Absolute Sanctuary review
Pilates, yoga & detox spa retreat, Thailand
The Quick Read: Absolute Sanctuary on Koh Samui in Thailand specialises in yoga, Pilates and detox holidays, and offers lots of other fitness activities too. It’s well established, fun, down to earth and makes unwinding very easy. There are just 38 rooms and a good choice of well-thought-through programmes to follow – whether you prefer yoga, hard or soft-core detox options, relaxation, fitness, or more. The laid back yet professional staff make it easy to pick a version that works for your needs, so mix and matching is easy. The yoga is plentiful, varied and good quality, the food is healthy and tasty, and the massages are swoon-inducing.
More on the spa: Sitting alongside the pool, the spa is a spacious and quiet space with a tiled floor and dark wooden furniture and doors, leading into calming and pleasant treatment rooms bedecked with flowers, candles and aromatic oils. Outside on the verandah are raised platforms with floor-based beds for the Thai massages, alongside chairs used for pedicure and manicures. There is also a very hot steam room, which is open to all, and an infra-red sauna, which has to be paid for unless it is included in your package (which it seems to be for most).
More on the treatments: Most of the treatments are done by Thais, with their customary elegance and grace, and there is a good choice of Swedish, aromatherapy or Thai massages, and Pevonia facials as well as scrubs and wraps. The aromatherapy massage, by a lovely lady called Maew, is highly recommended, while May does great pedicures. Read a word from the queen on our experience of a ‘harmonising’ wellbeing holiday.
Alongside these traditional treatments a smaller staff of Westerners offer various specialities. Dr William Engleheart does a dreamy yet effective cranio-sacral treatment in conjunction with his physiotherapy work, while more esoteric treatments include the likes of EFT, Reiki, crystal healing and dream analysis.
More on the yoga & Pilates: Dedicated yoga retreats and Pilates bootcamps run throughout the year, but whenever you go, and whatever programme you are following, you can still participate in any of the 5 regular classes daily. Yogawise there are a huge range of teachers and styles on offer – from hot to restorative, detox-friendly to ashtanga, dynamic to yin, and more. Three large, pleasant yoga studios are well equipped and well maintained, and yogic tea is offered after every class. The ‘Absolute’ brand is well known in Thailand. Having established several well respected studios in Bangkok, Absolute Sanctuary is their first retreat, and only their approved teachers teach here. Pilates classes in the Reformer studio range from foundation level to sessions focusing on specific areas such as abs and arms, or there’s general fit and tone class.
More on the fitness activities: There is a wonderful 20 metre infinity pool for laps, and even if you’re not on one of the programmes, you can still attend daily group fitness activities, which range form early morning walks to kick boxing, boot camp or aqua aerobics. These are run by ever-cheerful Dutchman, Marco, who can also be booked for private personal training sessions, which will satisfy all but the most intense fitness fanatics. If you’ve any time left after all that there is a very small gym with one treadmill, one cross trainer and lots of weights. Read how our king got on training with Marco here.
More on the property: Rather oddly for a Thai spa, the design is Moroccan. From the outside the buildings are quite chunky and don’t have the delicate sophistication one normally associates with Thailand, but it’s still quite attractive, in a solid sort of way. It’s set into a small hillside so there are a few stairs, but nothing too onerous. The first level houses the reception, gym, one of the yoga studios and the restaurant, the second the pool, some bedrooms and 2 other yoga studios, and the third and fourth tiers consist of more rooms. No building is more than two storeys, so it feels quite compact, but the preponderance of yellow painted concrete means that it doesn’t exactly sit lightly in its environment. It feels as though the designers favoured the functional over the aesthetic, but there’s a good range of plantings and large trees to help soften the overall effect, so you don’t feel crammed in.
Most people congregate round the lovely 20 metre pool and adjoining pool bar, from whence pour forth lovingly prepared and even more lovingly enjoyed fresh juices and smoothies. There are a couple of other communal areas, should you wish to be sociable – an outdoor seating area with loungers on a small lawn amidst some trees, and a rather clinical indoor lounge where DVDs are shown every night at 8pm, and educational talks every day at 2pm. Having said that, this is not really somewhere to come and make friends – some do, but the emphasis seems to be more on couples and friends travelling together. The relaxing view is of tree tops, with a glimpse of the sea in the distance.
