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Mineral spa
Radiate health

Austria’s Grand Park Hotel offers radon therapy packages in conjunction with the famous Gastein Healing Caves as just part of its all-encompassing spa offering to help older adults age better


Sitting in a train cart in my bikini and robe in a rock tunnel, surrounded by German-speaking adults with an average age of 60, wasn’t exactly what I imagined as part of my stay at the high-end Grand Park Hotel in north-west Austria. Neither was I prepared for the 2km journey into the Radhausberg mountain where I was to lie (and sweat) in one of many alcoves heated to 37-41.5°C by steam from natural thermal waters deep in the earth that also contained low doses of radon gas – yes, as in radiation – as a by-product of mineral rock formation.

The 60-year-old Gasteiner Heilstollen, or Gastein Healing Caves, were first discovered by miners seeking gold. While the miners didn’t find the metal, they discovered something more precious – a unique healing environment. The radon gas has been scientifically proven by the University of Innsbruck to not only be safe, but to even have a cell-renewing effect, as well as the ability to reduce inflammation, produce pain-reliving agents and boost the immune system. It’s also been shown to have positive effects on the respiratory system and skin disorders. In fact, the caves, which have a GP and physiotherapy health centre alongside them and attract 12,000 patients and visitors a year, are known as one of the largest pain management facilities in the world and are a top destination for health tourism.

This was a no-fuss spa experience, but one which made a refreshing change from fancy and far less therapeutic facilities. Judging by the packed-out train on an off-peak Thursday afternoon, it’s obviously an experience that’s in great demand. But, it’s only one of the selling points of the spa offering at the Grand Park Hotel which has a mix of standard body and face treatments, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), fitness, innovative health programmes and some of the tastiest spa cuisine I’ve eaten in a long time. The goal? To give older adults everything they need to maintain their quality of life and health as they age.

The grande dame
Fittingly, the five-star Grand Park Hotel in Bad Hofgastein was originally built in 1912 as a Protestant hospital. Only 50 minutes south of Salzburg, it’s also located on the edge of the Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria’s Gastein Valley which is known as the ‘health valley’. Here healthy doses of radon gas hang in the air and natural thermal spring waters run through the mountains which provide a backdrop for Nordic walking, cycling and rock climbing in the summer and the country’s second biggest ski resort in the winter.

The 89-bed hotel, owned by the Economic Chambers of Salzburg, is affectionately referred to as the ‘grade dame’ and has a fin de siècle style reminiscent of decadent European architecture at the turn of the century. Housekeeping staff wear authentic Austrian dress and accordion players and singers serenade guests at dinner with traditional songs. Its design isn’t contemporary, but it does have a welcoming feel, with comfy armchairs and a roaring fire in the reception and lounge area.

It’s easy to see why it appeals to the target audience who range from 40-90 years and come predominately from Austria (30 per cent) and Germany (30 per cent). Most guests are couples, rather than families, as this is a child-free property except at Christmas.

High capture rates
“The spa is one of the biggest reasons guests come here – that and our special kitchen,” says general manager Claudia Wachter. “It brings business and increases room rate.”

Covering 2,000sq m (21,528sq ft) and two storeys on the lower ground floor, the Grand Spa was built seven years ago, but still looks new, and has a wide array of facilities. It includes a thermal pool with water sourced from the nearby Elisabeth Spring, numerous spring-water drinking stations, two whirlpools and seven treatment rooms – two of which have baths built into the ground for radon water treatments – and a VIP double suite which was added last year.

There’s also a fitness suite and exercise studio and a large heat experience area with a tepidarium, three saunas, two steamrooms, an ice cave and a salt inhalation grotto. Every evening, Walter, an entrant in this year’s Austrian Sauna Championships, performs different sauna rituals by circulating the air with a towel or using effects such lavender and salt infusions and Tibetan singing bowls.

With 80-plus therapies including rituals from Comfort Zone, make-up services by Eva Garden and medi-spa treatments by QMS (quick magic system) the menu is overwhelming. And that’s excluding the equally wide range of health and medical-focused programmes (see further on). However, there’s certainly something for everyone and around 35 per cent of hotel guests have at least one treatment as well as using the spa facilities. This is good news considering the spa really only serves those staying at the hotel as locals and day visitors are more likely to visit Bad Hofgastein’s nearby public thermal baths.

