At the Swiss clinic that promises to help you live longer

“What would madam prefer?” Elizabeth Taylor’s waiter asks her in the 1973 film Ash Wednesday. “Perrier, Vichy, Apollinaris or Crodo?”

“Well,” says Taylor, looking sadly down at her meal — alcohol is banned at a Swiss clinic as part of the miracle treatment that will restore her youthful beauty — “whichever goes best with roast beef.”

Beyond my own pretty little Swiss table, a manicured green lawn slopes down to the lake, its soft blue ending in the snow-capped Dents du Midi leaning askew in the distance.

I have before me an exhaustive study of all the interesting things you can do with a carrot – on a plate. No roast beef for me. Or meat. Or alcohol. Or caffeine. Or gluten. Or dairy products. And hardly any sugar. I have two glasses of water. Extra hydrogen ions have been added to one, which sounds like the heady equivalent of zero plus zero.

For a few days I’m a guest at the Clinique La Prairie, the medical spa on Lake Geneva, which over nine decades has achieved almost mythical status in the luxury of a longer – and more beautiful – life. Most sanatoriums fight diseases. But when you’re this rich, you’re fighting against time itself.

A spa area at the CLP against the backdrop of the Dents du Midi

A few months ago, while writing an article about one of the biggest fraud cases in Swiss history, I had sneered at Clinique La Prairie: an executive’s wife had used company funds to pay for a stay ($250,000). Shortly after the publication, the clinic got in touch: maybe I would like to visit them?

In the first place I thought Yes, because, well, voyeurism: the ability to roam incognito in one of the ritziest enclaves of the super-rich. Only 30 guests are in the clinic at the same time.

Even more robustly, I was curious – and I brought this up to my editor – how Switzerland’s historic health palaces fared in the wake of a global pandemic, with sickness and mortality still so raw in our cultural psyches.

And finally Yes Frankly, out of personal vanity: I’m in my late thirties and barely have the patience to stay five minutes in the bath, let alone on a massage table or in a spa, but I’m conceited enough to have begun to worry about the effects of time to annoy.

Clinique La Prairie (or CLP, but never La Prairie, because that’s the hallmark of the ultra-luxury skin care brand of the same name (sold as a separate shop in 1982) is tucked away on the outskirts of Montreux, on the eastern end of Lake Geneva.

It consists of a mini-campus of buildings set back from the lakefront in a hinterland of upscale 1970s apartment buildings and Belle Époque villas dotted with palm trees and mimosas, the vernacular of the Vaud Riviera. A suburb for millionaires.

There’s the original clinic – a tidy building with mustard-yellow awnings that could pass for a family Pension. There’s the medical center – a blue glass PoMo monstrosity from the 1990s. There is the main accommodation block – the château – a former girls’ school. And there’s the modern, gleaming spa and reception complex. The overall effect is neat but not great.

The Résidence, the most historic building in the clinic and originally the home of Dr. Paul Niehans

The money here goes into personal attention, not architectural theatrics. The staff at the CLP raise flattery to an art, but then there are seven of them for each guest. I’m here for a “detox reset,” the entry-level treatment the clinic offers.

Taylor’s Ash Wednesday was not specifically stated here, but there is no doubt as to the origin of the “cell therapy” she receives – injections of fetal cells from unborn lambs. This is the Paracelsian sorcery that made CLP’s name, invented by its founder Dr. Paul Niehans in the early 20th century.

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The almost biblical strangeness of the procedure had not escaped at least one fan: Pope Pius XII. (whose war record could most charitably be described as not infallible) was an early customer. During a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the 1950s, he is said to have secretly sent a papal nuncio to the clinic to get a jar of face cream.

Other visitors include Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, the Duke of Windsor, Konrad Adenauer, Bernard Baruch, Thomas Mann, Hedda Hopper and Charles de Gaulle.

Like CLP’s modern approach, my detox program is more down-to-earth: a strictly controlled selection of foods, herbal teas and waters, and a sample offering of physiotherapy treatments each day.

Shortly after my arrival, I sit down for tea with Simone Gibertoni, the managing director of CLP. He took over the helm of the clinic in 2016, appointed by the company’s chairman, Gregor Mattli, son of owner Armin Mattli, with a mandate to transform it into a global super-brand.

