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Our Spa Blog

Our Blog

Welcome to the Essential Escapes blog, where we give you the latest from the frontline of luxury spa holidays. We interview experts in the field of wellbeing, and bring you unique first-hand reports from discerning spa-goers, covering every corner of the globe. Read our reviews from our hardworking team of spa testers!

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Interview with the founder of Kamalaya

We ask Karina Stewart, the inspirational founder of Kamalaya in Thailand, for her insights into the world of healing.

When did you first develop an interest in natural healing?

I grew up in Mexico, and was greatly influenced by my mother’s interest in natural healing. I learned early on about food as medicine, and took particular interest in our weekend excursions to local markets where the healing powers of exotic leaves, roots and flowers – and the occasional dried snake – were revealed by local healers.

What introduced you to Asian spirituality and approach to wellness?

When I was about 14, my mother introduced me to meditation and yoga. I chose to study cultural anthropology and the religious traditions of India, while continuing to attend extracurricular meditation and yoga retreats. When I was 21, I met my spiritual master, Sri Babaji, in northern India. With him, I learned about devotion, about opening my heart and connecting to a much larger experience of life. A few years later, I was greatly influenced by Master Ni Hua Ching, a Taoist master from China. It was his influence that led me to study traditional Chinese medicine and Taoist practices.

Can western and eastern traditions of healing complement each other?

While it is true that they take a very different approach, this does not mean that the two can’t support each other. It is essential however, to consult with qualified and reputable practitioners. The Kamalaya Detox programs are based on principles of Asian holistic healing systems, and then refined and enhanced through western research-based medicine to ensure an effective and safe process.

Has your academic background ever been in conflict with alternative methods of healing?

I have not had any conflict, however my academic background has made me more discerning in the selection of practitioners and the therapies that are offered at Kamalaya. There are numerous alternative healing methods that have been well researched and found to be effective for physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, such as, naturopathy, Ayurveda and homeopathy. Andrew Weil, a Harvard Medical school graduate, is a pioneer in bringing these various traditions into mainstream medical environments. In the past 20 years, research has also been verifying the intimate connection between our emotional and mental states and the impact these have on our physical health, particularly our immune system.

What natural products have you found to have the most potent properties?

If I have to narrow it down to a single product, it might be fish oil (tested to be free of heavy metals and other impurities). Fish oils have a strong anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body, including the heart and brain. Additionally, I would add a herbal tea, such as Rooibos, for its rich mineral content and calming effect on the nervous system.

What brought you to Koh Samui?

Illness brought me here; wellness kept me here! At the time, my husband John was very ill and I knew of a particular herb that could help him which grew abundantly on the island. We came here so he could rest and heal.

Have any of your guests had a particularly transforming experience?

From healing of long held emotional conflicts, to letting go of unresolved issues, to completing a book during their stay, finding inspiration in their career or relationship, or finding a new direction and making a complete career change, these are some of things that our guests find transformational. The common denominator is that our guests seem to reconnect with themselves, and in so doing, rediscover the source of health, joy, and inspiration within them. As one of our guests so eloquently expressed, “Sometimes there are periods in life when you tend to forget how special you are. After only 7 days here, I left feeling very special again. Thanks to all of you.”

What’s next for Kamalaya and the world of healing?

We have introduced Balance & Revitalise to help the increasing number of guests who were depleted and on the verge of adrenal burnout. At the moment, I’m working on a new Emotional Balance program. This is in response to the guests who express a need for off-loading old and limiting beliefs so that they can approach life with a fresher and more relevant perspective.

Diary of a Spa Junkie

The Spa Junkie from the Financial Times How To Spend It goes undercover in Portugal to experience Longevity Wellness Resort iSometimes I need a holiday to recover from a holiday. With summer’s St Tropez hedonism and Ibizan late nights packed away with my bikinis, I am back in London and suffering from something of a crise de foie, as my French friend Yann would say with a nonchalant Gallic shrug. I should be relaxed, but instead I am over-tired and overindulged, and I’m snapping at everyone from my assistant (who is now campaigning to work from home) to a perfectly harmless taxi driver (albeit one with a questionable sense of direction). It’s time to check in for a holistic reboot before everyone around me checks out of my life.

Longevity Wellness Resort is a five-star medical spa and eco-hotel in the mountains of Monchique (a village in the Algarve celebrated for its thermal springs). It is partnered with La Clinique de Paris, the practice of Dr Claude Chauchard, a leading expert in preventive medicine and ageing management. Longevity’s programmes and spa menu cover three key areas: wellness and relaxation, health and longevity, and beauty and rejuvenation.

