Coming to Thermes with…taking a cure in Amélie
Taking a cure in France is a serious undertaking! The medicinal and healing qualities of the thermal waters in Amélie les Bains have been recognised for thousands of years and evidence shows that prehistoric man benefited from its healing and restorative properties. Numerous sources flow down into the resort from the Serrat d’en Merle hills, supplying more than a million litres of thermal water per day. Rich in sulphur, chloride of sodium, and carbonates of sodium amongst other elements, their natural temperature is around 44° – 66°.
Spas fall into two general categories, pampering and medical. The Medical Spa can provide a realistic alternative for those seeking to alleviate a wide range of adverse health conditions.
Keeping up with the Joneses
Karen Jones took a cure in Amélie and kept a blog to let us know what it’s all about. Over to you Karen!
I’ve had a small accident and have managed to fracture a little bone in one of my vertebrae. When they did the scan they said I have disc problems and arthritis all along the spine. (No wonder my back has been hurting !!!)
My doctor has managed to convince me (the world’s greatest sceptic of such things !!) that to go en cure at the Thermes in Amelie les Bains would be most beneficial to my recuperation.
The sulphurous waters of the Thermes in Amelie les Bains are very beneficial to people with arthritic problems and for rehabilitation after fractures and respiratory problems. She also decided that, as I have a history of chronic bronchitis, we may as well treat that at the same time !!!
So, last Friday morning, I rolled up at the surgery for her to write out the prescription of the treatments she wants me to have. What I didn’t expect was a proper medical !!! Apparently this is standard practice and, with the measurements that she takes, you can actually see the progress that you make whilst en cure.
After that, a quick trip to the Thermes to sort out my daily programme and to buy a pipette and a cone thingy (these are for my respiratory treatments) – oh, and the obligatory swimming hat !!! The staff were most helpful and friendly, explaining to me all that I needed to know and showing me where I need to go to start with.
Towels and bathrobes will be provided, so I just need to turn up with my pipette and cone, a swimming cozzie, swimming hat and a pair of Croc type shoes. I have also been invited to attend an aperitif on Tuesday afternoon where we get to learn about the history of the Thermes.
My cure will last for three weeks and will take TWO HOURS a day !! I start at 07h00 on Monday morning !! I’ll keep you posted …..
I arrived at three minutes to the hour. The waiting room was OVERFLOWING !!! Good grief! I’ve never seen so many people at 06h57 in the morning!!
Everyone waiting for the little infra-red sign to click to 7.00. It did – at 07h05 !! At the given moment everyone surged forward to pick up a little ‘hanging jobby’ and to go and get their carnet stamped and to receive a robe and a towel. We all then trooped to the individual changing cubicles. (Word of advice here – don’t take a handbag ! The little tray at the bottom of the hanging jobby is just large enough for a pair of shoes – there is no room for a handbag !!!) After handing my hanging thingy over to the very pleasant young man in the cloakroom, I was then directed towards the thermes.
My carnet has a little red blob on it which, patently, means ‘Pleb’ because everyone was most conscientious at explaining to me where I needed to go and what I needed to do – twice – just to make sure I got it the first time!!
First off was the cataplasme, basically, little poly bags filled with hot mud. Having been greeted by a very friendly hostess and ushered into a private cubicle, she then proceeded to push one down the back of my cozzie, I then had to lie down whilst she placed another under my neck, and one over my feet. I was then left for 10 minutes. Very pleasant sensation – nothing dramatic – just comfortable and warm. After this, a quick shower off and over to the next attraction – sorry, treatment – the douche locale.
Here, another smiling hostess, instructed me to sit on a stool under a very large shower head (the dreaded swimming hat made it’s first appearance here!) and then she turned on a very powerful, lovely warm shower – this is the rain treatment, apparently. Whilst sitting on the stool you are supposed to move gently so that the shower pressure goes onto the painful areas. A most pleasant experience though I have to confess, I did think I may be drowning at one point as my head went too far under the shower head and water went absolutely everywhere. Four minutes of this and then I was told to lie face down on a bed, the same hostess pulled a bar with three little jets along it, over my spine. She turned on the water, another four, very pleasant minutes passed.
I was then sent for a bath (I have to say, by this point, my fingers had well and truly ‘pruned’!). The lovely Hortense, directed me into another private cubicle where she filled a deep bath with lovely warm water (I heard someone next to me being told that her treatment was cold water!!!!). My bain + douche sous marine treatment was about to start. For ten minutes this lovely girl sat next to me and directed a shower jet at my painful bits – I just wallowed. Absolute heaven!
