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Sat 6 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Eastern promise

The Six Senses Destination Spa Phuket - one of the most intriguing destinations to hit the holiday map.

Miles of palm-fringed beaches, supreme dive sites and blue skies have helped make Phuket one of Thailand's most popular beach resorts. This season the ‘Pearl of the Andaman' gets a lift with the opening of the Six Senses Destination Spa Phuket - one of the most intriguing destinations to hit the holiday map in decades.

Your archetypal tropical island paradise, Phuket (pronounced poo-get) first came to fame in the 1970s as a haven for backpackers. Fast forward to the 21st century and the brigades of backpackers have given way to flashpackers.

Although it's only been open a short time, the most desirable address for the cash flash crowd looking to recharge their batteries in an exotic nirvana has to be the luxurious wellness resort that is the Six Senses Destination Spa Phuket.

There’s an array of activities and excursions on offer. The only problem is how to cram it all in.

Situated on the island of Naka Yai - a mere 10 minutes by boat from Ao Po Pak on the north side of Phuket, this chic, green getaway offers a magnificent setting for relaxation and total attention to the art of wellness.

Completely unspoilt and without a crane, high rise or skyscraper in sight, it's a world away from the manic construction work that plagues downtown Dubai.

As your personal butler shows you to your villa which blends seamlessly into natural surroundings being set back into the vegetation, chances are you'll feel like you're entering a fairytale.

The exquisitely designed yet sustainable villas bear all the hallmark Six Senses touches - architecture and décor that incorporates local arts and crafts in a celebration of the culture of the country, and enough eco credentials to keep even David Attenborough happy.

Indeed the eco commitment is flagged up everywhere; there are no plastic bottles full of lotions and potions in your bathroom but instead earthy containers that are topped up each day, while in your wardrobe you'll find cloth bags in which to put your laundry and the like.

A luxurious yet low key, low tech atmosphere prevails; there's no flat screen TV (instead you're encouraged to read the compendium of services and amenities designed to help guests achieve the maximum level of relaxation and comfort during their stay) and computers and shoes are also forgotten making this new Six Senses resort the ultimate in barefoot sophistication.

Personalised service is the order of the day; this place goes beyond pampering and wants to ensure you are spoilt from the second you wake up until the moment you go to sleep - and that includes a pillow menu in your room.

In the morning, wake up under duvets whiter than a dentist's chair and pull up the blinds to reveal blue skies and your own private pool and there's nothing to come between you and this sensational scene - except perhaps your bank balance.

If you're more about bathrooms than bedrooms, rest assured that the outdoor bathrooms don't disappoint. All are kitted out with his'n'her sinks, a private steam room and an outdoor tub so wide and deep that you never want to get out.

Yet the piece de resistance of the Six Senses Destination Spa Phuket is the spa itself (easily reached by buggy or bicycle from your villa). Dubbed ‘the seventh sense', the spa is the centrepiece of the resort and a temple of tranquillity.

This is a real show stopper of a spa consisting as it does of no fewer than four separate spas (Indian, Indonesian, Chinese and Thai) which combine to convincingly set the spa apart from the competition; make no mistake awards will be coming its way on a regular basis.

The Indian spa offers ayurvedic treatments, colonic hydrotherapy while the Indonesian spa has been inspired by water and features an aquatic therapy pool, meditation cave and crystal healing dome amongst other attractions.

Meanwhile the Chinese area is all about acupuncture and herbal scrubs, and afterwards you can take tea in the tea bar before visiting the traditional Chinese medicine store.

Last but by no means least, there's the Thai spa with its hot beds and herbal steam rooms. The Thai quarter is also the home of the Thai massage school which provides guests the opportunity to learn how to knead out knots themselves.

But if you would rather be practised on as opposed to the practitioner, then there's a mind-boggling 25-page menu of treatments so diverse that you could spend a month floating from one magic muscle melting massage to another.

All are dispensed by well-trained and intuitive therapists so expect to be pummelled, pounded and buffed to perfection.

You'll no doubt develop your own favourites, but for me standouts included the Himalayan hot stone (said to be the equivalent of 10 massages), happy Hawaiian massage known as ‘lomi lomi' and the Indian head massage all of which helped to calm my mind and cleanse my body.

I'm told that the look on my face following these treatments - a beam of delight strong enough to stop a rabbit in its tracks - said it all.For something more unusual, consider an iridology consultation - basically an insightful analysis of the eye that reveals how the body is functioning (or not).

