Retreat review by Rachel Bednarski, guest on my first Bettina’s Kitchen Bali retreat.
To my complete disbelief and immense gratitude, I was lucky enough this year to be a part of the very first and long-awaited Bettina’s Kitchen retreat in Ubud, Bali.
The week was everything Bettina promised it would be, but also so much more than could ever be conveyed in marketing material and photos. But I will do my best to take you there with words.
Every moment on retreat was steeped in magic. From the moment I woke up in my curtained bed, flung open the patio doors (charmingly decked with a fleet of mermaids and coy carp) onto my private pool to swig in a lungful of dewy morning air, to evenings swaying above the still-warm ground in the swing chair, belly and heart happily full, sipping nighttime tea and watching bats zoom up and down against the sunset.
Incense floats at waist height wherever you go, which not only makes you feel calm all day long, but adds a dreamy dimension to your Bali reality. Multicoloured flowers line the pavements, appear outside your door overnight and adorn the table at every meal. You feel yourself become humble to and at one with the domination of nature that makes itself so known at every minute; by the end of the week, wearing shoes felt almost reprehensible.
Our days on retreat were filled with a welcome mix of abundant cultural immersion, yoga and massage, healings and food, interspersed with a whole lot of nothing! And that nothing turned out to be everything. Spending time with our phones off, reading, journalling, going for walks in the rice fields, soaking up alone time and getting to know the other retreat guests—who quickly become like a mini family—is time we so rarely get in our frantic lives of doing, doing, doing. But Bettina made sure we switched gears and savoured the art of creating SPACE, and in doing so I felt like I could breathe more deeply than I’d even realised I needed to.
Plant Based Retreat Food
When a retreat is hosted by Bettina Campolucci Bordi, you expect big things on the food front; and she delivers.
Bettina’s inherent gifts shine through when it comes to feeding her guests. Rather than preplan the week’s menus, she intuitively worked with the tastes and preferences of the whole group, carefully making adjustments to dishes and ingredients as she went through the week to make sure everybody ate well and enjoyed their food.
Our days began with loose leaf tea and green smoothies before our yoga class. I would then spend half of the class dreaming about the impending breakfast feast! This took many forms over the six mornings on retreat, my favorites being overnight oats topped with caramelised banana, and buckwheat pancakes. Whatever the main meal, it was always served with huge platters of vibrant local fruits and our one permitted coffee of the day. This was usually made with a spice such as cinnamon or cardamom or fresh coconut milk to slow the release of the caffeine into our bodies. We also had rich coconut milk turmeric lattes and teas made with the herb of the day.
Lunches and dinners were equally brilliant, delicious and infused with Indonesian influences—and to my delight, included dessert!
In line with Ayurvedic and good-digestive principals, breakfast was always the biggest meal of the day, with dinner being the smallest—though we were never in the slightest bit deprived. A lot of the guests (me included) weren’t vegan or even plant based eaters, but each of them commented on how little of an issue that was. The variety of the dishes and Bettina’s carefully curated menus that included cleverly combined, mouthwatering flavours and plenty of satiating fibre, protein and healthy fats meant nobody missed meat on their plates.
Throughout the week, Bettina encouraged us, through little pre-eating exercises and as an example herself through her own evident passion for the miracle of fruits and veggies, to return to practicing gratitude for what we eat instead of mindlessly consuming, analysing and demonising our food.
We even took a day trip to the organic farm that all of the food we ate during the week came from to see where and how it was grown. Walking amongst the beautiful, blooming, fresh vegetables and herbs in the Indonesian sun while the farmers is now a treasured memory.
The week culminated in a sumptuous banquet of Bali inspired dishes on the last night.
Finding Self Love and Healing in Bali
For me, and I’m sure for many of the other guests too, the theme of the trip was most definitely healing. Ubud means ‘medicine’ in Balinese, and the potent medicinal benefits of spending time there were uncanny.
Aside from the one-on-one healing session we each had with Dewa, the Balinese Magic Man (and yes, he actually is magic!) nothing on the trip was overtly intended to be or promoted as ‘healing’. Yet everything about the experience was so deeply nourishing that I left feeling like the best version of myself.
The food was organic and delivered from the local farm, so it was bursting with life and nutrition to feed our physical bodies in the best way. Bettina charged everything she prepared and served love and care and everything was eaten with gratitude, tech-free and in excellent company. We slept when we wanted to and woke with the sun (and roosters…!). Spent almost all of our time barefoot, connecting with the earth and recharging our negative ion build up we accumulate from digitally led Western life. Everywhere around us were trees, flora, and water positively radiant with life force. The Balinese people are experts at human connection, inciting us to talk and share more with one another, too.
The cumulative experiences combined into a force of a growth promoting, awakening, healing experience that none of us could deny and that I’m still enjoying the effects of now, more than two months later.
Balinese Culture: Top Cultural Things to do in Bali
Bettina’s Bali retreat is a beatific deep-dive into everything Bali has to offer—Bettina is in love with Indonesia and it shines through in the way she plans the retreat and shares everything she adores about the culture with her guests.
The retreat venue is nestled in the middle of the famous Ubud rice fields and as such, we were treated to daily insights into local Balinese life right outside our door. Farmers working away at the land with their traditional tools punctuate the view of the landscape from the villa windows, and watching them at work became one of my favourite morning mindfulness activities. Mopeds zoom up and down the dirt tracks, children calling from the backs to ask where you’re going and where you’re from. Occasionally a parade of ceremonially dressed locals, all in white, would descend from the nearby temple on the hill back to their village, chanting, playing drums and waving to us as they went.
Perhaps my favourite memory of the entire trip was the traditional fire ceremony. A troupe of local monks arrived at the retreat venue decked out in their ceremonial robes and with a fire pit and a stash of coconuts (you’ll find out what that’s all about if you book yourself onto the next retreat!). They opened the ceremonial space with a union of goose bump inciting custom of incantations I could make no rhyme or reason of before lighting the fire as the room around us turned dark with the setting sun.
Chanting mantra to the incessant ringing of ancient bells while hurling rice offerings into a fire pit and throwing personal wishes from our hearts into the flames isn’t a particularly bizarre concept to me—but even those uninitiated into the rituals of spirituality took to the more out-there practices like naturals. Because when you’re in there, immersed in the wonder of it all, it makes sense, and you can feel it working.
After my week on Bettina’s retreat, I practically floated off the plane and back out into the hubbub of London life with my face beaming and my aura newly polished, rendering me immune to the quotidien stresses that plagued me just a week before.
There’s a reason everybody is flocking to Bali right now. I thought it was the draw of giant jungle swings and floating breakfast social media fodder; but there’s a more ethereal force calling us all to Bali. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s transformative and magical; going on retreat there is something I think everybody should experience in their lives.