Escape Haven: A Bali Retreat Experience Like No Other

By Amanda Linnell
At Escape Haven in Canggu, Bali, guests can sit in a sunken fire pit nestled in the resort’s swimming pool.

Take a break and discover what really matters at Escape Haven in Bali. Amanda Linnell finds a new sense of freedom at this award-winning women’s retreat.

I think I might have just died and gone to frangipani heaven. Having battled Bali’s immigration queues and hectic traffic, I have arrived

From the pile of plump cushions on my giant bed where even my name is spelt with them, through to the glamorous turquoise tiled bathroom, every touchpoint has a golden blossom emanating its dreamy scent. I may never leave my room and I’ve only just arrived.

It’s the details that count when you’re travelling. The small treats and thoughtful touches that transform an experience from the ordinary to the extraordinary. And here, at Escape Haven, I am to discover, it’s all quite extraordinary.

There is a team of people who effortlessly look after your every need, needs you didn’t know you had until they present you with them – often on a woven tray carrying fresh fruit and a cooling lemongrass-scented facecloth.

After a dive in the pool, just steps from my room, I head to the dining room to meet Emilie, a trained osteopath from Norway and the resort leader for the week, and join my fellow guests around a giant square table decorated with more beautiful flowers.

Escape Haven high tea.
Escape Haven high tea.

I’m travelling on my own, relishing the solitude and time to meditate on where I am at in my life while knowing I am also making new friends from all over the globe. The women here are a mix of ages, from 18-74, from all over our planet – each with a different reason and motivation to be here.

Some are on the Detox package with its gentle mix of juices and nutrient-rich food, and a programme of lymphatic drainage massage and green tea scrubs, while others head off at dawn to surf, climb mountains and do HIIT workouts as part of their Fitness package.

Another group is ticking off unforgettable experiences in the Bucket List package: a traditional Bali blessing at Tirta Empul Water Temple, sound healing at the Pyramids of Chi, hiking to watch the sunrise from the top of the sacred Mt Batur.

What sets Escape Haven apart from other retreats is the flexibility and freedom to create your own experience. Whether you just want luxurious, lazy sleep-ins and massages or you want to use it as a base and go to one of the nearby hi-tech gyms to pump iron every day alongside the Aussie mineworkers who come to Bali on their weeks off (like one woman during our week did), the team can make it happen. Nothing is a problem.

The food at Escape Haven is exquisite.
The food at Escape Haven is exquisite.

The food here is exquisite and, thankfully, there is a “no hunger” policy which means everything is in abundance. This also means there is no guilt about going back for seconds, which you can’t resist because everything is super tasty and you know it’s good for you – even if it’s just to enhance your sense of happiness.

The kitchen’s philosophy is to include organic ingredients, avoid refined sugar, preservatives and additives and support local growers and producers for the freshest of flavours.

The menu constantly changes with a tantalising mix of European, Indonesian and Balinese food. Breakfast might be a Spanish omelette, smoothie bowls, corn fritters (the best ever) or bircher muesli. There are Vietnamese spring rolls, a detox salad full of greens and herbs, bone broth with turmeric, cumin and lemon, leek and spinach tart.

For lunch there’s coconut rice, pepes ikan and sambal one day, roasted pepper and tomato soup, pulled pork taco and nori bowl, nasi goreng and mango chia pudding another. Dinner is made up of Escape Haven signature dishes: think Balinese gado dado, lentil, pumpkin and coconut curry, whole baked fish cooked in beautiful spices and sauce.

At the cacao ceremony, guests can drink ceremonial cacao on the beach while setting new intentions.
At the cacao ceremony, guests can drink ceremonial cacao on the beach while setting new intentions.

For my stay, I’ve chosen a mix of the Ayurvedic and Healing packages, which Escape Haven’s Kiwi founder Janine Cottle created as a response to her own experience of corporate burnout (which led her to create Escape Haven more than 10 years ago) and the thousands of women who flock to her retreats looking for a place to focus on their wellbeing and let go of the daily responsibilities of life.

On the first morning, I join a small group on a nearby beach, surrounded by surfers out for a dawn surf, for a letting-go ceremony with a Balinese priest. We’ve been told it’s good for anyone suffering from grief, transitioning through a change in their life, or for those who want to step into a new chapter of their life but are feeling stuck because of personal beliefs.

