Wellness gets serious at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary

The latest luxury lodge to open in Bhutan is an immersion into the magic of tradition.

By Phoebe Neuman 20/09/2018

Bhutan, with its deep-rooted sense of spirituality, monasteries perched high on craggy mountaintops, and sweepingly beautiful terrain, has long enchanted both pilgrims and intrepid travelers alike with promises of Shangri-la. And for years, those looking to mix adventure with luxury had really only one place to stay — though it isn’t quite fair to call Aman’s circuit of quietly opulent lodges something travelers had to settle for. But this is changing and the insular country is opening up, with Six Senses set to welcome guests to the first of its five lodges in October and with last month’s opening of Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary.

Where Aman and Six Senses make country hopping easy — soaking in sights ranging from Tiger’s Nest and Punakha Dzong to the Gangtey Valley along the way — the Sanctuary takes a different approach, encouraging guests to stay put. Not that you’d need all that much convincing — designed to look like a traditional Bhutanese fortress (complete with one-metre-thick walls), the 22-room property is nestled in the steep, vibrantly green terrain of the Neyphu Valley in the heart of the Paro region. And while hikes down to the river, day trips to villages like Haa and Thimphu, and suiting up for archery or Bhutanese darts lessons with locals are of course encouraged, the real journey the Sanctuary hopes to facilitate is an internal one.

Upon checking into their palatial rooms (the smallest of which are still 54 square metres, not counting the patios that hang out over the vast emerald landscapes), guests will meet with one of the property’s two traditional Bhutanese doctors, who will serve as their Wellbeing Guide. The guide will evaluate each guest — taking a close look at their lifestyle (including career, eating habits, and medical records) and will use Eastern methods ranging from a close-up observation of eyes and tongues to pulse reading to check for energy imbalances. From there, the guest and guide will piece together a customised wellness plan that will inform all corners of their experience at the sanctuary.

Guests will then spend days flowing from one wellness-boosting activity to the next, perhaps starting the day by meditating with a local monk before heading to an art class or unwinding overworked muscles and reconnecting with the body with Kunye, a traditional Tibetan massage. Meals will all be prepared according to the plan laid out by the Wellbeing Guide and will make use of the region’s rich produce and farms (the Sanctuary already adheres to Bhutan’s goal of becoming 100 per cent organic by 2020), no matter what dietary plan you are on. Even the signature cocktail menu is locally rooted, featuring whiskeys and beers from distilleries and brewers in the area.

We won’t assert that dips in the infinity pool and hot stone baths (making full use of the region’s legendary medicinal waters or menchu) will completely rinse you of your 21st-century stress. But wading into traditional Bhutan at the Sanctuary may just enlighten you, slowing you down so you can take that needed deep breath and dive back into life at home.

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