The Secret Garden

ABOVE: Vila Contemporânea

Not far from bustling São Paulo lies a lush and idyllic wellness hideaway

With a population over 12 million, sprawling São Paulo is not typically a first choice for a relaxing getaway. But locals have a secret escape when they need quiet time: the Unique Garden resort and spa. There, among nearly 100 private acres of lush Atlantic Rainforest, bordering the Cantareira State Park, lies an idyllic hideaway that was born of empathy, nurturing and social responsibility—and continues to reflect that in every way.

Unique Garden was originally the private retreat of the Siaulys family, whose patriarch, Victor, made his fortune developing pharmaceuticals and natural products. Lara, the youngest of the Siaulys’ three children, lost her vision shortly after birth, and as she grew up, the retreat became a place for her to safely bond with nature, and nurture her other senses. Recognizing the positive impact the place was having on Lara’s development, in the early-1990s, Victor and his wife, Maria, founded the philanthropic Laramara Association, dedicated to the support and social inclusion of the visually impaired. They also opened up the property to other visually impaired children and their families, hosting them in a collection of charming cottages built around a lush garden, and engaging them in activities—from bonding with animals to interactions in a specially built greenery education area—that helped strengthen their other four senses.

In 2005, the family (who also owns the buzzing Hotel Unique in São Paulo) expanded the property and launched it as a resort and spa. Though retreats for the visually impaired still take place at dedicated times throughout the year, the resort is now a place where all guests are encouraged to reconnect with their senses—and with nature. The 29 individual guest chalets include those original Mediterranean Village cottages, located in the heart of the property, as well as a series of contemporary villas designed by renowned Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake. Boasting bold colors, the villas are set along a hillside overlooking the central lake; some feature fireplaces, terraces and hot tubs.

At the heart of the resort lie the restaurants, which include a casual terrace for light lunches, a garden-view spot showcasing fresh-picked ingredients, and a fine dining option with a fireplace and nightly live music. All operate under the domain of Daniel Aquino, a passionate young chef who honed his craft working with masters in Spain.In addition to developing creative menus in partnership with a nutritionist, Chef Daniel is committed to using the freshest organic ingredients, with about 40 percent culled from the resort’s gardens and greenhouses. (The practice has earned the resort a Green Kitchen certification, which is only awarded to kitchens using the highest standard of organic products.) Guests can tour the gardens and greenhouses with a staffer and pick their own produce for a cooking class.

LEFT: Yoga in the Garden  |  RIGHT: Rescued Green-Billed Toucan

Nature’s bounty also takes center stage at the spa, a modern space with 11 treatment rooms, including two cabanas set in a private yoga/meditation garden. The recently revamped menu includes several goal-oriented, multiday retreats, as well as individual treatments that span the globe, from Ayurvedic abhyanga massage and Watsu in-water therapy to nourishing facials incorporating bundles of chilled herbs, and sound healing sessions performed with vibrating bells.

Also new is the house product line, developed under the guidance of Dr. Adriana Leite, a São Paulo-based dermatologist who is passionate about ethical cosmetics and ingredient traceability. Dr. Leite spent years researching and sourcing ingredients that are both natural and effective, with the Unique mandate that “everything have a purpose.” The result is a broad range of face and body products powered by microalgae, rare African desert plants, vegetables and more. Round out the spa experience with a barefoot walk around the Ohtake Garden,designed to stimulate the senses with cold water, smooth stones, stimulating sand and other tactile experiences.

Many urban guests come to the resort to connect to the land—and to the animals it shelters. Much of the vast property remains undeveloped and protected, with natural springs that feed the lake and provide mineral water for the resort; the used water is then pumped back out and absorbed by the ecosystem, helping to repair the surrounding rainforest.

In addition to overseeing the sustainability initiatives, the in-house eco team, headed by a biologist, looks after rescue facilities for horses, dogs and black-market exploited wildlife like monkeys, green toucans, parrots and hawks. Guests love to visit these areas, most of all the canine shelters, where there are often over 250 ill or abandoned dogs, or young puppies. Many guests “adopt” a dog during their stay and help walk or care for the animal for a few days—a way to honor the nurturing traditions at the root of the Unique story.

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Sandra Ramani

Sandra Ramani

Senior Contributing Editor at Organic Spa Magazine
In addition to serving as OSM’s Senior Contributing Editor, writer/editor Sandra Ramani covers travel, wellness, and lifestyle topics for such publications as Travel + Leisure, Robb Report, Premier Traveler, AFAR, Bridal Guide, Elite Traveler, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. She is also the author of “Day Trips from Dallas / Fort Worth,” now in its second edition. Recent assignments have found her sleeping in the Sahara, hopping helicopters in New Zealand, and making this new friend in Bali.
Sandra Ramani

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