Pampering at one of the planet’s top spa resorts puts you in the footsteps of movie stars and world leaders but, as SUE WILLIAMS discovers it can come as a shock.
When we walked back into our villa at the Balinese resort, we instantly sensed something was wrong.
Nowhere was there any sign of the untidy tangle of possessions we’d left strewn over chairs, tables and the hammock on the deck that bordered our private infinity-edged pool. Instead, the whole place was bare. Obviously, someone had been there while we were out and everything was gone: our passports, money, clothes … even our suitcases.
Panicking, and with my heart racing, I tore open one of the wardrobes and then stopped dead in surprise. Hanging up, artfully matched, were a few of my outfits, looking far less crumpled than I’d ever seen them before in their lives. I pulled at a drawer – yes, my T-shirts carefully folded and laid out. In the desk, our passports and money. And in the laundry bag, the finishing touch: all our unwashed clothes lovingly folded, as if unwashed clothes deserved nothing less.
There was a soft knock at the door. I opened it. Standing there was a beautiful young Balinese woman, dressed in a crisp white blouse and a sarong. “Good afternoon,” she said. “I took the liberty of tidying your room. I hope it is to your satisfaction.”
The COMO Shambhala Estate in Ubud, nestled among the mountains and rice paddies of central Bali, is consistently voted among the world’s best health resorts, and there are many reasons why.
One of the most compelling is that you don’t have to organise the tiniest thing in either your room or your life; the personal assistant you’re allocated as part of your stay does it all for you. You feel like a hot river stone massage/ reflexology/ a Javanese Royal Lulur bath/ a Beaute Neuve regenerating facial? “Just one moment, madam, I will book that for you.”
You fancy a yoga class/ a cooking demonstration/ a scuba diving trip/ whitewater rafting? Coming right up. Or you’re in the market for a total mind and body overhaul? “It would be my pleasure to organise that for you,” your PA will say and suddenly you’re going through a thorough consultation, followed by a selection of programs that might be ayurvedic or oriental medicine balancing, cleansing, activity-base, all about stress management or rejuvenation.
But that is still only one reason out of many that the COMO Shambhala Estate was the winner of the Destination Spa of the Year in the world spa & wellness industry awards and was recently named the best spa in the world by readers of Traveler.
Take the privacy of its setting, on 9.3 hectares of picturesque jungle-covered riverbank, dotted with the most spacious and luxurious of villas, suites and rooms, with a choice of two fine restaurants, numerous pavilions for resting between treatments or practising yoga, pilates, tai chi, Qi Gong or a spot of meditation, and various health treatment centres. The one for massage is all gurgling water features, thick white towels and beautifully scented oils, while the alfresco hydrotherapy pool is all gurgling water, thick white towels and … er … beautifully scented instructors.
Further down from the ridge, on the river itself by the waterfall is another set of isolated timber pavilions, offering a range of massages in what feels like the middle of absolutely nowhere. Paradise might come a close second. Apparently past guests Robert de Niro and Tony Blair thought so too.
The Estate is also famed for its food; all organic, sourced locally and delivered from field to table with the minimum delay. A nutritionist liaises with guests to make sure the menus suit any special dietary requirements they might have, with recommendations of the healthiest options – but with no compulsion at all to take them. Along with the beautiful crisp vegetables and fruits, as well as the massive menu of juices, there’s plenty of meat and fish, but always the best, most succulent cuts, and the freshest seafood. Without word of a lie, I had some of the best dishes I’ve ever had the good fortune to taste there.
It’s a similar story at the other COMO property on the other side of town too, Uma by COMO. Much more a regular hotel resort, and far less remote with only a short taxi or hotel courtesy car ride into the centre of Ubud – the fitting setting of the best-selling Eat, Pray, Love – is also a stunningly peaceful, and exceptionally healthy, place to stay.
The menu is based on the Shambhala flagship’s, with dishes eaten on the terrace overlooking the shimmer of the infinitely-edged communal pool, or in the light, airy restaurant behind, with its soaring ceilings and well-stocked bar.
While the rooms are nothing like the size of its grander cousin, they’re spacious and impeccably designed and fitted, with billowing curtains around the bed, and private balconies looking down on to the rolling emerald hills of the region. The treatment centre, with another wide array of massage, facial and body therapies, is set over a fishpond.
Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Garuda all fly to Bali’s capital, Denpasar, and hotels provide their own pick-up service to Ubud.