find your centre at Desa Seni, Bali
I’d finally made it. My first trip to Bali, I’d been dreaming of its colourful smoothie bowls, picture perfect paddy fields, and eponymous massages for some time. But, following a recent move, I’d eventually made the journey. Eschewing Seminyak and its Instagram-worthy interiors, I headed straight for Desa Seni in Canggu: a last bastion against increasing modernity of this multi-faceted island.
The Kundalini yogi, eco-warrior. An authentic Balinese ‘wellness’ stay with a focus on community, sustainability, and wellness.
The five-star wellness junkie. This place is rustic, its treatments immersive and the yoga first class.
Owner, American turned lifelong nomad, Thomas Talucci, wanted to recreate the feel of a traditional Balinese village. Embracing the concept of ‘kula’ (Sanskrit for 'community'), in both aesthetic and ethos, the retreat operates like a village within itself. All of its staff hail from around the island and every public holiday is recognised. An admirable 80% of the produce comes straight from their own organic vegetable garden, and what doesn't is all locally sourced, as in "literally picked that morning", emphasises Thomas.
A furniture designer by trade, he has an unquestionable eye for design, there is something utterly fairy-tale about Desa Seni. “There was nothing but rice paddies as far as the eye could see” when he first put down roots and moved to Canggu, over twenty years ago. With a few more hotels and a lot more matcha lattes, Desa Seni feels a million miles from the trendy bars and restaurants that have popped up just beyond its boundaries. As you cross its creaking wooden bridge, a tropical Hobbiton unfolds.
Acres of undulating greenery and lush foliage, open up onto a central salt water pool. We were led along a snaking pathway through bamboo forest, organic vegetable gardens, to our home for the next three nights. Everyone you pass smiles, and greets you with a traditional “Om suastiastu”: “Peace and greetings from God”. It really does feel like a village within a village. A colourful, hand-carved sign pointed us in the direction of our new address: “Rumah Wungsu” (Canggu, Bali, 80361, Indonesia).
Each of Desa Seni’s sixteen, century-old rumahs, concealed amidst this tropical forest, have been repurposed from around the islands. You can’t help but wonder about the families that used to call these little cottages home. What births and bereavements were celebrated and mourned on these floorboards? If these walls could talk! They’re filled to the rafters with antique curios and teak furniture: ancient doorways become headboards; hand-painted cupboards once storing spices now conceal televisions; billowing white linen curtains add a whimsical touch to capacious four posters.
When I stayed, there was a Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training Course in full swing. Groups of be-turbaned women, swathed in white robes; mala beads jangling, serenely floated from class to treatment. All are welcome at Desa Seni. Part of my programme included the Merapu Svaasthya spa’s signature Aura Chakra Therapy, involving having your aura ‘cleansed’. After an extended consultation with my mellifluously spoken therapist, I was informed that my Vishuddha (throat chakra) was blocked. Having suffered from an under-active thyroid since I was eleven, my hair stood on end, when I was told that the body’s corresponding gland was, you guessed it, the thyroid. Sandalwood burning, chanting underway, any lingering scepticism melted into obscurity. I was all in. For about five minutes.
“And… are you feeling relaxed?” a familiar dulcet tone echoed in the distance. Blinking. Once again aware of my surroundings, I concluded that I was, indeed, feeling relaxed. I had been asleep for about 85 minutes of the 90-minute treatment and awoke feeling as though I had ‘come to’ from general anaesthetic. In fact, each of my treatments, during our three-day stay at Desa Seni, continued along a similar pattern: in-depth consultation, Delphic ritual, drifting off within (give or take) five minutes. A testament, if anything, to their relaxing properties.
In keeping with the ‘kula’ concept, yoga classes are open to the ‘community’, meaning the public, though private classes are also available. It all makes for a rather congenial atmosphere, beneath the Tibetan prayer flag-clad yoga shala. I opted for a Vinyasa flow class, but there are plenty of alternatives throughout the day (Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga) depending on your preference, and they’re all included in your stay. Accompanied by a welcome westerly breeze, we downwards dog-ed and Surya namaskar-ed to the instruction of our pocket-rocket Chilean instructor. Just when we thought it was time for the eagerly anticipated savasana, we were partnered off to try our hands at some headstand practice. That is: catapulting your legs over your head, supported only by your forearms, and back again. Very funny, I thought. But, after more than a few fruitless attempts, there I was, catapulting my legs forwards and backwards, with all the grace of an upturned tortoise (and the stoic assistance of my partner, Cleo). I left feeling relaxed, happy, and as though I had truly learned something, plus I’d made a new friend. What more could you want from a Saturday morning in paradise? Breakfast perhaps?
Flanked by treasure chests piled with a booty of ready-to-drink coconuts, bulbous pumpkins, and tropical fruits every colour of the rainbow, the entrance to Desa Seni’s restaurant gives you a taste of what’s on the menu. It's that perfect marriage of flavour and nutrition. I ordered the gluten-free pancakes with mango and coconut cream (and after about one mouthful demanded the recipe from the chef). I’ve since made it several times at home, and it’s almost as delicious. A health-inspired menu without being prescriptive, choose from courgetti-spaghetti with a smoked tomato puree (all vegan) and fresh and citrusy fish tacos. It’s a resounding ‘no’ to plastic and a heartfelt ‘yes’ to organic. They truly practice what they preach. Though you won’t find any cocktails on the menu, you’re free to bring your own poison. But, when you’re feeling so virtuous, it seems a shame to undo all your detoxifying efforts.
By the end of the three-day stay I was feeling borderline agoraphobic about leaving my harmonious confines. But, with a familiar “Om suastiastu” (“Peace and greetings from God”) I was bid farewell, and left feeling cleansed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the most challenging of headstands.
CONTACT: +62 361 8446392; www.desaseni.com/
PRICE: From £600 for a three-night stay (inclusive of breakfast, exclusive of treatments)
NEAREST AIRPORT: Ngurah Rai International Airport
TRANSFER TIME: 50 minutes
For bookings click here.
As reviewed for Spa.Kitchen. Words and photography by Megan Lambert.