When Sheikha Moza bint Nasser visited the luxury retreat Chiva-Som in Thailand, she was so impressed by the 30-year-old resort’s wellness therapies that she decided she must recreate the concept for the people in her home country.

However, the exacting sheikha – who is the mother of Sheikh Tamim, the Emir of Qatar – stood firm on two specifications. First, the Middle Eastern outpost of the retreat would include a robust wellness programme for children, and second, it must incorporate the principles of Traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine (better known as Taim) as laid out by the Arab philosopher and physician Ibn Sina in his Canon of Medicine in the 11th century.

Zulal by Chiva-Som opened its doors on the north coast of Qatar in 2022 – the first and only Chiva-Som property outside East Asia – with Taim sensibilities firmly in place.

These were discernible as soon as I was whisked away to check-in – after a 90-minute drive from Doha airport – to Zulal Serenity, the 60-room, adults-only building. The 120-room Zulal Discovery, located a stone’s throw away, is for families and welcomes children of all ages.

Thoughtful design

The property spans 250,000 square metres, but I could spend a whole day lodged in the Serenity wing’s four-pronged “lobby” itself, losing myself in a book from the House of Wisdom library as documents are processed. Or wandering over to the Tea House to sip on a relaxing or energising blend, depending on the time of day. Or chatting to the pharmacist running the Apothecary, about the fascinating properties of various bottled herbs native to the Arab world.

It’s easy enough to grill fish or steak, but to satisfy a vegan guest is one of the biggest challenges

Mayssam Abdulkhalek, executive wellness chef

Or, as Zulal’s founding sheikha is prone to do when she visits the property, practise breathing techniques while staring down into the sculpture that holds centre stage in the lobby. Made from a 10,000-year- old sedimentary rock, it is ensconced in a cube-like chamber. At the centre of the stone, artist Anish Kapoor has created a hole that appears endless, like an abyss. Meditate here long enough, I am told, and the void allows a glimpse – or at any rate, a peaceful reckoning – of the concept of infinity.

One of the things I appreciated most about Zulal is that there’s so much to do, see and imbibe at every turn, from a state-of-the-art spa fitted out with a Himalayan salt room and an ice cave, to dedicated lagoon-style pools for floating meditation sessions.

It is little wonder that modern-day wellness retreats have achieved bucket-list status on many luxury travel itineraries. They at once tick the premium, privacy and relaxation boxes and offer much sought-after me-time. At Zulal, for instance, mobile phone usage is only possible and permissible in the bedrooms (each comes with a walk-in wardrobe and private pool, of course). Yet, you’re likely to spend very little waking time room-bound given each day’s meticulously crafted programme.

If you find yourself getting unduly irritable, walk barefoot on a patch of grass or sand, or place your hands under water

Bibi Ayesha Lockhat, Taim specialist

Room for more

Stays can last from three to 14 nights and include the first-timer’s Taste of Zulal package, plus others focusing on mind-body wellness, beauty, fitness, natural slimming or a therapeutic cleanse. Room prices range from 1,500 Qatari riyals, (about $412), for a Deluxe room in Discovery and QAR3,500 for a junior suite in Serenity, up to QAR17,000 per night for the 323-square-metre Shinan Suite.

The 744-square-metre Qataf suite is reserved for VVIPS, including the Qatari royal family.

A trip typically begins with two comprehensive consultations with guests, one with the health and wellness practitioner and the other with a resident Taim expert. These inform everything from the massages to the menus that are then tailored for individual guests.

The retreat focuses on six modalities of health – fitness, nutrition, physiotherapy, spa, aesthetics and holistic well-being – in addition to identifying each visitor’s mizaj – or temperament – as per Taim.

Ibn Sina’s humoral theory classifies individuals based on four elements, fire, air, water and earth, or a combination thereof. This, in turn, helps consultants offer some lifestyle guidelines.

For instance, for individuals with my hot and dry mizaj, in line with the fire element, specialist Bibi Ayesha Lockhat says: “Cooling and moisturising activities, such as swimming, aqua aerobics and yoga best suit a fiery constitution. Likewise, if you find yourself getting unduly irritable, go outside and walk barefoot on a patch of grass or cool sand. If that’s not always possible, simply place your hands under running water for a few minutes.”

Temperaments are gleaned via sessions that explore everything from medical history and mental state to peeves and preferences. The consultant also checks the guest’s pulse, tongue and any obvious physiological requirements, such as posture correction.

