Just try to relax and block the outside world from your mind,” says Wayan, my instructor, as he puts me through my meditation paces. Although his voice is commanding and his instructions clear, I’m having a little difficulty emptying my head and letting my body become a vessel for the universe. First of all, the clock has barely struck 6.30am and the desire for caffeine is overriding all other concerns. Secondly, 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 begs 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. The resort, which became just the third property in Ritz Carlton’s exclusive collection of reserves when it opened in September last year, is something very special indeed. Set amidst 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 only conclude that she had taken leave of her senses (or at least 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 guest rooms. The “smallest” of the 60 suites and villas measures more than 93 square metres.
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 veering between the pool, the bedroom and a separate little sala 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 indolence is a splendid way to while away the days, I manage to rouse myself in order to explore the outstanding dining options at the resort. A sumptuous Balinese banquet at Sawah Terrace may well have been the highlight of my stay if it wasn’t for the sheer alchemy at play at 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 that draw 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 served with braisedAfter three days of pampered solitude at Mandapa, I’m ready (albeit somewhat reluctantly) for a change of scenery.
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 cerebral seekers in search of spiritual solace and yogic advice in Ubud to buff surfers looking for the perfect break and party people, the island caters ably for all sorts. And it is the livelier side of the island that I’m about to explore following my five-star retreat.
Although it is only about 30km 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 (it doesn’t go well) and head south to test my golf skills at the brand new championship par-3 course at the Bukit Pandawa Golf and Country Club.
With an art-inspired room at Katamama serving as my base, however, 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. Other major factors in an overall Zen state of mind, meanwhile, include a full in-room bar, complete with infused spirits and mixology guide and the excellent Spanish dining venue MoVida, the renowned Australian brand’s first international venture.
On my last night on the island, I opt for a night in. My flight back to Bangkok is an early one, and – anyway – my room at Katamama is hard to leave. As I recline with the last of the week’s reading material, a pulse of music drifts in from Potato Head. Unable to resist, I leave the book behind to join the beautiful people on the dancefloor. While an inability to block the outside world from my mind continues to plague me, it pays to take notice of the odd distraction in Bali.