Nestled in the foothills of Marbella, Spain lies a health clinic that is far from any hospital-like setting.  In fact, it is exquisitely beautiful with it’s perfectly manicured campus, gargantuan U-shaped pool, modern spa, and organic gardens supplying the freshest and best quality produce for the kitchen.  There is a library with books in over 15 languages and a spiritual complex complete with a dojo, art studio, beauty salon, and a grand marbled event space for nightly concerts.  Upon arrival, you feel as if you’re walking into a 5-star resort.  

But you’re not.

You are walking into a 40-year-old integrative medical institution, the sister property to the original Buchinger-Wilhelmi on the German-Austrian border, Lake Constance.  With over 100 years of experience, Buchinger’s therapeutic fasting regimen has proven itself time and time again, not only for me, but for the thousands of regular patients who come back annually.  A family run operation from its onset, the culture of the clinic is exceptional; every single staff member, from the housekeepers, administrators and dining room servers to the treatment therapists, nurses and integrative doctors, are genuinely passionate about making sure you feel deeply nurtured and supported during your stay.  There is round-the-clock medical supervision for 100 rooms with 220 full time staff members who are all multilingual – English, Spanish, German, and French or Italian are most common.  But what truly stands out at Buchinger is the amazing synergy amongst the staff.  Not only do they work effortlessly together, they genuinely like each other.  It’s really unique to see the staff of a medical clinic greeting each other with smiles and kisses.  This synergy runs down to the clients – you’re supported by one big happy family of phenomenal professionals! 

I’m a native New Yorker currently residing in New York City.  City life can be very stressful with demanding jobs and a pace that makes a race horse seem like it’s strolling.  When I told friends about my upcoming vacation to Buchinger, pretty much everyone laughed at the concept of flying across the Atlantic only to pay an establishment to “starve me” for two weeks.  

“Dani – there are so many places to travel, enjoy great food and wine and relax, why on earth would you go there?!?” 

“So let me understand this correctly; you are paying a place in Spain a significant amount of money to drink soup and fruit juices all day long for two weeks!?!”

“You are taking off for Marbella next week and won’t be eating paella or tapas at all – have you lost your mind?!?”

These questions came from friends and colleagues, even family members, and I answered everyone exactly the same way,  “You take your car in for a tune up annually, right?  You get your laptop and software updated annually, right?  When was the last time you tuned yourself up – mind, body and soul?  When was the last time you returned from a vacation feeling completely rejuvenated, centered and relaxed?  When was the last time you actually lost weight and gained boundless energy from a holiday abroad?”

All reacted with a confused look on their face, like a deer in headlights, and said nothing.

I gratefully returned to my home-away-from-home last month for my annual cleanse/detox.  I walked into the lobby, my luggage in tow, and said “Hello”.  The receptionist behind the desk saw me, jumped to her feet, ran around the desk and with a big welcome hug exclaimed, “Oh Ms. Kirk!  Welcome Back!  We are so happy to see you again for another visit!  How was your flight?  Can I bring you a cup of tea as we settle you in?”

My bags are brought to my room as I walk into the salon which overlooks campus and the pool area.  Ah…. it’s soooo good to be back!  I sit down, served a cup of mango peach green tea, and notice my body decompressing for the first time in over 6 months.  Just sitting in the salon brings back fond memories of my last stay and my body, like Pavlov’s dog, starts to relax. 

I smell the tea and ask, “This is my favorite tea, the mango peach.  How did you know?”

“Oh, Ms. Kirk.  We took preference notes during your last visit in the hopes of you coming back.  We try to exceed patient expectations with each stay.” says my server with a smile.  “It’s lovely to see you again!  Is there anything else you’d like right now, perhaps a soy yogurt since dinner is almost three hours away?”  Yes – they remembered I’m dairy free.

Really?  Are you kidding?  I feel like they rolled out the red carpet for me – Princess Danielle has arrived!  

The salon is beautifully decorated in a Mediterranean motif.  There’s a large terrace with tables so fasting patients can enjoy their mealtime soups and juices either outside or inside.  On the opposing wall are daily newspapers in six different languages – English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Arabic and Portuguese.  Right downstairs from the salon is the dining room, where whole food patients enjoy their meals both prior to and after fasting.  Buchinger recognizes how challenging fasting can be and cleverly separates patients according to their stage in the program.