Cathartic as it is to introspect about sleep patterns, spice tolerance, stress triggers and even the season one most enjoys and more, it’s the recommended treatments that put the zen in Zulal.

East meets West

The facility offers an impressive 311 activities. These include various types of massages, group and private fitness sessions, physiotherapy, as well as energy-balancing therapies such as craniosacral, reiki, and sound healing.

There are also healthy cooking masterclasses, facials and other beauty treatments, the aforementioned floating meditation, and a particularly effective form of hydrotherapy called Watsu. The premise is simple – you lay floating on your back in a private pool with the water maintained at 37°C (the same temperature as the human body) in a dim chamber.

The therapist not only helps you stay afloat, but also holds you close as if you were a newborn baby. Eyes closed, you can sway weightless in the lukewarm water as thoughts come and go, and release pent-up emotions or even enter a trance-like state. It’s at once soothing and sentimental – and all the more powerful for it.

Hydrotherapy aside, Zulal also lays out a buffet of world-renowned massage types, from a traditional Thai to an Oriental scalp massage.

The signature tadleek and Qatari hamiz, however, are most in keeping with Taim traditions. The first involves long, soothing but strong strokes and can be combined with hot stones, while the Qatari hamiz is a deep-tissue massage, ideal after a gym session or the one-on-one super-stretch class.

The retreat also offers Hijama cupping, Al-Batin abdominal massage and Al-Rabwa Al-Qadam head and foot reflexology. Taim happens to share some similarities with the age-old Indian discipline of

Ayurveda, and so therapies such as Udwarthanam (dry powder massage) and Shirodhara (dedicated to nourishing the head with warm oil poured from a distance to create healthy pressure on the forehead) are also available.

Tried and tested over centuries, these therapies are primed to relax and revive in equal measure. And then, rather unexpectedly, there is the option to opt in for what is perhaps at the pinnacle of modern medicine – genomics testing, which is widely hailed as the future of pharmacogenetics.

Genomics is based on the principle that a person’s health is highly personalised, and dependent on his or her own unique genetics and lifestyle. Following a swab analysis, an 82-page report is presented and a tailor-made treatment plan is drawn up. This details minutiae such as the type of exercise and diet best suited to an individual, the supplements they should ingest, as well as more serious matters such as a propensity to certain diseases and allergies.

Healthy can be (more) tasty

Food plays a major role in holistic well-being and, accordingly, the chefs at Zulal have worked with the medical consultants to come up with a bank of 1,200 nourishing – and incredibly delicious – recipes. Those who thought clean food is not as tasty, this writer included, would be wrong. As nine meals over three nights at Zulal proved to me, it can be tastier.

The retreat has four restaurants – Aizoon offers Mediterranean-Arabic cuisine; Al Sidr serves pan- Asian dishes; Accacia is inspired by fine-dining European restaurants; and Malbu offers the fresh catch of the day and is an outdoor barbecue concept. The Tea House and the spa-cafe Casuarina also serve healthy treats.

All the kitchens are gluten and butter free, and yet, the charcoal croissant is one of the softest and tastiest I’ve had. Joining it at the breakfast buffet are creamy foul medames, a delectable almond chia pudding, tangy basil hummus and a cranberry cheese that belies its vegan tag.

There is also not a grain of refined sugar to be found here, and yet desserts range from almond milk pannacotta to textured chocolate, sweetened either with organic royal honey or coconut sugar.

The dishes are well-considered at a conceptual level and then masterfully executed. Slow-cooked black chickpea hummus is served with a side of sweet potato. Grilled hammour is emulsified in tared sauce. Wild black rice comes with a piquant seafood jus. An incredibly fresh tuna tartare is served on a bed of avocado with chives, lemon zest and tamari sauce.

Every meal also has excellent vegetarian and vegan options. As executive wellness chef Mayssam Abdulkhalek puts it: “It’s easy enough for cooks to grill some fish or a steak, but to truly satisfy a vegan guest is one of the biggest challenges. For this, a chef needs to have plenty of creative skills.”

Indeed, it’s the deconstructed fattoush sandwich enriched with avocado that I would go back for.

Each menu and even the buffet spread comes with a calorie count for every dish or serving, from soup to sweet. “We are here to heal our guests through food,” says chef Abdulkhalek. “This not only means using local, organic produce wherever possible, but also crafting a menu that will not exceed 1,000-1,500 calories if you were to stick to a single portion of starter, main and dessert per meal, per day.”

As a wellness holiday goes, then, it does not come easier or, indeed, more exclusive than this.

2024-06-14T04:04:53Z dg43tfdfdgfd