After this, I was directed to the Immersion piscine. Here I encountered the only fly in today’s ointment – a slightly less than amiable hostess. She explained that I had to wait and that I was in stall number four. She then hollered ‘Silence svp’ at the oldies already in the pool as they were having a right old chinwag and they were not allowed to talk, she informed me indignantly!! This is a cure after all, Madame, and needs to be restful! Fair point, I suppose, but she did seem to be the only one objecting.
I duly waited my turn (in silence, of course!). Once the pool was empty, my session were called in – we were only five. Each took their place in their allotted stall and waited for the amiable hostess to fire up the jets.
The two old guys on the end were clearly friends of long standing and chattered along, the lady next to me was chirping in with their conversation and trying to engage me into a conversation too! I was having none of it! I’m English and I WILL follow the rules!!! (Besides which, the hostess then threw her toys out of the pram and started shouting at the three to my right!!) At which point, the very elegantly made up lady to my left (how did she do that?????? I looked like a train wreck!!!) started complaining about the abuse!!
Frivolities only lasted ten minutes and then it was over to the respiratory side of the treatment.
First off was the bain nasal. Now this next bit isn’t particularly pleasant, so those of you of a delicate disposition should perhaps avoid the rest of the paragraph!!
A lady took me into a room full of individual stalls (a bit like the old language laboratories used to be), she attached a bib and I was then showed how to fill my pipette with water, insert it into a nostril and let the water enter my nose whilst saying ‘kaykaykaykaykay’ very quickly. As soon as you start to feel the water begin to trickle down the back of your throat, you lean forward over a sink and all of the water cascades out of your nose.
Today I had to do one complete pipette in each nostril, on Wednesday I have to do TWO pipettes in each nostril!!! I have to say the sensation of the water going around your sinuses is not unpleasant. The sensation of having a fountain coming out of your nose is something else!! (Important advice here! Make sure that you have a handkerchief in your pocket for afterwards!!! I was wandering around Leader Price about an hour later, and bent forward to pick up some milk and ended up with water gushing everywhere, including all down the front of my coat!!!!!!! So pleasant!!!)
After the bain nasal, the hostess showed me how to attach my cone thingy to a yellow pipe. She then pressed the button marked 10 minutes and Sonic and I held the cone thing to my face and breathed through my nose, breathing in the sulphurous vapour.
And that was the end of day one. Tomorrow will be different as I don’t have the same treatments every day, but if tomorrow is as enjoyable as today, I’ll be a very happy lady.
First impressions – absolutely superb! I now feel pleasantly achy and weary – like I’ve had a good afternoon in the garden or a good workout. Biggest surprise? The lack of smell!!! I was expecting everything to smell like rotten eggs. It doesn’t! Can’t wait for tomorrow – going for a little nap now! A demain ….
Well, after yesterday’s adventures I was really looking forward to this morning. Arrived in plenty of time and bumped into two local chaps who I know, so a very pleasant few minutes were spent chatting with them in the salle d’attente.
First off, as yesterday, was the cataplasme. As I arrived, my very friendly hostess said “Good morning Mrs Jones”! I was stunned, how’s that for a memory??? The warm mud is so comfortable – it’s a great start to the morning.
Once the the cataplasme was over, a visit to the lovely Hortense for another blissful ten minutes in the bath with the shower jet. And then onto the Rain again – fortunately, no near drowning today – getting the hang of this now!!
After the Rain, I then spent four minutes having the most pleasure I think I have ever had with my clothes (half) on!! I sat on a stool and my hostess sat about two metres away from me with a rather large hose pipe. This absolute angel then sat and massaged my back with a fairly powerful jet of the thermal water. It was divine. It was heaven on earth. Bitterly disappointed when it finished I asked if she could continue all day, but sadly she declined.
I passed a very pleasant few minutes chatting with another curiste, whilst waiting for the immersion pool. She had married an American GI and has family in the States and speaks perfect English. A charming lady and I hope I shall see more of her over the coming weeks.
I then met up again with yesterday’s fly. Clearly, she just had those Monday blues yesterday as today she was smiling and happy. We were only four this time – one of them being one of the naughty chaps from yesterday. He’s a bit of a charmer this old boy – smiling and chatting and singing along. Bit like a schoolboy really, trying to wind up ‘Miss’!
Bain nasal was not on today’s agenda in the respiratory area, so I was interested to see what other little gem lay in store for me.
I was met by a different hostess today, all smiling and small and bustly! She instantly clucked over me that my robe was all wet and why hadn’t I been to change it? I replied that I wasn’t aware that we could mid-session, and was promptly bustled along to get a dry one.
She then showed me how to attach the cone thingy to a bracket and then to attach the yellow hose and press the 10 minute button. For ten minutes I had to shove my nose and mouth into the cone and breathe slowly through my nose whilst my face was being showered with water – this is called humage nebulisation. Not quite sure what this does really so the jury’s out on this treatment for the moment!!
