Ondy Sweeting wins writer’s Story Of The Season award as we send her to four Alila spas to experience life on a massage bed. Someone had to do it.
As one of Asia’s hottest spa destinations, Bali’s venues of pure indulgence are all over the wants and desires of spa addicts and none more so than the glamorous Alila hotels.
Four Bali properties are held within the boutique hotel group and are positioned in the island’s most sought-after locations – Seminyak, Ubud, Uluwatu and Karangasem. Each spa has been carefully paired to mirror its unique geography, harnessing salt from the ocean and fresh air from the forest.
All of Alila’s spa products are crafted in a small operation in Karangsem. Using the best of locally grown spices and essential oils with a range of fragrances from lemongrass and ylang ylang through to clove and orange.
Alila Seminyak spa’s signature treatments are the result of years of development and enhancements to service exacting clients.
The spa’s bespoke mineral ritual aims to wind down the energy a notch or two from the island’s frenetic buzzing style-centre of Seminyak where dining, dancing and shopping can be exhausting.
The three-and-a half hour experience has a history deeply rooted in its location, a place where a Balinese healer called Wayan was once resident. The famous healer was in great demand and people travelled from across the island to have ailments treated by him. His gentle touch and focused energy are said to have healed countless people.
Wayan’s ancient knowledge and his well-honed physical skills have been passed on to Alila Seminyak’s therapists through training with the master. The plan has ensured the preservation of these uncommon therapeutic techniques and continues to deliver the time-honoured practices from the very same grounds.
Designed to detox and refresh the body and spirit, the mineral ritual begins with a traditional foot soak in water infused with freshly hand-crushed lemongrass, limes and sea salt. It also has several drops of Alila Seminyak’s signature oil of lavender, lemongrass and ylang ylang to sooth and disinfect. Then the signature massage takes place in the rarefied beauty of a Zen-style room.
The massage is a deeply relaxing mix of long silky strokes, gentle stretching and muscle-melting kneading of knots. No wonder Wayan was such a hero who attracted aching spirits from across the land. The intensity of the massage induced a kind of twilight zone of being aware but not really present. The therapist integrated foot reflexology into this space without missing a beat. Feet take a lot of flak from long beach walks and pavement pounding shopping tours so a period of relentless attention is welcome. No swollen tootsies here.
A quick 15 minutes in a steam room works to soften one up for a full body scrub, which is a thick sea-salt based emulsion devised to slough off remnants of sunscreen, moisturizers, dead skin cells and the other debris of day-to-day island life. This fragrant scrub is washed away while chilling on a wet table with an overhead Vichy shower – a long water pipe with multiple showerheads – spraying immense quantities of warm water all over the body while the therapist simultaneously washes away any traces of the product. Now it’s teatime, while soaking in a big magnesium bath that roils with tiny champagne-like oxygen rich micro-bubbles that are charged with giving the skin an even deeper clean. The result – baby soft skin.
The mineral ritual is rounded off with a facial that involves a cleanse and a lot of massage to stimulate the lymph glands and tighten facial and neck muscles. It felt luxurious and was finished with a cool facemask.
Alila Seminyak Spa is for the connoisseur of opulence who appreciates details such as glasses of cooled mineral water, wet slippers discreetly replaced with dry scuffs, fluffy towels changed and a happy lack of looped mindfulness music. Upstairs in the ocean front Sea Salt restaurant the spa menu offers Japanese influenced poké bowls – mostly with fish or mushroom – that are the nice jigsaw piece for a morning of energizing and tactile pleasures.
While the Seminyak spa is hidden in it’s own architecturally aesthetic atmosphere, the sister property in Ubud has an exclusive bale overlooking the verdant valley of an Indonesian rainforest.
This is an escape from city life into a private haven of seclusion at the resort’s bale bengong, perched at the edge of the insanely green Ayung Valley. The soothing atmosphere of the surrounding rainforest is a blast of quiet. The only streamed sounds come from tropical birds, the breeze disrupting the trees and the calming rush of the river.
Amid this uniquely Ubudian setting it is simple to surrender to the pampering of a cool footbath while in a private front seat watching nature evolve timelessly.
The bale is prepared with two massage beds and the therapist delivers a detox massage over 90-minutes, which unravels the muscle tension and stress to the tune of different tweets. The health benefits of being immersed in such lush lands must be enormous with the massage as the icing on the cake.
Delightfully discreet staff deliver a healthy, delicious lunch selected from a small menu of either a three-course Detox or Pan-Asian set menu, made with fresh local and organic ingredients. Raw green veggie salad, ABC juice and a fish curry plus raw and vegan chocolate dessert were a tasty distraction from the main game of luxe chilling.
With appetite sated, sit back and enjoy the healing touch of a 60-minute reflexology massage. And just when you thought you’d reached the peak of indulgence, enjoy the delights of Alila Ubud’s afternoon tea served to you in the comfort of the bale, featuring a refreshing herbal tea and a selection of local sweet treats.
At the other end of the island, on the ultra glamorous Bukit peninsula, the Alila Uluwatu could not be more different from her hillside sister. Blue dominates – the sky and ocean – as huge backdrops to the architectural white lines of this minimalist hotel.
Arrive in time for a pre-spa lunch at Care restaurant starting with a lightly toasted brown bread served with olive oil, a green shredded lettuce and seasoned iceberg, fraise and arugula and baby romaine lettuce salad. The green juice feels as healthy as it is tasty. The health ‘aware’ main course is a warm quinoa salad with miniature zucchini, date and pea shoots with indulgent little dabs of aioli.
The restaurant by the pool has a buzzing vibe with springy tunes to match chatting guests enjoying a blessed life.
What rolls up next is the clean eating dessert that can only be viewed through the prism of fine dining – a mango cannelloni – filled with tiny diced papaya, slivers of mint and mango – served with lemongrass sorbet.
Alila Uluwatu has some rather different choices – many of which are aimed for beauty rather than relaxation. They use the premium German skin care range, Babour, and have a microdermabrasion machine that whisks away the facial impurities and delivers a plump and fresh glow. The machine is not of the ‘diamond’ kind and does not blast skin with fine particles but it has a little attachment that strokes the skin, collecting detritus on the way. The hour-long collagen mask follows and is super cooling and smells good. This treatment is party perfect for a quick freshen up before a night out at the fabulous nearby day club, Omnia.
Far up the Bali coast in the shadow of the amazing Gunung Agung is the beautiful hideaway destination of Alila Manggis – a personal favourite of many in-the-know expats from celebrity chefs to business people and uber-hip yoga gurus. It is set on the most beautiful part of the picturesque Karangasem regency with the rolling waves of the sea at one side of the property and the stunning mountain as its immense backdrop – the question is only which way to face the sunbed while waiting for a private tented bale to be set up by the ocean.
The soundscape of the waves is a highlight of this serene location – from both your Alila room and the spa.
Purpose-built wooden decks are the foundation of the spa here, which is curtained with flowing white linen that catches the sea breeze from the ocean less than five metres away. The shower and toilet are separately located in beautiful snail-like coils of bamboo walls that are open to the sky.
The body mask of this seaside ritual is stepped up a notch with a paste of coconut, sea salt and coffee grinds – from locally grown beans – spread all over ones skin and left to dry for about 20 minutes post massage and scrub. The smell is divine and shares fragrant notes with the raw vegan chocolate dessert in Ubud.
Staff at all of the Alia spas are universally well trained and the service sets a high bar. There is much to be said for the power of touch – something sadly lacking in souped up contemporary society – and every one of Alila’s therapists is skilled in delivering the caring magic of pressure points and melting delights of the body.