Michael Franti’s music is built on community and social consciousness themes, so it is no surprise that the musician extended his humanitarian efforts to the wellness industry. Together he and his wife, Sara Franti, have built the Soulshine retreat in Bali, which recently reopened after the pandemic.
The Travel Addict sat down with Sara Franti to talk about Soulshine’s rebranding, the importance of pouring back into your community and the beauty that can be found when visiting Indonesia.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Soulshine?
Soulshine began in 2010 as a boutique retreat oasis where people would come to host retreats from all over the world. We were full 48 weeks of the year with retreats. We would often have guests that are fans of Michael’s who would want to come and stay, but wouldn’t be able to because the property was private at the time.
We had started an expansion before the pandemic to double in size so that we could accommodate larger retreat groups and also overnight guests in addition to the retreats.
When the pandemic happened, we put that on a pause and it allowed us to reimagine what we wanted Soulshine to be. The silver lining was that we were able to actually relaunch Soulshine as an entirely new brand. We’re this boutique resort where you can host retreats at, but now we’re also creating our own curated retreat experiences and vacation packages as well.
It’s a really exciting time for us because in addition to the sixteen rooms that we had, we’ve now opened seventeen brand new luxury rooms, two restaurants, two new pools and a new spa. We’re located in Ubud, Bali.
The food is the cultural center of the island. 50% of our property is organic rice fields and we are surrounded by beautiful ancient temples, waterfalls and coconut trees.
The cool thing about Soulshine is that people think Ubud is this place that you go that’s supposed to be quiet. Oftentimes people go on these wellness vacations and they come out needing a vacation because their experience has just been so intense.
We wanted something different than that. We are rooted in barefoot luxury and rock and roll. You can go deep on your yoga mat and have a really transformative experience and then you can have a margarita by the pool or go down our waterslide after your class or dance the night away. We have a DJ at night. We are disruptors in the wellness industry.
What Michael and I had done before the pandemic was created a community and everything that we did was to build community. Michael is a musician and I was an emergency room nurse for ten years and I also did public speaking.
We have a nonprofit that sends people who are dying to live concerts. What we realized with the pandemic was that our community also needs tools of resiliency. That’s what we wanted to get more behind when we relaunched Soulshine. We wanted to create experiences for our guests that are aligned with how Michael and I live our lives. So people often say, what’s Soulshine like? And I say, well, you drink green juice in the morning and you put tequila in it at night.
What made you two fall in love with Bali?
Michael went on vacation to Bali after he toured Australia in 2007 and he completely fell in love with the culture and people of the island. He wanted to build a warm-weather compound to live in. He had visited Sting’s home in Italy and Richard Branson’s Necker Island and he loved that they get to bring like-minded individuals together in these places. Michael wanted to create something like that, but what he quickly realized was that if he built a home, he wouldn’t be able to spend enough time there while being an international touring artist. So, he decided that he would build a yoga retreat center.
He had started doing yoga in 2001. In Ubud in 2007, when he had the idea, there wasn’t really anything there in terms of yoga retreat centers. He believed in the concept of, if I build it, they will come. And they did. So he soft-opened the retreat in 2010 and people started coming in and it became a really popular space to host retreats.
We also host our own retreats at Soulshine called Soulrocker retreats, which are a combination of wellness and music and very much everything that I described that Soulshine is. We happened to be hosting a retreat at the end of February 2020. When we checked into that flight, the airline said, as long as you don’t fly through South Korea and China, you’ll be fine.
And then on March 10th, the whole world locked down. And being an ER nurse, I was like, we have to go home, we have to go back to San Francisco. I just couldn’t imagine living there full-time. We even had a talking stick when we were having our family meeting to decide what to do.
Two days before our flight, I decided we should just stay and it was the best experience for us to have that time on the island. We decided that it’s a place that we do want to call home. We have a three-year old son and the quality of his life has just been so great, just living outside 90% of the day.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Soulrocker music experience coming up in 2023?
Yes. We bring people together who are just interested in having a mindful vacation, having a mindful holiday. On our Soul Rocker music experiences, that are hosted specifically by Michael and I, we have different activities that people can do during the day, or if they just want to hang out by the pool or go into our full-service spa they can, and then at night Michael will play three shows, we’ll bring other local artists in to also play shows and we’ll have a karaoke night.
We just find that now with everything that’s happened, people want to get away and take a holiday, but they also want to feel like they’re doing something good for themselves. That’s what we’ve always wanted to create. We’re just really grateful that now people really want that from all walks of life.
Wellness used to be having that one organic salad or going to that one yoga class a week, or can I fit in those jeans? But now what wellness has transformed into is asking yourself, am I happy? Do I like who I live with? Do I like my friends? Do I like my job? Do I like where I live? It’s a full life experience of physical health, emotional health, spiritual health and mental health.
We want to help facilitate experiences. We’re not trying to cure you in a week. We want you to come and be inspired, feel like you’re filling your tank up again, so that you can go back home and inspire others. Often, we say that we’ve created this property for souls to shine so they can go back and inspire others. There’s nothing that makes Michael happier than to see people enjoying the space and feeling that joy that we wanted them to feel.
This sounds a little more relaxing than the Rock Cruises I’ve been on in the middle of the ocean.
I love those cruises! Michael has a cruise called Soulshine at Sea. He just did his first one last year. They are a little crazier though. When we got off of our four-day cruise, we stayed in Miami for an extra day and we literally were in bed for 24 hours, just resting.
