Getting put back together at Absolute Sanctuary on Koh Samui in Thailand
Sasha Bates reviews a popular wellness retreat with her husband and relishes the laid back atmosphere and good quality treatments
After the worst January in living memory, for me at least as it brought with it the death of my father, I was desperately in need of a relaxing retreat. I wasn’t feeling emotionally strong enough for a full-on detox, or physically robust enough for a dedicated yoga or fitness holiday, and I was worried a meditation retreat might lead to full on meltdown, but I did need somewhere to relax and let my body and soul get reacquainted. Absolute Sanctuary’s 7 day ‘Harmonising Package’ proved to be the perfect prescription, offering a little bit of everything, a lot of relaxation, and leaving me plenty of choice as to how to divide my time.
I loved the fact that the place was run very efficiently and professionally, yet was also unpretentious and laid back, letting me be and do exactly what I needed to, while providing a calming and holding environment. My package included a plethora of wonderful experiences, yet still left enough time for me to join in with whichever yoga classes or fitness activities I felt up to.
Every day brought a schedule of different treatments. One day I went from the infra red sauna, to a coffee scrub followed by a herbal wrap to hive off all that accumulated dead winter skin, warm my English bones, and prepare me for an aromatherapy massage to follow. Another day I had a Reiki session followed by a rejuvenating heavenly oxygenating facial by a warm, caring Thai lady with the incongruous name of Ice. Not a day went by when I didn’t drift off into a deep and replenishing sleep, lulled there by the magic hands of the highly skilled therapists, the soothing music and the gorgeous smells. A lifetime later I would find myself – in all senses of the phrase – gently woken by the tinkling of a bell and the offer of a warming ginger tea.
I was there with my husband, Bill who, more bravely, had opted for the Fitness package, so we floated in and out of each other’s company as we passed on our way to our various activities – his generally involved something rather more upright and active than the supine, passive nature of my own – before meeting back on our sun loungers by the side of the gorgeous infinity pool to do yet more sleeping, this time smothered in sun screen as opposed to essential oils.
As I grew steadily stronger, I found myself drifting towards the yoga studios. The early morning detox class was my favourite because of its soothing, gentle nature. It began at 8 am with half an hour of pranayama and/or meditation, then an hour of respectful, quiet, slow asana practice followed. I think it suited my fragile state, and although I wasn’t detoxing in the fasting sense, nevertheless the small portions of healthy food I was eating and the absence of caffeine, sugar and alcohol meant I felt as though I was. And my body responded in kind – at first sluggish and achy, before gradually finding a lightness and corresponding increase in energy levels.
I did also try some of the other classes – at 10am, 4.30 and 6pm respectively – which, had I been my normal self, I think I would have enjoyed more. They were dynamic, challenging and well taught, with a good focus on alignment – but they were just a bit much for me at that time. The emphasis seemed geared more towards calorie burning and achievement than to spiritual enlightenment and inner awareness, but they were fun and energizing. Teachers rotate round the different classes, so who you get on any given day will vary, but I particularly liked Scott, a visiting teacher from America who comes here to teach occasionally and combined skill and knowledge, with a calming, soothing manner.
One class I know I will never like, no matter how strong I feel, is the hot yoga. This was definitely not for me – I felt very unsafe and dizzy and my mat was drenched within minutes – but the number of people in the class suggested I am in a minority on this one. And certainly, if this is a style you like, then this is a good place to do it as it’s a bit of a specialty, and it is here that they run the “Absolute hot yoga” teacher trainings.
I liked the food enormously – what it lacked in surprising creativity or intense bursts of flavour it made up for by being reliably tasty and healthy, and I lost 4 pounds without even trying and without even noticing that I’d cut down. My harmonizing package included a couple of juices a day, to be taken whenever I felt like it, and I found the juice and smoothie menu incredibly tempting, especially the Banana Coco-dream, an orgasmic blend of frozen banana, fresh coconut flesh, and its water, blended into a creamy delight, while the Power Punch of pineapple juice, lime and wheat grass was the first drink I’ve tasted that has made wheat grass palatable.
What I valued most about Absolute Sanctuary was the laid back atmosphere and the quality of the treatments. It’s certainly several comfortable steps up from budget, but it’s not high luxury either, and its style hovers midway between completely practical and overly spiritual. By the end of the week I felt I had reclaimed myself again. The clear, clean, vibrant nature of the food had washed away the coffee and cake diet that had characterised my January; the sunshine and water of my poolside lounging had sloughed off my winter wrapping; the yoga and treatments had brought harmony back to body, mind and soul. I got exactly what I wanted (and needed) from it, and I will definitely return.