15 February, 2013

COMO Shambala Estate in Ubud – putting the bliss back into Bali

15 February, 2013

One of my good friends bluntly refers to Ubud as a “total dump”. While I beg to differ, I can kind of see where she’s coming from. Once you’re out of the backpacking stage of life and prefer lounging by the pool in one’s private villa, venturing into the centre of Ubud for lunch, dinner or a spot of window-shopping is a bit of a rude shock. Tramping over broken pavements and stepping over open drains while avoiding the ever-present taxi drivers with signs promising “sexy driver, sexy car, sexy prices”, stray dogs and crowds of sunburnt “gap yah” teens, you can feel like you need a holiday from the holiday destination! Where’s the peace? Where’s that “Isle of the Gods” feeling? WHERE’S THE BALI BLISS?

And that’s where COMO Shambala Estate in Ubud comes in…

Located about a 15-minute drive from the centre of Ubud (more like 45 minutes in peak season traffic), I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a hotel in a prettier setting. Perched at the top of a valley with lush views of rice paddies and green jungle, COMO Shambala Estate delivers colonial-style elegance in spades. Neither new, nor overtly flashy, this hotel and wellness retreat attracts chic guests seeking peace and privacy, keen to recharge and restore themselves after the stress and overindulgence of their everyday lives. With only a sprinkling of villas, suites and rooms, COMO is all about exclusivity and the uber-luxurious residences (complete with personal assistant naturally) have to be seen to be believed, allowing guests to make-believe that they could actually be living in this little corner of paradise.

I’ve visited COMO a few times now (as a day visitor only unfortunately!) to grab some glamour-by-association by eating at their fabulous restaurant, Glow, and to pamper myself at the spa. I’ve been getting more and more into healthy eating over the past year or so, so Glow is my idea of heaven on a plate.

The extensive menu is full of absolutely delicious options, from an entire raw vegan section (yum!) for those more adventurous types, to more “normal” healthy options like soups and hearty salads with chicken or fish. Treat yourself to a fresh juice with names like “Bloat Away”, or feel totally saintly as you sip on a wheatgrass shot made more than palatable by blending with mint. The best thing? Unlike most healthy restaurants where the food never quite hits the high notes, Glow is absolute taste perfection. You won’t miss the meat, sugar or dairy one little bit; they even have raw chocolate ice cream if you feel like being a little bit sinful. Service is exactly as you would expect from a five-star resort – unobtrusive, swift and willing to adapt dishes to fit any tastes, allergies or needs.

On my last visit, I scheduled myself a post-lunch massage at the spa (perhaps pre-lunch would have been better as my over-indulgence made the tummy part of the massage a little uncomfortable!). I was SO excited to finally try out this award-winning spa (AsiaSpa’s Destination Spa of the Year, 2012) and, on appearances alone, have to confess to not being as impressed as I’d expected. Maybe my expectations were too high or I’m just a bit of a spoilt brat, having sampled many of Hong Kong’s best hotel spas thanks to Sassy, but if you’re going as a day visitor, you should know that there aren’t actually any facilities to speak of – just treatment rooms arranged around the spa reception, which doubles as the hotel library. The treatment rooms are quite small (without en suite bathrooms), looking onto little courtyard gardens rather than making the most of the stunning surrounding scenery, and the décor was a little tired.

As soon as my treatment started though, I realised what all the fuss is about. I had a 75 minute COMO Shambala Signature Massage, and every single minute was wonderful thanks to my skilful therapist who soothed away every knot of tension with a blend of long, gentle strokes and soft kneading. I also appreciated that they played proper classical music rather than irritating, tinky-tonk spa music. The temperature of the room was perfect, and I drifted off to the sound of the tropical rain outside.

When I came around at the end of the treatment and stumbled sleepily up to the hotel lobby to wait (at length thanks to the crazy Bali traffic) for my driver to take me back to my villa, I wished more than anything that instead I was heading back to my own personal residence, wrapped in a fluffy robe to continue the pampering. Even if we can’t all experience a proper stay at COMO Shambala, we can buy into a little bit of Bali bliss with a visit, and fall back in love with the Ubud of our dreams once more.

Stays at COMO Shambala Estate start from USD500 per room per night based on two people sharing including breakfast, the services of a personal assistant and airport transfers. A 75 minute COMO Shambala Signature Massage is USD120.  


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