Review: EPIC Sana Algarve
Stylish Clifftop Retreat
(This review first appeared on queenofretreats.com)
The Quick Read:
Perched on a cliff top overlooking the expansive Falesia Beach between Portugal's tourist havens of Albufeira and Villamura, the vast openness of Epic Sana is surprisingly refreshing. The family-friendly, contemporary resort has a fully equipped spa offering a varied range of expertly curated therapies, with two indoor pools Turkish bath, sauna and private relaxation oasis and a range of Sayanna Wellness retreat options for fitness, detoxing and overall health that are best enjoyed off peak (generally mid November to March) as they are less expensive and quieter. If you just want to relax, there are long beach walks, twice daily complementary exercise classes, fresh seasonal menus and the cosiest sun loungers overlooking the Atlantic.
Who is it for?
Epic Sana Algarve is a spa resort which welcomes solo travellers, couples or small groups of friends on holiday who also want to get fit, lose inches, practice yoga, detox or just have some time out. During off-peak times especially, retreat programmes can be customized to clients needs and you could even have your own dedicated trainer to monitor your every move (little chance of opting out here!). It is also great for those who just want to enjoy walking the stunning stretch of beach in relative peace (unlike many other upmarket resorts in the Algarve). If you are looking to spend time with other like-minded folk in a group-style retreat with communal meals and activities or want a guaranteed child-free experience it’s not for you, as children are welcome and adjacent guests may be enjoying their coffee, irresistible antipasti platters and glasses of quality Portuguese wine – all while you detox or at least try to be more mindful about your food.
What you can do:
With eight dedicated Sayanna Wellness retreat programmes most people find something that appeals be it fitness/boot camp, detox, reshaping, yoga, SUP water fitness (during the summer months only) and programmes designed to help those suffering stress-related issues and sleep troubles. Retreat days are full on with four to six hours of classes interspersed with spa treatments (of which two are included in most retreat packages), meals, snacks and the occasional lecture.
For example, the 4-night Insane Fitness retreat (aka Bootcamp) which we tried included two fitness assessments, three days of intense and varied workouts comprising cycling, TRX, Cardio Circuit, boxing, BTT, aqua aerobics, jogging, power walks (up to 20km) and more – for about five hours per day.
There’s also a yoga retreat (which we also dipped into) led by Joao Paulo Gouveia who teaches his unique style of ‘Cosmic yoga’. Sessions are a mix of yoga’s more traditional asanas with Joao’s more meditative style of teaching. To us, it was all about building strength and balance through the breath. A typical 5-night yoga retreat includes 2 classes per day, breathing and meditation sessions and 2 spa treatments with other exercise classes optional.
The spa has a full menu of a la carte treatments too – Aromatherapy Associates is used for body therapies and the Spanish MCCM range of cosmeceuticals for facials. There are five outdoor swimming pools and an indoor swimming pool, a kids club, baby club, multi sport court, three restaurants, two bars and a snack-bar and a Congress Centre too.
Where you stay:
The contemporary resort exudes style, with fresh clean décor and plenty of Zen Japanese influence throughout. Rooms are bright and invitingly spacious with lots of vibrant green that really worked in our bedroom (although the green loo roll took the colour scheme a little far we think!). Our Atlantic facing balcony meant we woke each morning to the stunning sunrise, which lended a feeling of ‘everything is right with the world’ to our day. Skincare brand Aromatherapy Associates lined our bathroom shelf too – so everything was indeed right in our world!
At Epic Sana there are plenty of places to relax, our favourite being the oversized daybed overlooking the pools and gardens where we could write notes and enjoy a tactical mid-morning snooze (when our programme allowed). The spacious spa is strongly inspired by Asian healing therapies with large comfortable treatment rooms, a Vichy shower, massage rooms, private outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the Atlantic, sauna Turkish bath, a large relaxation area (which was mostly empty) and a choice of indoor pools. The fully equipped Fitness Centre has state-of-the-art weight training machines and cardio equipment as well as a studio for group classes like Pilates, yoga, cycling, circuit and many others. The funky bar area was almost deserted during my stay but I imagine during the busy summer months, it could be a happening spot.
How was it for us:
The resort was very quiet during my off-season November stay but I imagine that even during busier periods a sense of space would prevail. As my time was limited my trainers and I were determined to maximize the experience, so we enjoyed early morning feasts of the freshest fruit platters and nourishing breakfasts to power us up for the hours ahead. Then it was bootcamp until noon or 90 minutes of Cosmic Yoga (for me followed by writing and reading on my enormously comfy day bed). Post lunch there was another two and a half hour bootcamp before I fell (literally!) into the spa for my chosen Deep Kincho massage and Hot Stone Ritual – both were excellent for soothing overworked muscles. If time allowed I would have loved to while away some hours on the beach as the weather was superb (even for November) and the sea gloriously refreshing.