Last treatment of the morning was the Inhalation collective. I was informed that I had to wait until the bell rings and then I should go into a room and lay down on a sun lounger for ten minutes whilst some vapour stuff was dispersed around the small room lit by ultra violet light. All of this accompanied by the sound of running water made it a very relaxing experience to end today’s session. (Important advice note here – particularly for women of a ‘certain age’. If you feel you need to go to the loo but think you may as well wait until you have finished your treatment, DON’T WAIT!! Ten minutes of running water is a VERY long time when you need a wee!!!)
This afternoon, as a new curiste, I have been invited to go for an apéro and to learn a little about the history of the Thermes, which should be pleasant – and if it’s not, at least there will be Muscat and rousquilles!!!
When my doctor convinced me to go en cure, she told me that, most likely, I would feel worse and be in more pain to start with, and then I would get better as the treatment goes on. She also told me I would find it tiring.
Local friends and family have all told me that I would need to rest as a cure is extremely tiring and I would not be physically able to do much at the same time as being en cure.
Frankly, I took this all as a little bit of French hypochondria and melodrama. After all, what can wallowing around in a bath possibly do to make pain worse and to make you tired?? Besides which, I am not some frail, delicate little flower, as everyone who knows me will attest, I am a big, strong woman.
OK. For once, I admit, in writing – I WAS WRONG!!!!
Yesterday afternoon, I planned to go to the welcome apéro and report back on the history of the thermes and the facilities on offer in their entirety. ‘The absolute angel’ who sat spraying my back for four minutes must have laughed all day at the thought that I wanted her to continue all day! Because SHE knew what pain she was inflicting upon me later in the day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As the afternoon wore on, the aching in my back increased until I needed to take a pain killer and have a lie down. I then dozed off. And woke up too late to go to the apéro ! (Clearly I haven’t missed my vocation as an investigative journalist!!!)
Fortunately, I had already prepared and frozen the dinner – otherwise there would have been no dinner in the Jones household last night. I was exhausted – no energy, totally spent – and in quite a lot of discomfort.
This morning, my treatments were the same as Mondays treatments. All went well – although I have now decided I detest the bain nasal! On Monday, the feeling of the water swooshing around the sinuses wasn’t unpleasant. Today it really wasn’t very nice at all!
I came straight home. Am now resting.
After writing yesterday’s little episode, I had some breakfast and decided to go back to bed – I was absolutely whacked out!! Managed to sleep from 10h45 to 13h45 and was back in bed at 22h15!! I don’t think I’ve EVER slept so much in my life!!!
Today’s treatments were as Tuesdays, so I was dreading suffering this evening as I did on Tuesday – I needn’t have worried! It would appear that on a Thursday some of the staff change places, so I had a very agreeable young man looking after me!! Clearly he didn’t want to damage a frail old so and so like me, so he lowered the water pressure. Less heaven on earth experience than Tuesday but MUCH less discomfort this evening!!!
I’m getting the hang of all of this now and am whizzing round from attraction to attraction – I’ve even started to work out where I actually AM in the building!
Today’s Inhalation Collective was a memorable ten minutes! The two chaps sitting opposite me had bushy white eyebrows and a shock of white hair – under the UV lights it was like sitting opposite a photo negative!!
I feel maybe I may have turned the corner on the tiredness front – I haven’t had to sleep today at all (yet!)
End of Week One
This morning was my sixth day of cure – tomorrow is a rest day. (I’m not sure who needs it most – the staff or the curistes!!!)
I’m now well and truly into the flow of getting down to Amélie for 07h00 and I’m starting to recognise a few people – and be recognised, so it’s now quite a pleasant experience to arrive in the morning as there are always several fellow curistes with whom I can pass the time of day.
My tiredness seems to be diminishing a little, the pains in the back aren’t showing much improvement yet, but I imagine that is normal. If one was to be ‘cured’ in a week, one wouldn’t need to go for three!
I really can’t say that I particularly like the voie respiratoire treatments – you don’t get the chance to speak to anyone and everyone is immersed in their own little area doing their own thing. The rheumatology treatments and the human interaction that goes alongside the treatment suit me much better, I have to admit.
The little old boy in the Immersion piscine is, indeed, a right old charmer! He’s a local, from Amélie, so he told me, and goes en cure every year. Sadly, he’s finished his cure for this year, so the Jacuzzi will be a little duller without him around, I’m sure.
Having now sussed out the quickest way around, I can be in and out in 1 hour 45 minutes. There are lots of people who really take their time – they are, after all, on holiday as well. There are sun loungers all around the place and a fair number of the curistes can be seen lounging around, relaxing, chatting and reading and playing sudoko and the like. Living just a little way away, I prefer to move through and get home as quickly as possible.
