Anjana Gosai finds that a crash course in exotic spa techniques makes a relaxing and rewarding experience
One of the great privileges of being a beauty editor is that I’ve been invited to some of the world’s most amazing spas. From breathtaking alpine hideaways to peace-instilling ashrams, I’ve been pampered and preened within the confines of some incredible destinations.
But recently I’ve felt the need to take my experience one step further and actually learn about the ideas and methodology behind what makes a truly great spa. So I handpicked three of the finest, all of which, promised to teach me their trade secrets, beauty rituals and traditions that go back thousands of years.
I was introduced to the Spa Village Resorts on a visit to Malaysia last year. The country is home to five world class destination spas belonging to the luxury hotel group YTL; Spa Village Pangkor Laut, Kuala Lumpur, Tanjong Jara, Cameron Highlands, Malacca and their first property outside of Malaysia in Tembok, Bali.
What’s unique about the Spa Village group is that each spa draws inspiration from the healing cultures and remedies of its local region. This is a philosophy I loved the sound of. So many times I’ve been offered treatments that bear little connection to where I am. From Ayurvedic massages in Austria to Thai massage in New York, it all tends to detract from the individuality of the spa.
But the Spa Village ethos is the complete opposite, and everything is about where you are. So packing my pencil and notepad along with my sandals, sarong and slightly bewildered husband, I set off for south east Asia, vowing to graduate from the school of spa. Learning has never been more fun. Or blissful…
Spa Village Tembok, Bali
A bumpy two-hour drive from the airport was well worth the agony the moment I set foot in this tranquil resort in the beautiful village of Tembok, an undeveloped part of Bali on the northern part of the island, which still holds strong roots with the traditional Balinese way of life.
There’s not much to do in Tembok, but that’s the point. This place is designed to help you de-stress and much thought has gone into ensuring this happens. There are no televisions in the rooms, mobile phones are discouraged as are children under the age of 16. Being relatively small, there are only 31 rooms, meaning you have the full attention of the warm and charming staff.
There is plenty to do and trust me, you soon forget that a TV and in my case, a Blackberry even exists. If you’re not lounging by the blue infinity pool, clustered with sun loungers and four huge outdoor beds, overlooking the black volcanic sand stretched beach, there are lots of daily activities such as lessons in Balinese crafts and spa remedies to keep you occupied.
Health freaks will love the Wantilan restaurant, headed by chef Danny, who serves only the best locally sourced foods, if you’re a fan of seafood, the red snapper fillets and seared blue-fin tuna are the best not to mention a delicious selection of fresh juices.
Tours can be arranged to the nearby town of Ubud – great for sightseeing temples and shopping for arts and crafts.
SPA PHILOSOPHY AND TREATMENTS
This spa and its staff are dedicated to Balinese healing, and invite you to select a Discovery Path based on your needs; choose from balance, creativity, or vigour. Each path comes with a recommended range of treatments and activities such as yoga, beach walks and workouts that aim to bring your body back to equilibrium. All treatments begin with a Segara Diri, a pre-treatment session involving a foot massage and steam to improve blood circulation, remove toxins and strengthen the feet.
Treatments are carried out using oils and ingredients made in-house and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are simply unbelievable. Don’t leave without trying the Penganten Melukat, which starts with a Balinese massage followed by a boreh body scrub, the application of skin softening fresh milk followed by a floral bath. The Campur-Campur, which in Malay means ‘the blending of varieties’, has warm pouches filled with lemon grass and pandan leaves pressed all over the body to induce relaxation – it’s simply divine.
WHAT TO LEARN
Try your hand at Balinese massage at the Spa Village Academy to learn how to alleviate a host of body aches.
Here, I learned how to make the boreh body scrub, using purely natural ingredients including ginger, tamarind, turmeric, rice and milk. It has amazing dead skin buffing abilities and is heat inducing. We also made the strangely addictive jamu – a herbal tonic known for its detoxing, revitalizing and strengthening properties. The blend of digestion-aiding ginger, cleansing tamarind, turmeric for its astringent qualities and palm sugar, helps flush the system of unwanted toxins.
And it’s not just girly activities on offer here, there’s plenty for men to do too.
My husband enjoyed the Pencak Silat classes – a form of martial arts that comprises of postures and movements aligned with breathing and meditation - a session on the beach is guaranteed to raise the metabolism and uplift the mind. Sunset fishing with local fishermen is also a must and you get to eat your catch for dinner.
