There`s nothing —nothing — like a long tall glass of something chilled and sugar free after a long country walk.
So after a good hour’s stride through sun-blushed fields, I cocooned myself in a shady spot on the veranda, threw open my newspaper, and gorged on the very latest news about Meghan and Harry.
Looking up every so often to drink in the blazing colour of the surroundings —— impossibly blue sky and lawns as vivid as a matriach`s simcha hat — I found myself catching the gaze of a lady at the next table. “Gorgeous isn’t it?” she smiled. “So relaxing, so restful. No phones, no telly. Nothing to do but just chill. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”
Well, she was right about the first part. For here we were at Ragdale Hall, a luxurious health spa, located in the rolling Leicestershire countryside, which combines state-of-the-art facilities with the charm of traditional Victorian architecture
And indeed everywhere you turned, there were people just embracing the — for many — long lost art of switching off.
Curled up in fluffy robes, enjoying long convivial lunches (low cal, natch), walking in the grounds, or just feeling boneless and languid in one of the countless rest areas (my particular favourite was named The Retreat, a blissful coming together of cosy beds, swing seats, bean bags and plump cushions)
But as I itemised the reasons in my head why health spas are such joyful experiences, I returned to one conclusion. They work because, basically, they mimic Shabbat.
Sure, at home, for those who observe Saturday as the day of rest, you`re more likely to enjoy a faceful of cholent than a facial deluxe.
And I doubt many shuls could complete with incredible thermal spas (Ragdale has a heated rooftop infinity pool complete with reclining underwater massage jet seating, coloured underwater lighting and an infinity edge. I’d like to see the United Synagogue take that one on)
Yet even so, I realised that the essence of the spa world is available to all of us, every week, should we choose to keep Shabbat in spirit and in practice.
I’m not trying to proslytise here. I’m not using my health spa analogy as some kind of evangelical Trojan horse through which to get the unobservant to consider keeping Shabbat.
But for me, a Modern Orthodox Jew, it was just an astonishing realisation that the time out from the hamster wheel that so many of us crave is there — for free,noch — if we but choose to buy into it.
For me, there`s something triumphant about switching off my phone and computer at the end of the working week, then lighting candles and pouring that first chilled vodka (Ok, so it`s not entirely like a spa ).
But so much of Shabbat is about doing nothing more than enjoying the experience of stepping aside from the noise and pressures of the outside world , and focusing on comfort and rest.
At the spa it was clearly a novelty to have a meal where people talked to each other (no phones in public areas). Where the only thing to do if you weren`t being pampered was to read or snooze. You could see the afterglow on the faces of guests as they checked out.
Of course, not everyone has the time, money or opportunity to take a spa break. But we do have the luxury of Shabbat, perhaps the greatest thing the Almighty gifted us.
And remember, if you eat too much kugel, the health spa is always waiting too.