Many of my friends have raved about its Essential Beauty Sense, a four-night detox and anti-ageing programme created by clinical director Dr Manuela Figini, so I decide to book a trip. If what they say is to be believed, the course of treatments (from ozone therapy to Botox, depending on what’s deemed necessary after both a biophysical and aesthetic consultation) combined with a bespoke workout regime and the medically devised Vitality Nutrition menu, will be just what I need."

Read Day 1 of the Spa Junkie diary here > Diary of a Spa Junkie - Day 1 Essential Beauty Sense

Diary of a Spa Junkie - Day 1

The Spa Junkie from the Financial Times How To Spend It goes undercover in Portugal to experience Longevity Wellness Resort

DAY 1, 6:30PM

I land at Faro in a distinctly sour mood; Gatwick was hell, my flight was delayed, and the after-effects of my recent overindulgence are really taking their toll. I spend the 45-minute drive to the Longevity Wellness Resort angrily tapping into my BlackBerry, oblivious of the picturesque scenery en route.

I arrive and feel immediate disappointment: despite its reputation, it seems unremarkable and the term “eco-luxury” would be the last thing to spring to mind. The building, if anything, is stark and clinical.

My room, however, is large, airy and comfortable, with a kitchen and dining area, a vast living room and a small terrace complete with hammock. It feels very Scandinavian; clean and functional in muted greens, beiges and slate.

Teresa Malheiro, the medical spa manager, welcomes me to Longevity, bringing with her a bunch of wild lavender (which grows abundance here) and some aromatic oils to burn in my room. I instantly feel as if I am a slightly more peaceful soul than the stressed-out insomniac I arrived as. I order a light supper of wild dorado poached in lime juice and garlic, served with beetroot and quinoa, and get an early night."

Read Day 2 of the Spa Junkie diary here > Diary of a Spa Junkie - Day 2 

Longevity Wellness Resort

Diary of a Spa Junkie - Day 2

The Spa Junkie from the Financial Times How To Spend It goes undercover to experience Longevity Wellness Resort in Portugal.

DAY 2, 10AM

My body is still in holiday mode, where I am used to eating late and staying up until 3am, so my sleep is broken and I wake up feeling drained. The bright sunshine (the Algarve claims to have over 300 days of sun per year) goes only some way to cheering me up and I drag myself down to breakfast. I start with a zingy detox shake of apple, ginger, celery and parsley, followed by an egg-white omelette with organic local tomatoes.

I am whisked away for a consultation, the first step in my biophysical analysis, with nutritionist Ana Rita and personal trainer Sofia Gouveia. Ana Rita, a funny, chirpy and beautiful Portuguese woman, explains that Longevity’s nutritional approach is based on “functional foods”, in others words, using ingredients that contain biologically active compounds with known health benefits.

I am weighed and measured, then asked to lie down while sensors are connected to my arms, chest and legs so that my physical woes can be transmitted into a bioimpedance machine for analysis. “This computer measures body fat, muscle mass, water levels and metabolic rate using electrical currents,” explains Ana Rita. “We need to understand what sort of state you’re in before we can get started with a recovery programme.”

The results make me gasp. Four weeks away from the gym and yoga studio have resulted in a much higher fat-to-muscle ratio than normal: I’m on the edge of high fat and am also bordering low muscle levels. Ana Rita recommends that I follow the structured nutritional programme adopted by all guests at Longevity. I must eat five times a day, so that I never let myself feel hungry. I should have at least two pieces of fruit per day, increase my consumption of vegetables and try to eat more soups, as they are easy to digest. I must also drink 1.5l of water per day, so my cells are kept hydrated. She adds that the vegetable- and protein-based meals served at Longevity (such as a tasty sounding ginger-marinated grilled tuna with sautéed leek and puréed sweet potato), are low GI, low sodium, gluten free, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant.

Next the super-toned Sofia lays down the exercise plan of action for me: “High-impact cardio and interval training will burn through the fat that you have recently gained. A toning programme will help to restore your energy by removing toxins.”


Buoyed by the promise of the return of my abs, I am happily led by Ana Rita for an anti-ageing consultation with Dr Dra Bianka. Like the other consultants here, Dr Bianca radiates energy and enthusiasm. I instantly like her and feel comfortable enough to confess my recent bad lifestyle choices. She takes my blood pressure, checks my pulse, examines my tongue and goes through my family medical history. She explains that after identifying any biophysical, biochemical, biomechanical and psychological imbalances I might have and checking for any food intolerances, the team will create a personalised meal plan for me to follow at home, which, coupled with a bespoke selection of supplements, will set me on a long-term “journey towards wellness and a healthier lifestyle”. 

