Alana Lowes heads off in search of nourishment for her body and soul at a very blissful women’s retreat in Bali.
“Our lovely cook Riska has prepared you a light lunch of freshly rolled rice paper rolls as you must be hungry after your flight from Australia,” greets Ester, the beautiful Bliss Sanctuary for Women hostess.
“Then you are booked in for a 90-minute massage to help you settle in for the evening.”
Is Ester an angel? Am I dreaming? No, this is real and I have just arrived at Bliss Sanctuary for Women in Bali to slow the pace of life for a few days. I have booked the Fab Foodie package and I am here to nourish my body with all the delights Bliss Sanctuary and Bali has to offer and feed my soul with daily yoga and massages and to find my bliss.
Bliss Sanctuary for Women isn’t your typical health yoga retreat. There aren’t any strict yoga schedules to adhere to, no long silent meditation sessions and you can have a glass or two of wine if you so desire, Bliss is all about living in the moment and finding your bliss at your own pace.
Located in Canggu, 15 minutes north of the fast paced, busy holiday hot spot of Seminyak, the six private villas are bordered by vibrant green rice paddies. Inside the walls you can truly relax in an environment where what you do is up to you.
Ester delights in telling me my biggest decision each day is which massage to enjoy, when to have it and what delicious food the kitchen ladies will cook for me. There is also unlimited yoga available at the open-air studio at the botanical Desa Seni Yoga, a short five-minute drive away with your own personal driver.
“We have a new massage on the treatment menu,” beams Ester.
“The fresh herbal ball massage where herbs are placed in a muslin cloth and used to rub in warm oil onto you body,” she adds.
“You can also choose your breakfast and lunch daily and our talented cooks will cook it to order.”
My retreat has been personalised as the “Fab Foodie” package and Ester knows I am here to indulge in the food of Bali. She confirms she has booked me into Paon Cooking School up in the hills of Ubud to experience the unique food and cooking styles of Bali. The Fab Foodie package can also include a trip to Jimbaran Bay with one of the cooks early in the morning to see the seafood markets in full action and even the opportunity to jump into the kitchen with the girls to help with preparing dinner.
However, before all of that fun, I must settle in and enjoy my first massage. I choose the Balinese massage which is an ancient traditional form of deep remedial massage and designed to work every muscle in the body. It leaves me in a very blissful state ready to meet the rest of the ladies staying at Bliss Sanctuary at dinner.
The exotic scents wafting from the kitchen are revealed from under colourful straw cloches. Cooks, Riska and Febby, stand proudly as all the ladies “ooooh” and “ahhhh” over the feast in front of us. A quick description of each and we can begin passing around the plates of traditional Balinese fare. Vegetable curry, prawns from the Jimbaran Bay Seafood Market in a sweet tomato sauce, tahu kalas (Tofu in coconut sauce), Lombok chicken, serombatan and green papaya salad. My favourite is the serombatan salad – a mix of long beans, water spinach and other vegetables with a peanut and coconut sambal topped with whole peanuts lightly fried in coconut oil. It’s fresh, spicy and full of amazing textures and really is Bali on a plate.
While there are plenty of healthy options on the menu, the retreat isn’t about catering for weight loss.
“We want food to be blissful, not restrictive in this personal time,” explains Ester
“You have taken the time out to self nurture, but of course there is always tropical fruits available at all times, fresh coconut water and a secret stash of chocolate,” she says with a wink.
Desserts of Dadar (coconut pancake), mango rice and pisang goreng (fried banana) are served up. There is unanimous agreement we are all in love with the coconut pancake and even Ester indulges in this dish every once in a while. Dadar is a thin pancake made from rice flour and coconut milk and cooked in coconut oil. The pancake encases palm sugar and grated coconut and is then drizzled with coconut milk.
While the idea is to throw out the schedule, I did notice I had a regular pattern while at Bliss Sanctuary for Women. Morning yoga in the gorgeous gardens at Desa Seni Yoga, breakfast of nasi goreng all cooked to order by Rezi in the kitchen, a daily outing and back to the villas for a massage before sitting down to the nightly feast.
Just a short walk outside the walls of the sanctuary you will find the cosy cafés and restaurants of the village of Canggu. Ruko Café serves great coffee, Bunglow Café focuses on health food and it also sells locally made homewares, but if you are in search of something different and extremely decadent, head to Creamery Bali. Behind the Perspex counter is an ice-cream lab where nitrogen is added to the ice-cream base to freeze it right there in front of you. Part science experiment, part theatre, the perfectly smooth ice-cream is topped with everything from local tropical fruits to rich chocolate.
The Fab Foodie package at Bliss Sancuary for Women includes a day in the beautiful village of Ubud and at the Paon Cooking Class. I met our guide at the Ubud Morning Markets where locals jostle to fill their bags and baskets with fresh produce. Most of the food is delivered from farms close by, with some imported apples and other fruits from Australia. If you have travelled to South East Asia you will be familiar with many of the tropical fruits, my favourite being the mangosteen. A deep purple skinned fruit is peeled back to reveal the sweet fleshed covered seeds. A colourful array of herbs and spices are used in Balinese cuisine, with plenty of crisp fresh vegetables and cuts of meat available.
Fresh baked goods and snacks are available to buy from the stall holders and nibble on while you wander around the markets and make sure you stop and sniff the fresh spices, they tickle the nose and are fragrant and heady with the scent lingering on your fingers for the day.
From the markets we take in a tour to the blooming rice paddies with an introduction to rice farming before heading to the local village, Laplapan. Our entertaining host, Puspa, warmly welcomes us into her traditional village home. She has us all smiling and laughing with her monologue opening. The huge open-air kitchen with her portrait proudly looking over us is the perfect location to immerse your inner foodie into local Balinese cuisine and culture. Puspa runs the school with military precision, however, you feel like you are one of the family preparing for a celebration feast. Soups, curries and satay are all demonstrated along with facts about Balinese family life. What is most fascinating is the use of coconut oil in Balinese cuisine to fry everything from peanuts to tempeh.
Tempeh is an unfamiliar ingredient for me and as I discovered, when sliced and fried in coconut oil makes a delicious chip like snack. The curries are rich and flavoursome and the salad fresh and fragrant. With a demonstration of each dish along with hands on experience, I have increased my recipe repertoire with new and delicious Balinese dishes, ones to impress my friends and family.
Finishing each day with a relaxing treatment is the perfect way to unwind and move into the warm still evenings. I would highly recommend the herbal ball massage, which is filled with aromatic cinnamon, tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and many other ingredients.
“It smells just like cooking,” exclaims Mega, my massage therapist.
“Like a beautiful herbal tea being used to massage your body,” I reply.
All the treatments and massages are extremely relaxing and perfect for nourishing the body and soul.
What makes Bliss Sanctuary for Women so blissful is the limited number of guests. It is completely a world away from the rat race of normal life and I hope my blissfulness remains with me for a long time to come.
Alana was a guest of Bliss Sanctuary for Women and travelled to Bali on Virgin Australia.
Virgin Australia flies to Denpasar, Bali from Brisbane and Sydney with connecting flights from other cities. Search and book flights here and start planning your getaway to Bali!
More about Alana
Alana Lowes is a celebrity cook of MasterChef pedigree, and has travelled the world as The Flying Foodie for Virgin Australia. Read more of her articles on The Flying Foodie homepage.
She also launched the Alana’s Pantry range of products and is the Editor for lifestyle magazine, Life Begins At.