Spa breaks: Blissing out for inner beauty

By Sheriden Rhodes

Sheriden Rhodes checks out some of the best spa-cations across Asia and Australia.
A women-only retreat can be just the break you need.
A women-only retreat can be just the break you need.

Find your inner goddess

Three things jumped out at me about the Bali Goddess Retreats when searching for one that combined healthy eating, fun activities and the chance to simply drop out of a hectic lifestyle for a week: yoga, surfing and women only. I have nothing against men, but when a girl wants space and the chance to learn to surf when she's well past the grommet stage, the safety of a female-only group certainly has appeal. Which is how I found myself with a group of like-minded women, aged from their late 20s to early 50s, at the Bali Goddess Retreat - currently celebrating 10 years of women-only surf, yoga, meditation and massage retreats.

We arrive at the retreat's colonial-style villa in trendy Seminyak on a sultry afternoon. The retreat was designed by founder Chelsea Huntley to be reminiscent of Raffles Singapore, with white shuttered rooms leading on to shady verandas, a communal pool with sun loungers, a lush tropical garden and cute signs proclaiming "Gone to the beach" and "Relax, you're home".

Beds are draped in mosquito nets and each night house-keeping fairies leave cards with inspiring messages on turndown for goddesses to reflect on.

The seven-day programme mixes twice-daily yoga, healthy food and pampering (a total of seven hours in the in-house spa).

There are also three days of "Bliss" activities, ranging from cycling through rice paddy fields to visiting an elephant safari park and learning the art of batik painting or chocolate making. It's no boot camp, nor is it a serious wellness retreat, but rather a chance for women travellers to take time out for themselves and set their own pace.

I had missed out on the retreat's sister programme, the Surf Goddess Retreat, so made surfing a focus of my optional activities. Others chose adventurous white-water rafting, cooking school, stand-up paddle boarding at Sanur, or snorkelling on Bali's east coast.

Some just wanted time to think and do nothing much at all. A common theme was that nearly everyone was at a crossroads of some sort. One woman was recovering from cancer, another had lost a staggering 44kg and recently split from her partner, another had travelled from the US after a serious car accident and was now on the mend.

The surf lessons with the talented instructors from Rip Curl School of Surf at Legian Beach were a highlight. It was years since I'd been on a board, yet a lanky Swiss girl and I, with the luxury of an instructor each, were soon hitting the waves. I had previously had a couple of lessons and was a keen boogie boarder in my early 20s, but I was still surprised how soon I was up on the long board and riding waves to shore.

Sadly, no other goddesses were surfing that day, but the instructors were there to cheer you on and correct your technique and a photographer whooped it up on shore as if I was Paige Hareb. I was exhilarated and looked forward to practising back at home, where I live close to three surf beaches.

Back at the retreat, with aching muscles from lugging the long board, I tucked into yet another fabulous home-cooked meal of chicken and glass noodle salad, plus a bowl of flavoursome chicken soup that had been rustled up for a couple of girls with Bali belly (not contracted at the retreat). Afterwards, I enjoyed a hot stone massage, lazed by the pool and later went to chic eatery Sarong for dinner with the other 11 women.

Getting to know the other goddesses is unquestionably another terrific aspect of the retreat. One day I lazed with Anita from Perth and Amy from Mt Isa at the super-chic Semara Uluwatu beach club, which is reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast with its long winding stone paths leading to a gorgeous beach.

Another day I joined Sarah from Newcastle at Revolver Cafe, a hip cafe in bustling Seminyak. Michelle Varga, the Scottish retreat host with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bali, is on hand to let goddesses know where to find the best coffee, cocktails and other cool places to spa or where to get a blow dry, your nails shellacked or go horse riding on the beach.

I cannot fault the resort's programme, incredible food, attentive staff, fantastic location and quality, hand-picked activities. Goddesses don't have to think for themselves, which is the reason many chose the retreat. The only thing to keep in mind when booking is to request a private room (this costs extra), unless you want to share a room and a bathroom with someone you don't know, which can detract from the experience.

