Living in Bath, a tourist destination with some of the nicest spas England offers, it has been an enormous bug bear that come the weekend, children are barred from their warm swimming pools—not to mention, rarely welcomed at yoga classes, which, in any case, aren’t generally scheduled at weekends…
Through the week, school and a punishing work schedule conspire to prevent any type of mother-daughter bonding or fitness dalliance for me other than a drop-in yoga class or ad hoc personal training sessions (where I have been known to do my lower limb stretches at the same time as reading my daughter her bedtime story—or worse still, send messages to clients via BlackBerry).
But by the end of a punishing summer of work and business travel, I knew that it was imperative that I unwind, get back in shape and spend quality time with my little one, Lilian, aged 10 (without husband and teenage brothers in tow). What last-minute holiday could tick these boxes?
So, I took a chance on out-of-season Maldives. I remembered being entertained by the first of the “Chronicles of a Spa Junkie” articles and by Gillian de Bono’s fierce defence of the anonymous review. So I booked the same resort, Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, and made sure within the first hours of arriving that I too had a consultation with the famed Dr Shylesh at the Ayurvedic retreat.
My brief was different. Oh, yes, I had the same detox, slim down, sleep better and improve-my-yoga requests. But I also asked, “Can my daughter come, too?” She could. A week programme was thereupon crafted for the two of us.
We started each morning with a warm and spicy tea for me, and a cool and sweet herbal tea for Lilian in the calming, welcoming spa pagoda. Sunrise Yoga on the floating platform followed. I told Lilian that she could opt out at any time. But encouraged by gentle hands guiding her postures and confidence building encouragement, she not only stuck it out, but loved the everyday ritual on wakening—and the flexibility achieved.
Thereafter we had “free time.” So we enjoyed an amazing breakfast buffet, choosing foods and drinks that were neatly labelled by “dosha” type. In Ayurvedic terms, these split us into categories, or parts thereof, of Vata (ether and air), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). I am Pitta Kapha and Lilian is predominantly Kapha. So we jointly worked on our Kapha, which defined the herbs and spices used in my massages, bath oils and smokes (the interesting technique of sitting on a smoking pipe of incense, which, to be honest, was the least convincing aspect of my treatment).
Mornings were spent cycling and scootering around the jungle island pathways and sandy tracks, swimming in the sea, running on the soft coral sand, marvelling at shells, snorkelling and playing in the pool. Great aerobic exercise without realising it! After that, we enjoyed lunch at the water bar, comprising healthy salads and coconut milk, straight from the shell.
Then it was the welcoming and safe haven of the children’s club* for Lilian and some serious spa treatments for me. I tried a series of Ayurvedic wellness rituals and abhyanga massages to balance and enhance wellbeing, starting with an individual yoga class. Wow, were they demanding. We ended on three occasions with a Thai massage; these were truly the best I have ever experienced, as the phenomenal Sri opened every joint, stretched every muscle and plaited every limb.
Towards the end of the afternoon, Lilian would be diligently brought by buggy direct to the spa for her herbal tea and treatment, following which we would end the evening watching the sunset or swimming gently in one of the hotel pools; or enjoying our own plunge pool on the deck of our water villa—as always smelling delicious, although I say it myself, on account of the pungent herbs and oils used in my massages.
So what did Lilian do while I was indulging? Well, she did three things and this was what made the holiday so satisfying… she would continue snorkelling with the Marine Discovery Centre team: Johan, Allund and Gillian. They were marvellous, and took her on the most amazing turtle safaris and patiently explained the lives of the most incredibly colourful fish. I went, too, if my treatment started later. The spa staff were also so accommodating, if I phoned and asked, could I do a turtle safari with Lilian and could our treatment be a little later? Granted, it was low season (though you would not have known it from the weather), but nothing was too much trouble.
Lilian also spent a little time each day—an hour or so—with Suma at the drop-in children’s club: making paper flowers to decorate our villa, feeding the tropical fish and, even more amazing, visiting the newly born 120 baby turtles that hatched on the very day we arrived, dug themselves to the surface one sunset and delighted everyone on the island with their cuteness as they discovered their beach. Some dashed for the deeper oceans away from preying fish; others were kept for research to grow in the Marine Discovery Centre.
Lilian had her own spa rituals, some of which she liked to do independently and some I shared with her. After soothing herbal tea, Lilian would be treated to the Kuda Vela Ritual, especially for 8 to 12 year olds (there is also a Kaumara Ritual for teenagers, too).
The inspiring Kuda Vela Ritual that Lilian loved was a combination of fun yoga poses in the shape of plants and animals, followed by light body painting of flowers and hearts with a mud mask, followed by a luxurious large bath in swirling petals of the most colourful flowers imaginable, and then singing. The treatment is designed to instil in children “a sense of peace and security, stability and belonging.” The programme says, “Children are curiously calmed and delightfully intrigued.” How true. Parents can be quietly present, and I really did love swirling those flower petals around her. Her smiles and delight were a treasure.
We returned to reality one week later. Back to school, brothers, homework and the rest. But that week will stay with us forever—and if only we could in England find a way to bring such enlightenment to spas and health clubs nationwide.
I feel that I will just have to live instead with the memory of the week when “my daughter came, too”; or plan more such visits and write about them to discover where mothers and daughters at the precious age of 10 to 16 can spend time enjoying each others’ company and achieving fitness and wellness far from the madding crowd. Watch this space.
Read more about the Maldives in Four Seasons Magazine.
*Kids For All Seasons (KFAS) is a Four Seasons complimentary recreational and educational program for children of resort guests. Most KFAS clubs are designed for youth four to 12 years old, and open daily from 9 to 5. (Younger children can often join KFAS with a nanny or parent, or resorts can arrange for babysitting.) But details vary from property to property, so check the resort’s website for more information.
Kids can go all day or just for an hour or two. Activities inside and out include games, sports, music, treasure hunts, swimming, arts and crafts, cultural education, environmental preservation work and yoga. Not your average camp, the VIP offerings are pretty extraordinary—for example, at Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, kids can help the resort’s marine biologist graft coral in the lagoon sanctuary.
Claire Cole is a business school professor, board director, CEO and entrepreneur. She lives in Bath, UK.
View all posts from Claire
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