“Our spa is more intimate, quiet, relaxing and luxurious,” says Wachter. “The public baths are usually more crowded, with up to 3,000 people a day and I heard they did 24,000 treatments in August alone! Our guests may come here for a leisure holiday and just want a beauty treatment, or there is the health side such as the wellness [TCM therapies] or the radon therapy and that’s why the percentage is high.”

Ahead of the curve
The health of guests is definitely high on the agenda. Wachter, who’s worked in hospitality for 30 years across all hotel departments, has a hands-on approach and makes a point of talking to every guest at dinner if not in the day. “It’s really important to know how they’re feeling, I ask them how they are and I’m genuinely interested – it’s not just a polite question,” she says. “It’s this special atmosphere and personal service that makes the big difference.”

She explains that everything the hotel does is geared towards not just making a guest’s stay great, but fits in with “strategy for better ageing – our customers are older and will only continue to age. We have the deep knowledge and skills and we’re trying to develop innovative programmes.” When Wachter says ‘deep knowledge’, she’s referring to a number of health experts which Grand Park Hotel has teamed up with to create specialist packages. “You have to be involved in the market, and offer something new and we try to always stay ahead of the curve.”

Programmes include a seven-night TCM Retreat by Dr Liane Weber, a TCM practitioner who also works as a medical doctor seeing patients at the caves.

Cuisine using local and organic produce is another a key focus for Grand Park Hotel. Head chef, Franz Huick, has created a five-course gourmet menu, while a low-fat Grand Spa option – featuring carefully balanced recipes free from gluten and lactose – was introduced two years ago. Then earlier this year, the hotel partnered with Dr Bodo Werner, a specialist in the FX Mayr detox method that’s based on creating a healthy digestive system through diet, a daily dose of epsom salts and good eating practices such as chewing food a minimum of 50 times before you swallow to help break it down (see sb07/3 p92). Between them, they’ve developed four detoxification programmes ranging from seven to 21 nights each which run from May to August.

Most recently, following increased demand, they launched a seven-day insomnia programme. Led by Dr Weber, it includes a medical examination plus Helios Sleep Analysis – using a machine with sensor, video and audio-measuring devices – and treatments encompassing TCM, anti-stress and spa treatments, radon therapy (in the caves and onsite) and nutritional advice.

Wachter says that these new programmes have tempted only a few guests so far. The FX Mayr detox can be a tricky sell because of the initial side effects of weaning people off poor diets, while guests might not have enough time to fit in the full sleep package.

“It’s still important for us to offer complementary programmes, as they’re an additional benefit for our demanding five-star clientele,” she reasons. Plus the team is working hard to raise the profile of the packages by initiating talks by the spa manager and relevant experts on Tuesday evenings and educating staff who, in turn, talk to customers throughout their time at the spa.

Cave story
Then, of course, there’s the connection with the Gastein Healing Caves which are located about a 20-minute drive away. As the official five-star partner to the caves, Grand Park Hotel is recommended to its patients and visitors who usually take part in the cave’s standard 10-session radon therapy programme once to twice a year. The sessions last for 90 minutes but include the train journey – the further you go into the mountain, the hotter and more humid the caves become – and a 30 minute rest afterwards. Sometimes the cost of the cave sessions are covered by health insurance companies in Austria and Germany which recognise the efficacy of the treatment.

In addition, the hotel itself offers a selection of packages that combine a medical consultation with Dr Weber, spa treatments, nutritional advice and drinking and bathing in thermal and/or radon water and inhaling its steam both at the caves and onsite. Most people on the packages suffer from chronic pain or fatigue and have up to four healing cave sessions a week.

“We’re lucky to have the radon connection and the caves are unique,” says Wachter. “Other radon caves exist, but none have the same mix of heat, humidity and silence and at an elevated 1,000m above sea level. People come here from all over the world.