• One-night in a Kamar room costs from £244 per night including daily breakfast, three-course lunch, dinner and a daily spa treatment. www.spavillage.com/tembokbali
Lufthansa flies from the UK to Singapore, from £499. www.lufthansa.com For connecting flights to Bali from Singapore see www.singaporeair.com
Spa Village Tangong Jara, Malaysia
Based on the eastern coast of Malaysia, this award winning resort is surrounded by stunning beaches, clear waters and lush jungle. The family resort welcomes children and all 99 rooms are equipped with TVs.
In addition to the breathtaking surroundings, the dining options are divine. Di Atas Sungei overlooks the South China Sea, The Nelayan specializes in seafood and is overseen by Chef Ann, a culinary master at East Coast cuisine.
SPA PHILOSOPHY AND TREATMENTS
The spa dedicates itself to combining the therapeutic properties of natural ingredients found in various indigenous herbs and plants and the innate healing practices of the local area.
It is the only spa in the world to focus on traditional Malay healing. Cleansing rituals date as far back as the Royal Malay Courts of the 17th century. Every treatment begins with a Mandi Bunga or floral bath, where you’re doused with seven jars of water, each filled with a unique healing flower to bless the body and soul. This ritual feels amazing against the warmth of the sun.
The spa menu offers a wealth of innovative treatments, which are carried out using local herbs, spices and oils. I was lucky enough to experience a massage with the spa’s award winning masseuse Pak Yahya. It’s no surprise that this 54 year old healer’s techniques have been proved worthy of international acclaim as he performs a miracle massage that left my limbs unbelievably loose and rested. Other treatments to try are the Tuam Pasir (heated sea sand therapy), which involves a massage using pouches filled with hot sand, fenugreek, blackseeds and a medicated ointment to help eliminate achy joints. The Muka Berseri-seri (Malay facial) incorporates facial massage using mini herbal pouches loaded with turmeric and wild ginger. You can also experience healing in your room, I fell in love with the bath menu options where you can pick from three soaks including spiritual renewal infused with lime to ward of negative energy, lovers bath filled with rose petals, ylang-ylang and jasmine and my favourite the muscle relaxation - a bath filled with spicy spices that instantly relieved my jet-lag.
WHAT TO LEARN
Culture is an integral part of the Tanjong Jara experience, and this manifests in many ways. There are a host of cultural experience to chose from that provide an insight into their way of life.
Be sure to accompany chef Ann on one of her morning visits to the Dungun fish market. Here you learn about the different fish on display and what vegetables compliment them best. Experiencing the hustle and bustle of the market is enjoyable and breakfast here is part of the fun. Cooking school with Chef Anne, who will teach you to prepare typical Malaysian dishes and the secrets of blending herbs and spices, is also a must.
A trek through the jungle with the fascinating Captain Mokh - the in-house naturalist is worth a try. Captain Mokh also conducts the morning yoga classes and is almost the heart and soul of this resort. I loved his nature treks where I learnt about the healing properties of the plants and ingredients used at the spa.
Batik painting was fun. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the ancient art technique makes use of vegetable dyes on fabric to make attractive textiles, and you get to take your design home with you.
• A Bumbung room costs from £213 per room per night. www.tanjongjararesort.com
Qatar Airways fly to Kuala Lumpur from the UK via Doha. www.qatarairways.com
Spa Village Majestic Malacca, Malaysia
This majestic hotel is very different to the beach resorts of Tembok Bali and Tanjong Jara, but definitely has it’s own charm. Sitting on the banks of the Malacca River this hotel dates back to the 1800s, and retains much of its original character.
SPA PHILOSOPHY AND TREATMENTS
Malacca is the only place in the world to base its therapies on the Baba-Nyonya culture, also known as Peranakan – a unique combination of Chinese and Malay influences. Unmissable treatments include the Bird’s Nest Facial with Tapioca. Considered the ‘caviar of the East’, bird’s nest is the dried saliva of a species of swifts found only in the coastal caves of South East Asia. It sounds strange, but it left my dry skin feeling totally replenished.
WHAT TO LEARN
The therapists here are full of knowledge and unique beauty tips that are slightly weird but surprisingly effective. Take the Egg Rolling therapy – a massage involving hardboiled eggs packed in a muslin bag. It really works!
Luscious, thick and shiny hair is celebrated as a sign of vitality and beauty, so the Perankans have a rich culture of hair treatments. The hair rituals I tried were a total treat for my tresses and the therapists were more than happy to reveal their secrets. They tell me to massage coconut oil onto the scalp to relieve mild headaches and yogurt mixed with lime juice to unclog pores and add shine to lacklustre locks. Easy to do at home!
• A deluxe king room costs from £152 per night. www.majesticmalacca.com