Eco-luxe is a major trend in wellness. In Thailand, two five star resorts are setting the bar high while supporting local communities. Stylish Spy discovers that opulence with an ethical heart makes you feel that little bit better.
The Aleenta Hua Hin is a high-end resort right on the palm-fringed beach in idyllic Pak Nampran Bay. You can watch the sunrise from your upcycled bed then skip across the white sand for a morning dip in the sea.
On the second floor, the rustic and charming Ayurah Spa is a tasteful wooden enclave open to the elements, so you can have your spa treatments or practise yoga as the balmy sea breezes blow through. Treatments range from the esoteric (oxygen and music therapy, ‘body sentimentality’) to the epicurean (nano skin cell extract and banana leaf wraps).
Celebrities in search of an unspoilt, under the radar Thailand love it here. Ryan Gosling has stayed seven, yes seven, times while Eva Mendes, Nicole Kidman and the Beckhams have also visited.
However, this isn’t just another posh hotel in its own decadent bubble, disconnected from the realities of the country. The Aleenta Hua Hin was voted Best Sustainable Hotel in Thailand at the 2016 International Hotel Awards.
Some 15 years ago, Anchalika Kijkanakorn decided to develop her family beach house into the Aleenta (Sanskrit for ‘rewarding life’). Since then four other five star resorts have joined the Akaryn Hotel Group, which also set up the Pure Blue Foundation to support conservation and communities across Thailand.
The 23 suites are driven by eco values and boast a cool stone and pebble floor, a plunge pool Jacuzzi and outdoor shower. All furniture is made on site from reclaimed wood and upcycled materials, and the Akaryn Hotel Group have pledged to eliminate single-use plastics by 2020.
Around 87 per cent of what ends up on the menu is grown on the eco-farm – the 54-acre Aleenta smallholding is supplemented by hotel manager James Noble’s Boutique Farmers, which is run by his wife May.
Ingredients for the spa products and treatments are also home-grown at the farm or locally sourced and made organically on site. In your hotel room you can enjoy a never-ending supply of invigorating mint shower gel, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner, all organically produced and presented in refillable earthenware jugs.
Your spa experience begins as soon as you land at Bangkok. We were collected by a luxurious minibus with huge squishy black leather massage chairs to ease aching limbs. There’s also the option to have a head, neck and foot massage with an on-board masseuse during the three-hour transfer.
After a glass of fresh, rebalancing rosella juice we headed to the spa to try the Firming Scrub, with kaffir peel, lemongrass, ginger and Plai powder followed by a body wrap to eliminate toxins and excess fluid.
My therapist Nuch managed to dispel any lingering jet lag as she gently scrubbed and brushed my skin. She then slathered me in white clay and oatmeal, wrapped me in banana leaves and laid a warm towel over my entire body, leaving me to relax in silence for 15 minutes while listening to the gentle lap of waves. After a shower, Nuch delivered a body massage with herbal Ayurah oil, transporting me into a blissful semi-conscious state. The knowledge that everything Nuch used was natural, organic and locally sourced added to my state of wellbeing.
I also had a Thai Facial, starting with a gentle cleansing facial massage using home-made yoghurt followed by a tamarind and ginger exfoliating scrub and a soothing mask consisting of fresh cucumber slices. Afterwards, my face felt and looked visibly plumper, hydrated and zinging with brightness: a miracle after a 16-hour journey.
Food too is a divine mix of hedonism and sustainability. Nobel is a former Michelin-starred chef, and rather than calories, his menu tells you exactly how many kilometres the food has travelled to reach your plate. Slow cooking, solar ovens, smoke houses and molecular cooking methods are used to ensure a minimal carbon footprint.
Breakfast is plentiful, with fresh fruit, soufflé style asparagus omelettes, kedgeree and a selection of pastries and cakes. For lunch try barbecued prawns, seabass cooked in banana leaves, stir-fried morning glory, papaya salad as well as traditional Thai green and red curries… the fare is simply mouth-watering. Food intolerances are catered for and beautiful fresh canapés are delivered to each room at 5pm: dim sum, pineapple cake and fresh pineapple juice are typical. Nobel even makes his own gin and vodka, infused with lemongrass, basil and chilli, and runs a tree-planting initiative so that local people can pick mangoes once the trees mature.
