This sophisticated wellbeing retreat in North India is gentle but staggeringly effective. Vana, which translates as ‘forest’, is a luxury destination spa hotel created by Veer Singh, the son of a health-insurance mogul. Around £40 million was invested in its launch.
Dehradun in the Doon Valley is a much-romanticised destination thanks to its prominence in the Sanskrit poems, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Your transfer to Vana Malsi Estate from Dehradun airport or heliport is via typical Indian villages, past sari-clad women carrying bundles of sticks on their heads and huts with goats climbing in gnarly trees — though this 82-room hilltop retreat is a bubble of luxury a world away from authentic Indian life. It is set amid organic kitchen and herb gardens in a sal-tree reserve; the tall woodland acts as a barrier to the sounds and sight of nearby high-rises in the hillside town.
Yoga capital Rishikesh is only a two-hour drive south so you can join the pilgrims and sadhus (wandering holy men) on the banks of the river Ganges and experience a puja (offering).
Style & character
Translating as ‘forest’, Vana is a luxury enclave that was soothing from the moment my forehead was daubed with a crimson tilakam smear prior to being shepherded to the wellness centre for my prescribed personalised programme, until a week later when my wrist was tied with a Buddhist-monk-blessed red string as a final farewell. At the top of a vast country that’s usually a glorious chaotic assault on the senses, Vana is utterly soothing – at first, astonishingly so. The contemporary interiors are consistently sand-toned, from the pale wood-cloaked laptops at the wellness concierge station to the beige linen-sheathed snack boxes in the glossy magnolia-toned 4x4s that collect you from the airport.
The cutting-edge look and feel from Spanish father-and-son duo Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura is staggeringly high-class for a retreat, and the triple-height dimensions of the main salon space feel more akin to an upscale art museum.
Service & facilities
Discreet yet determined: Vana’s staff achieves that tricky balance of being invisible yet always on hand for when you need that green tea immediately. The state-of-the-art facilities include an outdoor pool, an indoor water-therapy pool, a fully equipped gym, various studios and pavilions, and scores of treatment and consultation rooms.
Doctors plan your therapies from leading Ayurveda, Chinese and Tibetan traditional medicine practitioners over a minimum seven-day period.
- Fitness centre
- Steam room/hammam
- Tennis court
Treatments are prescribed according to your objectives, medical conditions and your dosha (Ayurveda body type) and these are usually comfortably included within the rate.
Many therapies spa connoisseurs will know well (hatha yoga, acupuncture, reflexology, meditation), alongside intriguing sessions that are exotic in their Tibetan (Sowa-Rigpa) or Chinese names, in their methods or in their objectives. Ku nye, pronounced ‘coo-nyee’ is an ancient massage with herbal poultices and chanting to release tension; raag therapy, pronounced ‘raga’ is healing via time spent with a flautist; hor gyi metsa works on white channels and nerve pathways. Escorted hikes and guided sightseeing tours are also available.
Spacious luxury suites have spectacular bathrooms and the highest-tech fittings: there is super-fast internet and even televisions (though with limited Vana-curated viewing). A fresh set of loose-fitting kurta pyjamas appears in wardrobes daily (organic cotton gives a nod to the environment). In a country where fuchsia pink is their navy blue, you’re not starved of colour: a choice of beautiful brightly coloured silk scarves is on offer in your dressing-room space. Most suites look out at the tall, slender trunks of the sal forest, making for meditative views.
Food & drink
Ayurveda considers diet and digestion the gateway to good health, and cuisine is expectedly nutritious. Fresh, local, seasonal, organic produce is prioritised, and refined sugars, grains and oils eschewed. Expect delicate, uncomplicated spice-enhanced flavours, fragrant curries, pretty presentation and dainty portions of a vast range of savoury and naturally sweet dishes even at tea time. Abstinence is entirely optional — you won’t feel guilty indulging in the organic coffee or a glass of house red or white wine at dinner. Most guests eat what they want from the plentiful buffet lunches and à la carte dinners, never go hungry, and still shift a surprising amount of weight.
Access for guests with disabilities?
One adapted room.
Guests must be over the age of 16.
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