I'm not the kind of person who can lie on a beach for five days. After two I 'm usually itching for little sightseeing and adventure. Then again, I don't like the feeling that I need a holiday to get over my holiday. And I certainly don't like the excess baggage (around my middle) that I carry home after a week of over indulging. The ideal holiday for me should have some balance - where you can do it all, or nothing or in between and return rested, reenergised and (hopefully) a little bit healthier than when you left home.
Listen up The Luxury Travel Bible peeps, because I think I've discovered the ultimate Ying &Yang holiday destination. It's called Como Shambhala Estate (CSE) and you'll find it in near Bali's spiritual and mountainous heart (naturally) of Ubud. You remember. It's that tranquil artist village in the hills where author Liz Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts in the film Eat Pray Love) finally got her mojo back.
Enveloped by fertile farms and rice paddies, tranquil forests, fast flowing rivers and bubbling springs - to health spa devotees it's the new Mecca.
CSE is one of two luxury boutique Como properties in Ubud - an hour from the airport in Denpasar. The other is Uma.
"People wonder why we have two hotels in Bali," says Como's General Manager John Halpin. "All our hotels have elements of well being, with Yoga mats in the rooms and healthy food options on the menu, but at Como Shambhala Estate the focus is all about well being. It is a health retreat."
CSE's holistic facilities are second to none. Classes are offered in Yoga (there are two pavilions and Hatha Yoga is mainly taught which focuses on postures, breathing and meditation), martial arts, meditation, Pilates (offered in an air-conditioned hillside studio overlooking the Ayung River) and personal training. Among the wide range of amenities is a heated infinity-edged Vitality Pool for specialised hydrotherapy treatments. The pool's water is sourced from the property's mineral-rich spring and features pressure jets to massage. At the Ojas Spa guests can experience the very latest in spa treatments for the body and face (and mind) in nine naturally-lit treatment rooms. The Estate's resident experts include a Yoga Master, Ayurvedic doctor and therapeutic nutritionist. From time to time the retreat hosts special guest experts. Private psychological counselling is also offered.
For the first time visitor it can all seem a little intimidating - even overwhelming. But what I love about CSE is that it also provides more traditional health and fitness choices. You can improve your backhand and volley with a tennis pro on one of the Estate's all-weather courts or channel Ian (Torpedo) Thorpe's 2012 Olympic comeback in the lap pool. The Estate also has its own climbing wall. You even get your own personal assistant to help you plan an itinerary to suit (and remind you so you stick to it)!
CSE is quite honestly a destination in itself and it's not surprising that many guests never leave during their visit. However, for those looking for a little more action and want to add a little culture to their Bali experience expert guides can be booked to take you out-of-bounds on scenic rice field walks, river rafting and biking trips, exclusive temple visits and art tours.
And for those moments when you just want to get away from it all - you can quite easily. CSE is sprawled over a vast jade clearing of land providing plenty of gorgeous hidey holes to find some quiet personal space. The best spots require a little effort - down (then back up) a flight of 500 or so steps to the river's edge. Don't forget your swimmers. The steep hillside is dotted with shady havens of tranquillity including four massage bales and quiet spring-fed pools with relaxation areas. Whoops and hollers from the river bed occasionally broke the silence. The voices came from the white water rafters. Only the day before I arrived I'd been one of them attempting to tame the swollen, churning rapids (grade 2-3), getting dumped under waterfalls, ambushed by local children, and stopping briefly for a refreshing coconut drink at a riverside stall - all great fun.
The Estate's villas also provide a quiet place to retreat. Traditional private and retreat villas offer couples and singles quiet seclusion- some come with their own spa and pool facilities. There are five separate stone and timber Residences which feature four or five garden or terrace rooms, a master Como Shambhala Suite, a shared pool and shaded outdoor pavilion/lounge-dining area. The residences suit groups travelling together or can be booked individually. Size and interior style vary from the more colonial features of Bayugita's residential suites (featuring Antique Victorian baths and Dutch and Venetian colonial beds), the more zen-like Tirta Ening with its Japanese water gardens, stone carvings and Chinese antiques; Umabona's regal finishes and Wanakasa, a sprawling five-star tree-house.
My thatched suite, within the Tejasuara residence (meaning Sound of Fire), overlooked the shared pool with fire pit which was lit each evening.
A pebbled path led me to the screened slide door entry. Inside and central to the air conditioned room was a four-post bamboo bed. My favourite feature hid behind a stone wall at the head of the bed - the en suite bathroom with choice of rain shower and semi-outdoor stone bath overlooked by a tropical rain-fed garden bed.
Without a healthy (constantly evolving) menu all your hard work would be for nothing. In charge of what's served at Como Shambhala Estate's two in-house restaurants, Glow and Kudus, is Australia's Amanda Gale. Gale originally hails from Sydney where she worked for Neil Perry for eight years after completing her apprenticeship. She joined Como 12 years ago and is now the Group Executive Chef.
Above all, cooking methods are minimised to help maintain the nutritional integrity of the original ingredients.
"Most important is to keep it simple. We don't slice and dice things here," she says.
"We keep it whole and enhance the natural flavours of the food. We use whole grains and unprocessed foods as much as possible."
Gale has worked closely with Como Shambhala's resident nutritionist and Ayurvedic doctor on the menu.
Ingredients are sourced locally and she says: "wherever we can we set up our own garden. Our aim [at Como] is to also showcase the local and regional flavours. In Bhutan we do a lot of Northern Indian and Bhutanese (rustic provincial style). In the Maldives we can choose a variety of seafood which we keep simply done."
Food lovers visiting Como's property in the Caribbean can expect a menu with a South American Influence. "The seafood is also really great," she says
Gale came to Bali 1.5 years ago to set up the Estate's menu from the group's Metropolitan hotel in Bangkok and Parrot Cay in British West Indies. She says Parrot Cay is where she became really interested in Spa Cuisine.
Gale says she learned a lot about the secrets of raw cuisine (which has myriad detox benefits) from special guest Jill Pettijohn (fashon designer and Como advisory board member Donna Karan's former personal chef who has also worked with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise).
She adds: "I grew up eating healthy food with an Asian influence like brown rice and tofu, not just meat and three vege, so I didn't find the transition too hard."
Among a range of CSE's healthy eating and Indonesian options are freshly blended juices designed for specific health benefits. The aptly named Cool Down, for example, is a refreshing mix of watermelon, mint and cucumber which helps relieve headaches, hydrates and reduces internal heat while Gale's serious blend of papaya, pineapple, fennel, orange and mint extractions assists in digestion and decreases abdominal bloating.
Gale is putting the final touches to a cookbook featuring many of her favourite Como recipes like tuna sashimi and grilled flaked salmon with cauliflower, pomegranate & quinoa tabouleh and smokey egg plant puree. Chapters will be dedicated to breakfasts, soups, salads, wraps, seafood and meat.
"It won't be strictly vegan or raw," she says.
As the Estate prides itself on being a 'retreat for change ' Gales hopes the book will add something else that guests can take away with them and continue to follow at home.