Suffice to say I had my own Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory moment upon discovering the 189,000 square meter sprawling sanctuary which includes AT ONE - a wellness retreat with contemporary hotel rooms and villas, a comprehensive clinic and a spa; The VILLAGE, with its own hotel, learning centres, THOUGHT FOR FOOD MARKET, an upscale “canteen” with bakery, pizzeria and tea parlour, corporate gathering and event spaces, as well as, the SANGHA Villas that form the “community” facet of the development.
If you are wondering who the 'Willy Wonka' is behind this fantasy land, it is Frederick Chavalit Tsao, chairman of Singapore-based IMC group and a leading Asian business tycoon. He says: “Wellness is hard to describe, yet we know when we’re well. We are peaceful, joyous and content. That’s the purpose of OCTAVE Institute – to introduce a new cycle of living that achieves mind, body and spiritual wellness.”
Tsao & McKnown’s architecture encompasses low slung, zinc, brick and wooden structures set amid walls of natural boulders. A striking infinity pool wraps around the edge of the walkway beyond the main lounge. Highlights of natural materials abound – walls adored with the bark of cork trees and oil-paper umbrellas cascading from the ceiling.
Wellbeing is at the heart of everything, and the retreat’s intentions are translated into the design of the suites. With a serene view of the Yangchang lake, Egyptian cotton-clad beds, natural raw wood flooring, crystals under the bed to emit healing sounds and energy vibrations, it’s hard not get a good night’s rest here. The room was high tech to boot- with a Japanese bidet toilet equipped with motion sensors, all the while keeping things user-friendly with a touch of an iPad.
Adjacent to the reception, an eye-catching healthy snack bar beckoned me - I must have devoured copious amounts of the delicious cleansing juices while chatting to fellow guests and staff! Sally, who grew up in Suzhou, explains in fluent English that the holistic approach to my retreat schedule incorporates western medicine, TCM, nutrition, hydrothermal therapy, massages, fitness and mindset aspects; and assures that a team tracks my daily status to ensure the safety and sustainability of the bespoke program.
And thus, my 4-day wellness journey began with a visit to the AT ONE clinic. Fasting blood tests, ultrasound scans and all-type of medical tech were used for the medical assessment, while a team of expert physicians, nutritionists, physiotherapists and life coaches stood at the ready to develop a customized wellness plan according to the results of the evaluation.
The subterranean Spa is a breathtaking 6m high space where I indulged in hydrotherapy circuits, plunged into pools of different temperatures, baked in a Himalayan Salt Cave Sauna, relaxed in a herbal steam room, got scrubbed in the Turkish hammam, and massaged to a state of complete relaxation with customized aromatherapy oils. One of the highlights would definitely be the sound healing dome, where I got to experience sound therapy for the very first time, while lying on the soft, felt floors.
A daily, curated fitness regime is also set into place with the help of in-house personal trainers, where I clocked in cardio and stretches with Yoga, Tai Chi and Gym sessions.
Anything from a juice to soup cleanse, as well as, keto, low carb or anti-inflammatory diet menu options are available with the customized culinary offerings at SANGHA Retreat. Having consulted the resident nutritionist, who enlightened us about mindful eating, we were delighted to discover that the healthy, low-sodium meals all incorporated natural farm-to-table ingredients, and were crafted into a wonderful menu by 2-Michelin star chef, Paul Then. Needless to say, all our meals were simply delicious!
With Suzhou being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we did wander beyond our wellness bubble to discover the city dubbed “Venice of the East”. The east of the city is a major economic hub flanked by the financial big weights and 500-meter tall skyscrapers. However, Suzhou still retains its historical charm and tradition with an abundant display of relics and historical sites within the 2500-year-old city. We admired the city’s meticulously designed gardens, and took to exploring the pretty walkways decorated with stone bridges along the canals, and shopped for the teas and silks that the region is well-known for.
SANGHA Retreat blends western science with traditional Chinese philosophy, delivering a holistic and transformative experience. The all-encompassing treatments to restore and rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit compelled me to make what I learnt from my time at SANGHA Retreat a lifestyle. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that health is in fact, the new standard of luxury.