Bali’s breathtaking landscapes make it the perfect place to find inner peace — and discover some wonderful outer noise, writes Duncan Forgan
‘Just relax and try to block the outside world from your mind,’ says Wayan, my instructor, as he puts me through my meditation paces. But somehow the sublime view from the elevated yoga pavilion is proving difficult to ignore.
Behind Wayan, vivid green rice paddies step gently down to the bubbling Ayung River. Beyond the stream a hillside is carpeted with towering palm trees and tropical foliage. Although the hour is early, the wildlife of Ubud has long since woken from its slumber. Birds chirp in unison while butterflies crowd around Wayan’s head. All of which poses the question: when the outside world is this alluring, why would anyone want to block it out?
I’m certainly fully aware of how much of a privilege it is to be here in Bali’s cultural capital — even more so because I’m whiling away the days in a riverside pool villa at the sumptuous Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
Set amid rolling hills in Bali’s verdant heart, Ubud is famed for its natural splendour. Even knowing this, however, I’m lost for words on arrival when I’m led through dramatic stone entrance gates to a viewing platform built above the main area of the resort. Before I visited Ubud, a friend had told me that it had become overcrowded and had lost its charm. Surveying the patchwork of river, forest and rice paddy from this elevated perch, I can conclude only that she had taken leave of her senses — or at least of her eyesight — while she was here.
Built around a working rice paddy, which is dotted with little paths, a picnic pavilion and a special spot for candlelit dinners, the resort is modelled on a traditional Balinese village. Suites and villas are secluded and all maintain a welcome sense of privacy. In fact, the spaciousness of the resort is reflected in the size of the guest rooms. The ‘smallest’ of the 60 suites and villas measures more than 1,000 square feet.
With all this room to play with, I luxuriate in suitably expansive fashion during my three-day stay at the resort. While meditation proves tricky, I have less trouble making peace with the various elements of my villa. I spend much of my time wandering between the pool, the bedroom and a separate little sala. This last is where I devour much of the week’s reading material while occasionally rising to offer a wave to passing tourists rafting on the Ayung River.
Although this hyper-intensive inertia is a splendid way to while away the days, I do manage to rouse myself in order to explore the outstanding dining options at the resort. A sumptuous Balinese banquet at Sawah Terrace might well have been the highlight of my stay had it not been for the sheer alchemy at play in Kubu, the resort’s signature restaurant.
Ubud has earned a reputation as quite the food hub, with venues such as Locavore and BLANCO par Mandif tempting globetrotting gourmands with exquisite tasting menus, all drawing on local and international influences. Kubu is another feather in the destination’s bow. Ensconced in a private cocoon overlooking the river, I savour a culinary journey that encompasses treasures such as tuna crudo, burrata pugliese, smoked lettuce and tomato essence, and a glorious wagyu rib-eye steak served with braised tongue, celeriac and truffle jus.
After three days of pampered solitude at Mandapa, I’m ready (albeit somewhat reluctantly) for a change of scene. For a destination of relatively miniature dimensions, Bali sure packs a lot in. The so-called ‘Island of the Gods’ has been Indonesia’s tourism superstar for a number of decades, and it is not difficult to gauge its appeal. From the seekers in search of spiritual solace and yogic advice in Ubud to the surfers looking for the perfect party break, the island caters generously for all sorts. And it is the livelier side of the island that I’m now about to explore following my peaceful five-
Although it is only about 20 miles from Ubud, Seminyak seems like another world. For the last three days, the only thing to interrupt my train of thought was a particularly noisy monkey. Now I am surveying the ocean through a crowd of revellers at the legendary Potato Head beach club. It is quite the change, but none the worse for it.
While Mandapa embodies the back-to-nature essence of Ubud, the contemporary stylings and hipster chic of Potato Head and its adjoining resort — the fantastic Katamama —encapsulate the upscale glitz of Seminyak.
With more people around actually doing something, this turns out to be the more active part of my Bali trip. I take a surf lesson on the beach — alas, it doesn’t go well — and head south to test my golf skills at the brand new championship course at the Bukit Pandawa Golf and Country Club.
Located on a spectacular limestone clifftop overlooking the world-famous surf breaks of Bukit Peninsula, the course offers 18 exquisite par-three holes ranging from 117 to 244 yards in length. Course designer Bob Moore, however, has pulled some rather ingenious tricks out of his design bag: the judicious length variations and changes in elevation that range from subtle to dramatic, are all calculated to push golfers to think their way from hole to hole. A pitch and putt this most decidedly is not.
Although Bali does not lack in active pursuits, it is equally amenable to indolence. And with an art-inspired room at Katamama serving as my base, I feel no shame in relapsing back into laziness. The distinctive red-brick hotel is the work of Indonesian architect Andra Matin and is influenced by the Balinese building practice of tri angga, in which spatial structure reflects harmony between a building and its occupants. This has been achieved by the use of hand-pressed Balinese bricks, usually used for holy temples, in the construction of the hotel.
On my last night on the island, I opt for a night in. But then a pulse of music drifts in from Potato Head. Unable to resist, I leave my book behind to join the beautiful people on the dance floor.
An inability to block the outside world from my mind continues to plague me, but it pays to take notice of the odd distraction in Bali.
Duncan Forgan is a freelance travel writer for Spear's