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I feel good! Spas and Health treatments in Poitou-Charentes

I feel good! Spas and Health treatments in Poitou-Charentes

Not so long ago France’s thermal spas were all about physical health, offering curative treatments for a range of ailments, from relatively minor irritations to potentially life-threatening conditions...

Recently, however, the whole spa culture has undergone a shift of emphasis and now there is as much focus on unashamed pampering and relaxation as there is on health. 

Which means that whether you want to slough away the greyness of winter, lose a few pounds so you can slip into your swimsuit this summer or simply feel you deserve a bit of pampering, there are plenty of places to choose from throughout Poitou-Charentes. Which is where this guide comes in. Over the next eight pages we will fill you in on the range of treatments available near you, as well as the new ways to get fit. We begin with a look at the spa at La Roche-Posay in Vienne, newly re-opened after a multi-million euro facelift...

shutterstock 58897691Springs eternal at Roche Posay

La Roche Posay's thermal waters have long been prized for their health-giving properties. But, says Sebastian Greene, more and more people are now discovering that a little relaxed pampering does you good too...

Somewhere around the year 1370, King Charles V’s Breton-born military commander Bertrand du Guesclin, weary from successive Spanish campaigns (not to mention re-conquering Poitou and the Saintonge from the English), is said to have paused to give his horse a cooling dip in the spring waters of La Roche Posay.

The animal had long suffered from an eczema-type skin condition but after coming in contact with the town's mineral-rich waters is said to have been miraculously cured. Word soon spread and the reputation of La Roche Posay as a therapeutic centre for mineral spa treatments for skin complaints was born.

Eventually the town’s growing eminence began to arouse scientific interest, and in 1617 Pierre Milon, physician to both Henry IV and Louis XIII, travelled to La Roche Posay to conduct the first formal analyses. His results confirmed the presence of high concentrations of minerals, most notably selenium (a powerful antioxidant), acquired by the spring water during its passage through deep, natural deposits laid down almost 100 million years ago.

The town’s reputation received another boost in the beginning of the 19th century when, on his return from Russia, Napoleon Bonaparte built a thermal spa hospital there to treat many of his troops suffering from skin diseases. This being France, an inexorable process of being formally recognised was then set in motion, starting with the site being declared a public utility in 1869. In 1897 it received official recognition by the Académie Nationale de Médecine and in 1905 the first thermal centre was opened.

Finally, some eight years later, La Roche Posay was officially declared a Spa Town (the first spa in Europe, in fact, exclusively dedicated to skin disorders). The spa reached its current level of popularity in 1945, when ‘curist(e)s’ from throughout France and Europe travelled to La Roche Posay for their skin care (it helped rather that spa treatments were reimbursed by the social security system).

Which brings us to the present day where we find La Roche Posay’s spa in excellent health after major renovations which have not only comprehensively upgraded existing facilities, but have also added an impressive, wholly-new complex planned to open on 21 April 2012.

The 2000m2 Spa Source la Roche Posay now offers a range of services created to cater for the current surge in demand for relaxation, well-being and beauty treatments. The spa complex comprises four areas, each dedicated to a specific theme:

Le NaturaSpa takes as its starting point the grand tradition of the thermal spas. In addition to calcium and silicates, the spring waters here have the richest naturally-occurring concentrations of selenium found anywhere in Europe. Their proven therapeutic benefits are offered in hydro-massage baths and showers, massage beds and herbal wraps. The spa’s association with the Decléor range of premium aromatherapy products also enables it to offer personalised detox, slimming, anti-ageing and anti-stress treatments plus body, foot and facial massage sessions, with the additional option of half-day or weekend break packages (which include 1-3 nights’ half-board in three-star hotel-de-charme accommodation).