So tomorrow, easy day, relax in front of the fire and (hopefully) stay in bed a little later than the 05h45 of the previous week.
End of Week Two
This week kicked off with a routine visit to my doctor to check on my progress and she reiterated that it is quite normal to be totally knackered and to be suffering some pain. Apparently, the spa treatment wakes up the pain (that’s an incentive to try it then!!) This will, I am assured, settle down during my second week and the tiredness MAY wear off too.
During my first medical she had me bending and stretching and took various measurements, which she noted down. For the record, I have already gained 5cm of movement in one shoulder, 2cm of movement in the other and 5 cm of movement in my lower back in my first eight days of cure!!
The doctor has changed my treatments slightly – sadly, the boy with the hose is no longer on my list – I have to have the bar with the three jets every day instead!!
Tuesday was quite an amusing day at the Thermes. (The dreaded swimming hat is called an unprintable name in my house – I have never seen ANYONE look anything other than a complete fool wearing one.) As if the regular swimming hats aren’t bad enough, on Tuesday, no less than TWO couples were wandering around the Thermes gaily sporting the disposable plastic shower caps that you get in a hotel bathroom!! And another lady was wearing a large old fashioned plastic shower cap – trimmed with lace – just like your granny may have worn! It’s so difficult to keep a straight face sometimes!!
A few new faces in the Immersion Piscine on Tuesday too. One of them is an old gent who now lives locally and takes a cure at Le Boulou every April and Amélie every November – really pleasant and friendly. (word of advice for the chaps here! If you wear tight fitting swimming shorts, please, I implore you – to preserve your modesty – ensure that they fit tightly around the legs!!) An old boy in a wheelchair also joined our happy throng, and a rather attractive young man (young in comparison to the rest of ‘em that is – he was probably about my age!!)
Wednesday was the half way point and so was my last cataplasme. I was disappointed to say goodbye to the lovely Céline, but was looking forward eagerly to the mud bath on the Thursday.
Thursday morning and the programme changed slightly – it kicked off with Hortense and the bain sous marine. Such a relaxing start to the morning and a pleasure to spend ten minutes in such delightful company. The rest of the programme was the same until it came to the mud bath!
I really had NO idea what to expect!! As you enter the pool the first surprise is the heat. It’s really very warm. The second surprise is the texture. It’s more liquid than it looks but it’s really gloopy and voluptuous.
I had been instructed to take my place in stall number 10 for my first session. Stall number 10 is almost at the exit of the pool so you wade through waist high warm mud holding on to the bar for grim death – heaven forbid you should slip, you may never be seen again!! It’s rather like wading into a hippo’s water hole.
This is not to cast aspersions on the size of my fellow wallowers, it is just that most of them were almost completely under the mud except for their heads sticking out!! A giggle was starting to surface, so I smiled extravagantly and said hello to everyone to try and keep it under control.
On arriving at stall 10, I tried to sit down. I wasn’t aware that thermal mud is SO buoyant. Anyone who knows me will attest that I am not a small lady. I am, naturally, rather buoyant – added to this I have two rather large built in buoyancy aids. Trying to ease a large, buoyant body into gloopy buoyant mud is not an easy task!!! Most people were wallowing in the mud, with just their heads showing, some had knees and toes showing, some, larger people, had the top of their tummy showing. I WAS FLOATING ON THE TOP OF THE WATER!! I couldn’t lay on my back whilst keeping my body under the surface!!!
I was wallowing around, trying to control my overly buoyant body and the chuckles which were getting dangerously close to erupting. The mud bath is supposed to be one of the most relaxing treatments at the Thermes. That Thursday I spent ten minutes of absolute STRESS struggling to control this uncontrollable body from bobbing along on the surface of the mud like a bottle bobbing on the ocean! Add this to the torture of not being able to laugh out loud and the embarrassment of making such a fool of myself, you can well imagine that the ten minutes seemed interminable. I was TOTALLY exhausted when I was finally released from Stall 10.
Friday was the day when I said goodbye to some of the curistes who had been with me since the start. As we finished our treatments, we all shook hands and departed with “see you next year, then!”. One thing I am learning is that real friendships are made amongst the curistes. People come to Amélie for the same three weeks every year for years and years.
End of the second week arrives – it’s passed so quickly! I now have, more or less (chiefly less), control of my body in the mud bath and don’t find it quite so stressful now. I still have moments where I’m completely out of control but I’m getting there. (advice note for the ladies – if you epilate, make sure you do it before you start your mud bath cure – mud has an unforgiving way of clinging to hairy legs!!!)
I still ache, but am able to stand for a little longer than at the start and I am also less tired. The sulphur in the water is having a slightly drying effect on my skin, so I am slapping on moisturiser like it’s going out of fashion.
Apparently, this next week, I should really start to feel better.