Venetia van Kuffeler rejoices in the comforts of an immunity boosting retreat at Camiral Golf & Wellness under the sunny skies of Girona in Spain

Grey January skies have me yearning for the bright, cloudless days I spent at Camiral Golf & Wellness outside Girona. Stepping off the plane in Barcelona in late November, we were greeted by azure skies, and that powerful sunlight that the UK so lacks in the winter months. Feeling the warmth on our faces was quite the tonic.

My family was a couple of months into flu season when I learnt about Camiral Golf & Wellness’s immunity retreat. Just as one of us was getting over a cold, one of our children picked up another at school, and the circle continued. The retreat promised a chance to break this vicious cycle, and boost my immune system in preparation for the colder months ahead.

For golfers, Camiral Golf & Wellness is a dream. Known as PGA Catalunya Golf since its foundation in 1999, the property has recently rebranded to highlight its wellness offering.  With two championship 18-hole courses and a PGA Academy paired with the hospitality of the five-star Hotel Camiral, a member of The Leading Hotels of World, it's the number one golf resort in Spain. But just as I had been led to believe, there’s so much more on offer than just match play.

Set among 500 acres of Catalan forests, the property is a modern luxury retreat built in an arc to allow guests to enjoy the different colours of the days’ endless sunlight that cascades through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Even in January, Girona is said to enjoy on average between six and seven hours of sunlight a day, so vitamin D was clearly in good supply.

Interiors are gorgeous, seamlessly blending inside and outside to create spaces that flow naturally and make the most of those comforting rays.  My relaxing Camiral suite was two bedrooms now knocked into one, and included a beautiful marble bathroom with shower and bath with extravagant Extreme Caviar amenities, plus a large sitting room with kitchenette and table, and a double terrace with views of the garden. Exercise equipment was on hand (yoga mat, and inflatable exercise ball), and the bedrooms are designed for the best sleeping experience possible, with floors of natural oak, soft lighting and supremely comfortable bedding with Egyptian cotton linens and plush pillows. These spacious 72 square metre suites are found on the first floor, with close access to the wellness centre.

Guests at the property are encouraged to embrace a little adventure and reconnect with nature. Our adventure was to be among the first to experience their programme to rejuvenate the immune system through a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach, with a team of leading therapeutic consultants who helped create a dynamic itinerary.  

Camiral’s Wellness Manager, Núria Camins, prepared us for group and one-on-one sessions, workshops, and results-driven treatments. The plan was to combine both traditional and technological treatments to purify the body from the inside out, making the most of the property’s impressive Wellness Centre.  Immunologist, health coach, and author Dr Jenna Macciochi, travelled from the UK, as well as general medical consultant and integrative health expert Dr Saskia Kloppenburg.

Renowned Catalan nutritionist, Mireia Cervera, had prepared a menu using the seasonal Mediterranean ingredients from the area and grown on the property.  Mostly plant based, the menu was high in fibre, with a little fish and the odd poached egg. The food was mostly delicious, and although we sat in the dining room for all our meals and saw the other guests enjoying the main menu as well as wine produced in the property’s vineyards, I didn’t feel hard done by. Meals included some delicious puddings that we couldn’t believe were sourced from natural sugars.

Intriguingly, Professor of Wellbeing and Happiness at the University of Girona, Edgar Tarres, was also on hand to guide us through the experience. Edgar reminded us that spending at least two hours a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. A force of quiet energy, Edgar explained that the earth is full of positive irons, and that walking barefoot is good for the immune system.

He takes us out for a (barefoot) forest bathing session, and we were encouraged to cover our eyes, and listen to the trees, plants and leaves moving in the wind. “It will help expand your creativity and imagination!” he tells us. “Enjoy the silence. Being barefoot outside – even in cold winter – will reinforce the immune system and is good for wellbeing. The reinforcement that our immune system receives from one hour in nature stays with you for an entire month.”

Edgar finds himself working mainly in the tourism sector, “as holidays seem to be when people give themselves time to make proper change. My hope is that people change their habits for a lifetime, not just a short vacation.” He admits: “The irony is that I’m working harder and harder because what we do is needed so much more in the world.”

Dr Saskia highlights the importance of an individualised and holistic approach. She has a private practice, offering complementary cancer care providing patients with additional support to make their treatments (chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery) more tolerable.

She explains how quality IV vitamin drips “help you achieve optimal health and wellness, by addressing your unique needs, from boosting energy and immunity to enhancing skin health and combating stress.” IV vitamin therapy is a powerful way to deliver essential nutrients directly into your bloodstream, ensuring maximum absorption. My IV drip was a vitamin and mineral blend, including B vitamins, zinc and amino acids, and the saline solution even helps with rehydration.  The treatment involved lying still (to keep the drip steady for maximum flow), for two and a half hours. As she removed the needle, the nurse administering the treatment remarked how my face already seemed fresh and less puffy.

Along with a massage, yoga session and various opportunities to enjoy the state-of-the-art gym and water facilities, the most challenging part of the programme were the cryotherapy sessions, that promised to reset mind and body in temperatures as low as -110°C. The idea is that your body is placed under a session of ‘controlled’ stress, which means when you encounter stress throughout your day or week, you are better set up to handle it. Dressed in a swimming costume with socks and trainers, gloves for the hands, plus a hat to protect the ears and facemask to protect the mouth, it was cold unlike anything I had ever experienced. The first session was quite stressful, leaving me struggling to regulate my breath. But I knew what to expect the second time and with the help of the music I chose from an iPad before I went in, I kept calm and gently moving for the full two and half minutes. My cells were zinging and my body was left bursting with energy.

This was followed by photobiomodulation, which exposes ultra-red light to the body.  Lying on what is effectively a sunbed (without the harmful rays) for 20 minutes, this was quite the opposite experience to cryotherapy, with the aim to deliver energy into the cells to deal effectively with pain, inflammation, and skin repair. Both treatments are meant to help reduce muscular pain and boost your mood.

During a ‘movement session’ in the Wellness Centre’s studio, immunologist Dr Jenna explains that movement should not be reserved for an hour or two in the gym each week. She notes we should be incorporating movement and exercise into daily life, and that we should all try to be less sedentary as we go about our lives.

As we are immersed in a food environment obsessed with convenience, Dr Jenna says, “There is a mismatch between what our bodies have adapted for and the food environment that we live in, making it hard to be well in the modern world.”

She highlights that rather than following particular diets or cutting out particular foods like dairy or carbohydrates, successful dietary patterns and gut health are more important. She explains how 70 to 80 per cent of the immune system is in the gut. “Gut microbes are like plants, and they're meant to eat lots of fibre. They need to be fed and fertilised.

The immune system is like a defence system that keeps us well,” she notes. “In winter, we are often lacking in vitamin D, as we spend less time outside,” so she advises taking both vitamin D and omega-3 supplements, as well as getting as good a night’s sleep as possible.

Dr Jenna also suggests pursuing an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. “Inflammation is the source of unwanted illness and chronic diseases. As well as an appropriate diet, an anti-inflammatory lifestyle includes living in a healthy environment, with plenty of physical activity. We need to consider how we can pull all these things into our lifestyle, but at the same time, also teach ourselves self-compassion, mindfulness and being kind to yourself.”

The Immunity Boosting Retreat at Camiral Golf and Wellness felt like the best thing I’ve done for myself this winter. Although it’s difficult to identify which experiences and treatments individually made a difference, I left the property feeling like I had been lit up light a lightbulb: bright and full of energy. The programme is a brilliant proposition for those looking to combat mental and physical burnout, or just simply a measure for preparing the body in anticipation of the winter months ahead.