Sacred sanctuaries: How Bali’s most extraordinary luxury resorts are redefining wellness

Forget the social media tourist traps and backpacker retreats, Bali’s beachside resorts and rainforest reserves are perfecting the art of relaxation

Bali wellnessBali has long held a reputation as both backpacker’s paradise and spiritual destination, thanks to its unique mix of traveller-friendly bar culture and myriad historic temples and sacred trails to explore. But, as the Indonesian island paradise has become increasingly popular as a must-visit destination, its renown as a luxury destination seems to have been swept away with the tide. Until now.

It’s no surprise that Bali is the region’s most popular holiday destination. Rich with cultural treasures and warm hospitality, Balinese culture is evident in everything from its architecture to the local cuisine. The island’s natural splendour encompasses long stretches of sandy beaches and ocean waves perfect for surfing while, inland, thick verdant jungle shelters diverse wildlife as well as dramatic waterfalls and smouldering volcanoes.

But it’s not just the biodiversity of Bali that presents such fascinating contrasts; with some of the best hotels in the world gracing the island’s shores — and mountaintops — there’s an array of retreats to choose from to meet your every desire. Whether you’re ready to be pampered to perfection or get away from it all, the extraordinary five-star escapes of Bali will leave you feeling truly a world away.The St.Regis Bali ResortOCEAN GARDEN

Nestled on the endless stretch of Nusa Dua beach’s golden sands, St Regis Bali Resort is the epitome of modern luxury even as it immerses us in Indonesian culture. Arriving in the afternoon, I am greeted by a musician playing a rindik, a kind of xylophone, as we take in the elegant lobby, which is inspired by traditional Balinese architecture with contemporary details. That theme continues as I take a winding route (via golf buggy) through the nine-hectare resort to my beachside villa — one of 124 suites and villas (including two grand residences) in the complex.

At the heart of the resort is a glorious 3,668sqm saltwater lagoon — the perfect spot for a relaxing swim when the seas offer more sport than serenity. Each villa connects either to the lagoon or to Nusa Dua beach. Mine, a spacious Strand Villa, is jaw-droppingly gorgeous at every turn: sumptuous and elegant, it includes a well-equipped living/dining room furnished with bespoke couches and Balinese artworks, king-sized bedroom, marble bathroom with an oversized soaking tub and a garden complete with sun terrace and private pool. Opening the back gate finds me standing on golden sand, with my private sun loungers and umbrella waiting for me.BaliWith time to spare before dinner, my personal butler recommends a trip to the Iridium Spa, where I indulge in a jetlag-busting massage after the 17-hour flight. Here, therapists offer a range of treatments — including an excellent menu of facials — in the peaceful, temple-inspired surrounds. Elsewhere in the resort, a fitness centre and multiple pools are available to while away the hours.

My next stop is the St Regis Bar for sundown cocktails before dinner. The bar’s open-air seating offers the perfect vantage point to enjoy the dramatic fire dance, performed each evening at sundown by the Grand Staircase. Dinner choices range from global fusion to traditional Indonesian fare: Boneka provides international favourites as well as offering a glorious spread for breakfast; Gourmand Deli is ideal for relaxed yet refined dining; and the swim-up Vista Bar serves relaxed beachside nibbles. The stars of the show, however, are Kayuputi — where executive chef Agung Gede’s phenomenal pan-Asian inspired haute cuisine has seen its weekend brunch become stuff of local legend — and Dulang, an Indonesian dining experience like no other. Set in an intricate wooden gazebo reminiscent of centuries past, authentic Indonesian cuisine and drinks are served in a truly magical atmosphere, based on ceremonial dining enjoyed by ancient Balinese royalty.Mornings here begin calmly, with a spot of beachside yoga before breakfast at Boneka. Guided by our instructor with the only other sound the nearby waves lapping gently against the shore, this is a truly invigorating yet gentle way to wake the senses. For braver guests, paddleboard yoga is a more advanced yet equally soothing morning ritual — the meditative calm only broken by an innate lack of balance that inevitably sends me crashing into the pool time and again.

