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As Earth Day approaches, it is fitting that I start my day running my fingers over the lemon thyme, pennyroyal, and nigella in the organic kitchen gardens. They are a riot of green, contrasting pleasingly with the burnt ochre walls of the 19th-century manor house and bluebird sky behind.
Writing a story about sustainability at Six Senses Douro Valley is simple. It is doing the story.
As I harvest my herbs for the pickles workshop, I am joined by Sustainability Manager Raquel Dias. She tells me about the property’s natural food cycle, from the garden-to-fork produce (the expansive vegetable plots on the property are impressive) to the care taken to ensure nutrient-rich composting, while eliminating plastic and preventing food waste. There are seven different compost piles, and the composting machine will munch through 150 kilograms of organic vegetable waste a day.
Six Senses Douro Valley is one of the best illustrations of sustainable food habits, which it happily shares with guests during hands-on and playful workshops in the Earth Lab. Quick pickles are a great way to prevent food waste, as I learn while mixing up water, homemade apple cider vinegar, a dash of salt and sugar, with my purloined herbs. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by sauerkraut and kimchi. However, as I haphazardly chop today’s fresh veg, I realize the process couldn’t be simpler. In addition to increased shelf life, pickled foods deliver a punch of probiotics, and live microorganisms aid digestion. Boosting these beneficial gut bacteria will help your immune system and prevent inflammation. I hope my 100-milliliter jar crammed full of goodness will pass through the airport scanners on the way home.
We also mix up yogurt (imagine how many plastic pots the property now avoids each day) and make a shrub. A word of warning. While the citrusy welcome tonic is delicious, go steady on the rocket fuel. The blend of apple cider vinegar, citrus fruit, onions, ginger, herbs, and turmeric make this potion a brilliant natural antibiotic, but it may contain chili and peppercorns, as I discovered as I took a massive swig.
While my sleeves are still rolled up, there’s just time for Raquel to show me her latest passion, Kokedama, an ancient Japanese garden art connected with bonsai. We ball the roots of our plants in compost and then wrap them in moss from the forest, dispensing with the use of a vase. Touching the soil – a little moment of Earthing – is primal, and somewhat rebalancing.
As with all Six Senses properties, the herbs also make their way to the spa. The Alchemy Bar workshop teaches you about different herbal properties, the quality of the ingredients in essential oils and the best aromas to boost or calm your mood. Depending on your desired outcome (improving sleep, reducing stress, or boosting your immunity) and which ingredients you are naturally drawn to, you can then make your own body scrubs, wraps, face and hair masks, candles, soaps, essential oils, lip balm and a “remedy bomb” for massaging sore muscles. The idea is to learn techniques to take back home to create your own self-care ritual.
Alchemy Magician Daniel Monteiro, “they call me the Harry Potter of the spa”, leads me to a table laden with rose petals, love flowers, Ayurvedic mix, dehydrated orange peel, and curry plant, all harvested from the kitchen gardens. Just like the pickles workshop, the excitement of creating my scrub is almost childlike.
I start with the base, a fine sea salt, which is best for making your skin feel super soft. Next, I choose orange zest, which offers anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and lemon zest, which contains the citric acid necessary for cleaning your skin. My skin is naturally dry, so Daniel recommends almond oil. To the mix, I add four drops of eucalyptus essential oil, wonderful for mask-weary nostrils! I abandon the pestle for my hands, pleasingly squashing the fine mixture through my fingers. “The whole experience awakens all the senses,” says Daniel “It is tactile and aromatic. Orange and lemon are happiness oils. Eucalyptus and mint are energetic oils. But essentially guests are free to mix what they like. Sometimes they discover a whole new fragrance.”
This scrub is then handed to spa trainer and therapist Mariana Duarte, who uses it to buff my skin from top to toe. I wash this off without soap before Mariana applies a moisturizer, which also includes plant extracts. We tip the rest of my scrub into a little pot, which Daniel advises I use once a week, avoiding my face. It can last up to a month in the fridge.
Jessica Swales visited Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal in April 2022.
If you can’t make it to Six Senses Douro Valley, Six Senses Director of Training (Spas) Tammy Dent has put together some of her favorite recipes, with ingredients pilfered from our virtual store cupboards, which you can use to treat yourself to a spa day at home.
How do you cheer yourself up in times of distress or reward yourself in times of joy? Do your emotions rule your route to the fridge? Nutrition and TCM Expert Cátia Ferreira at Six Senses Spa Douro Valley can arm you with strategies to help.