Fivelements review | spa retreat, Bali
Sumptuous holistic spa and retreat in the Balinese jungle
The Quick Read: This small but sumptuous holistic spa and retreat clings to the banks of the River Ayung in southern Bali and appears to have emerged organically from the surrounding forest. It rightly prides itself on its exceptional roster of healing practitioners, its award-winning raw-food cuisine and its soothing, secluded location. The atmosphere is magical, with lush tropical ponds and graceful gardens, a vast central bamboo mandala and nine individual suites, all overlooking the river. The spa specialises in beauty and bathing ‘rituals’ using only local fresh ingredients; the best time to visit is in the dryer winter months of March – October (November to February is the hotter wet season).
Who it’s best for: While passing visitors can drop in for a treatment or lunch, there are only 27 guests accommodated at any one time – so if you’re looking for privacy, seclusion and a true retreat from the world, Fivelements will deliver, in glorious Balinese style. Come to be alone or with a significant other – this is not a place to meet new people. The retreat attracts visitors from around the world, and includes a mix of couples and solo travellers, usually in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
What you can do: Stay to relax for a few nights, or book onto a signature retreat – they’re available in 3, 5, 7, 10, 14 or 21 night stays, An initial consultation with a ‘wellness liaison’ is the start of a highly personalised service governed by your own needs, current health and expectations. Collaborative ‘healing journeys’ combine deep bodywork with energy movement and meditation, following the Balinese principle of ‘Sekala-Niskala’, the belief that we exist in both the seen or conscious world (Sekala) and the unseen or psychic world (Niskala).
Be prepared for some treatments to include meditation, chanting and chakra balancing with local Balinese healers, who during a Panca Mahabhuta session may pray and meditate with you before working on balancing the five elements within your body (microcosm) to that of the universe (macrocosm). Sacred Arts sessions may include Somatic Therapy, expressive dance or vibrational healing music, while the Balinese Ceremonies are a chance to tune into the local beliefs and customs with gifted village practitioners. The Fire Blessing Ritual, officiated by a temple priest at the central ‘Agni Hotra’ ceremonial fire pit, is said to represent transformation, dispelling negative thoughts and ‘bad spirits’ through prayer, mantra and offerings of grains and ghee.
The spa specialises in beauty and bathing ‘rituals’ using only local fresh ingredients; some – lemongrass, aloe vera and ginger – are cultivated in the medicine gardens here and all are prepared in the ‘beauty kitchen’, made to order according to individual requirements. Luxurious bathing ceremonies include a Balinese Boreh, which combines a body scrub with salt crystals and local herbs, a massage and a bath infused with petals, roots, barks and fruits; and the ‘Chocolate Love’, where your body is exfoliated with a cacao scrub, then painted in warm chocolate and washed off before you are massaged with cacao butter. Facials use only ingredients you can eat.
Each treatment lasts a decadently long two hours, beginning with a floral foot bath and rub and finishing with ginger pandan tea outside the treatment room by the river. The sound of flowing water from the Ayung River flowing past you as you are massaged is deliciously soothing. Your retreat can also include colonic cleansing and Watsu water therapy, while yoga is available on a one-to-one basis or in a group if you’re travelling with others – choose tantra healing yoga, yin and yang yoga, vinyasa flow or gentle hatha.
Where you stay: Individual villas, with open-air baths hewn from a single boulder overlooking the river and out onto the thick green jungle. You’ll have only the songs of birds and frogs as the backdrop to your private haven. There are two waterfall suites set slightly back from the river, and five larger river-front suites, named after the five elements in Balinese, set right on the river. The Bidadari suites have their own pool. All have thatched roofs, gloriously big curtained beds and stunning semi-outdoor shower/loo areas, while lights and music can all be adjusted with the use of a tablet device similar to an i-Pad, so there’s no searching for light switches in the dark.
How was it for us: There are probably more luxurious spa resorts to visit, with shinier, sexier facilities and a wider menu of treatments and activities; but here, on this relatively small green plot, in just a couple of days, the weight of the world really seemed to be lifted from my shoulders.
Beyond the supportive, cocooning atmosphere, much of the reason for this lies with the seriously gifted Balinese healers who bring generations of experience and an authentic, truly sacred quality to the place. My holistic massage with Pak Dewa Made, using shiatsu and acupressure together with his own family secret herbal oil blend passed down from his grandfather, was incredible; he immediately picked up on my chest issues and digestive imbalance, and is one of the few massage practitioners who I can honestly say had ‘healing hands’.
