Wherever you’re headed on Bali, Indonesia’s mellow holiday isle, you must stop in Ubud. This is the centre of Bali’s spiritual and arts scene, as well as – more recently – a hub for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Juice bars and vegan cafes huddle shoulder to shoulder with indie galleries and jewellers, with wise old healers operating out of tiny spiritual clinics. Come to eat, shop and soak up the stylish, earthy culture of this nourishing island. Want to know where to stay in Ubud for a local experience? Read on.
A 25-minute walk from Ubud’s buzzy centre, this complex of 18 affordable, luxurious villas has breeze-cooled outdoor lounges, bars and restaurants and a huge, tranquil communal pool. Lime-green sunbeds set on concrete slabs give an industrial feel to shared areas, while trickling water features add to the serenity of glossy rainforest canopy all around. Join a yoga session in the morning, then tuck into healthy Asian food designed by a nutritionist at Cafe Balisimo.
High above the river valley just outside Ubud, Hanging Gardens is famous for its vertiginous, two-tiered pool, protruding in jagged shapes over the treetops, with a dramatic drop between the two. This honeymoon favourite has veiled four-poster beds, a hushed restaurant bothered only by the local bird calls, and a destination spa built rustically into the landscape, draped with traditional Balinese fabrics and thatched balé beds.
Ubud has long been an international meeting point for artists, writers and craftspeople – tap into their bohemian scene at this collection of quirky thatched wooden huts, draped with zesty hot-pink or papaya-orange curtains and packed with art and murals by local creatives. Based at the edge of the popular Monkey Forest in Ubud (watch out for the local apes, notorious for stealing your sunglasses), this base is super central and adjoins a fun all-day cafe – serving veggie-friendly wraps and salads – and a pretty swimming pool.
The Alila brand brings cutting-edge architecture and minimalist interiors to Bali’s hotel scene – with more affordable rooms than its similarly high-wow-factor rivals. Its Ubud outpost also has a particularly beautiful pool, jutting out into the thick greenery of the surrounding valley. Rooms have sweeping views of the foliage-wrapped Ayung River, as well as glossy wood panelling, veiled four-posters and (for some) generous private pools.
The exclusive COMO brand is popular worldwide with high-net-worth types who adore its characterful, lavish interiors and world-class spas. The Ubud resort connects you to nature with free morning yoga and nature walks, as well as offering a shuttle into town – while its white-painted, thatched villas are high-design and sexy, with gleaming checkerboard floors, linen-draped beds and infinity pools overlooking the forest canopy. Its spa, set on a magnificent koi carp pond and spiritual-feeling gardens, is the one to beat in the area.
Tumbling down the emerald-bright valley towards a jungle ravine, the Viceroy has drama in spades – see its curvaceous infinity pool perched high above the forest and dazzling tropical views from its temple-like Cascades Restaurant. Spendy villas come with private plunge pools, generous outdoor space, Bower & Wilkins speakers and Nespresso machines; and there’s a free drop-off and pick-up service within Ubud, for exploring, shopping and dinners out.
This hotel group is as high-end as it gets, and this architectural masterpiece just outside central Ubud is no exception. Walk through temple-inspired water gardens and candlelit outdoor lounges to reach vast, high-ceilinged villas with characterful tiling, fabrics and art – some with outdoor bathrooms and sunken, blossom-filled bathtubs. The traditional Indonesian spa – facing serene rice paddies – is one highlight, while old-school touches such as butler service and afternoon tea keep the powerful clientele happy.
This lavish collection of tented suites, speckled along the jungly hillside outside of Ubud, has the feeling of an elegant old safari camp, fully integrated into nature. Far from some of Bali’s nondescript luxury hotels, its interiors are rich in expensive, colourful detail, from monkey-motif murals to antique traveller’s trunks and bright tasselled parasols. Afternoon tea can be taken in the Officer’s Tent, while guests gather at the Camp Fire terrace to watch classic movies or toast marshmallows around the roaring fire.