Janine Hall knows what women want, especially busy women looking for a break. The Bali-based creator of the Escape Haven retreats has forged out a unique place in the market by providing pampering, inspiring and fun ways to holiday. So, when the invitation came to join her on her latest venture, I was in.
I am not a yogi or a surfer and had never been to Bali. My first thought was, I have no swanky yoga kit, my bikini has lost the elastic and I have no stylish sarongs. But after scratching around the wardrobe I find enough to get me through I hope.
I am going to be one of the very first to experience the new Escape Haven Luxe Retreat, Uluwatu, and I can’t wait. The idea of seven days spent finding my inner self, being nurtured, pampered and stretching out forgotten muscles is an opportunity too good to pass up.
On arrival in Bali at 9pm, I am met by driver Eddie. He greets me with a broad smile and whisks me away, after handing me a bliss ball, chilled bottle of water and cool facecloth.
As we head into the chaotic traffic he tells me, “I am at one with the traffic” so I decide to be ‘at one’ too, and not worry that we are going to take out every second motorbike.
Before I know it, we reach our destination the Sohamsa Ocean Estate on the south coast at Uluwatu, where I am greeted with fruit kebabs and tea, and shown to my suite. It’s dark, so I tumble exhausted into bed and it’s not until morning when I pull back the curtains that I realise just how incredible this place is.
Nestled high on the cliffs, it overlooks huge surf rolling into the idyllic Pandawa Beach, while kayakers paddle on the inside reef.
The scale of the estate, with its open, expansive grounds, defies any sense of space. The gardens are a botanical paradise, flowing and tropical. The luxurious, private rooms all have amazing views.
Birds chirp and monkeys pop in for a visit, (you are advised to close your bedroom door), but there are no other, unwanted creatures to worry about.
I meet Janine, now mother to 10-month-old Indy and the dynamic force behind this thriving business which caters for those wanting to relax, re-energise and re-focus, over the breakfast of my dreams: a banana and spinach smoothie bowl (the first of many to come), nuts and coconut yoghurt, and a bowl of tropical fruit. And, fortunately for this caffeine-addicted Aucklander, there is no shortage of coffee.
The Escape Haven food philosophy is sugar- and gluten-free; wholesome, healthy and clean living. The aim over the week is to help break bad habits and encourage participants to see what a difference eating like this can do to your sense of wellbeing.
Throughout my stay, three charming Balinese chefs cater with ease for the different dietary requirements of the guests. Nothing is a problem. All the produce is organic and local. Seafood is brought straight from the fishing boats and the organic chicken is the best I have ever had.
The rest of my group arrive throughout the day. There are eight of us, all here for different reasons.
There’s an American architect who lives in Japan, a lawyer from England, and a corporate executive, a physiotherapist, and a school teacher, all from Australia and New Zealand.
Our first yoga session that evening helps to loosen muscles and relax us all. By dinner everyone is starting to unwind and looking forward to bed.
We gather at 7am for yoga on the verandah, looking out over palm trees to the soothing blue ocean. No sooner have we settled into our routine, then about 20 monkeys swing by to watch us no doubt having a chuckle at the varying degrees of flexibility on show as we attempt to twist and stretch our way through the session.
Our American teacher Lani who splits her time between Bali and Australia guides us through a series of poses. She skilfully recognises our different abilities and directs us all individually. We are, she reminds us, all on our own journey.
After an hour there’s time for a quick glass of coconut water before we start a hard-out cross-fit session with Irish coach Finn. We lift weights, do burpies, and work up a sweat. The 25-metre pool beside us is looking more and more tempting. The minute we finish I plunge straight in. Bliss.
At last, it’s time for breakfast and we’re all ravenous as we tuck into a hearty spread of banana bread, tropical fruit, white egg omelettes and plenty of drinks, including delicious vegetable juices with a hint of ginger.
This will be our daily morning routine and after a week, one can feel and see the results.
The schedule also includes a daily speaker. First up is Ubud-based English naturopath Lauren. Radiating energy and glowing from her healthy lifestyle, Lauren shares her knowledge about the digestive system and the gut.
Although I think my diet and lifestyle habits are pretty good, I come away with the feeling there are still things I could do better. However, I have still yet to try the tongue scraper and “oil pulling” cleaning the mouth by swirling with coconut oil.
Throughout the week, different speakers share their wisdom. Yoga teacher Lani talks us through mindfulness, being present and happy within our own body, and we get great tips for a good night’s sleep.
Fitness coach Finn runs a body activation workshop to help us to set fitness goals, while Janine draws us out of our shells with an inspirational “face your fears” workshop. There is also the opportunity to have one-on-one sessions with each of these inspiring women.
As the week, unfolds, the daily routine falls into shape. By midday, I find myself wrapped in a sarong, heading towards the spa for a head-to-toe Balinese massage. Throughout the week, I find myself drawn back to this part of the hotel, again and again; the pervading smell of frangipani oil on my skin is wonderful.
Lunches are light and tasty, often starting with a smoothie bowl, followed by main course favourites including Balinese corn fritters, bacon and poached eggs with a delicious mango salsa on the side.
In the afternoons, we can choose to while away the hours by the pool in the warm sunshine, or keep working our way through an extensive list of spa treatments. There is the chance to visit a Balinese healer or even have a tarot card reading.
Having never been to Bali before, I choose to take up the various excursions on offer. There is the opportunity to learn to surf, cycle through the Balinese jungle, abseil, join cooking workshops, snorkel at a private beach and explore the local shops, but I always return for the sunset yoga session and, of course, dinner.
This is the chance to share our day’s adventures and learnings or just talk about life in general over three beautifully presented courses.
The food includes tasty pumpkin soup, cauliflower and broccoli with rice, chicken or vegetable green curry, and, to finish, pandan rolls a sweet coconut and palm sugar-stuffed pancake.
One night we are treated to the “Nasi Campur” a feast of Indonesian dishes, which is a highlight.
This is a transformational retreat for a reason. A week of luxury combined with fabulous food, inspirational talks, yoga and fitness and you come out recharged and armed with helpful ways to continue the good habits you have learned back in your real life.
Retreats are the perfect place to share an enriching experience with a friend or enjoy a mother/daughter experience. But Uluwatu is different in that it primarily caters for women travelling on their own or wanting a break.
As a mother responsible for income, budget planning, home maintenance the list goes on it was a rare chance to put myself first. And it was bliss.
• Angela Casley was a guest of Escape Haven. To find out more, visit Escapehaven.com