This is a good way to start the week. It is a reminder to let go of ego and to give myself up to the “go with the flow” vibes of Bali.

Another day, I learn to weave a small basket out of palm leaves and fill it with rice and flowers. These baskets are seen all over Bali, as offerings to the gods and a gesture of gratitude. We dress up in traditional Balinese kebaya tops and sarongs, and place our baskets in the shrine in the corner of the property and give thanks. For some it might feel contrived but I love that I am doing this; sitting in a circle with a group of women laughing and bonding over shared stories.

Another day, I find myself being driven far from the busy tourist roads of Canggu, through suburbs and farmland to the village of Srimayi to meet a Balinese healer. I walk alone down a lane and onto the compound where he lives with his family. The garden is full of statues of Buddha, Ganesha and Shiva.

I sit cross-legged in front of a fire while his daughter translates. He waves bundles of burning incense across the soles of my feet and pours cleansing water over my head. I leave with a mantra, a sense of appreciation for the good of humankind and a reminder of what is important in life.

One evening, all the guests head out together to a beach frequented by locals, not tourists, and sit around a fire for a cacao ceremony followed by a picnic. For some it’s emotional and there are tears. For me, I laugh and give thanks. Here I am, outside my world of restrained expectation and pressure to conform. I’m eating delicious food, listening to the crashing waves, watching the burning sunset and feeling the most relaxed I have been in months.

Escape Haven boasts a series of pools, fire pit, jacuzzi and swim-up juice bar.
Escape Haven boasts a series of pools, fire pit, jacuzzi and swim-up juice bar.

It’s not all enlightenment and self-discovery, however. Cottle’s all-knowing retreats include movie nights, options to dine out at local restaurants or warungs – a great way to sample the myriad food options on this thriving island – and an excursion to one of the many seaside bars for one of the ubiquitous sunset sessions.

There’s a DJ playing uplifting tunes, people in varying levels of dress – from swimsuits to flirty dresses – sprawling on daybeds, drinking cocktails, savouring the last heat of the day as the golden sky slowly fades and the fairy lights come out to play.

Another night, two friends who are staying at Escape Haven opt for a special dinner of their own in the garden and toast their friendship with a bottle of champagne.

At the heart of the Escape Haven complex is a garden with a tantalising cool turquoise-blue swimming pool. Guests relax on the striped cushions and chat, float gently in the cooling water or lie on loungers under tasselled umbrellas and read. The only interruption comes when one of the team arrives to tell you your practitioner is ready for your next treatment.

Ahh. The treatments.

In between all the activities, my programme is packed with a series of not-to-be-missed pampering from the spa menu: manicures, pedicures, luxurious cream baths, 75-minute-long head massages, facials, dry skin-brushing, reflexology and a host of massages designed to target your body’s different wants and needs. It is all seriously indulgent.

Escape Haven is the perfect place if you are a woman travelling on your own. There’s a sense of comfort and ease that washes over you as you waft through each day, from the morning yin yoga class to your candlelit meditation before bed.

Yoga and meditation classes occur in the mornings and evenings at Escape Haven.
Yoga and meditation classes occur in the mornings and evenings at Escape Haven.

After a one-on-one yoga therapy session with Emilie, we talk about the importance of letting go of the control we all try to hold on to in life. And the importance of trust.

“It all goes back to the nervous system and stepping out of flight-or-fight in order to protect yourself,” she explains. “Most of our guests are here to realign themselves – and it goes far beyond the physical. There are people who love all the flower-power hippy stuff and those who aren’t into it at all, but ultimately it’s about stepping out of that supposed comfort zone that is your daily life, with all its stresses and expectations, and reconnecting with who you truly are.”

On my last afternoon, I jump on the back of an Uber scooter that ducks and weaves through the gridlocked traffic to take me to some local stores I want to check out. The team has armed me with a list of boutiques that have New Zealand-priced designer fashion along with the best markets to pick up shell jewellery and ikat throws.

I relish the freedom of wandering on my own and head to a bar by the beach for a cold beer, to watch the waves and embrace the sense of freedom Escape Haven has unleashed in me.

To find out more, visit

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