Serenity for an urban dweller at Absolute Sanctuary, Thailand
Rosanna Covacich reviews this spa retreat on Koh Samui in Thailand and finds fresh and colourful food, gracious Thai hospitality and a welcome dose of peace
With London’s spectacular summer and my habitual fitness routine nose diving, my trip to Absolute Sanctuary on Koh Samui felt like divine intervention with its promise of sun, sea and rejuvenation.
Wellbeing and I are firm friends, not just a holiday fling. With permission to ignore the big city norms and indulge my love of ‘feel good’, it was time to put some spark back into this long-standing romance. With only eight days there was no time to waste.
A damp warmth, cool towel and smiley team greeted me after the long-haul flight and 5-minute ride from airport to the resort. Seconds to shower for supper, and I went to see who else was on the resort. No one? Alone in the empty Love Café, savouring the fragrant grilled sea bass, I resolved that this may be a silent retreat and also monsoonal, according to AccuWeather. It was low season after all.
Day one dawned, with brilliant sunshine. Invisible the night before, I took in the panoramic views from my simply decorated room, from the pool to the sea. Humidity, humans and a health check awaited. Hooked to a scientific contraption, my vitals were hacked, pitching me against the healthy and unhealthy. The algorithms revealed I’m in-the-middle of the accepted spectrum of good health. Estimated age two decades below my chronological age. And no I’m not telling.
A sprinkling of people came to breakfast clutching their schedules – there were not many people here during my stay, but they were all a mix of ages and stages. I was consumed in a menu of mouth-watering choices and distracted dealing with overwhelmed taste buds perking up for a week of tasty Thai. Colourful and fresh, not fussy or fatty. Happy to be Pret-less for a week, and allowed coffee too.
Still in the grip of London’s adrenaline rush, I had this curious anxiety about getting to yoga, Pilates, personal training and what felt like a perpetual Thai massage on time. The big city hangover disappeared on day three when I fell into the easy island life tempo, with the Absolute team happy to move the movable treatments and personal work-outs whenever I wanted.
Not needing to kick re-start a routine or detox, I had chosen the Be Fit package, which is not unlike my London routine. My days were a mix active personal training and restorative yoga, with healthy eating at the core. All teachers knew their stuff, and the standard of teaching was high. So I didn’t miss out on the therapeutic qualities of the sea, I would often plan all my workouts for the first part of the day to allow time for late afternoons on the beach.
I had a great session with Stephane, Absolute Sanctuary’s uncannily intuitive in-house nutritionist and coach, and early evenings were for spa massages, which started and ended ceremoniously with a serving of tea. While these were far better quality all round than the ones I have tried in London, I found daily massages were a bit much, and interestingly for all that stretching and pummelling – which felt amazing at the time – my chronic and stubborn knots remained.
With no set mealtimes I would come and go as I pleased to eat. The simplicity of tropical fruits for breakfast was what I most looked forward too, but all were good quality, Thai style and carefully calibrated nutritionally. As a grazer at home, two servings per meal was a bit much for me, so the cafe staff would prepare a ‘doggy’ bag I could pick at throughout the day. Throughout my stay I was impressed with that serenely elegant hospitality only Thais can achieve.
On day three I broke my vow of silence. The infinity pool and unofficial social hub had one person relaxing in solitude. I couldn’t refrain any longer and joined her, for meeting interesting people on retreats is my guilty pleasure. Our conversation continued from pool to the picturesque nearby Vikasa Life Café for lunch, and a bird’s eye view of a spectacular storm making its way across the island leaving a rainbow in its wake. (For the curious who aren’t on detox, and like to venture out, the café is worth the 20 minutes ridiculously cheap cab ride).
This small value-for-money retreat was an easy place to hole up without daily pressures of home impinging on my love of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. After seven days I was ready to take on the rush and stimulation of big city life again. As I exited Koh Samui on a sunny Saturday morning, marvelling at the novelty of a tropical airport and glowing from a health infused week, I knew I had restored my happy relationship with movement, affinity for the sea, and love of time out to revitalise the senses and experience new cultures.