Feeling refreshed, I head out of the resort to see some of the sites that make Bali so magical to visitors. A trip to Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park — and its 122m statue completed in 2018 by local sculptor Nyoman Nuarta depicting the Hindu god Wisnu and the mythical eagle Garuda — shows a glimpse of the island’s modernity, while its cultural and spiritual heritage can be found in the stunning clifftop Uluwatu Temple. The Hindu sea temple is one of the Sad Kahyangan, the six holiest places in Bali, which provide spiritual balance to the island and are saturated in fascinating folklore. By day, visitors can wander the ancient temple and enjoy views of the ocean — though beware the resident macaque monkeys, which are known to steal guests’ belongings — before enjoying a Kecak dance performance — a chant-based dance featuring up to 150 performers — based on the Ramayana, which is performed each day at sunset.Bali wellnessSPIRIT AND SERENITY

My stay at St Regis over, I head inland towards the island’s cultural heartland of Ubud, wondering how anything could top the extraordinary levels of service and gastronomy that I experienced in Nusa Dua. I enter Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, through an unassuming entryway, only to be struck by the majestic view over this awe-inspiring resort. From the open-air reception area, I look down into the glorious natural valley that makes up Mandapa, which translates to ‘temple’ in Indonesian. This is a hideaway like no other — the Ayung river flows through verdant rainforest, a working rice paddy and 100-year-old temple dot the landscape, while the resort’s 35 suites and 25 villas, each with private pool, blend seamlessly with the surrounding flora and fauna.

My sense of wonder is only increased by a tour of my one-bedroom pool villa. The 430sqm abode encompasses a 30sqm private pool and tropical garden, a poolside living room with glass walls and views of the rainforest, and the main villa itself — a well-appointed bedroom, wardrobe room and expansive marble bathroom. The most striking element of the villa is its indoor-outdoor design. Extra windows above the bed and in the bathroom made it feel like the rainforest is in the room with me for an instant sense of connection to nature.First on the list of activities is dinner: and I make my way through the rice paddies to the reserve’s signature restaurant, Kubu. The bamboo-structured riverside restaurant serves up stunning Mediterranean-European cuisine including lobster cocktail, cold almond soup with Hokkaido scallops and Wagyu beef. Despite its international flavour, almost everything on the menu throughout Mandapa’s four restaurants is locally sourced — the rice paddies themselves are not just decoration but provide the base of almost every meal.

The Pool Bar is perfect for relaxed daytime dining (the deep-fried red snapper taco is a must), while The Library is an elegant lounge for afternoon tea — accompanied by a cup of Mandapa Dulang Premium — or evening cocktails. Finally, Sawah Terrace, overlooking the river and forest, serves up next-level Asian flavours throughout the day, as well asperfect poached eggs in the mornings. Overlooking the valley, Ambar has become Ubud’s most exciting and refined bars, serving up cocktails, snacks and music to enjoy throughout the evenings — all with the most extraordinary view.Mandapa also provides perfect picnics for more intrepid explorers, and offers tours of nearby Ubud in its fleet of vintage Volkswagens. Ubud is the perfect location from which to explore the Balinese countryside, stroll around the famous Tegalalang Rice Terraces, tour the region’s famous waterfalls and hidden caves — or even climb Bali’s most active volcano, Mt Batur.

After getting your steps in on the challenging 1,717m climb, it’s time to relax and unwind. Mandapa’s riverside spa focuses on the wellbeing of spirit, mind and body, with a range of healing sessions and treatments on offer that draw on Bali’s reputation as a destination for spiritual wellness and inner reflection. The massage I received was designed to align the vibrations of the five koshas, or bodies that surround the soul in Balinese tradition, and I was certainly fully relaxed and rejuvenated.Bali wellnessThe spa — which also houses a yoga pavilion, meditation temple, vitality pool and fitness centre — was the centre of my stay, thanks to its morning guided meditation sessions and an evening sound therapy session that completely sold me on the hype around this incredible wellness ritual.

As I leave Mandapa fully restored, I can only reflect that it is the focus on all senses — from sustainably-sourced gastronomy, mindful spiritual practices, to the sights and sounds of the island’s wildlife — that make Bali so completely enchanting. And these two resorts, showcasing such different styles of luxury embedded in the natural surrounds of the ocean and the rainforest, are the perfect introduction to an unforgettable destination.

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