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Bali Hai

Independent travellers, couples and families, all set off on sunny sojourns to the tropical shores of Indonesia’s most popular island in search of fun and fabulous food. And more than ever, Bali is attracting the health, wellbeing and yoga fraternity, particularly come festival-time in the rice-filled hills of Ubud. Here, in the island’s cultural and artistic heart, the annual BaliSpirit Festival takes place, and in March 2017, Indonesia’s favourite wellness festival celebrated its 10th anniversary.

I shared this vibrant week with like-minded festivalgoers and international performance artists seeking to enrich their physical and emotional wellbeing. Together, we practiced daily yoga, ate healthily and ethically, listened to philanthropic speakers deliver inspirational seminars, and participated in cultural workshops, all beneath hand-constructed bamboo marquees draped in kaleidoscopic canopies

The event was an explosive celebration of body, mind and spirit. One day I was doing Afro Flow Yoga with Leslie Salmon Jones. Also a wellness coach, Leslie invented this yoga style while training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, expressing dances of the African diaspora through yogic principles. Through expressive dance, Leslie encouraged us to reconnect with nature and wildlife, and the earth and the sky, guided by the dynamic beats played by her percussionist husband, Jeff Jones (who also played at Barack Obama’s inauguration).

On another day, I joined Evie Suyadnyani of Mekar Bhuana, who led Balinese dance classes. Born from a lineage of dancers, Evie aims to revive archaic indigenous art forms: particularly, legong dance and gamelan music. Following her crisp choreography, our soundtrack came courtesy of an authentic gamelan band, led by Evie’s husband, Von.

After exercising our bodies, motivational speakers exercised our minds, particularly, Kemi Nekvapil. English-born, of Nigerian heritage and residing in Australia, coach and author, Kemi, grew up through five sets of foster parents. She spoke from the heart about empowering women to thrive and not just survive, and on how to nourish the body with raw food.

And during a thunderstorm-soaked afternoon, I joined Canadian eco-activist, yogi and surfer, Eoin Finn, who ran a Blissology Yoga workshop. His mission is to spread happiness and create awareness of his EcoKarma Project for coral reefs facing demise. He has helped to transplant and repopulate corals in the Florida Keys. “In order to save the earth, we must fall in love with it,” is Eoin’s mantra. It’s a poignant message for Indonesia, home to 70% of the world’s coral.

At the heart of the festival grounds was the Dharma Fair marketplace. Here, ethical clothing, jewellery and craft stands, non-profit organisations, and organic food stalls created a buzzing community for those who buy with health and ethics in mind. Bowls of acai and chia-based mueslis and quinoa pancakes were popular for breakfast. All manner of local, meat-based, vegetarian, vegan and organic health foods were marinated, chopped, baked, fried and tossed, and in all colours, flavours and aromas. Some of Bali’s best chefs whipped up popular Indonesian favourites such as nasi goreng and vegetarian gado-gado, while Sayuri Healing Food dished up gluten-free and raw foods.

Coconuts by the hundreds were hacked open and sucked thirstily through noisy straws. Adventurous tongues chose alang-alang, temulawak, bee pollen, flaxseed, cacao, spirulina, cat’s claw, rosella flowers, psylium husks, golden turmeric and carob molasses in their juice and smoothie blends. It was antioxidant central at the BaliSpirit Festival.

While tummies digested the fusion of flavours, purses and wallets were consumed by ethical clothing stands. In line with giving back to the community, Ananda Soul sported green-certified recycled silver jewellery and certified organic and sustainably produced fabrics in natural dyes. Their proceeds go towards employing mothers of Balinese street children, to facilitate their access to education.

And the eco-conscious USA brand, Teeki, design fashionable and highly functional clothing. Most ingeniously, they’re spun from recyclable plastic bottles.

Health and harmony is not just found at Bali’s festivals. I enjoyed precious ‘me time’ at some of the island’s wellness-focused hotels. Before and after this year’s BaliSpirit Festival, I found rest and rejuvenation at retreats that truly complemented my quest to de-stress and de-tech.

Authentically Balinese was Umajati Retreat, set amongst the peace and tranquillity of the rice fields and coconut groves of Petulu village. Umajati’s lovingly tended 19th century Javanese teak eco house, Wates Bangbau, came with a private chef, who created homemade bread and granola, and cooked me organic produce direct from the garden.

At Sandat Glamping (a member of Secret Retreats), I embraced solitude in an exquisite safari tent amid tiered rice fields and forest. Furnished to the highest level of comfort, my luxurious nest came with a four-poster bed, crystal chandeliers, damask armchairs, carved wooden and fossilised log tables and a private plunge pool. Sandat’s restaurant was an airy cathedral-like space where I dined to the orchestral bongs and croaks of frogs and geckos. The bamboo-constructed atrium came decorated with 100 Balinese mirrors, plus one from Venice (from where the owners originate).

The Samaya, located hillside in the Ayung Valley, faced a splendid panorama of tumbling rice fields. My villa absorbed views over the rumbling Ayung River, as did enchanting Swept Away restaurant, offering à la carte and degustation menus. At The Samaya’s sister property on Bali’s southwest coast, my Royal Courtyard villa furnished me with a private lap pool and gazebo. When hungry, I dined at Breeze restaurant taking in the crashing surf of the Bali Sea.

Both properties featured Spa at the Samaya. Their signature Samaya Four Hand Massage, incorporating five different massage styles, was perfect after the onsite yoga classes.

Arriving at The Oberoi, also in Seminyak, I was greeted with a drink of lime and ginger, a chilled, wet hand towel and was garlanded with a freshly made frangipani lei. The Balinese perfect hospitality and grace.

Adjoining the lobby, elegantly furnished in bamboo, was a corridor showcasing an Indonesian Fine Art exhibition of Mehendra Mangku: one of Bali’s acclaimed artists. And beyond, were temples, a library, a boutique, a craft pavilion, amphitheatre, tennis court and swimming pool.

The resort is set upon 15 acres of mature gardens. It’s where the likes of Salvadore Dali, Kofi Annan and Princess Grace of Monaco have stayed. And I too was treated like a royal. My luxury lanai room came with a private plunge pool, courtyard and terrace. The marble bathroom’s sunken bath was pure bliss. And even the bedside pen had a personal, fragrant touch—made from a cinnamon stick!

And, oh yes, open-air massage pavilions easily beckoned me from Oberoi Spa, surrounded by lotus and koi-filled ponds.

Come morning, Frangipani Café was perfect to breakfast at beneath fringed parasols, pandanus palm and coconut groves. With Indonesian afternoon tea and fruit skewers offered to all guests, it was easy to fall in love with Bali.

Whether you come to connect with other health-loving holidaymakers, or simply seek peace and time out, Bali has the power to heal.

Bali’s year-round climate is mainly humid, wet and warm. The dry season runs between April and September.

Emirates Airlines flies daily from Dubai to Bali emirates.com

BaliSpirit Festival balispiritfestival.com
The Oberoi, Bali oberoihotels.com
The Samaya thesamayabali.com
Sandat Glamping secret-retreats.com/sandat
Umajati Retreat umajati.com


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