I also dipped into the yoga while I was here with Joao Paulo Gouveia, who has invented his own style of yoga called ‘Cosmic yoga’. Although personally I prefer a more flowing style of yoga, Joao enjoys a bit of a cult following in the area and I imagine his depth of spiritualism could become addictive. The Tibetan bowls used at the end of his classes were wonderful.
The restaurant was the perfect spot to enjoy a well earned evening meal, and while most others on the programme steered clear of wine or any other vices, I enjoyed a glass of some of Portugal’s best known labels before bed. While I didn’t complete a full programme I experienced 3 arduous boot camp sessions and yoga and by day 3 was feeling stronger and more energized than I have felt in some months. Rather hard not to be really in such a great location and having this time dedicated exclusively to me.
What we took home: A customised meal plan. Yoga teacher Joao’s mantra that each day has a purpose, and to ‘live the now’, has also stayed in my mind, occasionally popping out to remind me to make the most of every moment.
Would I return?
I would return for the setting alone, but also for their skincare focused anti-aging programme, as I do believe that daily skin treatments with a targeted exercise routine and nourishing foods would make an enormous difference to my skin (that to me is looking older by the day!), my energy levels and my emotional health.
People watch: Personal training sessions led by Patricia Inacio and Andre Vitorino were extremely well delivered. While pushed to our limits, it didn’t seem so and the bootcamp sessions were so well executed that at no stage did I feel that I couldn’t complete any task (which really surprised me!). As bootcamp sessions were wholly customized to our needs (only possible during this off-peak period) but both trainers had to work very long hours, but were also spotted enjoying the deliciously fresh food along with our small team of retreaters.
Food watch: Meals vary depending on the wellness programme chosen but regardless of package, all foods served were wonderfully fresh and tasty on our visit. Our favourites included the Andaluzian gazpacho with pancetta crumble and the salad offerings (including salad nicoise, smoked salmon and prawn salad with red berry vinaigrette). The meat options were limited but perfectly cooked. Breakfasts included fresh colourful fruit platters, a wide array of nuts, porridge, homemade yogurts with berries, platters of local cold cuts, cheeses and breads as well as eggs in their various guises and other cooked breakfasts to order.
We would have found it incredibly difficult however to be following the detox or reshape programme in the midst of these tempting platters, but we’re told that during busier times those on special diets eat at a table far removed from the buffet. Deserts included fresh fruit platters, homemade ice cream, panna cotta and home-cooked brownies (obviously for those not following a restricted regime). Coffee and a range of teas are also available with wine also offered to non-retreaters.
What’s queenly: The vast openness of the resort lends a wonderful feeling of space and freedom, and the sunrises are worth every moment of the early rise.
What’s lowly: Proper yoga mats in the bedrooms please! The spa team was not inclined to give them to us, even on request. Those we eventually got were slippy and not conducive to our downward dogs.
Insider tip: Be very specific as to what you want to get from your retreat, and confirm your personal training sessions and menu plans prior to your arrival to ensure your stay flows more smoothly. Note that if you visit off-peak there is a better chance of one-to-one attention.
Price per person with a companion: Price varies hugely depending on the package chosen and the time of year. In low season ( November to March) it costs from 160 € (about £124) per room per night including breakfast based on two sharing. In high season (16 July to 31 August) it costs 430 € (about £332) per room per night based on two sharing. If you’re booking a la carte treatments, as an example a Deep Kincho massage is €80 (about £62) for 50 minutes.
For retreats, as an example, the minimum price for a 5-night Yoga Retreat at EPIC SANA Algarve in a deluxe double room with buffet breakfast during low season (generally mid November to mid March) costs 2040 € (about £1578) per person and includes 6 x Yoga Lessons, 2 x Wellness Workshops (Breath & Meditation), 1 x Kaori Relax massage, 1 x Deep Kincho massage and transfers from Faro International Airport.
Price per person going solo: If you’re travelling alone, rooms cost 140 € in low season per night and 410 € in high season per night including breakfast. For retreats, a deluxe single room for a 5 night yoga retreat off season costs €2420 (£1872) per person inclusive as above.
Value for Money: Off peak visits to Epic Sana are excellent value for money bearing in mind all the extras included. Price really does spiral during the summer months so plan accordingly.
Reviewed by Kate O’Brien
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