Bali bliss time: Seven quick ways to switch off and recharge – even with kids in tow!
Bali is renowned for its laid-back, blissful lifestyle – even when you’re travelling with young children. Anna King-Shahab shares seven quick ways to enjoy all the relaxation the island has to offer
COMING GRADUALLY BACK INTO THE PRESENT, A THRILLING FEELING OF LIGHTNESS BUZZES INSIDE ME
WWhile a dedicated yoga retreat is firmly on my wishlist, I’ve found that in Bali, you needn’t be ensconced in a retreat to find many moments of peaced-out bliss, even when travelling with young kids in tow as I did. In between the bartering for bargains to bowing to hair-braiding offers, it’s easy to grab moments in which to completely switch off and recharge the internal battery.
Go off grid
30-minute or so ferry ride from Bali, Nusa Lembongan has been popular with surfers for years, and has recently seen a steady growth in those looking for a super-chill atmosphere. Development is low-key with no big international hotels, rudimentary roads hosting mostly scooters, and a handful of often unreliable ATMs – stocking up on cash feels pleasantly old-school.
The Nusa islands offer perfect conditions for a watersports fix, with surf breaks, calm seas for standup paddle-boarding, and absurdly clear turquoise water for snorkelling. The best bit of our day in the water is drift-snorkelling off Mangrove Bay: our skipper drops us off at one end of the bay and the swift current draws our family along; we simply float, wowed by the coral forest and inquisitive fish, to meet the boat a few hundred metres along.
Take a sacred nap
T he trusty nana nap gets an ancient treatment at the hands of former Buddhist nun Ibu Ferawati (Fera), the resident wellness mentor at Four Seasons Sayan. I book in a day visit to the resort, a five-minute scooter ride from our villa in Ubud, curious to find out what on earth a sacred nap entailed. Fera welcomes me and one other napper to the beautiful, Elora Hardy-designed bamboo open-air yoga bale, and helps us in to the yoga silks suspended from the rafters, so I lie on my back, gently cocooned. Placing a fragrant wheat bag over my eyes, Fera begins to talk. She speaks softly, her lilting Bahasa accent adding a sing-song quality, as she tells the life story of the Buddha. The tale ends with Fera chanting mantras and the resonant ring of a Tibetan singing bowl. Then she begins to sing a lullaby, and to gently swing us in our cocoons, and I depart further and further from real life and into a dream-like state. Some time later, as the swinging slows to an eventual halt, Fera crouches down by my head and gently massages the top of my forehead, whispering incantations. Coming gradually back into the present, a thrilling feeling of lightness buzzes inside me. Afterwards, Fera tells me she’d thought up the idea quite recently, while rocking and singing her first-born to sleep. And that’s exactly what this feels like, the weightlessness of being a baby again, of having no worries, at least for a blissful 60 minutes.
Island of the bowls
owls of goodness are around every corner in Bali, from smoothie bowls to salad bowls and raw vegan curry bowls, there’s a bowl to suit your bouche. Yellow Flower Café, accessed by foot on a narrow path through the rice paddies and jungle on the outskirts of Ubud, is a great spot. For later in the day, I love their bowl of nasi goreng – a far cry from greasy fried rice, theirs includes red and wild rice, and pulses lightly fried in coconut oil, plenty of greens, nutty tempeh, Bali’s famous sambal matah, and a fried banana. (Banana-fried rice? Trust me on this!) And breakfast doesn’t get more blissful than a cerise-hued dragonfruit Islander bowl from Muntigs restaurant at Batu Karang Resort, with a table by the pool, overlooking the serene turquoise shallows and further out to the surf breaks off Jungut Batu beach.
I t goes without saying that a spa treatment (or many) is a self-loving must, and Bali is rightfully famous as one of the world’s top spa destinations. You’re spoilt for choice, but some spas stand out from the pack.
There’s a reason why Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay is a shoo-in to any international spa guide. After changing and using the hot and cold plunge pool, I’m greeted by my therapist Sri and guided through a series of pathways, fringed by hand-built whitestone walls and greenery, to the treatment room. My 90-minute Ku Nye massage sees Sri applying marigold and lavender salt compresses and warm river stones, as well as strong, flowing Balinese massage strokes. The aim of balancing meridians and working on acupressure points works to iron out the crick in my neck that’s been bothering me for weeks, and leaves me feeling nicely spaced out afterwards, as I sit sipping jamu.
At the other end of the price spectrum is Ubud’s Cantika Zest spa. A handy two-minute scooter ride from our villa, I escape to the semi-outdoor jungle spa one rainy afternoon for a facial and a hair wash. All Cantika products are handmade from herbs and plants grown on-site by owner Jasi and her team; the whole place smells like a tropical flower market.
I f you’re anything like me, looking after yourself involves the occasional discerning cocktail or two, and when on holiday, by occasional I mean each evening when cocktail hour rolls around. My favourite imbibing moment comes courtesy of The Howff, which is as bizarre as it is brilliant: an elegantly Scottish-themed whisky speakeasy built into the cliff on Jungut Batu beach, Nusa Lembongan. It’s not advertised or clearly signposted, so unless you know it’s there you’d never find it, but believe me, you want to find it: look for the stairs going down beside The Deck Cafe next to Batu Karang Resort. As well as a huge range of whiskies, The Howff excells in G&Ts.
Embrace a cliché
S ometimes, experiences that seem clichéd shouldn’t be overlooked. Case in point for me was dining at one of the many seafood restaurants that fringe the sand along Jimbaran Bay. I normally avoid heavily touristed spots, but after caving into the tempting aroma of fresh seafood cooking over burning coconut husks, I can vouch that there’s seriously delicious eating to be had here. Ripping into a sharing platter of freshly caught and perfectly cooked crab, lobster, clams, prawns, scampi and fresh fish with my feet in the sand while watching the gigantic burning ball of sun get by the watery horizon is something quite special. It doesn’t matter that I shared this experience with hundreds of other tourists; I’ve learned to switch off, be in the moment and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures – which is a lesson that Bali teaches in spades.
It takes a village
I n Bali, there is no shortage of impressive accommodation options. Chosen well, a private pool villa offers excellent value, which you could balance with a short stay somewhere sumptuous. Situated on the quiet outskirts of Ubud, our family loves kicking back in the spacious surrounds of Villa Shanti, a stand-alone three-bedroom villa, part of Devi’s Place, a collection of cottages and villas built in harmony with the surrounding village and dotted around the rice paddies. The covered verandah by the pool is where you’ll find me most of the day, lounging on the daybed with a book while the kids flip up a storm in the big pool.
For out-and-out luxury, Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay surpasses my expectations, proving to me that in just a few nights, I can settle into a new pace of life, set to the percussion of a steady, slow pulse. Four Seasons designed this 14-hectare property along the intricate lines of a traditional Balinese village. And when every staff member, whether they’re welcoming you into the restaurant for breakfast or laying out towels, iced water and snacks for your poolside pleasure, seems to know you by name and stops by for a chat, you do come to feel you’re part of a (very lavish) village.
I’VE LEARNED TO SWITCH OFF, BE IN THE MOMENT AND ENJOY ONE OF LIFE’S SIMPLE PLEASURES – A LESSON THAT BALI TEACHES IN SPADES