“There are many hotels in Austria where guests go for disease treatment, but we’re different because we have a luxury setting rather than a hospital environment. Most couples come here on holiday and while one of them might go to the cave for treatment, the other will go the spa.”

Loyal customers
With a 50 per cent repeat custom rate, Grand Park Hotel enjoys a loyal customer base. “There are guests who have been here 70 times,” say Wachter. “And we usually offer a special discount of 5-10 per cent for those who come frequently to encourage this. The average length of stay is 4.6 nights because on the one hand we have guests who stay for a short wellness holiday, but others stay for a long time because a [radon] cure needs two to three weeks.”

She feels that one of the reasons why so many people come back is that the hotel really responds to customer needs. “We always listen to what our guests tell us. We also try to pinpoint trends and create new products for the future.”

Currently the team is developing a stress-management programme to target corporate executives, while a programme introducing fitness training suitable for older adults with joint and muscle problems is underway. Therapists are being taught to add sensory stimuli to treatments. Of the latter Wachter says: “It all depends on the smell, temperature, the right timing and music – there’s actually music with special effects that has been scientifically-proven to ease pain and we’re hoping to introduce this.”

She concludes: “Overall, what drives me is being part of our team with a vision to reach a common goal – we really want to be the only five-star hotel worldwide with this special mix of spa, wellness, healthy cuisine, radon therapy and experts in better ageing.”

Dr Liane Weber: an alternative approach

Dr Liane Weber, a doctor from Germany, has been in the medical profession for 25 years – and up until 12 years ago focused on the western approach to treating patients. “You mainly prescribe drugs but after a while you have to treat their side-effects and it’s a vicious circle and I had a feeling it wasn’t enough to do this” she says.

In 2000, she joined the department of rheumatic diseases at the Healing Caves in Gastein Austria, which used a mix of physiotherapy and radon therapy to alleviate the condition. “Every year I saw the improvement when patients returned and I was surprised that people could just stop taking pain killers,” says Dr Weber who focuses on treating people with the chronic pain syndrome fibromyalgia as well as those with rheumatism. “It really opened my eyes.”

Holding qualifications in tui na, acupuncture and other aspects of Chinese medicine, Weber has also created a seven-night TCM Retreat for Grand Park Hotel where she works as a TCM specialist in addition to seeing patients in the caves. The retreat combines initial and closing medical examinations along with nutritional advice, tui na massage and acupuncture to restore the body’s balance, energy and blood flow, strengthen the immune system and promote emotional wellbeing. “In a lot of medical cases, it’s the combination of western and TCM that is most successful. I support a preventative approach for individuals and this is where TCM really differs from western medicine.”

 



Dr Liane Weber

Grand Park Hotel Bad Hofgastein prices
The entry price for double bedroom with breakfast only between April to December is €94 (us$123, £76) per person

A signature, 60-minute Grand Spa massage is €98 (us$128, £80)

The seven-night TCM Retreat starts at €1,330 (us$1,750, £1,100) per person in a double bedroom

The Classic Detox programme begins at €1,463 (us$1,900, £1,150) per person in a double bedroom for seven nights and goes up to €3,929 (us$5,150, £3,200) for 21 nights

Seven-night programmes combining thermal water, radon therapy and cave healing sessions start at €1,477 (us$1,950, £1,200) per person in a double bedroom

The caves treat up to 12,000 people a year and are one of the largest pain management centres in the world
Visitors flock to the Gastein Valley for its range of outdoor activities
Grand Park Hotel was originally built as a hospital
A Tibetan bell massage is just one of the traditional Chinese treatments offered at the hotel
Head chef Franz Huick (and his team) cook up healthy, well-balanced spa meals
General manager Claudia Wachter makes a point of talking to guests at dinner daily
Covering 2,000sq m, the Grand Spa has a wide range of facilities
Spa director Astrid administers treatments as well as heading up a team of six therapists
Walter, the sauna master, performs different rituals in the sauna every evening
Radon gas is a natural by-product of mineral rock formation and has been proven to ease joint pain as well as boost the immune system
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Mineral spa
Radiate health

Austria’s Grand Park Hotel offers radon therapy packages in conjunction with the famous Gastein Healing Caves as just part of its all-encompassing spa offering to help older adults age better


Sitting in a train cart in my bikini and robe in a rock tunnel, surrounded by German-speaking adults with an average age of 60, wasn’t exactly what I imagined as part of my stay at the high-end Grand Park Hotel in north-west Austria. Neither was I prepared for the 2km journey into the Radhausberg mountain where I was to lie (and sweat) in one of many alcoves heated to 37-41.5°C by steam from natural thermal waters deep in the earth that also contained low doses of radon gas – yes, as in radiation – as a by-product of mineral rock formation.

