Gorgeous people, incredible scenery, amazing food. After seven holidays in Bali, my husband Bill and I can't get enough of this stunning place. There is just so much to do and see.
Keeping away from the crowds of Kuta, we book a villa in Seminyak. Five-star one-bedroom villas are reasonably priced and there is such a variety to suit everyone's tastes. The bonus? Your own swimming pool and privacy. Breakfast is cooked every morning in your own villa, however we found ourselves walking on the beach at 6.30am and heading to local bistros for their healthy vegetables juices and to soak up the atmosphere.
Seminyak is the uber cool part of town, with lots of boutiques, eateries and design stores. It's here where nearly all our favourite restaurants and bars are too. Cocktails at the Legian, dinner at The Living Room, newbie Sarong, Metis is an experience, especially if you have a penchant for foie gras, presented six ways.
Hu'u bar and restaurant is an old favourite and is great for both lunch and dinner. Lying on one of the big white cushions in the garden after dinner is luxurious.
Legendary Ku De Ta for sunset people-watching and tapas; Frangipani for decadent frozen margaritas. You are just so spoilt for choice that on our last trip we had to write a list.
The beauty of Bali is you immediately find yourself winding down. You can totally immerse yourself into the culture, or simply shut the door of your villa and chill out. Modern and old architecture combined with lush planting is so inspiring. We stumbled on a beautiful bar, Sardine, set in paddy fields, quite by accident as we were out on our scooter one day. The recently opened W Hotel took our breath away.
Sunset and dinner in the new Seaside restaurant with its unique wood decor and aquarium is magic, while the Fire restaurant boasts a $750,000 chandelier and a fit-out that is straight out of a twentieth century set. Everything is a visual feast, right down to the tiniest detail, and the staff, outstanding. When they found out it was our anniversary they went completely overboard, organising red roses and an anniversary dessert.
A must-do is a day trip to Karma Kandara. An exquisite cliff-top resort with a steep cable car down to one of Bali's best kept secrets, Nammos Beach Club. Daybeds are available with waiters on hand for your every whim. To swim in the warm, crystal clear lagoon makes this a day you will never forget.
For all out glamour The Rock Bar in Ayana Resort and Spa is spectacular. An open-top bar perched metres above Jimbaran Bay coastline, is simply breathtaking and ditto on the cocktails. Afterwards, we head to one of the many beach restaurants for a seafood extravaganza. Picking the freshest seafood and cooking it over hot coals is simple and delicious. Team with an ice-cold Bin tang and watch the sunset go down and the nightlife take off.
On our latest trip we booked into the Elysian - one of the hippest hotels in the world - for a cooking course.
Picked up at 7am, we experienced the centuries-old market in Denpasar, with our chef choosing some of her key ingredients for the dishes we were about to prepare. Back at the hotel - poolside - we chopped, sliced and prepared beef redang, seafood spring rolls and mastered the art of rolling, then eating. There are more intense courses available, but we wanted a more individual experience and The Elysian fitted the bill.
Shopping is a must, especially homewares. There is a great selection to choose from and you can order whatever you want and have it shipped home easily. Articles can be made to your exact specifications and dealing with the locals is fun. And the massages are simply heaven on a stick. It's so reasonably priced you have one every day. No wonder we feel so relaxed by the time we arrive home.
Chill out in Big Sur
Viva fashion editor Ana Macdonald road tripped around California to a retreat in Big Sur.
My dear friend Antoinette and I had made a pact: to visit a secluded retreat by the name of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Population a mere 1000. The retreat is named after the Esselen Indians who lived there, and is a non-profit organisation devoted to meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, and spirituality, offering more than 500 public workshops a year, in addition to conferences and residential work-study programmes.
Antoinette had trained in Sivananda Yoga in California a few years prior and had made close friends with many people while at the ashram. One of her acquaintances, Rachel, had given up her life as a lawyer in LA and made Esalen her home and way of life.
To get there we hit the road, Thelma and Louise-style, and drove two hours south of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway. The views along the coast were stunning and we embraced our newfound freedom. Cliffs dropped steeply into the sea below us as we zoomed along passing huge Redwood forests and flocks of pelicans, families of seals, deer and bears. The area has a wild natural beauty and the retreat isn't hugely signposted, its isolation being a major drawcard for those seeking spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing.
Totally famished when we first arrived, we luckily made it bang on 6pm for dinner in the main lodge and our love-affair with Esalen began. The food was incredible. I have truly never tasted strawberries like it - the aroma hit you before you took the first bite, all the food had so much flavour.
Deliciously creative vegetarian, vegan and meat or fish dishes appeared each dinner time and breakfasts offered a wonderful choice, the most popular being a mix of quinoa, curly kale and "Braggs" sauce, strange but true - very simple, highly addictive and oh-so-good for you. The chunky home-made rye and seed bread was so good I had dreams about it. I had to buy the cookbook...