I head to my room and greeted by a beautiful view with a terracotta terrace overlooking campus, crisp Italian cotton sheets, a travertine lined bathroom with seated shower and soaking tub, a pretty orchid plant on my personalized tea table and a line of 4 different glass water bottles on the desk.  I pick up the room phone and notice “Ms. Kirk” illuminated on the digital board – just another example of their outstanding personalized service.  I relax in my room until dinner.  Total travel time from NYC to the Malaga airport was a little over 10 hours.

Heading into the dining room, I look for my name card when a server comes over and says, “Welcome back, Ms. Kirk!  You are seated over here.”  The dining area also has a Mediterranean motif with perfectly pressed white table clothes and tables seating 4-6 people.  As I sit down, I’m greeted by the nutritionist who welcomes me back and explains the general regimen planned for me which may be modified based upon my blood work tomorrow morning.  She excuses herself as my three dining buddies arrive – one from Saudi Arabia, one from Vienna, and the other from Paris.  We speak in English over dinner and learn about each other’s backgrounds and reasons for coming.

Alas, 50% of the reason I’ve become a regular is because of Buchinger’s outstanding program.  But the other 50% is due to all the interesting people I meet from all over the world.  They are all exceptional – from fashion designers and award-winning architects to banking tycoons, actors, and royalty – everyone needs an annual tune up!  In fact, legend has it that Tina Onassis was a regular.

My blood test is taken at 7am the next morning followed by my medical check-in with the same integrative doctor I had last visit.  Again, I’m greeted with a huge smile and a big, warm, genuine hug.  I have a comprehensive physical followed by a review of the proposed regimen, based upon my last stay which may be modified pending the blood results.  For now, my doctor wants me to have an underwater massage that afternoon followed by a massage.  The first week’s itinerary has already been scheduled, again subject to change pending the blood results and what treatment therapists evaluate during my initial sessions.

I notice physiotherapy is scheduled for 3 days my first week and upon seeing my physiotherapist later that day, I learn that he noticed I was coming in last week and immediately scheduled me because he books up quickly.  Really?  Personalized preparation for a returning patient a week prior to arrival?  

The rest of my two-week stay continues on this path of exceptional service with a customized program to address my medical needs from a physical, biochemical, psychological, and spiritual standpoint.  There are all sorts of classes throughout the day to fill my time between meals and treatments – pilates, yoga, meditation, art projects, lectures on health, nutrition, history and culture, and day trips off campus to Gibraltar, Rhonda, Marbella-downtown and other surrounding areas.  Then there’s evening entertainment during dinner, like Flamenco performances, or after dinner, like jazz and classical concerts or movies.  I can honestly tell you that I don’t know if I’m never hungry during my stay because my blood sugar regulates or because there are so many interesting options to keep me busy!

During the few times when I’m not feeling so well due to detox symptoms, they deliver everything I need to my room.  My nurse keeps meticulous track of my progress from all standpoints and suggests ideas to make my fast more comfortable.  When was the last time you were on vacation and the staff anticipated every single need while providing exceptional, genuine care?

My last day arrives.  I say good bye to everyone – the staff and fellow guests I’ve enjoyed meeting during meals, classes, day trips, and hikes.  My phone is filled with over 20 new, dynamic friends from all over the world inviting me to explore their countries and stay with them in their homes.  The staff wishes me a pleasant and safe trip home with the hopes of seeing me next year.  

I walk out of this international womb towards my taxi 15lbs thinner, completely rejuvenated with child-like energy, glowing skin, shining hair and a centered, calm inner peace.  I’m ready for whatever awaits me knowing that everything can be accomplished with grace thanks to the immaculate self-care regimen I’ve learned at Buchinger.

See you next year, mi familia!

*PLEASE NOTE:  I suffer from bipolar II and was severely depressed upon my arrival at Buchinger.  The depression cleared completely in three days and I had the next 11 days to rejuvenate and enjoy myself.  I intentionally did not include this fact in my story because I didn’t want any distractions from my unbelievable experience.  You can read about my struggle with depression in my article, A Decade of Darkness:  Surviving Mental Illness.