The 60-year-old Gasteiner Heilstollen, or Gastein Healing Caves, were first discovered by miners seeking gold. While the miners didn’t find the metal, they discovered something more precious – a unique healing environment. The radon gas has been scientifically proven by the University of Innsbruck to not only be safe, but to even have a cell-renewing effect, as well as the ability to reduce inflammation, produce pain-reliving agents and boost the immune system. It’s also been shown to have positive effects on the respiratory system and skin disorders. In fact, the caves, which have a GP and physiotherapy health centre alongside them and attract 12,000 patients and visitors a year, are known as one of the largest pain management facilities in the world and are a top destination for health tourism.

This was a no-fuss spa experience, but one which made a refreshing change from fancy and far less therapeutic facilities. Judging by the packed-out train on an off-peak Thursday afternoon, it’s obviously an experience that’s in great demand. But, it’s only one of the selling points of the spa offering at the Grand Park Hotel which has a mix of standard body and face treatments, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), fitness, innovative health programmes and some of the tastiest spa cuisine I’ve eaten in a long time. The goal? To give older adults everything they need to maintain their quality of life and health as they age.

The grande dame
Fittingly, the five-star Grand Park Hotel in Bad Hofgastein was originally built in 1912 as a Protestant hospital. Only 50 minutes south of Salzburg, it’s also located on the edge of the Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria’s Gastein Valley which is known as the ‘health valley’. Here healthy doses of radon gas hang in the air and natural thermal spring waters run through the mountains which provide a backdrop for Nordic walking, cycling and rock climbing in the summer and the country’s second biggest ski resort in the winter.

The 89-bed hotel, owned by the Economic Chambers of Salzburg, is affectionately referred to as the ‘grade dame’ and has a fin de siècle style reminiscent of decadent European architecture at the turn of the century. Housekeeping staff wear authentic Austrian dress and accordion players and singers serenade guests at dinner with traditional songs. Its design isn’t contemporary, but it does have a welcoming feel, with comfy armchairs and a roaring fire in the reception and lounge area.

It’s easy to see why it appeals to the target audience who range from 40-90 years and come predominately from Austria (30 per cent) and Germany (30 per cent). Most guests are couples, rather than families, as this is a child-free property except at Christmas.

High capture rates
“The spa is one of the biggest reasons guests come here – that and our special kitchen,” says general manager Claudia Wachter. “It brings business and increases room rate.”

Covering 2,000sq m (21,528sq ft) and two storeys on the lower ground floor, the Grand Spa was built seven years ago, but still looks new, and has a wide array of facilities. It includes a thermal pool with water sourced from the nearby Elisabeth Spring, numerous spring-water drinking stations, two whirlpools and seven treatment rooms – two of which have baths built into the ground for radon water treatments – and a VIP double suite which was added last year.

There’s also a fitness suite and exercise studio and a large heat experience area with a tepidarium, three saunas, two steamrooms, an ice cave and a salt inhalation grotto. Every evening, Walter, an entrant in this year’s Austrian Sauna Championships, performs different sauna rituals by circulating the air with a towel or using effects such lavender and salt infusions and Tibetan singing bowls.

With 80-plus therapies including rituals from Comfort Zone, make-up services by Eva Garden and medi-spa treatments by QMS (quick magic system) the menu is overwhelming. And that’s excluding the equally wide range of health and medical-focused programmes (see further on). However, there’s certainly something for everyone and around 35 per cent of hotel guests have at least one treatment as well as using the spa facilities. This is good news considering the spa really only serves those staying at the hotel as locals and day visitors are more likely to visit Bad Hofgastein’s nearby public thermal baths.

