Where are we going?
Where are we traveling from?
How long does it take to get there?
Essentially under an hour, 45 minutes if you are lucky, but road congestion can be intense. Remember, when in Bali, do as the Balinese: sit back and accept the traffic.
After dizzying couple of days in Bali’s Denpasar immersed in a whirl of markets, temples, museums and street food, it was time to escape the rich culture, busy, friendly streets and surfers itching to hit the waves.
I wanted to find some inner peace, and I knew exactly where to go; Ubud, home to the ‘Love’ destination of author Elizabeth Gilbert’s huge best-seller, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ about her quest for good food, inner balance and, ultimately, love.
If you’ve seen Julia Robert’s in the movie of the same name, you will know to expect of Ubud verdant rice paddies, tropical jungle, steep ravines, vibrant markets, peaceful meditation retreats, fabulous cycles and wise yogis.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ put Ubud on the map, and should you wish, you can do tours to the movie’s locations, but there is still plenty of peace to be had, and I was going to find it.
Arriving in Ubud
Our lodge in Denpasar helped us find a car and driver to take us to Ubud, and while he was a little enthusiastic on the overtaking, leaving inner peace a distant but happy dream, he got us there in one piece. But your options are multiple, from tour operators, to hire cars, scooters and public transport.
We splashed out on The Alena, a resort 10 minutes’ drive from Ubud, a jungle-set haven of wooden decor, creams and whites with a blue pool, and bicycles available for the cycle to town, but in Ubud there is a wide range of accommodation for every budget.
Welcomed by friendly staff, it was swim, satay, and bed, to be up early for yoga in the open-air yoga lounge, with thatch overhead, jungle breezes and birdsong, I tried to channel my inner Julia Roberts, but am not sure I looked quite as winning or serene.
What Ubud offers
Ubud is seen as the cultural heart of Bali, the pace set by the beat of its art, crafts and dance scene, and it’s serenity rooted in a long history of peace and healing that begins with the eighth century legend of the Javanese priest, Rsi Markendya who stopped to meditate by its rivers, founding a temple here, to its name which stems from Ubad, the Balinese word for medicine, so called for its rich array of endemic medicinal plants.
The first thing I really wanted to do for my soul was walk through the rice paddies bright and early, think emerald rice fields, palm trees, space and silence. The most famous, Insta-worthy rice fields are the Tegalalang Rice Terraces half an hour north of Ubud, a magical maze of paths, with cafes and restaurants along the road overlooking the fields.
Staying closer to Ubud is the Campuhan Ridge Walk, a charming two-kilometre paved track with river views that will eventually lead you to rice fields.
It was time to eat. Ubud offers the best of Indonesian fare. We stopped at Biahbiah, a great place to try tasters of different Indonesian dishes, the menu makes it simple with pictures and descriptions, and food is served on bamboo platters and banana leaves.
If you are a meat eater, Bali is famous for Babi Guling, or suckling pig stuffed with garlic, lemon grass, pepper, turmeric, coriander and other spices, and spit roasted. One of Bali’s most famous places to have it is Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka 3, in Ubud.
Ubud is, surprisingly, a coffee hub, and its particular boast is the world’s most expensive and interestingly made coffee, Kopi Luwak, made from the droppings of coffee-bean eating civet cat. Visit one of Ubud’s plantations for a coffee tasting, particularly the exotic Luwak – which tastes a whole heap better than it sounds – and other drinks brewed with local plants.
Another animal we couldn’t miss was the monkey. We visited the long-tailed macaques in the Sacred Monkey Forest, which has an active temple in a forest worthy of Indiana Jones with giant wiggly tree roots and great sculptures of Komodo dragons.
Adventurers will love the incredible Bali Swing, where you can swing out over the river into a clear blue sky on a seated-swing, and a day out river rafting on the Ayung River, but we turned our bikes towards Pasar Seni, the market where movie lovers would have seen Julia Roberts strolling with the delicious Javier Bardem.
The bustling Ubud market sells sarongs, clothes and handicrafts. In fact Ubud bursts with beautiful crafts carved from wood, made from silver or painted. Art fans should not miss the collection of Balinese art at the Museum Puri Lukisan, or Museum of Fine Arts.
As for me, having done eating and praying with my temple visit, I am ready for love. It is time to treat myself to a lovely spot of pampering at a spa. There are so many spas here, many located in the green hills of Ubud with sweeping views over rice paddies. A spa treatment is too good to miss – besides, with Javier taken by the lovely Penelope Cruz, why not.