When Marty said he wanted to begin our 7-month Empty Nesters Adventure with a health retreat, I looked at Bali as the obvious destination. Bali is only a 9-hour flight from Auckland (I know that sounds like a lot of hours on a plane, but for New Zealanders, that's a short trip). There are many retreat centers that have sprung from the touristic, spiritual, and health-oriented character of the island (Bali can also be parties, alcohol, drugs and Instagram, but that's another story). After a search that ruled out the astronomically expensive ones, I found Udara Bali on Google. The pictures looked strange but interesting, it offered different retreat packages at affordable prices, and with a score of 9 on bookings.com, I thought we could not go too wrong.
Marty and I signed up for the Energy Upgrade package, which included 6-nights' accommodation, all meals, unlimited yoga, 4 massages/reiki, daily hyperbaric oxygen treatments, and admission to their special evening events. Our daughter Sophia was with us for the week, so we signed her up for the Retreat Package, which excluded the oxygen treatments, but included all of the other features and daily massages.
I had no idea our week at Udara would turn out to be so nourishing at all levels.
The first element you see as you enter Udara is the bar, which offers every juice and smoothie you can think of, as well as fresh coconuts. You can also buy alcohol there, but I have to say I only ever saw one group having wine during the whole week. It's just not the place where you feel like drinking booze.
Our rooms were the cabins next to the pools, beautifully built in teak, with three glass walls that allow in all of the light and greenery, AC, and a fan. The bathrooms are at the back, in the open. Other rooms are part of the three-story building that encompasses the yoga shalas overlooking the ocean and an "al fresco" library. They are equally beautiful.
We were soon blown away by the creativity and the degree of detail of Udara's Balinese-inspired design. Everything there seems to be an opportunity to create something special: handrails, seats, bathrooms, ceilings, walls, lights, are all weird and wonderful. The sauna is lodged inside a gigantic turtle, and the various pools are surrounded by sculptures of all sorts of nature-inspired creatures, including monkeys, snakes and lizards. One of the pools is set at 35 degrees and has an underwater speaker, so you float on noodles whilst listening to settling music. There is also a steam bath, a meditation cave and an ice bath (for the brave). All of the spaces integrate the outdoors with the indoors, and when possible, the views to the ocean. Nature is omnipresent, with trees and plants growing everywhere. To top that, the staff write welcome messages on the floor or create mandalas with seashells. They also decorate drinks with carved fruit. A lot of attention and care goes into offering these elements of beauty that contribute to guests feeling welcomed.
There are three open yoga shalas at Udara, and you can choose from at least 5 different classes every day (or do them all if you can🤪). We discovered aerial yoga, which Sophia and I enjoyed so much, we joined in every morning at 7.30am. What else did we try? Hatha, yin and power yoga, kundalini breathing, sound healing, all led by experienced instructors who rotate every day. Classes are open to the outside public for a fee, so they are well attended and kept interesting.
Food is served by always smiling staff at the Organic Ocean restaurant, offering vegetarian, vegan as well as seafood dishes. It was consistently delicious and delicately presented. Coffee was very good, as were the juices we had with every meal. There was great variety, from beetroot-pink pancakes and smoothie bowls, to tuna tataki and mahi mahi cabbage tacos. In the picture below, you can see one of my favourites, a coconut curry barramundi to die for.
Massages were one of our daily highlights. The spa is on the rooftop, which you access through a little tunnel of loving chimes. There are six massage tables in the open, and the feeling of the breeze on your skin is part of the experience. This sounds quite exposed, but because you are either facing down or with your eyes covered when you are facing up, it ends up being reassuringly private. They have enclosed rooms for those who don't feel comfortable with this setting, but who wouldn't want to make the most of the tropics?
The oxygen therapy in hyperbaric chambers was an interesting experience You lie for 90 minutes in a pressurised vessel whilst receiving high-concentration oxygen through a nose piece. This can make you feel like Captain Nemo navigating inside his submarine, but you might want to avoid it if you are claustrophobic. I found it to be the perfect place to listen to my audiobook, and I did take a nap or two.
Two evenings a week, Udara runs special events, and external facilitators run workshops on the other nights. We attended a Sound Healing ceremony that was truly extraordinary, with at least 10 staff members playing 12 gigantic gongs and dozens of sound bowls as participants lay on mats, absorbing it all. On another evening, we enjoyed a beautiful Kirtan session, consisting of songs dedicated to the Hindu gods, some slow and melodious, others upbeat and festive. Unfortunately, we were not there to experience a Sunday morning, when a couple of hundred people from the outside community gather for yoga, ecstatic dance, sound healing and a buffet meal.
You soon realise that Udara is not a business. It's the life project of its owner, a German lover of yoga, sound and healing. Not only did he build this magical place, but he is also always around, taking part of the daily life at the retreat and making sure that guests are well looked after. His care must inspire the rest of the staff, because from the cleaners to the waiters, from the masseuses to the yoga instructors, every interaction exudes joy and kindness. As a guest, you feel part of a big family.
We left Udara a week ago. My lower back doesn't give me grief anymore, and my digestion has never been better. I sleep well. Most of all, I have a heart full of gratitude, for we received far more than we expected.