“Our spa is more intimate, quiet, relaxing and luxurious,” says Wachter. “The public baths are usually more crowded, with up to 3,000 people a day and I heard they did 24,000 treatments in August alone! Our guests may come here for a leisure holiday and just want a beauty treatment, or there is the health side such as the wellness [TCM therapies] or the radon therapy and that’s why the percentage is high.”

Ahead of the curve
The health of guests is definitely high on the agenda. Wachter, who’s worked in hospitality for 30 years across all hotel departments, has a hands-on approach and makes a point of talking to every guest at dinner if not in the day. “It’s really important to know how they’re feeling, I ask them how they are and I’m genuinely interested – it’s not just a polite question,” she says. “It’s this special atmosphere and personal service that makes the big difference.”

She explains that everything the hotel does is geared towards not just making a guest’s stay great, but fits in with “strategy for better ageing – our customers are older and will only continue to age. We have the deep knowledge and skills and we’re trying to develop innovative programmes.” When Wachter says ‘deep knowledge’, she’s referring to a number of health experts which Grand Park Hotel has teamed up with to create specialist packages. “You have to be involved in the market, and offer something new and we try to always stay ahead of the curve.”

Programmes include a seven-night TCM Retreat by Dr Liane Weber, a TCM practitioner who also works as a medical doctor seeing patients at the caves.

Cuisine using local and organic produce is another a key focus for Grand Park Hotel. Head chef, Franz Huick, has created a five-course gourmet menu, while a low-fat Grand Spa option – featuring carefully balanced recipes free from gluten and lactose – was introduced two years ago. Then earlier this year, the hotel partnered with Dr Bodo Werner, a specialist in the FX Mayr detox method that’s based on creating a healthy digestive system through diet, a daily dose of epsom salts and good eating practices such as chewing food a minimum of 50 times before you swallow to help break it down (see sb07/3 p92). Between them, they’ve developed four detoxification programmes ranging from seven to 21 nights each which run from May to August.

Most recently, following increased demand, they launched a seven-day insomnia programme. Led by Dr Weber, it includes a medical examination plus Helios Sleep Analysis – using a machine with sensor, video and audio-measuring devices – and treatments encompassing TCM, anti-stress and spa treatments, radon therapy (in the caves and onsite) and nutritional advice.

Wachter says that these new programmes have tempted only a few guests so far. The FX Mayr detox can be a tricky sell because of the initial side effects of weaning people off poor diets, while guests might not have enough time to fit in the full sleep package.

“It’s still important for us to offer complementary programmes, as they’re an additional benefit for our demanding five-star clientele,” she reasons. Plus the team is working hard to raise the profile of the packages by initiating talks by the spa manager and relevant experts on Tuesday evenings and educating staff who, in turn, talk to customers throughout their time at the spa.

Cave story
Then, of course, there’s the connection with the Gastein Healing Caves which are located about a 20-minute drive away. As the official five-star partner to the caves, Grand Park Hotel is recommended to its patients and visitors who usually take part in the cave’s standard 10-session radon therapy programme once to twice a year. The sessions last for 90 minutes but include the train journey – the further you go into the mountain, the hotter and more humid the caves become – and a 30 minute rest afterwards. Sometimes the cost of the cave sessions are covered by health insurance companies in Austria and Germany which recognise the efficacy of the treatment.

In addition, the hotel itself offers a selection of packages that combine a medical consultation with Dr Weber, spa treatments, nutritional advice and drinking and bathing in thermal and/or radon water and inhaling its steam both at the caves and onsite. Most people on the packages suffer from chronic pain or fatigue and have up to four healing cave sessions a week.

“We’re lucky to have the radon connection and the caves are unique,” says Wachter. “Other radon caves exist, but none have the same mix of heat, humidity and silence and at an elevated 1,000m above sea level. People come here from all over the world.

“There are many hotels in Austria where guests go for disease treatment, but we’re different because we have a luxury setting rather than a hospital environment. Most couples come here on holiday and while one of them might go to the cave for treatment, the other will go the spa.”