This is for sure a little bit more of a more holistic experience. We don’t go too extreme with the partying, you do get some sleep at night, which is great, and we have incredible food. Somebody asked me, what’s the food at Soulshine like? And I said it’s the menu that makes you never want to leave because we can meet all your cravings.
Our family mantra around food is 100% healthy, 90% of the time. We are not afraid of having that really delicious piece of chocolate cake that we have on our menu at night if you are craving it. Or if you want to have a beautiful organic salad from our organic garden, you can have that or you can have a piece of pizza if you want that. We are able to meet any sort of dietary preference.
When you take a vacation, it’s an investment of your time and money, so we want you to feel like you’re getting a lot of value with that, too.
What activities can people do at the resort?
We have free in-house yoga for anyone who comes, or you can do a private HIIT class. We have weekly HIIT classes. What’s really important to Michael and I is for our guests to have a cultural experience, because we do acknowledge that we’re guests on the island. That’s the reason why we’re there, like I said before, that we just love the Balinese culture.
You can learn how to do Balinese offerings, you can get into our rice fields with our farmers and get into the mud and learn about planting rice, the century old tradition of Bali. You can get into an organic garden and harvest some food and do a Balinese cooking class.
And if you want to get off site, you could do a waterfall excursion, or a bike riding excursion where they take you up the volcano and you ride down through different villages. You can go rafting. One of my favorite activities is visiting a water temple and you can do a purification ceremony.
When you come back after your day of excursions, you can get a treatment at our spa and then come into our restaurant to have a great dinner and then enjoy some sort of entertainment in our new lounge. We call it the Togetherness Lounge. It is a beautiful indoor/outdoor structure that has a built-in stage and we have DJs and live artists there for our guests. You can do it all. We have the oasis side, too, where you can just go chill out by the pool and have a little bit of quiet if you don’t want to have as much of the music scene.
Has Michael’s music impacted aspects of the hotel?
Yes, absolutely. It’s really funny because we actually had someone come through the property and they didn’t know that Michael is one of the owners. First they said, so who’s the wordsmith? Because we’ve put little quotes from Michael’s songs around the property, and then they said, what’s up with the Franti connection? And I said, Oh, well, Michael owns the place, so you see subtle, little hints all over the property.
I think the biggest thing with Michael’s music and the property is that they inspire people in the same way. Michael’s music inspires so much joy in people and Soulshine has little things that do the same thing; like our waterslide, for example, which is an adult waterslide. Michael’s vision was always, I want to go do a yoga class and then go down the waterslide after the yoga class.
I saw recently on your Instagram that you went to Komodo National Park in Indonesia. How was that experience?
It was amazing. Komodo is so beautiful. The beautiful thing about Indonesia is that it’s like 14,000 islands and every island is unique. It was really cool to go to Komodo. I went with some girlfriends and did a liveaboard, which I’ve never done before. I was a little bit nervous because I grew up in the prairies, not by the ocean. It was just really awe inspiring to see the beauty of the country. Bali has its own uniqueness and then there’s other places that are also very unique to go and explore.
We didn’t go and see the dragons because I’ve seen the dragons in other places and our captain on the boat was like, It’s going to be really touristy, so I’m going to take you somewhere else. He took us to another private beach instead. My sister did go to see them and loved it.
Bali was shut down for the longest time. How did it affect the resort and tourism?
People don’t realize we went through a strict lockdown. When the lockdowns first happened in March and April of 2020, everything was closed at 8pm. You could not be out on the street. You had to wear masks. They still have some mask regulations on the island.
It’s just been so quiet for two years and people are finally starting to come back. I would say with these islands, like Komodo and like Bali, statistics say 80% of the economy is based on tourism.
It was really important for Michael and I to be examples in that area as expats having a business in Indonesia. The first thing we did during the pandemic was decide that we would not let a single employee go. We kept all of our employees on salary, and then we committed to them that every month we would give them a food pack to take back to their family compounds until we are back at 100%, back to where we were pre-pandemic in terms of the business.
And then also in our village, we were sponsoring the Plastic for Rice Exchange, which was where they would go clean up the plastic in our village and then they would come and weigh it. Based on X amount of plastic, you would get X amount of rice. Soulshine committed to covering the cost of that rice and we actually bought that rice from someone from our village, too. So it was really this beautiful ripple effect with the positive impact of that initiative. It was important for us to do that.
People are so grateful that tourism is back and entering Bali is really easy now. You don’t even have to take a PCR test. They’ve brought visa on arrival back, so we’re super happy to be having people come back and we’re excited about our re-launch.
Do you have any plans for your grand opening?
We soft opened our new rooms and spa at the end of September, and then our grand opening is going to be in January or February. We’re going to do a big festival.
Are there any other new experiences you are excited to be offering?
Yes! We’re launching these retreats called the Reset Retreat, which is an a la carte retreat that you can book on your own time. It’s a vacation package we’ve created that includes two spa treatments, two meals a day, a HIIT class, and some really great excursions on the island. It’s great for guests who want to come and do a fun “Best of Bali” wellness retreat, but they don’t want to be part of something that’s too structured.
That’s a perfect vacation – where you can do an activity, but not have to be so formal.
That’s exactly it. We’ll be launching more versions of those, too. So if somebody wants more adventure, it’ll be more adventure. If someone wants more spa, they could do more spa.