Gibertoni, an Italian with a background in consulting and cosmetics, is smartly dressed, charming and knows his business inside out. Branding is his profession. Under him, CLP has already opened mini-clinics in Madrid and Bangkok. Two more clinics will open this year: one in Doha and an all-encompassing “longevity resort” in China.

The CLP’s modern spa and reception complex © Tim Wagner

Additionally, Gibertoni says, CLP strives to become a more everyday part of its customers’ lives — not just a wellness Shangri-la they escape to every two years. An app, a promise of regular remote consultations and a range of dietary supplements – which could easily be called the world’s most expensive vitamin pills – will expand CLP’s business reach. This is not only smart business, but also more honest health care.

“Despite all the money being spent on it in Silicon Valley, there’s no magic molecule that stops aging anytime soon,” Gibertoni says. “Longevity is a journey.” And CLP, he says, is the best place in the world to do that.

In recent years longevity has become the biggest buzzword in the $1.5 trillion global wellness industry. Looking younger or feeling younger is no longer enough. Now you must May be younger.

In essence, this was the original promise of Niehans cell therapy, which was decades ahead of today’s fad and made CLP a game changer. What that really boils down to is up for debate: On the clinic’s website, Niehans claims he’s had “spectacular” results from his injections, but for my money you probably just have to know that he also claimed they could “treat gay and lesbian tendencies.” ” treat. In other words, he was a nutcase.

Regardless, modern longevity science is more compelling: Aging, it claims, is simply the breakdown of our cells’ ability to read the ageless DNA “blueprint” they contain. A 13-year study by Harvard scientists, published just last month, found this “epigenetic deterioration” to be the “major cause of aging in mammals.”

Using a suite of sophisticated biochemical tests – including a complete genomic blueprint in record time – CLP promises its modern customers that it can identify and micro-target the specific elements of their lifestyle that cause this damage. Instead of a miracle shot, a tailored health plan is offered: a personalized lifestyle change designed to slow aging. My detox reset was a taste of it.

Cryotherapy is one of the treatments offered © Carlo Mari

However, as I stumble around in robes from day to day and treatment to treatment in an atmosphere of calm, textureless luxury, I often wonder where the pampering ends and the science begins.

I couldn’t help but be skeptical of some of the treatments: sitting in an infrared device that resembled an iron lung for 45 minutes and having hot oil slowly drip onto my forehead (after a flash in a cryo tank) were both profound soporific, but I can’t believe they’ve done much for my cells.

On the other hand, there were sessions that highlighted obvious flaws in my lifestyle: The deep-tissue masseuse — a slim, older woman with obvious talent and a penchant for physical manipulation that was subtle without violence — struck a chord when she pointed it out pointed out how incredibly tight my muscles were. I didn’t know how activated my lymphatic system was after two hours of muscular abuse.

But that my over-vigilance and back issues would make sleep and mental health difficult, as we discussed at length, was revealing and made me think of lasting changes I needed to make after I left. Even – God help me – yoga?

I found that there was something to be said for the clinic’s holistic approach.


Clinic Director David Alessandria’s inventive recipes include . . .


. . . Celery Blossom with Green Sauce © Alex Pittet

Back to the carrot: has a carrot ever been so tasty? I expected the dietary restrictions of my time at CLP to be the ultimate boredom. In fact, they were the opposite. Lunch and dinner were three course meals that were imaginative and delicious. (Apparently not everyone was like that. During the weekday two teenagers from a large extended family showed up for lunch with two large McDonald’s bags.)

In absolute truth, after just four days, I still haven’t had it felt healthier or fitter in months. I slept deeply and well. And yet . . .

The night before I left, I stayed up late in my room scouring the internet for articles about aging and what it all means. It is, of course, a moral issue to have enough money to buy treatments that, with at least promise, will bring a class of people closer to becoming demigods. But even before that, I think, comes the age-old cliché of whether a longer or even nicer-looking life is a better one.

None of us want to feel old. The cure is not in a syringe, a pill or a pot of cream, longevity (née wellness), the industry is now knowingly telling us. But I’m not yet convinced we’ll find it in any diet or lifestyle, no matter how carefully worked and expensive to maintain.

Sam Jones is the FT’s Austria and Switzerland correspondent


Sam Jones was a guest at Clinique La Prairie ( A five-day detox reset including accommodation costs from 9,800 francs or 8,800 pounds

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