In the meantime, Dr Bianka suggests an immediate two-day liquid detox to kick-start my sluggish system, Pressotherapy (or pneumatic compression therapy) to help with water retention, ozone therapy to boost my immune system, a few invigorating sessions in the gym and some Craniosacral therapy with the osteopath to help with stress. This should help set me straight for a return to the boardroom this autumn. 

I am taken to the Pressotherapy machine for what I’m promised is a painless, non-invasive detoxifying treatment. I put on a disposable inner suit and clamber into an inflatable outer garment that wraps around my legs, stomach and arms. Andreia, the therapist, takes my blood pressure and inputs the data into the machine, which selects the most appropriate programme for me. She lays me on a very comfortable bed and the machine jumps into action. The bodysuit inflates and deflates in sections; each compartment has an individual tube that fills it with air, and the resulting rhythmical pressure squeezes the blood from my extremities towards my heart and lungs. All I can hear is the soothing, soporific hiss of air flowing in and out, and I drift off to sleep. I wake when the machine has stopped and Andreia explains how the session will aid the lymphatic drainage process: cells will now release trapped toxins and fatty deposits into the circulatory system, from where they can be naturally expelled. 

I can instantly see a genuine difference: I don’t feel so bloated, there’s less water retention, not just on my bulbous ankles but also on my arms and stomach. 

I skip down the corridor for something to eat. A liquid lunch awaits that’s a far cry from my usual variety – a surprisingly good soup of locally-grown vegetables. Every two hours thenceforth, I am served a bowl of broth. I feel light, refreshed and hunger-pang-free.


I sunbathe all afternoon and begin to feel relaxed. Ana Rita regularly pops by, making sure that I am drinking lots of the resort’s own natural thermal Monchique water, known for its high alkaline PH. She says it’s ideal for rebalancing cells and detoxing.

Paula, the massage and beauty therapist, calls me inside for the resort’s signature treatment, the Essence of Beauty Ritual. She starts with a deep-skin exfoliation that uses mineral-rich sea salt, moves on to a dreamily relaxing citrusoil massage that works up from my feet, and finishes with a head massage. I drift off to sleep during the two-hour treatment and wake up feeling calm. I also notice with glee that the water retention in my legs and ankles has reduced even further.

I have more puréed soup for dinner and feel ready to go to bed. My bedroom is filled with the scent of lavender and I am asleep within 30 minutes. I wake once or twice during the night, but fall back to sleep with ease.


Read Day 3 of the Spa Junkie diary here >

Healing Hands

Emma Barnett, founder of Essential Escapes, experienced the magic touch of healer Paul Lennard. She shares her story here.

“I won’t be forgetting the day I walked into a Harley Street Clinic to meet with Energy Therapist Paul Lennard. I was all prepared with my list of interview questions and yet I didn’t even get as far as taking the pen and paper out my bag. Paul wasn’t interested in talking to me, he wanted to show me the gift that has turned him into one of the most sought after healers in the country.

Paul got to work straight away, identifying immediately an acute pain in my stomach that I didn’t know I had. Paul explained that the emotional pain was evident by the physical pain and it was traced back to a particularly low point in my life. The more I spilled my emotions on the table, the more the physical pain in my stomach eased until eventually, it disappeared and I felt almost weightless in that area. This continued with a narrative from Paul that went through identifying areas of pain and linking it to events in my past that could have caused the physical discomfort. My upper body, which felt inextricably tense for most of the hour long session, couldn’t have felt more detached from my lower half, so much so that when Paul asked how my legs felt, I barely felt them. I was suprised to even learn he was holding my feet up. Paul identified a pain from a skiiing accident fifteen years ago, a low point after my father died and even managed to tap into discussions I had been having with my husband about getting a dog, a Labrador to be precise!

The range of emotions I felt over the hour was quite extraordinary. I had gone in there thinking I had no physical or emotional demons to exorcise, and yet by the end of the session I was already booking my next apppointment to continue my cleansing journey. This felt like the deepest massage I was ever likely to have and I’m pleased to say a few weeks on I still feel as light and unburdoned as I did when I left the clinic.

Put simply, Paul has a gift that is complemented by his skills in cranio sacral therapy and sport massage. He has a long waiting list, purely through word of mouth. He was even reluctant to feature in this piece but I explained that I simply cannot keep his unique therapy to myself!”

What is Energy Therapy?

Energy Therapy can heal physical complaints that conventional medicine cannot shift, by clearing the fundamental emotional cause. Paul applies a unique combination of deep tissue massage, cranio sacral therapy and Chi Nei Tsang to clear old emotional and physical traumas from the body. This therapy works on every level: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. As each of these aspects is so closely entwined, an emotional problem from long ago can be the cause of a physical problem today. Paul works in Harley Street and Belgravia in London, and also practices at Chiva Som spa resort in Thailand several times a year.

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