrophobia didn't present itself. Sure, I had a moment when I could feel my chest tightening a bit, however it was only fleeting and it occurred just as we arrived at the Healing Gallery. Here we were invited to lie down on slatted wooden beds (they give you a towel) aligning each wall of the cave, and encouraged to relax. Talking is discouraged and the silence is only broken by the occasional stifled snore and the gentle footsteps of the attendant physicians. Then, it is back onto the train with a short stop en-route to enable everyone to put their dressing gowns back on and to adjust to the lowering temperature.
Devotees of the Gastein Healing Caves report being able to live pain-free for over a year afterwards. Many get their doctors to refer them under medical insurance for regular 'top-up' visits to the Heilstollen to enable them to be less drug- dependent. Scientific research has shown the treatment to be particularly beneficial to patients with musculoskeletal and joint disorders, as well as respiratory and skin diseases. Even after a long day skiing in the Alps, the healing properties of the caves can help alleviate any aches and pains. Or you could visit for an immune-booster whilst on holiday; the caves have an introductory taster session lasting two hours.
The Gastein Healing Caves are closed from November through to the 12th January 2012 however plan now for your New Year Detox holiday and book some unforgettable ski and spa in Austria's beautiful Gastein or 'health' Valley.
Talk to one of our Travel Specialists on 0203 397 8891 or contact us here to discuss tailor-making your perfect healthy holiday.