SANTANI WELLNESS, KANDY: IS THIS THE WORLD'S BEST HEALTH RETREAT?

The sound of low continuous chanting drifted into earshot from a nearby Buddhist temple rousing me from sleep at some time close to 5am, and in turn, enveloping the valley below. Since I’d left the blinds open in my bedroom, as I always do when I’m away, I was immediately struck by the pre-sunrise light, a moody pale blue-grey sky, mist rising through the mountain layers, and an almost full moon glowing in the distance.

Trills and chirps of frogs and cicadas mingled with the solacing chants, then suddenly melodious birdsong erupted like Tambora: life was everywhere, literally vibrating around me. If my stay at Santani Wellness comprised only this utterly joyous morning, I’d have been content. But happily, more intoxicating joy was to come.

Since the previous night, before arriving at Santani, was spent mostly being charged at by a huge steely cockroach — in the bathroom of my questionable Kandy Airbnb — Santani’s serene, spotless and expansive mountain suites felt even more welcoming.

My mountain view chalet (number 11) had a high shine, polished concrete floor that instantly reminded me of Bermondsey’s White Cube Gallery. Warm underfoot, it felt smooth and grounding. A few pieces of simple, yet elegant dark wood furniture sat at the foot of my four-poster bed, and in a terracotta dish, a solitary blue lotus flower, known as Nil Manel in Sinhala, slowly opened and closed as the days came and passed.

As someone who mostly travels solo, I was delighted to find I wasn’t the only unaccompanied traveller at Santani. Over a breakfast of tropical fruits, egg hoppers, pol sambol, and delicately spiced dahl I was comforted to see many solo guests, some of whom I got to know over the course of our stays.

Since it’s a wellness retreat, nourishing the body plays a huge part in Santani’s ethos. Meals are mostly prepared using ingredients grown on the hotel’s grounds and are tailored specifically to each guest depending on the on-site Ayurvedic doctor’s recommendations. Three-course lunches and dinners are standard, with artistically plated dishes of seafood, string hoppers, and rib-eye all happily featuring on my menu.

Even the restaurant itself is an event, since the wooden structure sits in line with surrounding treetops affording breathtaking views over Sri Lanka’s impressive mountains through floor-to-ceiling windows, and always ensuring a gentle breeze blows through.

Each day, guests are encouraged to partake in two yoga sessions led by Saman, a reiki healer and yogi from Kandy who put me into the deepest shavasana I’ve ever experienced thanks to the body scan he uses to close each session and his intensely hypnotic voice.

I found the practice deep and gruelling, especially since I spend my days messing up my posture by being hunched over a laptop. During my first morning class, which runs from 7 to 8.30am each day, I felt as though I was going to burst into tears during one particular hip-opening exercise, and not because of pain, but due to a sudden surge of deep emotion. I later learnt this is not uncommon since emotion and unaddressed trauma are stored around the hip area. For guests who want to swerve the group setting, Saman is also on hand to provide one-on-one classes — ideal for anyone who wants to focus on a particular area or problem.

Aside from yoga, the open-plan spa — which looks directly onto wild jungle, where monkeys play and rabbits graze — is a real highlight and true sanctuary. Massages and treatments prescribed by Santani’s doctor consist of Ayurvedic and Western options. I adore the scent and feel of the thick oils used in Ayurvedic massage so opted for Abhyangam, an intense body massage that’s said to strengthen immunity and provide relief from fatigue.

When my tiny therapist arrived I instantly thought she wouldn’t be able to massage me as deeply as I like, but she turned out to be an angel with magic hands and the strength of a water buffalo. The treatment was one of the best I’ve experienced, enhanced by the sound and smell of heavy rain as the skies opened around midway through.

As well as daily yoga and treatments, the hotel provides walks with a local naturalist past bright green stubby tea bushes, tropical clove trees, and abandoned termite hills where snakes now live. And while the hotel was almost at capacity for my stay, it never once felt busy or crowded. After lunch, I’d almost always have the dreamlike infinity pool all to myself and would delight in watching lone eagles soar and dragonfly’s dance, as the low mist rolled in to hug the hills. If heaven on earth truly exists, this is where you’ll find it.

Sleep, Recovery, Stress, Immune-boosting, Detox, and Rebalancing packages are available at Santani Wellness Kandy. Or it’s possible to book rooms per night, Garden View Chalets start from £293, and Mountain View Chalets start from £387. santani.com

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2024-06-22T06:09:35Z dg43tfdfdgfd