Le DermaSpa, on the other hand, specialises in care for sensitive skin, developed by La Roche Posay’s renowned dermatological laboratories. Clinically-proven facial treatments nourish, heal and strengthen skin damaged by allergic reactions, etc., followed by a cocooning wrap, a re-mineralising massage and finally a gentle shower rich in essential oligo-elements vital to the body’s healthy functioning. Additional treatments, this time in association with Skinceuticals product range, include personal skin-type diagnoses, Shiatsu cranial massage, micro-exfoliation by water vapour, regenerative vitamin C mask, antioxidant serum application, facial massage and complete hand care.

A further innovation is the Weekend Anti-Aging Coaching Programme, designed to establish a preventative regime to combat the aging effects on the skin and to promote the neutralisation of free-radicals. Also included are an anti-age treatment, relaxation massage, reflexology session and more, with the additional option of a personal anti-age consultation with a dermatological specialist. All-inclusive two-day packages include one night half-board in three-star hotel-de-charme accommodation.

L’Unité AntiAge, dedicated to rejuvenating and beautifying tired skin combines La Roche-Posay’s mineral-rich thermal spring water with the latest laser technology. A team of five dermatology specialists, working alongside beauty and fitness coaches, offers a comprehensive range of treatments to smooth, lift and regenerate exhausted skin. Latest laser techniques treat wrinkles, enlarged pores, unsightly veins, scars, acne and other blemishes (and even tattoo removal), while deep-cleansing, healing and reinforcing treatments are also offered.

If this sounds like the answer to a prayer, you might consider the Forfait Anti-Rides et Comblement Intense. After a personal consultation with a dermatologist specialising in anti-aging treatments, you will embark on a tailor-made three-day intensive skin-care programme designed to combat wrinkles and smooth the skin.

You’ll also enjoy a sensory hydromassage bath, an anti-stress aroma massage and access to the Carré des Sources (see below) during the the three-day programme, which includes two nights’ accommodation’ in a three-star hotel-de-charme on a half-board basis.

Alternatively, if you really want to do it in style, the six-day Semaine Premium Anti-Age package offers all the above plus a choice of Cocoon or Minceur (slimming) treatments. Also included is a specialist anti-age consultation plus personal aesthetic treatments such as injections, laser-treatment and exfoliation. Demi-pension accommodation is, as before, in a three-star hôtel de charme is included.

Finally Le Carré des Sources, the cornerstone of the range of new facilities, has as its raison d’être the pleasure and benefits of hydrotherapy relaxation. At its heart is a generous 140m2 pool of spa water maintained at a constant 32°C, with a gentle current for swimming exercise, as well as dorsal- and foot-massage-jets, and massage platforms. Nearby is a terraced soft-water jacuzzi hydro-pool plus a large 22 m2 hammam which offers panoramic views over the interior of the Centre. Completing the facilities in this all-new area are Scandinavian-style saunas (with chromatherapy to promote relaxation and aid meditation) plus a raised, comprehensively-equipped cardio-fitness area. The suite offers group sessions including EnergyBall, Oxygenation, Pilates, Zumba and Aquagym.

For something altogether more relaxing, however, a tailored package – Le Rituel du Hammam – offers a soothing insight into the Oriental world of relaxation technique, beginning with a 20-minute session in the Grand Hammam. This is followed by an exfoliating black-soap wrap, using a Khassa glove to gently remove dead skin-cells, and to round things off to perfection, a relaxing back massage using Oriental orange-flower or rose-petal oils.
These body, facial or massage sessions include access to Le Carré des Sources. Sounds fabulous? We would have to agree! 

Spa Source, Parc Thermal,
86270 La Roche Posay
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Tel : 05 49 19 48 00

Hôtel les Loges du Parc***
Place de la République,
86270 La Roche Posay
Tel 05 49 19 40 50
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For many French people spa treatments mean one thing - thalassotherapy. Said to have been developed in Brittany in the 19th century (although some say it actually dates back to Roman times) thalassotherapy uses seawater and marine minerals to treat a range of conditions.

Thalassotherapy is less about relaxation and more about health, and it is most often used to help lose weight - Dame Joan Collins attributes her figure to regular thalassotherapy - treat skin conditions as well as help alleviate back pain, stress and even arthritis. 

