This is how it begins. Lying on a massage table in an open-air pavilion/bale bordered by pools and fountains in a lush tropical garden. Nothing but the sound of running water, occasional birdsong and the sweet scent of the jasmine oil being massaged into my weary body.
I arrived at Chintamani Retreat & Spa feeling like a trainwreck. Weeks of late nights, socialising and deadlines had taken their toll. The timing for a spa retreat couldn't have been better.
Set on sloping hillside lawns and gardens surrounded by rice fields along the Laing River Valley in Tabanan on the west coast of Bali, this women-only retreat is a little patch of paradise. Chintamani means "magical jewel that manifests whatever one wishes for" in Hindu and Buddhism.
The owner, New Zealander Wendy Matthews, is a lawyer who has embraced the Balinese lifestyle. She has spent 20 years visiting Bali and practising meditation and yoga. Her gentle, laid-back attitude is a reflection of this beautiful place and its ethos.
Wendy spent a year searching for the perfect property to realise her dream of creating a spa retreat for women. In essence, being here is like being a house guest in an exclusive private estate infused with feminine energy and wisdom. It's a great place for mothers and daughters to bond, book club trips and even hen's parties for up to 12 guests.
Ancient frangipani trees, ruby and pink hibiscus, brilliant red flame trees and palms enhance the hilltop gardens, where lizards and squirrels frolic, along with a resident turtle. Koi-filled lotus ponds, statues and traditional carved and ornate stone walls and temples create a vision of beauty and serenity, and a large infinity pool is the centrepiece.
Traditional Balinese style, the six single-storey villas are spacious and luxurious with king beds and mosquito nets. Deep stone baths sit in the outdoor bathrooms which also have showers.
The villas have a television and wi-fi is available.
"You can choose to opt in or opt out," Wendy says of the activities on offer. And by activities I mean indulgence and relaxation. Yoga and meditation are in the daily ritual at 7am and again in the late afternoon and guests are treated to two spa treatments every day. Unlike many of the spa resorts in Bali, and particularly Ubud, there is nothing strict or rigid about the routine. No 5am wake-up calls, and no colonics. There is a cocktail hour and wine is served with dinner at an extra charge.
In the lower gardens a waterfall cascades into a second pool and a traditional rice barn is a cultural feature. The descent leads to a dedicated spa area with a purpose-built yoga centre, meditation bales, jacuzzi, cold plunge pool and sauna. An exquisite haven to enjoy traditional, hot-stone shirodara, reflexology and herbal massage, aromatherapy facials, body scrubs and hair baths. Manicures and pedicures are also on the menu.
Performed by Balinese therapists, some spa treatments lack the finesse of a high-end facility but the beauty of the surrounds counteracts this.
The twice-daily yoga sessions in the idyllic lower gardens leave me feeling invigorated and inspired to continue the journey.
In her quest to create a range of sustainable and organic beauty products, Wendy met a Frenchman who used to work for L'Oreal in France and he has helped her commission a range of beauty products in glass jars for guest villas and spa, jasmine wash, peppermint body lotion and lemongrass shampoo and conditioner for starters.
The sound of a gong heralds mealtimes in the main pavilion, which serves as a dining area, lounge, bar and relaxation zone overlooking the main infinity pool and garden. Plump white sofas, white orchids and soft lighting and artefacts create an inviting space for guests to meet for drinks at 6pm before dinners of mainly Balinese cuisine created by chef Nyoman.
The wonderful meals were a highlight. There is no menu here, just an ever-changing feast. It features tempeh and tofu, green beans in coconut sauce, curries, roast duck, chicken in banana leaf, grilled fish, prawns and squid, rice and noodles and a diverse selection of fresh vegetables and salads sourced daily from local markets, all served with spicy sambals.
Each day there is a breakfast special along with anything from delicate coconut pancakes with fruit sauce to eggs and omelettes. Fresh fruits, muesli and vanilla yoghurt are ever- present on the morning table and healthy tasty lunches are served in a garden bale.
Refreshments manifest at random. As I write, a glass of beetroot, carrot and celery juice has just arrived. There is watermelon juice by the pool; lettuce, cucumber, beetroot and ginger as I recline on a day bed in the afternoon.
Every evening coloured lanterns are placed in the trees and candles around the perimeter of the pool set the scene for a magical outlook.
Frogs and cicadas strike up a chorus which pervades the night, giving way to a morning wake-up of roosters crowing, gecko calls and glorious birdsong. A morning outdoor shower against this soundscape is simply wonderful.
Of course, no retreat such as this would be complete without a visit to the local medicine man/priest. I enter the pavilion-style home of Jero Mangku Gede Sakenan, along with about 20 others. We congregate in a peaceful central courtyard adorned with old stone birdcages, palms and frangipanis.
The Mangku greets me with outstretched hands. His face is kind and open. I am given a sarong and scarf to wear before my treatment. He holds my hand and leads me into a small room where traditional offerings, candles and incense are set on a small table.
The Mangku asks me to look at his third eye so that he can see my orb and then beckons me to lie down for the healing. First my heart, massaging my chest in a quite intense movement like a deep tissue massage. After working on other areas he feels need attention, he asks me to kneel and put my head on his chest and again he massages my neck strongly. Flowers are placed into my hair and it's over.
We retire to another parlour- like room in the main house where I am served a special herbal brew by the Mangku's wife. As I leave, four luxury black vehicles are parked outside. Jakarta's chief of police has arrived with an entourage - this priest is held in high esteem.
Chintamani's location in Tabanan is off the beaten track. Ubud is about 50 minutes away and shopping trips to Seminyak and Kuta, also a 50-minute drive, can be arranged. One evening the driver, Whiskey, takes us on a 15-minute jaunt up to Tanah Lot to catch the sunset from one of the island's most spectacular vantage points.
It was Chintamani's first week when I visited so there was still some fine tuning to be done. At the upper end of the price scale service needs to be impeccable. Cooking classes, cultural tours and more are in the pipeline.
On the last morning the garden is bathed in golden sunlight, cocks are crowing and birds singing as I make my way down to the yoga pavilion for a class with Made, whose open heart and generosity touched each of our small group.
He teaches a combination of Ashtanga, Hatha and Vinyasa disciplines and to make it extra special we were all treated to a yoga massage. With the love and care of a dedicated practitioner, bodies stretch and bend into positions I never dreamt possible. The gentle rhythm of the running water leaves an indelible print on my memory.
·Di Bauwens was a guest of Chintamani Retreat & Spa.
- fact file *
·Eight-day packages include 12 spa treatments, all meals, 12 yoga sessions and 12 meditation sessions, yoga equipment, a cooking class, transfers and the services of a butler. A twin-share room with two king-size single beds and an outdoor bathroom with a shower starts from $3395. chintamani.com.auThe Mangku asks me to look at his third eye so that he can see my orb and then beckons me to lie down for the healing.