A large proportion of the fruit and vegetables are organically grown on the 2ha hillside farm. The food and flower gardens are lovingly tended by dedicated gardeners, and visitors can attend workshops to learn organic gardening skills.
After lunch, the very talented singers, bongo and guitar players among the group played impromptu jams on the huge deck surrounding the lodge. And for those who can't survive without a little tipple, there's a tiny bar selling beer and local wines between 6-8pm. I'm not usually adverse to a couple of wines and a knees-up myself, but because your day starts pretty early and you want to savour all the goodness you're treating yourself to, we found ourselves asleep by 8.30pm most nights.
We were fortunate enough to stay in Rachel's log cabin in the residents' area, which was on the cliff edge and overlooked the Pacific Ocean's rough sea and pebble beaches. The 100-plus residents (including young families and those in their 70s) have a great sense of community and all contribute to the retreat in some way. They enjoy their wholesome lifestyle so much, they rarely seem to feel the urge to visit the big smoke, everything they need is here, including a pre-school. Besides which, there's a seemingly endless stream of worldly arty-farty types visiting the retreat.
There are various accommodation options at Esalen from US$125 ($148) a night for shared bunk rooms, to private luxury cabins on the cliffs.
There's a vast variety of workshops on offer throughout each week and "seminarians" can stay for a month or more at a time. We attended the yoga, Pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation. But I was really surprised to enjoy the "SoulSong" class at 6.45am. Quite a scary prospect, even for someone who considers herself a bit of an "old hippie", I actually found this workshop uplifting, exciting and it truly made your heart sing.
I overheard a 20-something, computer-nerd-type saying "we just don't make time to do this kind of simple stuff anymore these days" - I wondered, did he mean like eating, breathing and sleeping properly perhaps?
Students and teachers from all over the globe come here and have done since it opened in the early 1960s. Joan Baez started The New Folk Music Workshop here and it's seen the likes of Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Ravi Shankar and numerous other artists, philosophers, physicists and psychologists.
And it's seen its fair share of Hollywood stars too: we were highly miffed we missed Jake Gyllenhaal and his sister Maggie who had visited the previous month. However, doing downward dog and hanging out washing with supermodel Shalom Harlow gave me something to gossip about back home. Yes, she is dropdead gorgeous in the flesh, tie-dyed leggings and all. It turns out her Jesus-doppelganger-boyfriend works and lives here.
Originally, this area enticed people with its natural hot springs. Esalen Institute now boasts an amazing modern spa, again in the most spectacular setting right on the cliff edge, where you can have a variety of massages, including the Esalen special.
There are single bathtubs that you can top up with the healing, hot thermal water or communal baths overlooking the sea. We were a little weirded out about the nude factor but it became second nature and we met and befriended some pretty interesting and free-thinking people ...
You get the feeling Shalom, like many other Americans from the bigger cities like LA and San Francisco, comes to escape the madness and reclaim some form of a simple life, back in nature; even if it's only for a week. We only had six days, but by the end of our stay, we wanted more and thought, just maybe, this was a way of life we could see ourselves enjoying permanently.
Close to home
Fashion writer Natalie Smith leaves the city for a spontaneous weekend of relaxation at an eco-resort close to home.
Sometimes the most relaxing trips away are spur of the moment, close to home and, well, for us at least, super affordable (read: cheap). My boyfriend had just finished two weeks recording a new album and that meant lots of late nights, beers and bad food - we had both been too busy to spend much time together, so decided to spend the weekend away from Auckland - our only restrictions were that we didn't want to drive for more than two hours.
We settled on Solscape, an eco-resort in Whale Bay, just out of Raglan. There are various accommodation options to choose from, and while the teepees, with their Indian bedspreads and pounded earth floors appealed, we were wary of the winter weather and settled on a cute caboose - a converted train carriage to spend the nights in. There are also campervan sites and beautiful self-contained cottages on offer.
We packed the car with books, a guitar, some wine and warm clothes; paid a quick visit to the farmers' market to stock up on picnic supplies and hightailed it out of Auckland.
Solscape is a beautiful place, with commanding views of Whale Bay and a serene atmosphere. We took walks around the native bush that border it, had a Shiatsu massage from a local masseuse who comes to the resort on request and fell asleep to the sound of rain on the roof of our caboose. The next morning we spent lazing around in the reading room, a round, pounded earth room with shelves of books and a mezzanine floor.
The Raglan Creative Markets were humming as we headed for home and we stocked up on lavender soap, home-made pesto, fresh bread and herb seedlings; and stopped into The Shack for a huge vegetarian breakfast and good coffee.
We'll go back in summer, when the teepees are up, the outdoor pizza oven is lit and we can take a group of friends and go swimming at one of the beautiful bays.