If you thought vinotherapy - rubbing your skin with wine grapes - was the height of decadence, how would you feel about an all-over chocolate massage?
The Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire, with a Michelin-starred restaurant, holds one of the country’s most celebrated wine lists, with around 2000 wines of which around 800 are Californian.
The hotel’s newly-opened Spa is now pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the luxury pampering market – high-end facials and massages.
Already offering anti-ageing masks made from Chardonnay grapes and other vinotherapy treatments, the hotel now does truffle therapy and ‘chocotherapy’, both of which it is claimed have rejuvenating properties that have party-going types in California queuing up to try them.
According to the Spa’s publicity, ‘the TruffleTherapy Facial is known in Hollywood as “party botox”’ for its skin-toning effects, while covering the body in chocolate products and massaging for two hours ‘guarantees inch loss’.
Since the Sources de Caudalie opened at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux in 1999, vinotherapy has mushroomed in popularity, practised in at least a dozen centres worldwide.
The proven health benefits of proanthocyanidins (PCOs) give vinotherapy its legitimacy. PCOs are the active component of polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties.
Polyphenols, like aspirin, vitamin C and other natural products, thin the blood, reducing artery thickening and thereby reducing the danger of heart disease.
Red wine, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, is high in polyphenols.
It was on a visit to Smith Haut Lafitte in the late 1990s that Professor Joseph Vercauteren of the department of pharmacology at Bordeaux university suggested grape skins and seeds – left after fermentation – could have as beneficial an effect on the skin as on the heart.
Chocolate too can claim a variety of beneficial effects. Also high in polyphenols, it contains demineralising agents, as much phosphorous as found in fish, and emulsions.
Whether rubbing chocolate on the skin has any health benefits is unproven, but a joint study by scientists from universities in Glasgow and Rome in 2002 found that 100g of plain chocolate boosted blood antioxidant levels by nearly 20%.
And as for truffles, they are amongst the world’s rarest and most expensive delicacies. Turning them into a paste and smearing them on one’s skin would qualify as the ultimate in conspicuous consumption, which, as any compulsive shopper knows, has proven therapeutic effects.
Written by Adam Lechmere