Loyal customers
With a 50 per cent repeat custom rate, Grand Park Hotel enjoys a loyal customer base. “There are guests who have been here 70 times,” say Wachter. “And we usually offer a special discount of 5-10 per cent for those who come frequently to encourage this. The average length of stay is 4.6 nights because on the one hand we have guests who stay for a short wellness holiday, but others stay for a long time because a [radon] cure needs two to three weeks.”

She feels that one of the reasons why so many people come back is that the hotel really responds to customer needs. “We always listen to what our guests tell us. We also try to pinpoint trends and create new products for the future.”

Currently the team is developing a stress-management programme to target corporate executives, while a programme introducing fitness training suitable for older adults with joint and muscle problems is underway. Therapists are being taught to add sensory stimuli to treatments. Of the latter Wachter says: “It all depends on the smell, temperature, the right timing and music – there’s actually music with special effects that has been scientifically-proven to ease pain and we’re hoping to introduce this.”

She concludes: “Overall, what drives me is being part of our team with a vision to reach a common goal – we really want to be the only five-star hotel worldwide with this special mix of spa, wellness, healthy cuisine, radon therapy and experts in better ageing.”

Dr Liane Weber: an alternative approach

Dr Liane Weber, a doctor from Germany, has been in the medical profession for 25 years – and up until 12 years ago focused on the western approach to treating patients. “You mainly prescribe drugs but after a while you have to treat their side-effects and it’s a vicious circle and I had a feeling it wasn’t enough to do this” she says.

In 2000, she joined the department of rheumatic diseases at the Healing Caves in Gastein Austria, which used a mix of physiotherapy and radon therapy to alleviate the condition. “Every year I saw the improvement when patients returned and I was surprised that people could just stop taking pain killers,” says Dr Weber who focuses on treating people with the chronic pain syndrome fibromyalgia as well as those with rheumatism. “It really opened my eyes.”

Holding qualifications in tui na, acupuncture and other aspects of Chinese medicine, Weber has also created a seven-night TCM Retreat for Grand Park Hotel where she works as a TCM specialist in addition to seeing patients in the caves. The retreat combines initial and closing medical examinations along with nutritional advice, tui na massage and acupuncture to restore the body’s balance, energy and blood flow, strengthen the immune system and promote emotional wellbeing. “In a lot of medical cases, it’s the combination of western and TCM that is most successful. I support a preventative approach for individuals and this is where TCM really differs from western medicine.”

 



Dr Liane Weber

Grand Park Hotel Bad Hofgastein prices
The entry price for double bedroom with breakfast only between April to December is €94 (us$123, £76) per person

A signature, 60-minute Grand Spa massage is €98 (us$128, £80)

The seven-night TCM Retreat starts at €1,330 (us$1,750, £1,100) per person in a double bedroom

The Classic Detox programme begins at €1,463 (us$1,900, £1,150) per person in a double bedroom for seven nights and goes up to €3,929 (us$5,150, £3,200) for 21 nights

Seven-night programmes combining thermal water, radon therapy and cave healing sessions start at €1,477 (us$1,950, £1,200) per person in a double bedroom

The caves treat up to 12,000 people a year and are one of the largest pain management centres in the world
Visitors flock to the Gastein Valley for its range of outdoor activities
Grand Park Hotel was originally built as a hospital
A Tibetan bell massage is just one of the traditional Chinese treatments offered at the hotel
Head chef Franz Huick (and his team) cook up healthy, well-balanced spa meals
General manager Claudia Wachter makes a point of talking to guests at dinner daily
Covering 2,000sq m, the Grand Spa has a wide range of facilities
Spa director Astrid administers treatments as well as heading up a team of six therapists
Walter, the sauna master, performs different rituals in the sauna every evening
Radon gas is a natural by-product of mineral rock formation and has been proven to ease joint pain as well as boost the immune system
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14-15 Apr 2024

Natural & Organic Products Europe

ExCel, London, United Kingdom
22-24 Apr 2024

UK Aufguss Championships

Galgorm Resort, York,
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