Even the ice cream is healthy; it’s lactose-free and made from rice milk. The flavours I tried – from the weird and wonderful charcoal eucalyptus and satay through to coconut and mango – were inventive and delicious.
If you can, try the Thai cooking class run by Pornpirom Khanwong, otherwise known as Tom. I was given a tour of the local food market before heading back to the kitchen for lessons on how to make Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai and mango sticky rice pudding, all delicious. You can also take a tour of the Boutique Farmers' farms nearby.
For those who want to try local cuisine but are worried about ordering from a Thai menu, a 'tailor' will come with you to the restaurant of your choice, help you order and then leave you to enjoy your meal. What could be more perfect?
With a homely, welcoming, laidback, friendly vibe – the staff come from the local community – this place makes being eco seem like the obvious way to live.
Occupying a prime position in ‘The Hamptons of Phuket’ – a stunning stretch of Natai beach facing the Andaman sea, where endangered leatherback turtles still breed – the Aleenta Phuket is an all-suite hotel set in terraced Japanese-style gardens, with lily ponds, decked walkways and orchids growing out of palm trees.
I stayed in one of the Grand Deluxe Pool Villas, completed in August 2015, with a private garden, four poster bed and my own swimming pool. Stylish and minimalist decor features granite floors and muted coffee and grey tones. As well as a spacious dark wood dressing room complete with white linen Thai style pyjamas, there's a light-filled glass bathroom and an outdoor Italian stone spa bath. The pillow selection includes snore reduction, leg rest, white goose down and Japanese buckwheat pillows, plus tummy warmers to aid digestion. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was a huge wrench every time I had to leave my villa.
The Ayurah Wellness Spa combines cutting edge technology with ancient holistic therapies, and is reached via stepping stones across a pond. There’s a Thai spa offering Far Eastern inspired treatments, an oxygen bar and a medi-spa. You can also try out chromo therapy, an historic Asian discipline which works with the vibrations and frequencies of the body to create harmony and an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
On arrival, I decided to relax with a Sense of Ayurah signature massage. Specially formulated herbal oils to promote lymphatic drainage and detoxification were applied using slow, warm palm and thumb strokes. Pressure was applied to key points of my body to relieve tension, aid circulation and create a feeling of deep relaxation.
The anti-ageing facials were specially designed by UK skincare expert Linda Meredith, who personally trained the therapists here. I opted for a Haute Couture Facial, an amazing anti-ageing treatment beloved of A-listers. It included a natural micro-glycolic serum to remove dead cells, clean beneath the skin’s surface and soften age lines and wrinkles, and ended with a deeply relaxing Thai-style neck, décolletage and shoulder massage. I felt like I was floating on air.
I was on the Wellness plan, which combines a healthy, light and nourishing food regime with different activities including yoga, Pilates and use of the gym. I also went surfing with the hotel manager Matthias, learned the basics of Muay Thai (kickboxing) with Lek, and swam each morning in the beautiful 20-metre luminescent black and gold infinity pool overlooking the beach.
For the adventurous, there are guided bike tours, visits to the night market in old Phuket town and longtail boat trips along the spectacular coastline.
There are two restaurants, The Edge and Natai. Valerio, the Italian/Colombian head chef, turns locally sourced ingredients into spectacular Thai influenced cuisine. Breakfasts of fresh fruit, pineapple, mint and coconut, or mango and lime smoothies were accompanied by porridge made with rice milk, fresh coconut meat, raisins and pomegranate seeds or citrus-infused quinoa with fresh almonds and apricots. A typical three course supper started with papaya salad followed by grilled tofu and rice and a sublime coconut milk panna cotta.
You can also try your hand at Thai cuisine with chef Yok, who was taught to cook by her grandmother.
While there, don’t miss a visit to the turtle conservation centre at Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Mueang National Park. They release 9,000 rescued baby turtles back into the ocean each year. I was privileged to witness a one-year old turtle being released back into the Andaman. Watching it cautiously make its way towards the water before swimming eagerly into the surf was a sight I will never forget.
The Verdict? Giving back never felt so good.
A five-night wellbeing break starts from £1,149 per person. This includes two nights at the Aleenta Hua Hin Resort and Spa with breakfast, three nights at the Aleenta Phuket Resort and Spa on a wellness package, two cooking classes, two yoga classes, two massages, two facials and a Muay Thai class.