In a city of 21 million people—picture about six Manhattans on top of each other and then throw in as many people and cars that can possibly fit—escape isn’t just a thing. It’s essential. When you arrive at Espaço Surya, a natural, organic, and vegan lifestyle day spa and restaurant in the heart of this Brazilian megalopolis, escapism begins at the top of the street. In the bustling middle-class neighborhood of Vila Mariana, less than a five-minute walk from the nearest metro station, Rua Doutor Fabrício Vampré turns off from a busier thoroughfare and immediately grabs your attention:
Peace. Quiet. Surya.
You may recognize the Surya brand from their natural and organic cosmetics, more easily available at Whole Foods in the USA than anywhere in Brazil (the only place I have ever seen the products are at Surya itself). But here in Brazil, the company—a vision sprung to life after founder Clelia Angelon took a life-changing trip to India—started out as a henna producer and morphed into a full-blown lifestyle metamorphosis, culminating in this lovely residential home in the middle of the city. There are no clues on approach; it seems as though you have the good fortune of counting a friend who lives on this lovely street, and you’re popping in for a visit. Once buzzed in, however, Surya’s vision begins to take shape.
Along the side of the house lies a path of waters, a cleansing and grounding water ritual designed to give rise to positive energies as you wade across several pools (exfoliating river rock, soft cut grass, smooth clay, and semi-precious stones) barefoot. Hokey? Maybe. But you are here to relax, and this sets the tone. Beyond the path of waters is a calming outdoor space in the backyard, home to chaise lounges, gazebos, and a fabulous vegan restaurant with Venezuelan chef Inti Mendez, the only man I have ever known capable of taking a world-famous pork-based national dish (feijoada) and churning out a vegan version that didn’t make me wish for the original.
Along the side of the house lies a path of waters, a cleansing and grounding water ritual designed to give rise to positive energies as you wade across several pools barefoot.
Inside the home, Espaço Surya is more function than form, but the home itself would be the envy of many doing battle in São Paulo’s urban real estate warfare. Trickling fountains, jungly themes, and rainforest soundtracks are missing—I got “Live and Let Die” at one point—in favor of more sterile treatment rooms (I prefer the former, but as long as the treatments are fabulous, the rest is just superficial). The space is rounded out by a bustling salon and small cosmetics shop.
I start out with the 50-minute Maharani facial massage ($63; 50 minutes), where my mug was doused in oat milk and coconut water before a light massage with avocado paste. A clay mask was applied, rounded out by a hydration facial calling on exotic Amazonian fruits like açaí and cupuaçu along with macadamia and vitamin E. Entirely pleasant.
Next up was the Marahani Capilar massage ($63; 30 minutes), a tension-relief massage with coconut and rosemary oils that focuses on the head, neck, shoulders, hands and feet. It’s too quick—one needs an hour for this—and my therapist, Lucine, was a little too light to the touch for my states.
It was only after lunch that I truly received the escape I so much needed. The Relaxation-Detoxification massage ($38; 50 minutes) not only represented extraordinary bang for the buck, but a new therapist, Jacqueline, manhandled me just enough, her deep-tissue pressure soiled my tension-stuck muscles with more exotic oils (andiroba, açaí, buriti and macadamia), and it hurt so good.
More telling, though, is that I escaped to that place we all seek on a massage table: That place from which at a certain point you jolt up as if from a jetlag-induced coma in a foreign hotel—confused, drooling—and you think to yourself, “Where the hell am I?”
You’re in the biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere, that’s where.
Kevin Raub is a European-based journalist who has covered travel and entertainment for a variety of publications, including Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller, and New York Times T Magazine. He is also the author of over 80 Lonely Planet travel guides. Follow Kevin's adventures @RaubonTheRoad on Instagram and Twitter; and at www.kevinraub.net.