The spa treatments are sensitively and authentically performed – I adored the warm Sakti bath of ginger, pandan, bitter orange and sea salt, overlooking the river and sipping lemongrass tea; there’s a combination of decadence and simplicity here that is rare to find elsewhere. The food is excellent – though I found three days of predominantly raw food quite demanding on the constitution; some dishes (a Southern Indian dal soup, for example) are cooked, but the menu can feel a little samey after a while if you’re not used to pure raw. It’s also very quiet, particularly in the ‘wet’ season (October-April). Bring a very good book.
What we took home: For me, Fivelements is a singular and transformative place; its combination of Balinese healing, ‘sacred arts’ and ‘living food’ is special and unusual – all of it delivered with a gentle grace that really lingers in the memory.
Would we go back: Like a shot. I would probably come with a friend next time. Three days would be an ideal stay, though anyone who wants to work on knottier health or spiritual issues can stay on retreat for up to 21 days.
People watch: Book healer Pak Wayan, who comes from a family with a long lineage in energy healing. And be aware that world-renowned nutrition experts in raw food such as Gabriel Cousens and David Wolfe guest-host healing programmes here once a year.
Food watch: Many guests come expressly for the raw and living, 80% vegan food. Fivelements won the AsiaSpa Award, SPA Cuisine of the year in both 2014 and 2015 and it also offers popular plant-based cookery courses – a bonus perhaps for a partner who doesn’t want to engage in a healing retreat but still might like to stay at the resort.
The daily menu features plenty of fortifying veggie soups and super-food salads, many (such as the delicious Gado Gado) with an Indonesian twist, together with raw desserts for those with a sweet tooth (the Chocolate Ganache Cake is a treat). For true believers, there’s even a seven-course raw-food tasting menu.
As some of the food can be rich, try the bespoke digestive teas. There’s an impressive range of juices and smoothies too – standouts include the Electrozyme Tonic (cucumber, apple, wheatgrass, celery, lime, coconut water, kale, spirulina) and the Super Immunity Booster (broccoli, dark leafy greens, celery, parsley, tumeric, ginger, apple and orange). Some, such as the Superfood Smoothie (banana, cacao powder, cacao nibs, maca, bee pollen, gojiberry, coconut milk), are a meal in themselves, so go easy if you are having a more substantial meal. In typically accommodating style, Fivelements allows you to eat at anytime that fits your personal schedule, or to eat meals in your suite.
What’s lowly: The programmes can be quite busy with sessions and treatments – if you’re on a healing journey, it’s worth booking an extra day just to give yourself the space to relax, reflect and enjoy the surroundings.
Insider tip: If you’re choosing between treatments, forego the (very lovely) beauty rituals and opt instead for a healing session with Pak Wayan or a massage with Pak Made or Pak Dewa Made. It could well be a life-changer, and you certainly won’t find similar elsewhere.
Price with a companion: From $204 (about £142) per room per night to $876 (about £610) per room per night B&B depending on the room you choose, plus 21% taxes and service charge. Signature retreats cost from $1570 (about £1095) per person sharing a room for a 3-night Fivelements Panca Mahabhuta Retreat including all meals, a healing consultation, the Balinese blessing ceremony, 1 healing massage, an energy session, a water healing session, 1 yoga session and 1 beauty ritual, plus airport transfers. All prices include a free shuttle to and from Ubud.
Price going solo: Price per room per night is the same for the solo traveller. Signature retreats cost from $2,178 (approx £1515) per person single occupancy for a 3-night Fivelements Panca Mahabhuta Retreat including all meals, a healing consultation, the Balinese blessing ceremony, 1 healing massage, an energy session, a water healing session, 1 yoga session and 1 beauty ritual, plus airport transfers. All prices include a free shuttle to and from Ubud.
Value for Money: In Bali terms, Fivelements is costly. Retreats are available in 3, 5, 7, 10, 14 or 21 night stays, and it’s more economical to book them than B&B rates if you are going to have treatments. You can also get 15% discount if you book a retreat 60 or more days in advance.
Reviewed by Mimi Spencer
© Queen of Retreats
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