The treatments are based on the idea that the minerals and trace elements found in sea water, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium sulphates and sodium, can be absorbed through the skin to boost the body’s blood and lymph circulation, accelerating the metabolism and helping get rid of toxins. 
Treatment involves a specialist consultation and then a bespoke treatment programme. This will invariably involve a warm sea water bath whilst being pummelled by pressurised jets of water followed by a more typical spa treatment such as a scrub, wrap or massage, often using sea mud and algae.


Thalacap at Ars-en-Ré, Île de Ré (; 

Le Richelieu at La Flotte, Île de Ré (

Relais thalasso at Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, Île de Ré (

Thalasso La Rochelle Sud (

Thalassa at Saint-Trojan, Île d’Oléron (

Thalazur at Royan (

Treat yourself

If you’re in need of some TLC, then take your pick from spas and beauty salons around the region. Lizzie Chapman tells us more…

The coast of Poitou-Charentes is sprinkled with hotels offering spa treatments, and you have to admit there’s something rather decadent about spending time at the beach or by the pool and then having your sun-kissed skin massaged with scented potions and lotions.

Clarins is a name that is known throughout the spa world, and you will find a Clarins spa in many big name hotels. Here in Poitou-Charentes you can enjoy their treatments at the Le Clos Saint-Martin hotel ( on Île de Ré, a lovely boutique hotel just a short distance from the pretty harbour of the island’s capital, Saint-Martin.

What was once a barn that kept sheep is now a truly indulgent space set in lush gardens. From the décor – think stylish water droplet table
lamps to shimmering mosaic tiles – to the heated treatment beds (oooh!), hamman and sensorial shower, it’s a first class well-being and beauty centre (200m²). The Clarins-trained therapists use the beauty company’s products so you’re guaranteed some seriously luxurious pampering.

For a few hours of chilling out, lie back on the teak beds in the relaxation room and sip a herbal tea. When the mood takes you, spend time in the hamman, followed by a re-invigorating shower.

It’s hard to choose just one treatment but how about the Melted Honey and Hot Stones massage - sweet honey oil combined with warmed polished marble and slate stones for a massage that de-stresses and then energises.

For men – yes, spas are not just a girlie thing! - there’s the Abs and Back Firmer which targets the abdominal area to tone and firm, and reduce those love handles. It ends with a relaxing back massage.

At Hôtel & Spa La Baronnie ( your treatments come with a large slice of history. Classed as a historic monument, the elegant building was built in 1712 and after being owned by various members of the French aristocracy, was acquired by Louis XVI for Marie-Antoinette in 1785. After the French Revolution it became the property of the state.

When the current owners bought it in 1996 it was a wreck but undaunted by the scale of the project they lovingly restored it to what it is today –
a gracious haven of tranquility that’s just a stone’s throw from the bustle of Saint-Martin.

Its 20 rooms are beautifully decorated and the shady gardens a perfect place to relax. The spa, with its pool, jacuzzi and sauna, is for hotel guests only.
A full range of beauty treatments is offered by a beautician whilst an osteopath is on hand to treat more health-related issues.

But spa and beauty treatments are not just confined to the coast – there are plenty of places to choose from if you’re based in the region’s countryside.
If you want to combine a few hours of pampering with beautiful and historic surroundings, then head down to the south of the department to the Hotel du Perigord ( in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, officially one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.

Here, whether you want to detox or be pampered, enjoy a variety of treatments with a range of professional organic products, ‘We have formulas to
suit all skin types’ says Rachel Morel who runs the spa ‘I choose to use Priadara products as they provide great formulations which really work but which don’t break the bank!’ You can also take time out in the spa and steam room, then choose from body scrubs, massages and contour body wraps and beauty treatments that include facials, waxing, eyelash tinting and manicures and pedicures.