But this Phuket pampering property is no one horse ‘wellness' destination and subsequently the spa isn't the only show in town. There's an array of activities and excursions on offer, the only problem is how to cram it all in: forward planning is generously rewarded.

The more energetic will appreciate the glass-walled beachfront gym home to a legion of cardio classes and state-of-the art exercise machines - including Prada-designed kinesis training equipment.

If you'd rather work out in the great outdoors amongst awe-inspiring scenery, you can kayak through verdant mangroves before trying your hand at every water sport imaginable.

Back on dry land, mountain biking is where it's at. I lagged behind not only because of the physical effort but because of the beauty all around; the air is so fresh it will make you feel giddy and the views so glorious (there are no building sites or Burberry bikinis) that your heart will sing.

Meanwhile, tough guys can sign up for ‘beach boot camp' or a session in the Jungle gym; here natural and recycled materials - rocks, pieces of wood, car tires and old bottles - are used as weights.

For something more peaceful, balance your yin and yang with yoga, tai chi and Pilates, pen your postcards from your own private sala or simply slumber in the sun enjoying the feeling of being miles from anywhere lost in a secret world - for arguably above all guests love the peace and seclusion of the Six Senses Destination Spa.

Off the island there's the province of Phuket to explore and enjoy. (Time your visit well and you could coincide with the Phuket Vegetarian Festival held in late September.

The country's calendar creaks under the weight of festivals and this is one of the best. Celebrating all things vegetarian, Phuket's festival is much more than a food festival; a meat-free diet is combined with meditation so expect to see very public displays of face and body piercings.)

Cultural highlights such as treasured temples are within easy reach while there is much to entice nature lovers to linger from elephant excursions to visits to the gibbon protection sanctuary.

However you choose to spend your days, rest assured that a cold towel will be waiting for you when you return to the Destination Spa - not to mention a warm welcome from the smiling army of staff who keep this corner of paradise ticking over.

As evening falls, put on your biscuit coloured yoga suit (all you need to pack is swimwear - there's no dress code anywhere and guests are positively encouraged to wear the yoga suits and robes provided in the rooms at all times), and plod along the talcum powder soft sand to watch the sunset.

Standing watching the sun do its incredibly sinking thing while the waves crash onto the shore and shoals of silver fish leap from the water, you could be forgiven for thinking that it doesn't get any better than this, but it does: dinner.

Executive chef Byran Burger serves up zingingly fresh, sinless yet sumptuous food. His chief supplier is the sea but you'll also find dishes such as Thai pomelo salad, Tom Yam Hed (Thai hot and sour mushroom soup) and eggplant dolma on the menu - many made using ingredients that have been grown on the island (the entire landscape is edible).

Dinner (in addition to breakfast and lunch) can be enjoyed on the sand at Ton Sai restaurant which overlooks the infinity pool. Ton Sai also plays host to organic wine cocktail parties (Thursday nights) and beach barbecues (Saturday nights) while on Friday nights luscious low calorie pizzas dominate proceedings meaning that guests never feel as though their denying themselves.

That said moderation is key - the Destination Spa doesn't endorse excess. Case in point? The Pringles and peanuts typically found in most hotel mini bars have been replaced with raw cuisine cookies and the freshest of juices, while alcohol is organic and only served after 6pm and by the glass to encourage moderation.

For a more extreme eating experience, make like Madonna and tuck into raw food cuisine at Dining at the Point. The setting here is as memorable as the food offering breathtaking views of Phang Nga Bay - the island that served as a backdrop for the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.

Fancy recreating the cuisine you've been consuming back home? Sign up for a cooking class over in the ‘cuisine cave'. This is a sociable and enjoyable way to learn about local culture and acquire new recipes for wellness.

For essentially ‘wellness' is what this place is all about. If you're looking to party, then this isn't the venue for you - nightlife is about reading a book in bed and detoxing rather than retoxing.

It's the ideal retreat in which to rest, reflect and recuperate far from the madding crowds in undeniably eco but also gloriously indulgent surroundings.

For optimum results, ideally you want to factor in a fortnight but even a shorter stay of five nights is enough to enable you to look at the world afresh, to uncloud your mind and your eyes, and to focus on what really matters to you. It is, however, unforgettable and with health and happiness at stake, who's counting?

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