Where will I be staying: Como Shambhala is outside the town of Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital, and it is hard to imagine a more magical setting. It nestles in a mist-covered rainforest where the drama of nature is very much on display: the white-water Ayung River slashes a gorge through the mountainside opposite before turning into a languid ribbon of black water once it hits the valley floor, snaking between glistening boulders, bound for the coast.
The estate’s moss-covered stone buildings fit the surroundings perfectly. Stepping stones lead down to villas of simple teak walls and plenty of billowing muslin — the wow factor is supplied by wraparound verandas and infinity pools. The rooms are in small complexes, so, for some, other guests may be too close for comfort. But the retreat has dozens of cool hidey-holes — even a sacred spring — where you can find complete privacy.
What will I be doing: I chose the Stress Management package. Other possibilities were Get Fit (which keeps Daniel Craig in his Speedos, apparently), Cleansing and Rejuvenation.
My first appointment was with the ayurvedic doctor, who diagnosed my dosha and liberally sprinkled the consultation with kindly, if rather unrealistic, advice, such as doing an hour’s yoga every day. I told him I was keen to learn meditation. He smiled patiently and mentioned something about pranayama. I was impressed until I realised it simply meant breathing. Eh? I can do that with my eyes closed.
He devised a limb-loosening schedule for me: early-morning yoga or Pilates in an open-air pavilion overlooking the rainforest; a meditation/breathing session; lunch, which happily managed to be both delicious and healthy; a facial or massage in the afternoon, with optional workshops on nutrition, philosophy or emotional health; then dinner, with wine prices that encouraged abstinence, before retiring for a long, deep sleep.
At Como Shambhala, I learnt new respect for the simple things in life, such as breathing. It challenged my western assumption that the more expensive and high-tech a solution is, the better it must be. Ocean breathing, for example — inhaling while visualising a wave breaking, exhaling as it recedes — is extraordinarily effective at creating a sense of calm. The relaxation techniques were similarly straightforward (tense your body, hold, release), yet powerful. I soon found I had no stress left to manage. Granted, a week here isn’t cheap, but it is better value than many Asian rivals.
In the unlikely event I get bored with the spa: unlike many spas, the estate encourages you to explore. Butlers arrange trips to villages and even take guests to meet their families. There are bike rides through the lush rice paddies and hikes up Mount Batur, in the pitch dark, to watch the sun rise over the lake and volcano. (At the crater rim, bury some raw eggs and dig them up hard-boiled minutes later.) There were exquisite Hindu temples and elaborately carved palaces around every corner. Try to get to the 9th-century Elephant Cave, which is particularly atmospheric. Ubud is the ultimate wander-about, with colourful food markets, quirky boutiques and galleries. The more active can go kayaking and whitewater rafting on the Ayung, or head to the coast for some of the best surfing in Asia.
More information: Como Shambhala Estate.