The yoga lessons, meanwhile, were aimed at beginners and unchallenging. This is not because of the wonderful instructor Widya Gondosaputro's ability, but rather that classes are targeted at the majority of the participants, who in this case happened to be mostly first-timers.

I left Bali feeling refreshed, having had some rare time to think and having made some lovely new friends.

Bali Goddess Retreats are priced from US$2495 ($2897) for six nights with transfers, accommodation in a shared room, healthy meals, activities, daily yoga, spa treatments and much more.

Boutique wellness

The Samadhi Spa and Wellness Retreat is a stylish, East-meets-West retreat, fitted out with heated polished concrete floors, an open fire, neutral calming decor and alpaca rugs that ooze comfort, safety and warmth.

Located near Australia's spa capital, Daylesford, Samadhi offers a mix of dynamic counselling and healing sessions, wholesome and artistically striking meals and body treatments in the spa, which connects to the retreat by a covered walkway leading into the spa through beautiful Chinese doors. Wayne and Annah Mirananda have combined more than 50 years of professional and personal experience in the field of health and healing.

Many who come to Samadhi are facing huge emotional or physical hurdles, such as cancer, divorce, bereavement and even recurring thoughts of suicide. What differentiates Samadhi from myriad other retreats, Wayne says, is that what they do is so specialised.

"We are small, private and all-inclusive. It's a one-on-one investment rather than a boot camp group experience."

Samadhi offers a range of retreats from a short as half a day up to nine days, starting from A$550 ($593).

Detox like a star

Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand, is an extraordinary wellness retreat where the likes of Elle McPherson, Oliver Stone and Annie Lennox (plus plenty of ordinary folk) go to get their lives back on track.

Set up by co-founder Karina Stewart, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Kamalaya offers five-star detox cuisine, scheduled holistic activities and a world-class wellness centre offering acupuncture, Chinese medicine, naturopathy and more.

Kamalaya's 10 wellness programmes include optimal fitness, detox, sleep enhancement and retreats with renowned visiting practitioners.

In my seven-day Asian Bliss retreat, fellow guests included a guy who used to run Universal Records (he introduced INXS to the world), a Swiss banker, an Aussie expat living in Germany who needed to get off the booze, and a new mum who couldn't shift the post-pregnancy weight.

Rooms and villas are either hillside or front the calm waters of Kamalaya's private beach. Exclusive, luxurious and most importantly, it works.

A three-night intro-to-detox programme, including all meals, massage treatments, non-alcoholic beverages, daily holistic fitness activities, airport transfers, wellness consultation, Body Bio-impedance Analysis and more is priced from $2100.

Change your life in seven days

Alex Gunn and Chrissy Richman offer Life Change Holidays and special counselling retreats in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, the spiritual heart of Thailand.

The couple relocated to Thailand in 2008 after seven years running the programme in the UK. They keep retreats small and there is never more than a handful of guests at one time so they can give everybody individual attention.

Each Change Holiday is tailor-made and includes the change programme, which is roughly equivalent to three to four months of weekly sessions, with 12 weeks' online support afterwards.

Alex has been working in and around psychotherapy and counselling for more than two decades, Chrissy for 30 years. They specialise in new advances in what is loosely called motivational psychology.

"This is an approach that believes that motivation for change can be accelerated and manipulated, making it possible for people to make changes, big and small, in incredibly short spaces of time," Alex explains.

"The idea of the Life Change people is to make these advances available to the public while enjoying a blooming good holiday in Thailand at the same time," he says.

Retreats are run at boutique properties in Chiang Mai, including the Puripunn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel, a charming, family-run establishment moments from the Ping River.

Travellers come from around the world to kick back a gear or two, soak up the spiritual and cultural vibe, see the city's many excellent examples of Lanna architecture and be embraced by the warmth and hospitality of the local people. It's the ideal place to face issues that might be holding you back.

Tailor-made Life Coaching holidays start from $1495.

Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Bali Goddess Retreats.

- Herald on Sunday

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