Surrounded by lush green rice fields and jungle valleys with Mt Kintamani volcano rising majestically in the distance, Ubud is arguably the heart and soul of Bali. Home to a thriving expat community of artisans, writers, yogis and entrepreneurs from all over the world, it’s fast earning a reputation as the wellness hub of South East Asia. After spending five blissful days there, it’s not hard to see why.
Ubud is the perfect blend of nature and civilisation. The tropical climate; friendly Balinese people; abundance of options for pampering, amazing tasting healthy food and beautiful yoga studios; and low-cost living all make way of for a wonderfully laid back way of life. Who doesn’t want a little bit of that, right?
You really need to allow more than a few hours (like many tourists who day trip there) and venture off the beaten path, away from the hustle and bustle, to truly appreciate the magic of Ubud.
Getting your five a day has never tasted as good as it does in Ubud, where most cafes and restaurants are right behind the local, organic, sustainably sourced and raw food movement. Think fresh salads, curries, elixirs, smoothies and raw desserts with a local twist. There were more places to try than meals I had to eat, but these were my favourite:
A beautiful multi-level garden cafe with organic shop and live music in the evenings. The menu is mainly vegetarian, but carnivores are catered for too. Soma is a favourite among locals, as much for the food as its support of local farmers and and not-for-profit projects.
Sari Organik Cafe
The novelty here is in the 20 minute walk through the rice paddies to reach a thatched-roof, open air warung (Warung Bodag Maliah) and working farm, where they’re reducing food miles to millimetres. You can pick your ingredients from the garden and then savour your meal in the edible garden.
A leisurely stroll away from the hustle and bustle of town, Alchemy is a local expat haunt in the Penestenan artist community. With an amazing raw food menu and fruit salad bar (take your pick of fruit, toppings and all home made cashew milk yoghurt) and epic raw desserts, this place is well worth venturing off the beaten track for. Their raw bounty bar was the best I’ve ever had, the secret lies in the use of fresh coconut meat… Oh Em Gee!
In the heart of town and Perched on the roof of Earth Food Store (the most impressive health food store I came across) is raw food heaven. They have an epic menu of juices, smoothies, elixirs, salads, sandwiches and everything from pancakes, porridge or fruit salad bowls for breakfast, to raw nachos, felafels or pizza for lunch and dinner, and of course, raw desserts too.
This cute outdoor cafe made of recycled wood, with communal tables and comfy cushions is a favourite hangout for Yoga barn goers (next door), with a yummy range of raw, vegetarian, fish and meat options, smoothies and raw treats, it’s a great place for a casual meal or snack any time of day.
For a five star experience you can’t go past the award-winning Mozaic. It’s been more than a decade since I ate there but I still remember it as one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had – from the food, the fairy tale setting in the garden, and the service. I’m told it’s still one of the best restaurants in town.
Ubud is heaven for spa lovers and what’ s a holiday without some indulgence, hey? I was lucky enough to be treated to the decadent signature treatment at Alaya Hotel’s DaLa Spa – think one hour massage before being lathered in freshly grated coconut palm sugar body scrub, and an exquisitely prepared bath with essential oils and floating tropical blooms. Heaven on earth!
If you want to take a little piece of Balinese heaven home with you, there’s an abundance of locally made, heavenly smelling, organic skincare products and fragrances. My favourites were Green Factory spiced vanilla body butter, Bluestone Botanicals Ylang Ylang & spice Bali Rain Mist and Sensate Botanicals Jasmine Sambac essential oil.
Whether you breathe and stretch it out on the yoga mat (with so many beautiful settings in which to practice and the guidance of top notch teachers from all over the world, it would be rude not to), ride the rapids of the Ayung river, walk or cycle through the rice paddies, or climb to the top of Mt Kintamani, there are so many ways to mix up your movement routine in Ubud – variety is the spice of life right?
A visit to Ubud isn’t complete without doing at least one class at it’s famous Yoga Barn and die hard yogis mustn’t miss the opportunity to do a 90 minute power flow with Les Leventhal – the former porn star and drug addict turned yoga teacher is a rockstar of the yoga world and he has a cult following to match. There’s meditation classes, movie nights and a range of treatments on offer at yoga barn too.
Culture vultures need to visit the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA), where local hero Agung Rai has on display an impressive collection of local contemporary and classic artwork dedicated to the preservation and development of Balinese art and culture. I’m told his golden hour tour of Ubud is quite the experience. Oh, and if you happen to cross paths with an American artist by the Yaari Rom, be sure to say hello, but only if you’ve got a spare hour or so to listen to the many colourful stories he has to tell.
There’s an ever growing community of digital nomads escaping the nine-to-five and re-defining the future work in Ubud and Hubud is where you can find them tapping away at their keyboards – think thatched roofs, bamboo walls, hammocks and views out to the rice paddies. Pop into the Living Food Lab for a drink or bite to eat if you fancy a sticky beak, or, if you wouldn’t mind learning a thing or two and meeting some of the folks there, book into one of the free talks (I heard a brilliant talk by Art of Adventure podcaster Derek Loudermilk on why everyone should podcast… watch this space!).
I stayed Alaya hotel, which is the pick of the bunch when it comes to hotels in Ubud. It’s perfectly located at the quieter end of the main part of town and next to Yoga Barn. It has beautiful facilities, including a pool and the impressive DaLa Spa. The rooms are bright and spacious, the beds plush and comfy and most importantly the staff ever so helpful and friendly.
The Shift Hotel
If budget doesn’t permit luxury in the centre of town, The Shift Hotel in the Penestanan artist community is a very good option too. I poked my nose in for a squiz and thought it was an impressive set up with modest but nice rooms, a pool, sauna, rooftop open air bar and yoga studio, what’s more, it’s right next to Alchemy Cafe.
WARNING: If you do choose to holiday in Ubud there is a very good chance you may not return home – just ask the expats.