De-stressing on doctor’s orders: Lefay Resort & Spa, Lake Garda

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DOSE writer Rosie travels to Lake Garda and learns the science behind de-stressing under the supervision of doctors at Lefay Resort & Spa…

I have a chronic inability to switch off, so I figured that if I was going to learn how, Italy was a pretty safe bet: it’s the country that coined the phrase ‘La dolce far niente’ after all.

As we drive around the stunning Lake Garda, passing bustling trattorias and couples sat ensconced on benches overlooking the lake, cones of gelato in hand, I begin to gear myself up for my idea of relaxation: carb-filled, boozy lunches, afternoon siestas and lazy strolls through sleepy streets.

The reality is rather different: upon arrival at Lefay Resort & Spa I’m whisked off to a consultation room where Marco, a rather dashing doctor, straps a heart rate monitor around my chest to measure my Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which evaluates how the body is coping with stress and is able to regenerate. The results reveal that, while my low resting heart rate is promising, my HRV measurement is firmly in the red zone – which is worrying. The cure? A programme entitled ‘Recovery of Original Energy‘, which comprises 17 treatments designed to relax and rejuvenate over the course of five days – under strict medical supervision, of course, to measure just how effective the treatments are at helping me to relax.

It’s not quite the rose-induced relaxation I’d initially envisaged, but once the handsome Marco has reassured me that I won’t be starved of Bardolino over the next few days, I gladly let him guide me towards my first treatment: a massage called ‘La Quiete’ which uses slow movements with medium pressure that builds to stimulate energy points, releasing muscle tension and leading to deep relaxation. Within minutes I’m floating in and out of consciousness, and for the first time in as long as I can remember my mind has completely switched off.

As I’m led gently back to consciousness by my therapist, the reality of my exhaustion hits me like a brick wall: I know that I should be excited for a delicious dinner of Italian cuisine, but it’s a struggle just to wrap myself back up in my robe, let alone get dressed to go to the resort’s restaurant, which boasts spectacular views of the lake from al fresco tables on the terrace. Marco checks back in on me, pats me on the shoulder and says with a wry smile, “Bene, bene. It’s working.”

I muster the strength to slip on a kaftan and head to dinner. My usual self would spend forever deliberating over the menu to decide which dishes to eat, but tonight I’m too tired so let the waiter do it for me. He recommends the Lefay spa tasting menu, designed to be on the lighter side without compromising on flavour. I’m skeptical – my previous trips to Italy have featured meals that are multi-course affairs, involving giant bowls of carbonara, mounds of risotto and lashings of tiramisu – but it does not disappoint. I work my way through four sublime courses, featuring olive oil-filled fagottini pasta in a seafood sauce, fresh luccio fish from the lake, and chocolate and olive oil cake with dark chocolate sorbet – accompanied with a glass or two of local Amarone, of course. I float back to my suite, flop into my huge bed, and fall into the deepest sleep I’ve had in months.

I’ve become so accustomed to the sound of sirens blaring back home that the next morning, when I peel back the curtains to a postcard-perfect view over Lake Garda, accompanied by the sound of birds tweeting, I do a double take. It’s so serene that I make myself a cup of the bespoke Chinese herbal tea Marco has prescribed to assist with my relaxation and sit on my balcony for half an hour contemplating the beauty of it all. After a breakfast of fresh peaches and yoghurt I’m ready to embark on a guided walk in the resort’s therapeutic garden, which has five stages designed to evoke different kinds of reflection. Marco explains the ancient Chinese philosophy behind each stage, then leaves me alone to bask in the blissful tranquility.

I come back inside for a session in the indoor saltwater thalassotherapy pool, ‘La Luna nel Lago’, and emerge in a new-found state of calmness after forty minutes of floating. Just when I think it can’t get much better, it’s time for a reflexology treatment that sends me back to sleep again. The rest of the afternoon is spent lounging by the infinity pool that overlooks the lake – a view I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. Marco catches me en route to my suite to get ready for dinner and tells me I’m looking well. I’m sure the weakness at my knees is the result of either today’s walk, massage, or flotation session, and not his Italian charm…

It’s time for another divine dinner, this time involving fish that is so fresh and cooked so delicately that it needs no garnish to bring out its flavour. Once the sun sets I sip a glass of local limoncello and watch the lights twinkling over the lake, planning my eventual retirement to one of the villas lit up across the water. The waiter tells me it’s a shame I won’t see any fireworks this time – apparently it’s an almost nightly occurrence in the height of summer. Could this place be more magical? Perhaps if Marco were to join me, I wonder…no, he’s my doctor, I mustn’t be inappropriate. It must be the limoncello talking.

Over the next few days I undergo more spa treatments, including a tuina ‘L’Essenza’ anti-stress massage that uses an ancient Chinese technique that works on acupunture points and energy channels; and two moxibustion treatments, a Chinese therapeutic technique which involves the application of heat to areas of the skin near acupuncture points or energy pathways, to boost energy flow. With each treatment I feel my state of relaxation become increasingly profound, but I’m intrigued to see whether my final medical assessment will tell a different story.

As Marco straps the heart rate monitor back on me for my final consultation, I begin to think that my HRV reading is going to be all of a flutter because he makes me swoon so much. Ten minutes later, however, and my fears are abated: Marco tells me that I would struggle to be more relaxed without falling asleep right there in his chair. The prospect of doing so sounds very tempting indeed, and just as I try to refrain from indulging in the thought Marco spots the twinkle in my eye and stops me in my tracks. “You’re ready to go home now,” he says. “Just remember we are here if you need us.”

Something tells me I’m not likely to forget.

The ‘Recovery of Original Energy’ programme costs 2,500 Euros per person for five nights’ accommodation, all meals and treatments. To book, visit

By Rosie

Main photo: Lefay Resort & Spa Lake Garda

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After graduating from Cambridge University with a triple First, Rosie decided to pursue a career in the fitness industry rather than follow the traditional path of her peers in investment banking. Unable to shake off the fast-paced routine she developed in her City job, she achieves balance by winding down in yoga sessions, escaping on fitness retreats, and going for extended brunches that somehow seem to wind up in a hidden gem of a cocktail bar.

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