Work off those extra kilos in the fitness room that has a full range of equipment. A personal trainer and nutritionist are available, and there’s a monthly gym membership too.

Over in cognac country is The Riverside Retreat ( where treatments are carried out in a beauty salon overlooking the River Charente – relaxation guaranteed! As well as specialist facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing and non-surgical face lifts, enjoy the relaxing holistic therapies of reflexology, aromatherapy and Indian head massage. ‘And if you want to lose those unwanted centimetres from around your body in time for summer, the eliminating body wrap and anti-cellulite massage is for you,’ says The Riverside Retreat’s Allison Sanders. She also holds pamper parties ‘Pamper parties are held in your own home, with a group of friends, all of whom can enjoy a couple of mini treatments – it’s a great way to relax and socialize at the same time!’

Also in Charente is Under the Lime Tree (, a B&B set in 30 acres of nature reserve in Cellefrouin, just north of the chêteau town of La Rochefoucauld, that offers full body Hot Stone Massage, full body Shiatsu and Indian Head Massage. All will help reduce tension and stress – and much more besides. ‘They also boost the immune system, increase blood & lymphatic circulation, eliminate toxins, promote muscle toning, restore balance back to the body, improve energy flow, and provide a deep sense of peace and well-being long after the treatment has finished,’ says Nikki Emmerton, who runs Under the Lime Tree and who has 25 years of experience in the well-being business.

Do you fancy having your face gently massaged in a mixture of lotus milk and rice? Then book the Soin visage aux pochons ‘Escale japonaise’ treatment at the Metairie de la Guiarderie spa ( in Saint-Vincent-la-Châtre in Deux-Sèvres. It also offers treatments including seaweed and chocolate wraps and body scrubs plus a range of massages including a candle massage where candle wax is melted onto your skin. ‘We use special candles that melt at low temperature, which is enough to warm your body without burning your skin,’ says owner Emmanuelle. ‘Candle massage is deeply relaxing, reduces stress, stiffness and pain, and even helps you breathe more easily.’

Reflexology aims to heal, strengthen and balance the body through massaging reflex points on the foot that representing a map of the body. Enjoy this massage at the Santé et Beauté ( run by Winston and Debbie Clarke. He is a UK-trained and qualified sports therapist and reflexologist, she a UK-trained beautician. At their salon in St Mathieu, you can also relax with a full body massage and Indian head massage. Their sports massage helps to alleviate soreness and injuries as it concentrates on deeper muscles of the body. They also offer the full range of regular beauty treatments including waxing, manicures and pedicures. Their facials include the Chi facial. ‘This massage eases the stresses of everyday life’ says Debbie Clarke. ‘It improves blood and lymph flow leaving you reinvigorated!’ Tempted to have a treatment or two? See you there!

 Hotel du Perigord

‘Most Friday mornings find me, along with another dozen or so others, keeping fit,’ writes Margaret. ‘Ranging in age from 35-65 years old we alternate between power walking, aerobics or a general gym workout. We are all friends and it gives us the opportunity to meet then have a coffee and good chat about all sorts of issues that living in France presents.

‘Recently we decided to take advantage of the Hotel du Perigord’s main attraction – the spa - and pamper ourselves for the day. We chose our treatments in advance and the hotel’s beauticians completed a comprehensive timetable to fit us in. On the day we had full use of the lounge where we could help ourselves to endless tea and coffee, sit and read books and magazines or just relax in front of a log fire. We also had use of the hamman, jacuzzi and gym. Obviously the latter was at the bottom of our list!

‘We experienced most of the treatments available - facials, body scrubs, body massages, contour body wraps, eyelash tinting, manicures and pedicures. 

‘We ate lunch in the in the main restaurant where we were given a set menu of two courses including wine. The other diners were a little surprised to see eight ladies having lunch in their dressing gowns but we weren’t in the least bothered. Afternoon tea was also provided with some beautiful homemade cakes and biscuits. Needless to say, we were all sorry to leave!’

