For decades the town of Ubud has been the center of Balinese culture and philosophy, attracting expatriates and the finest Indonesian practitioners of the arts. Ubud, the cultural and artistic capital of Bali, lies 33 miles inland from Kuta and offers great shopping, a wide selection of hotels and nightly performances of Balinese traditional dance and music. Although the town might be similar to other destinations that have tourist-focused neighborhoods, what sets it apart is the unique Balinese aesthetic, which combines the discipline of Japanese art with a sensuousness all its own.
A five-suite estate at COMO Shambhala Estate, Wanakasa
The main art museum, Museum Puri Lukisan, is a good place to learn about the influence various European artists had on young Balinese artists during the 1930s. It’s also a good place to begin your exploration of Balinese art.
JL Raya Ubud is Ubud’s main street. During my visit, I dropped into Toko Antiques and was impressed by the quality of the items for sale; passed Ary’s Warung, a restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in South Beach; and explored the outdoor market. I then stopped into the home of Balinese artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, who supposedly lived an astounding 114 years until his death in 1978. I strolled along the flower-filled courtyard examining the artwork as roosters in high bird cages crowed, laundry dried on bushes and a young Balinese man in sari and headscarf lounged on the verandah watching satellite TV.
Although Ubud has scores of guesthouses, there are also five-star resort hotels only a short drive away. These are real oases of calm, and a very serene holiday might combine accommodations in one of these resorts with trips into town for live music performances, shopping and dining.
An enjoyable side trip is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which combines ancient temples in a deep forest with 400 Macaques monkeys. Visitors can purchase dwarf bananas from vendors and then stroll along stone walkways as dozens of monkeys watch for a glimpse of yellow banana peel. All you have to do is hold up a banana and a monkey will instantly climb your leg to take it from you. I was warned to put my glasses in my pocket—the monkeys are attracted to bright objects, and some guidebooks warn against feeding the monkeys by hand, citing their aggressiveness. As long as I held the banana loosely, everyone was happy.
Where to Stay
The most difficult times to book rooms in Bali are during the peak periods of July 21 to August 20, and from December 27 to January 4. Book three months ahead during these peak periods, and at least 30 days ahead the rest of the year.
The bedroom of a duplex suite at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan commands the crest of a lush gorge with scenic views of the Ayung River below. Guests will find it easy to get into Ubud, since the resort operates a complimentary 15-minute shuttle into town five times a day.
The resort has 60 guest accommodations built along 18 acres of terraced hillside. Eighteen suites are located in the central building, while the remaining 42 villas (each with private plunge pool) are free-standing throughout the property.
The very best accommodation at the resort is the Royal Villa. The three-room villa looks out on the Ayung River and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and river valley. Entering the two-level villa, you first pass a rooftop lily pond and private meditation area to a first-floor verandah. The stairway descends to a dining area for six, offering views of the Ayung River. Throughout the villa, you’ll find Indonesian art. The third bedroom and bathroom open onto a private screened patio next to a pool and sunbathing terrace. There’s also a bale (an open-sided living and dining area).
The One-Bedroom Villas are the most requested accommodations, while the most affordable accommodations are the suites located in the main building overlooking the rice field. Families will be most comfortable booking one of the Two-Bedroom Villas or the three-bedroom Royal Villa. The resort has 20 sets of connecting suites and villas.
The resort’s spa has four treatment rooms in the main building and three spa villas.
Book treatments for clients in advance of arrival by contacting Spa Director Brian Hathaway (011-62-361-701-010, ext. 4, [email protected]).
The resort’s Ayung Restaurant has a variety of theme nights, including a traditional Javanese Rijstaffel every Sunday.
John O’Sullivan is the general manager, and can be contacted by agents (011-62-361-701-010, ext. 8000, john.o’[email protected]).
COMO Shambhala Estate is a wellness retreat surrounded by forest and overlooking a river. The estate is about a one-hour drive from the airport and about a 15-minute drive from Ubud. Wellness programs at the estate run for three, five or seven nights, and include Cleansing, Ayurvedic, Rejuvenation, Stress Management and a Get Fit Program.
For the ultimate experience, book one of the four COMO Shambhala Suites. These have unique nature themes, and are identified as Wind, Water, Fire or Forest Suites. For example, the COMO Shambhala Suite in Water Residence has views of the waterfall and the river. This suite has its own entrance, living and dining area and bedroom, six-ton rock bath, waterfall pool, private Jacuzzi and bale.
In addition to the aforementioned COMO Shambhala Suites, the most requested accommodations are the Royal Suite, which has two master bedrooms, and the Retreat Villas. Each of the five Retreat Villas has a lounge area that may be converted into a spa treatment room. The Royal Suite and COMO Shambhala Suite in Forest Residence can be said to have the most spectacular views overlooking Ayung Valley.
The spa has 13 treatment rooms; four are outdoor pavilions with their own outdoor bath and shower. COMO Shambhala Estate received the Spa Finder Readers’ Choice Awards 2007 for Best Boutique Spa, Best for Yoga and Best for Accommodation. The most popular treatment is the strong and invigorating Taksu massage. The spa manager is Sally Halstead (011-62-361-978-888, [email protected]).
The estate has two restaurants. A special feature is the Rijstaffel lunch served the last Friday of each month. Guests may enjoy a “living food” menu with Balinese and Indonesian flavors, based on traditional recipes and using only the freshest local products.
Travel agents can contact Santi Triana, the resort’s sales manager (011-62-361-978-888, ext. 8201, [email protected]). Triana also acts as the wedding coordinator for COMO Shambhala Estate. The estate accepts guests aged 16 years or older. Rates begin at $275 per person, double occupancy.
The entrance to the Chedi at the Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah
The Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah lies on an exclusive estate surrounded by lush greenery and rice fields, less than two miles from Ubud. The resort has 20 villas and suites (One-Bedroom Junior Suites, One-Bedroom Pool Villas, One-Bedroom Spa Villas and Two-Bedroom Estate Suite). A nice touch is the complimentary broadband Internet in all rooms. The One–Bedroom Pool Villas numbered 05-09 are a popular choice; these overlook the rice paddies and have a fireplace, outside bathtub and dining bale. The most luxe accommodation is the Two-Bedroom Estate, which comes with two separate bedrooms. The estate also has a large living room and dining room overlooking the garden, as well as a private pool with a relaxing bale.
The resort has two spa suites. Book in advance by contacting Mr. Suambara, the resort’s spa manager (011-62-361-975-685, [email protected]).
At the Club Lounge and Restaurant, guests can combine dinner with the option to view authentic Balinese dance performances. On Tuesday and Friday nights, more than 60 chanting men perform the sacred Balinese Kecak dance. From November to April, guests can enjoy Legong & Barong dances accompanied by a Balinese gamelan orchestra, followed by a Balinese dinner at The Restaurant. The Legong involves two dancers and their attendant, the Condong. The dance tells of a king’s preparations for battle and ends with the bird’s appearance. The Barong dance is a story about struggle between good and evil.