Henri Chenot has been quietly perfecting the art of beauty through well-being at his luxurious Italian spa for decades. We speak with the guru about his one-of-a-kind cures.
While relaxation remains a coveted commodity in our increasingly hard-driven, time-starved culture, traveling for respite has become redundant. Why cross the world for a fantastic massage when your urban spa offers a tantalizing array of exotic treatments? As the next generation of spa aficionados seek hard-earned rejuvenation from the inside out, the most indulgent destinations are shifting from diversion to detox. But for the health-seeking cognoscenti, there has—and will always be—one rehabilitation resort on the map that's worth packing up for: Henri Chenot's Grand Hotel Palace in Merano, Italy. There, in a remote spa town nestled within the bucolic landscape of the surrounding Alps, Chenot has been discreetly perfecting his signature method of beauty through well being for decades.
Catalan by birth, French by adoption, Chenot grew up in the Pyrenees (evidenced today by his strong regional accent) where he studied biology, anthropology, and psychology. But unlike most aspiring medical practitioners of his generation, he turned to the learning of the East to help in the development of a method to battle illness through diet, lifestyle changes and the use of natural remedies. Combining ancient Chinese medicine with western science, his customized detoxifying treatments have since become the secret weapon of the fashionable elite. "It's the study of the evolution of life through time," explains Chenot of Biotology, the system he developed to diagnose, treat and eliminate toxin levels in the body. The by-products of anything from poor diet, stress and environmental factors to genetics, excess toxins can provoke lasting internal problems and advance the aging process. To fight the signs of aging, toxins must be reduced, and Chenot's team is there to do just that after an in-depth assessment of each guest's condition. Thanks to the success of his extraordinary cures, an Italian radio show, a cookbook and other publications, Chenot has gone on to expand his wellness enterprise with two new outposts—the sensationally modern Espace Vitalité spa near Milan and the rustic-chic Kenyan resort Lion in the Sun.
What is your definition of luxury?
Gaining access to absolute simplicity. It's one of most difficult things to achieve because we as individuals have a natural tendency to complicate things.
A pen, since it helps us to translate all of our thoughts. To me it's true luxury because it's the absolute synthesis of simplicity, function and design.
An orchestra conductor, because that is the person who brings together rationality, creativity and intuition at the same time.
I lived through one in the high plateaus of Kenya, where to my right the moon was rising, and to my left, the sun setting. The silence of that instant was complete.
A small village in the Tyrol mountains with an exceptional view of the starlit sky; there you have the sensation of being at one with the universe.
What is the relationship between beauty and well-being?
Wellness creates light, and it's that light that illuminates one's beauty. The formula is all around us, just look at the way light changes how everything around us appears: the contrasts of light in nature, as with the rising and setting of the sun, provoke one of the purest sensations of beauty. Since we as human beings are part of nature, the same approach applies to our individual beauty.
What inspired you to study Chinese philosophy and medicine?
Personally, what pushed me to study Chinese medicine and philosophy was the writings of a Jesuit priest named Teilhard de Chardin. He was a very important philosopher who spent a large part of his life in China. There, he conceived of a theory (now called the spiral of Teilhard de Chardin) that says that life is a spiral. It was a complete departure from his original beliefs; he was a Jesuit priest with an upbringing that was very Catholic, and all of the sudden he passed into a dimension that was much more creative. Personally, I wanted to know what sparked this evolution of thought, and I realized than in order to understand, I needed to study Taoist philosophy, and from there I became interested in Chinese medicine. I was very young and was looking for a way to better understand myself, but I am not a Taoist, I'm horrified by the idea of being imprisoned by one system of thought.
Biotology mixes Eastern philosophy with Western state-of-the-art technology. How did you conceive of this original approach to wellness?
