Buddha Bar Spa, Hilton Evian-les-Bains, Geneva
Helen Coulon is talking very fast. She is an Englishwoman who has married 20 years' experience of Asian resorts with the hip Buddha Bar to create a spanking new spa at Hilton Evian-les-Bains on the banks of Lake Geneva. In the past decade, Buddha Bar has become synonymous with chic nightlife, and famous for its effortless cool and celebrity clientele. Once, for example, I went to Buddha Bar New York and saw a guy from the TV show Beverly Hills 90210.
Helen uses the word 'balance' quite a lot, 'harmony' only a little less and 'vibe' more often than is strictly decent. I'm confused. Does she realise she's talking to a gnarled, cynical hack? If she does, she doesn't care. She tells me the Buddha Bar Spa is about creating 'Buddhattitude', and they have the associated product range to prove it. Eh? I find my mind wondering how the other great religions might react to such commercial branding - Islamic venture capitalists called Profit with the Prophet, perhaps, or Christ on a Bike, the Christian cycle rental.
Helen is short and spry and has more enthusiasm in her little finger than I had in the whole of the 1980s. Such people intimidate me. How else could she have persuaded me to join her for a run around Lake Geneva at seven the next morning? The last time I broke sweat I was six years old.
And yet? And yet as I pad breathless along the shore where there's more talk of balancing, something strange happens: Helen starts to make sense to me.
We stop after half an hour and paddle in the sea. The sun's already hot from behind the mountains in a picture-postcard sky. I'm not good on natural beauty but this place is certainly stunning. And the air smells of... of nothing. Where are all those carcinogens I've come to call friends? I begin to think dangerous thoughts: maybe my life is out of sync, maybe I do need harmony. Uh-oh.
I spend the next day and a half between the hotel and the spa. Despite its monolithic grandeur and Hilton title, the hotel feels more like a boutique operation. This is partly down to the two excellent restaurants and partly thanks to the staff. Uniformly goodlooking, laid-back and calmly helpful, they wouldn't look out of place in one of Philippe Starck's joints. Over a cocktail, I start writing poetry on a bucolic theme. Things are going from bad to worse.
The spa is a haven of dark woods and exotic smells. The different areas - the treatment rooms, the gym, the pool and the tea bar - pump different, specially compiled Buddhattitude playlists over the sound system. It's chill-out music. I hate chill-out music with its mantras, mandolins and panpipes. Only now, it seems, I don't.
In the spa, there are more beautiful people who have nose piercings and lullaby French accents. I lie on a massage table to be scrubbed pink with angelica and ginseng then I undergo marma therapy (£60) to unblock my Ayurvedic energy points. I have no idea what this means, but I feel peachy. In fact, I feel like a peach.
I have a personal training session with a former professional long-jumper called David who tells me I'm fit for my age. For a moment my doubts surface, but I'm grateful for the lie nonetheless. I conclude my stay with an Abhyanga Tibetan massage (€130 or £90). In the spirit of professionalism, I try to engage my therapist in conversation. I discover her name's Karina. I discover she comes from Brittany. Then I fall asleep for the remainder of the 90-minute treatment.
I wake up feeling like a newborn baby. I am left alone to get dressed. Sitting in front of the mirror in the candlelight, I look a little different. I have the attitude, dare I say it, of Buddha himself. Buddhattitude. Blimey.
When I get back to London, I head down to the market, buy a kebab and suck up the exhaust fumes. In the past 15 years, I've sacrificed many things in the name of a good story, pride and dignity in particular, but never my cynicism. As the chilli sauce drips down my chin and a cabbie sounds his horn for the souls of the stressed city, I vow to myself that it won't happen again.
Innovative treatments in a peaceful mountain setting.
Treatments cost from €60 (£40); double rooms from €212 (£140).
Read about more spas in World's best spas, A feast for all the senses and Sand, Sea and Spa.