The Riverside Retreat

‘Just before my first visit to Allie for a facial, pedicure and eyebrow tweezing, I glanced in the mirror and saw a pale, greyish and tired face,’ says Marion Young. ‘After my gentle soothing facial with neck massage, face-masks and moisturiser, my skin was glowing – I had the ten years younger look which all women desire. ‘My pedicure was just as good – gentle and thorough, afterwards I felt as though I were walking on air. As for my eyebrow shaping, Allie’s tweezing was the least painful I had ever experienced. Altogether my pampering afternoon had been blissful, indulgent, calming, and mellowing, and was so enjoyable that I now see Allie monthly.’

Under the Lime Tree

‘I have just experienced a little bit of heaven close to Cellefrouin, Charente’ says Sandie George ‘I found myself sitting in a hot tub Jacuzzi on the edge of a stone crop, overlooking woods and many birds of prey enjoying the thermals on this sunny March afternoon. All I needed was a Pimms and George Clooney to make this pure paradise! However, that was not to be as Nikki, the owner of Under the Lime Tree dragged me away for a massage which I was partly dreading. Cuddly I definitely am but 30-something definitely not, although I am a founder of the 37-recurring club. There are these wrinkly bits and skin tags that appear overnight so living within one’s skin is not so easy as you get older. However, Nikki soon puts you at ease and it is quite obvious she loves her work. Having chatted to me earlier about any medical problems, worries, etc she opted to give me a Hot Stone massage which tends to follow the meridians of the body and balance your immune system & lymph nodes et al. 

I felt wonderfully relaxed afterwards and am definitely going back on a regular basis. If you are shy, then she offers Shiatsu (fully clothed) and Indian Head massage. Not only that, she’s a great cook and you can enjoy a light lunch or cake, with most of the recipes in her published recipe book.’

shutterstock 66386128


Ruthélie Brau-Wardle moved to the Dordogne from Paris fifteen years ago leaving a life in the movie industry behind her. After one of her children became seriously ill, she began to investigate alternative treatment methods and in the intervening years has been trained in the arts of Traditional Indian Head Massage, Reiki, Spiritual Healing and Reflexology, all techniques linked with energy and the power of touch. Says Ruthélie ‘The principle of energy healing is to re-energise our inner energy to allow it to flow freely and rebalance. Because of our way of life our inner energy can become blocked which leads to you feeling unwell.’ Based in St-Martial Viveyrol, Ruthélie also practices dowsing to locate energy in both people and the environment. Tel: 06 59 80 74 34

Keeping fit

Let’s Zumba®!

If you find the gym dreary but still want to keep fit, this hugely popular exercise programme could be the answer

Are you in the mood to Zumba®? This Latin-inspired dance-fitness programme has swept the world since it started in Florida a decade ago. It’s all about doing calorie-burning dance moves to salsa, samba, hip-hop, calypso and other high-energy beats. ‘It feels like you’re at a party because it’s so much fun,’ says Lynne Stephens, a UK qualified slimming consultant and exercise-to-music instructor who started giving Zumba® classes in Charente in 2011 (ZumbaPoitou; tel 05 45 84 21 94). ‘Most dances comprise of four or five different movements that are repeated throughout the class, but every part of your body is used which strengthens and develops muscles as well as improving cardio. It is also really energising and reduces stress.’

Tracy Tooth (tel 05 49 80 29 35) loved her Zumba® class so much she took a course to become a licensed instructor. ‘The party atmosphere means it is not intimidating for beginners who have never taken a class before,’ she says. ‘And if everyone is having a good time, they forget that they’re exercising!’
Tracy’s classes, just over the border in Maine et Loire, are for adults only but Lynne has recently started classes for children. ‘Kids love to shake, wiggle and play with friends so why not do it the Zumba® way,’ she says. ‘Next I plan to have classes for the older adult – they’ll have the same atmosphere as the other classes but the moves and pace will be adapted to suit.’ Sounds like fun!