We are all human beings. There are of course certain particularities according to one's education and one's culture, but the reflection concerning man's existence on the Earth is a collective one. Chinese doctors in ancient times couldn't necessarily treat specific problems; what they did was observe details in an individual's health in order to determine problems that could develop in the future. It's all of those details, gathered over 2,500 years, that have given Chinese medicine its incredible value. The development of my Biotology system was based on observation. For me, the evidence was around me. It is just a continuation of humanity's constant search to understand our existence on Earth; the Chinese have contributed their share of knowledge, as well as the West.
Biontology is a system designed to test the body's toxins over time. How did you conceive of the concept and how does it work?
Throughout the years—and we have been doing this for 35 years—we've come to understand, by listening to our patients' cases, that there is a link between their symptoms and their organs. To understand the problems that can arise from a degeneration of their organs, we created a system to measure the evolution of the toxins in the body. The intoxication of the body's ecosystem depends on two things: the rate of the body's indigenous toxin production and the body's ability to eliminate exogenous toxins, which are derived from food, the environment and the body's psychological and emotional state. It is evident that the process of aging reduces one's capacity to eliminate toxins, thus to fight aging, one must fight toxins as well.
How does one know that a detoxifying procedure is necessary?
When one begins to experience certain abnormalities: headaches, digestive trouble, fatigue, etc. Each of these symptoms is the body's attempt to alert a person to a problem. We attempt to hide the symptoms by relieving them with medications, but we must first rid the body of the toxins that are provoking the symptoms.
When does one typically feel the onset of these symptoms?
It can happen at any age. Some of the problems are genetic, such as a dysfunctional liver, kidney or circulatory system, but in general, those who seek treatment more often than not have already reached middle age.
What is the detoxifying experience like?
It's different for each person, and depends on each person's level of intoxication. For some, there are no problems throughout; others in the beginning might experience headaches. It's very personal. When you finish the cure, you have the sensation that your entire body functions better; your brain is more alert, your body feels lighter and more dynamic, and your digestion is improved.
How has your clientele evolved since you first began?
In the last ten years, the clientele has changed tremendously, thanks to our society's increased access to information on health and well-being through the Internet, television and magazines. Whether or not I agree with all that's said, the general population has benefited from a heightened sense of awareness about how stress levels, diet and personal environment can directly impact health. Even those whose knowledge is not very sophisticated are surrounded by all this information, and they have gained from this information revolution. As a result, their attitude and outlook has changed. They want to live better and longer, and are searching for ways of accomplishing those goals. People no longer accept immobility, passiveness; more and more, they want to participate directly in their personal preservation, not solely to improve their looks, but to feel better as well.
You were one of the first to create a health resort that was luxurious in design. This approach has become a dominant trend in tourism. What is your opinion of this trend?
It's important to note that luxury hinges on the quality of the service providers more than on the setting. Why have a luxurious atmosphere if you don't have a team of qualified professionals? It's the team that determines the level of luxury. You can have the most beautiful setting with the most incompetent employees. What will you find there? Vanity, snobbishness. For me, my team is my definition of luxury. To be open, knowledgeable and able to meet the needs and demands of our guests is core of my concept's philosophy. Creating an environment that is pleasant to be in and playing Zen music for your guests is easy, but if you don't sacrifice a large part of your energy in training your team, if you don't have a strong philosophical and experiential base, your destination will not amount to very much.
You have penned many books, have a radio show in Italy, a cookbook, and have opened several spa destinations. In essence, you have turned your name into a lifestyle brand. What does that lifestyle stand for?
My objective has always been to help people learn the techniques for improving their health and lifestyle. My radio show is an important tool for communicating my philosophy to a larger public. We have a large radio audience, and 99% have never been to our type of center, but for me the greatest satisfaction and professional insight come through listening to their problems and helping them find ways to resolve them. For me, the art of living is about always having the sensation that things are evolving. I don't live in the past, even less in the future. I live in the present, which is very important to me. If I die in 10 minutes or in 10 years, I want my days to have happened as a dynamic expansion, because the world is constantly evolving. Aging is a natural phenomenon that one must accompany rather than deny.