More on the bedrooms: There are three types of room to choose from, all of which have a small balcony: pool view, sea view or suite. Go for a sea view room on the second floor to make sure you really do get to see the sea, and if you are in a pool room, be warned that with the floor to ceiling glass wall you are just as much on view to those in the pool as they are to you. Continuing the Moroccan theme, the rooms use colour and texture more than they do decoration, although there are some rather jolly, colourful drawings of camels dotted around. It’s a little bit rough and ready: painted plaster walls have little niches containing oil lamps and incense burners, while there are curtains instead of doors to the bathroom and clothes hanging area (if you’re not coming solo, you’d want to share a room with someone you’re comfortable with).
Food and drink: They call the restaurant the Love Kitchen here because your body will love everything that is served – it’s all healthy, local, and natural – designed to nurture and rejuvenate, even those not on conventional detoxes. People on programmes will probably eat from the spa menu, which tells you what to eat each day, carefully calibrated to give you a range of nutrients without an excess of calories. Each meal consists of two courses and a freshly made juice or tea. Teas too, are always made to order – fresh mint and lime, or actual lemongrass and ginger – not dried or from bags. There is no alcohol allowed on site, but coffee can be ordered if you really cannot go without.
For those not on a detox programme, meals are mainly vegetarian with a few meals of fish or chicken dotted throughout the week should you want them. A sample day might consist of fresh fruit then a tofu scramble or a poached egg for breakfast; lunch might be Vietnamese spring rolls stuffed with fried tofu, rice noodles and veg accompanied by dipping sauces, followed by a vegetarian or prawn green curry, while supper might be a soup and a piece of grilled fish or chicken and grilled veg. It is delicious and very well presented, the flavours are light and tasty, but it is not gourmet or hugely inventive.
Detoxers tend to stay up at the pool bar for their juices, but there is a permanent flask of broth and another of lime and ginger tea for them down in the dining room, should they need it. For those on programmes that involve actual food, meals are served in the dining room or out on its small verandah. The atmosphere in both is rather on the formal side with muddy brown walls and heavy dark furniture, but the friendliness of the staff more than makes up for the lack of buzz, and the food is great.
Fellow guests: Guests are truly international – South and North Americans, Europeans, and Asians. Most tend to be between 30 and 50, more couples than you normally find at these sort of places, and most seem relatively healthy, not too many hugely overweight or novice detoxers. People tend to keep themselves to themselves so it wouldn’t suit extroverts who like a group buzz or to compare notes, although if you sit up at the juice bar at the pool long enough you are sure to find someone who wants a chat.
What’s queenly: This is a very chilled and relaxing environment. There is a well organized structure to follow but it’s not overbearing or bossy so you can opt in or out depending on your mood. Yoga, treatments, pool, staff, food and juices are all wonderful.
What’s lowly: There isn’t a great view and to get to the beach involves a ten minute hike down a fairly busy road. Rooms are comfortable rather than luxurious so you may encounter a few plumbing problems and slightly threadbare towels. Similarly the sun loungers are not the most comfortable you will ever find.
Getting there: Koh Samui has its own airport but you will need to transfer from a larger international airport such as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. You will be picked up from the airport from where it’s a mere 5 minute drive to the Sanctuary.
Costs: Costs vary according to the package. As an example, a 7 day harmonizing package costs 81,900 thai bhat (£1,500) for a single person in a pool view room, or Bht 64,750 (£1,191) if sharing, or Bht 97,300 (£1800) in a suite for a single person, or Bht 74,500 bhat (£1,370) if sharing. This includes airport transfers, 3 meals and 6 juices a day, and daily treatments. These vary day by day but a sample day might include a wrap, a scrub and a facial, while another day might include a massage and a Reiki session. Different packages have different inclusions and different prices, and if you are adding in extra treatments these vary – for instance an hour long oxygenating facial costs Bht 2,500 (£46) and a hour long revitalising massage costs Bht 2000 (£37).
Reviewed by Sasha Bates
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