Get personal

Exercising with a professional can make all the difference...

One of the challenges of getting fit is keeping up the motivation – which is where a personal trainer comes in. Having someone training alongside with you, ensuring that you’re working your body in all the right places, and giving you encouragement makes all the difference.
Emily Francis, who spent many years in the army, is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports nutritionist and sports massage therapist. She recommends exercising three times a week. ‘With that you should feel better after a week and look better after a month,’ she says.
Emily works one-to-one or with a group, and currently runs weekly circuit training classes. ‘I can do specific exercise for ladies (plus post pregnancy) and groups including core conditioning, walking, jogging and circuits,’ she says. ‘All this can be done either in the privacy of your own home or outside in the fresh air.’

Alongside the exercise, Emily also gives nutritional advice and advice on managing your weight and healthy eating. ‘Small changes combined with exercise can produce dramatic results.’

EJF Fitness:;
tel 05 45 85 33 45

Mind and body control

If you’re after a gentle but intense workout, try Pilates

Pilates has long been a popular form of keeping fit – its list of celebrity fans is lengthy and includes Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. It was developed in New York in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, a pioneer in the field of body-conditioning and combining mental focus with physical challenge.

A focal point of Pilates is working the ‘core’ - the deep postural muscles of the body which support the torso like a corset. Pilates is about learning to use these muscles to stabilise the pelvis and lumbar spine and in so doing counteracting back pain and poor posture. ‘From this ‘core’ precise, flowing movements are made while the mind focuses on relaxation, concentration and co-ordination,’ explains Moraig Richardson, a qualified Body Control Pilates mat work teacher who trained with the Body Control Pilates Association in the UK. ‘The muscle and ligament damage associated with other fitness regimes is avoided by the controlled nature of the exercises.’

Moraig’s classes, in Vienne and Charente, have been running since 2006 and are a friendly and enjoyable way to tone the body. ‘They’re particularly suited to people of retirement age and those with general backache caused by gardening, house renovating and sitting at the computer,’ she says.  

shutterstock 88135864

Haircuts to go

Why not have your hairdresser come to you?

Most of us are used to popping into a salon to get our hair cut but how about having it done at home? It’s a great solution for those who can’t travel but also those pressed for time as there’s no hanging around waiting for your appointment. Jane Sharp (tel 06 47 94 95 75) is located in La Trimouille in Vienne. ‘My customers are a real mix,’ says Jane who has been a hairdresser for 34 years, the past five in France. ‘From young to old couples and families. Most are English but I do have some French customers too.’ Jane only cuts and blow-dries on the road with colour and perms being done at her salon in her home. ‘It’s hard to carry everything around and also when it’s very hot, carrying chemicals around is not good,’ she says. Have scissors, will travel is also the motto of mobile hairdresser Alison Barker (tel: 06 82 59 76 87) based in Civray in Vienne who has been cutting hair for the past 25 years. As well as one-to-one appointments she also holds pamper days. 


Alison Barker, mobile hairdresser

‘‘I first had my hair cut by Ali four years ago’, says Helen Maddock. ‘With three young children it’s much easier than having to traipse into a salon. Plus my French wasn’t fantastic and as I want to have my shoulder-length hair trimmed and coloured, I was worried I would not get exactly what I wanted. 
It takes Ali 1 - 2 hours to do me and the girls. It’s just like in a salon – she starts by colouring my hair - her speciality - before shampooing it in the bathroom, then cutting and blow-drying to finish. The best bit is that the girls are happily playing whilst I have my hair done which means I can relax and be pampered. When it’s their turn, the girls can watch telly to stop them fidgeting and they’re trimmed before they realise what’s happening. She is particularly good at correcting hair that has been cut by over enthusiastic grandmothers or siblings! After she’s done she packs up all her equipment and we see her in another 5-6 weeks. It really couldn’t be easier.’ PS: she likes her coffee black with no sugar and her biscuits with chocolate on!

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Published originally in Living Magazine April 2012