If Bali is the Island of the Gods then it is highly likely Como Shambhala Estate, nestled in a misty, mossy valley, is where they reside. My suspicions were first aroused a few years back when Mr Smith and I travelled to this hidden wellness retreat, 15 minutes’ drive from Bali’s artistic and cultural centre, Ubud, for our honeymoon. At that time we were convinced that there were good spirits inhabiting the villas while we were hanging about borrowing their space.
This time around, having been shown to our Retreat Villa, called Vasudhara, with its own pool and couple’s therapy room, we are tempted to stay put. It’s just as I remember: the timeless, understated design, every detail created with care, from the proportions of the furniture and lamps to the incredibly pleasing doormats. We even measure up a chair I’ve instantly fallen in love with, taking photos and determining to have one made for our home. Everything just seems to work, including the established vegetation that appears to have been planted strategically to maximise shade and privacy.
On offer further afield is a full schedule of activities – cycling through the village, yoga classes, even talks on philosophy if that’s your cup of Ayurvedic tea – but you could easily hole up in your room, ordering room service, dipping in the pool and getting the massage therapists to come to you. Mr Smith is keen on this option but eventually I convince him we need to explore – and eat. My restaurant of choice is Kudus House, one of the Estate’s two dining options, and I call our PA to make a booking at the modern Indonesian restaurant housed in a 150-year-old former Javanese residence.
He also offers to transport us to dinner in a buggy, but we choose instead to take a slow walk through the grounds, enjoying Ubud’s cool evening breeze.
The sounds of the Ayung River below accompany the faultless meal and our plans to move to Bali, a plot that is systematically hatched each time we visit. I wish I’d written down what we ate – it was vegetarian and came with red rice – because I would do anything to be able to replicate it myself. We half-walk, half-float back to the villa, satisfied and feeling a million miles away from the pressures of home.
The following morning, while we’re out cruising around Ubud, one of the locals comments that ‘too much is never enough’ when it comes to the Estate. Later, as I’m wrapped in a towel on our private outdoor massage suite, looking out over the valley, I realise just how true that statement is. When we last visited this holistic haven, the treatments were an absolute highlight. I guess they’re still amazing, but as I fell asleep just minutes into my massage I’m not really in a position to speculate.
That evening a little magic comes our way (it must be those gods!). It has wings and a tiny pulsating light. A firefly frolics over our heads then lands on the lampshade. Mr Smith instantly reverts to childhood, amused and amazed at this twinkling miracle of science that has blessed us with its presence. We are completely fixated. The enchanting Ubud Valley had pulled us in and real life seems so distant – at least for one night.
The next day, we decide to make the most of the wellness options at the resort. I drag the yoga-fixated Mr Smith to a complimentary pilates class, although he has trouble understanding the small core movement exercises and wonders why there’s not more ‘go go go’ involved. Later, we consult the friendly resident nutritionist, and have our pulses read by Como Shambhala Estate’s Ayurvedic doctor. He holds my wrist and promptly tells me I think too much; that even when there is nothing to think about I think something up. I think he is pretty right in his thinking.
Many people come here for a week or more to take full advantage of all these fine-tuned spa and wellness programmes. The resort encourages a three-night minimum stay to ensure you leave feeling well and truly cleansed and detoxed on both a physical and emotional level – but we still wish we’d booked in for longer.
While we’re packing our bags, I notice Mr Smith has collected a little stash of the Como Shambhala toiletries. Now, I am usually a bit of a snob when it comes to hotel soaps, but even in this department the resort excels, with toiletries all scented with the Estate’s signature Invigorate fragrance. Its amenities are made of natural botanical ingredients (so they’re better for the environment), blending mood-elevating grapefruit, fennel, cypress and lime, while the body lotion in the bathroom is beyond silky smooth. It’s the little things, as they say.
Como Shambhala Estate more than lives up to my memories of our first visit, having perfected the subtle art of being both luxurious yet understated. Of course, this time around we’ve spent quite a bit more time enjoying all the resort’s amenities rather than spending all our time doing, well, honeymoon stuff. But there is one thing that is troubling me: the name of the resort. Really, it should be called the Como Shambhalaaaahhhh.