24-Hour Room Service: Shanti-Som, Málaga, Spain
Asian wellbeing arrives in Andalucia
Saturday 02 July 2011
You don't have to go all the way to Thailand, Bali or India to have your chakras realigned: the new Shanti-Som Wellbeing Retreat brings all the wisdom and atmosphere of an Asian health retreat to the hills of southern Spain. So there's no long-haul jet lag to disturb your pranayamas (that's yogic breathing to the uninitiated).
Opened in May, Shanti-Som is the fruition of a long-held personal ambition of its founder, Kezia Jacobsen, who has more than 25 years' experience in health, beauty and holistic therapies. After her son was involved in a serious accident, she decided on a path of creating a haven of peace, harmony and balance.
Consequently, her heart and soul has gone into making this a special place. Guests are greeted on arrival by a stone-carved Balinese reclining Buddha. The inspirational staff have been carefully chosen. They include yoga teacher Petra Lindros – who practises an energising, Anusara-inspired yoga – and a detox expert, Cristina Azcárate Hane. Kezia has also attracted high-profile instructors such as Maya Fiennes, who is hosting a Kundalini yoga week at here from 16-23 July.
While the hotel is not part of a spa chain such as Banyan Tree or Six Senses, Kezia visited several for inspiration. She was particularly taken with the Four Seasons Resort Sayan and Como Shambhala Estate, both in Bali.
Set among the fragrant pine, almond, lemon and olive trees of the Sierra de las Nieves natural park (a world away from nearby Marbella), Shanti-Som offers yoga, detox or weight-loss programmes. Gentler treatments are also offered in the spa, such as an hour-long Thai massage (€75) or lavender herbal repair facial (€60). More unusual treatments include a sound massage that uses Tibetan singing bowls.
You can also come for a relaxing break without a yoga mat in sight, instead treating the place as a five-star sanctuary.
Shanti-Som was previously a two-star rustic hotel. Now, the existing 10-year-old structure has an impressive, vaulted thatch roof and an overall style that is an eclectic mix of Balinese, Moroccan and Indian – though not overwhelmingly so.
Non-detoxers can also indulge in the top-notch food at the Amrita restaurant, whose name translates as "nectar for the soul" . The head chef, Ben Hayes, was previously executive chef of a Spanish health food restaurant chain. He focuses on nutritionally balanced meals. If there was ever proof that healthy food can taste wonderful, it's in his Asian-Med fusion menus. My asparagus frittata starter was delicate and delicious. Mains include pan-roasted fillet of sea bream, and rib eye steak; Ben even manages to make tofu appetizing in a coconut milk-based yellow curry with green beans, pumpkin and coriander. He has also worked out the secret to a tasty wheat- and gluten-free chocolate cake.
Shanti-Som is a 40-minute drive from Málaga airport, past the intense sprawl of the Costa del Sol and up into the fresh air and tranquility of the Sierra de las Nieves.
Kezia is designing tranquil walks in the mountains. She took me on a brief jaunt to La Mirador, a vantage point with dramatic views down to Marbella. She intends to offer a form of yoga called Raya (yoga for the mind) on these walks. Climb higher and you can see as far as North Africa.
If you want to pick up the pace, Puerto Banús is a 20-minute drive away, with its wealth of designer shops, yachts, restaurants and bars.
The huge lobby is a fusion of styles. A baroque-inspired Parisian sofa sits next to Moroccan candleholders. A painting of a young Buddhist monk by local artist Alejandro Hermann hangs above the vast fireplace.
The 14 rooms are arranged in cloister formation around three sides of a central patio that is used for al fresco dining. There are 12 "premium rooms" and two luxury suites. The rooms have names such as "Inspiration", "Peace" and "Happiness". They are snug and designed vaguely according their name, so you could find yourself in "Courage", a masculine room with muted browns, or "Friendship" with an old-fashioned lilac quilt on the bed. Depending on which side of the cloister you're on, you will have a balcony – with wonderful mountain views – or a small garden.
Suites are larger, with four-poster beds and extensive outside lounging space. I would opt for "Passion" for its corner balcony with loungers and orchids, overlooking the yoga pavilion and the hills. There is a television, but, this being a health retreat, you will only find the Body Balance Channel, BBC World and some movies. There is also a nice selection of herbal teas and a plate of fresh fruit; mobiles and laptops are discouraged.
The writer flew with BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from London City to Málaga.
Shanti-Som Wellbeing Retreat, Llanos de Purla km22, Monda, Marbella, Andalucia, Spain (00 34 9 5286 4455; shantisom.com).
Double rooms start at €175, including breakfast. Two-and-a-half-hour spa packages start at €190 per person. One-week yoga programmes from €1,500 per person, half board.
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