With the frappuccino drinkers of the word bereft after Sex and the City 2 sank into the dunes, all hopes are pinned on the release this Saturday of Eat Pray Love, the Julia Roberts-fronted retelling of New York journo Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of self-discovery to soothe our wounded souls. The journey takes Gilbert from Manhattan to Italy, India and Indonesia and, since the film has got everyone in a fluster about finding inner peace, we’re dedicating this post to Gilbert’s favourite patch of Bali for self-discovery: Ubud.
This little inland town is the cultural capital of Bali’s jungly interior, a land of lush rice paddies and jaw-dropping, impossibly green valleys. Even before Eat, Pray, Love brought spirituality-seeking pilgrims to the one-time farming village, travellers in search of enlightenment have flocked to this thriving community of painters, dancers, musicians and monkeys. Unsurprisingly, the city and its surroundings have exploded with spa resorts, yoga retreats and holistic health havens. We’ve picked out five of Ubud’s best spa hotels…
All the essential idyll ingredients are here: gob-smacking views of leafy Mount Batu Karu and the Ayung below, thatched villas set into hillside jungle clearings, suites with private Japanese water gardens and waterfalls, a multi-therapy holistic spa, and more infinity pools than you could wave an incense stick at. There’s Pilates, forest walks, white-water rafting and mountain biking. Yoga-philes can practise their downward dogs and sun salutations in an open-sided Balinese bale – unless, of course, your preferred poses are the downward sloth or prone sun salutation, best practised in a massage pavilion or on a sun-lounger.
Top treatment We love the contrast between the aromatic spice body scrub and the application of cooling yoghurt in the Javanese Royal Lulur Bath.
Rates From US$275 a night, excluding tax.
20 minutes outside the town, this collection of 38 pared-down thatched villas is staggered down the hillside. The 300 steps from the top to the bottom may seem like a health-kick too far, but luckily there’s a funicular to ferry you from suite to spa. Consisting of three pavilions looking out over the river, the Ayung Spa specialises in traditional Balinese treatments, and its café features a Back from the Spa menu, offering dishes that manage to be guilt-free as well as tasty, such as rice-paper crab salad served with carrot and ginger juice. Each day begins with a guided river walk, identifying the medicinal properties of local plants along the way. The hotel can organise yoga lessons and painting classes with local artist Dana, whose work appears around the resort.
Top treatment Give the coconut and rice scrub a try. It’s a surprisingly gentle traditional Balinese exfoliation treatment – the soporific experience continues when you finish with a herbal bath.
Rates From US$375 a night, excluding tax.
The Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah is an architectural thrill, brimming with antiquities and cosy hidden corners. For those into activity, the butlers (book a villa and you’ll have your own) conduct rambles around the surrounding rice paddies, and there are morning yoga sessions, a gym, open-air tennis courts, cooking classes, and twice-weekly dance performances at the hotel’s own amphitheatre. Opt for the Spa Villa and enjoy massages, sauna sessions and plunge pool access in the privacy of your own rooms, as well as a special spa breakfast for two. The main spa itself uses organic products and treatments take place in open rooms overlooking verdant fields.
Top treatment The Himalayan crystal body polish uses eponymous cedarwood, rose otto and salts mined from the foothills of the Himalayas – we defy you not to leave with skin as soft as a cherub’s bottom.
Rates From US$270 a night, excluding tax.
Style Hip indoor/outdoor hideaways
Setting Blissful Balinese jungle
The clue is in the name at this resort, where simple serenity pervades. Sleek furniture, neutral colours and open-plan rooms make for a more contemporary feel than many other Balinese retreats. The owners worked with some of Ubud’s most talented artists to create the Purist’s understated ambience, and you can enjoy tours of their studios. Every area has been designed to ensure maximum horizontal enjoyment, whether that’s lazing on a sunlounger on the deck or slothing on the more secluded day-bed. If you do make it to vertical, the therapists at the intimate and minimalist spa are trained in both meditation and yoga.
Top treatment Inner peace is just a two and a half hour treatment away. ‘Balance’ combines the Ayurvedic practices Chakradhara and Shirodhara, whereby you’re drizzled in warm herbal oils and rubbed towards bliss.
Rates From US$240 a night.
The first thing you hear is the silence – Kayumanis’ 23 unique villas are the perfect place to remind yourself of the joys of noiselessness. Each is inspired by a different cultural theme, from Primitive to Modern, passing through traditional Balinese and Oriental along the way. The open-sided spa boasts jungle views from every angle, and specialises in Balinese massage (high-pressure rolling strokes, basically), as well as hot stone treatments and bathing rituals. Herbs and oils used are sourced from the spa’s own garden – guests even have the chance to go ‘behind the scenes’, picking their own ingredients and learning how to prepare an assortment of scrubs, potions and lotions.
Top treatment Cover me in chocolate and throw me to the therapists: the Kayumanis Spa’s three-hour Chocolate Indulgence is a skin-detoxifying, moisturising treatment featuring cocoa-based body scrub, wrap, bath and, best of all, a steaming cup of hot chocolate at the end.
Rates US$363, excluding tax.
If you’re not in a position to pay a visit to Ubud, you can at least check it out on the big screen. The nice folk at Everyman have given us a pair of tickets to see Eat Pray Love this week at one of their cinemas*. So if you’ve an evening spare between tonight and Thursday, send us an email, and one randomly drawn winner will have the chance to watch Julia discover universal truth (via getting jiggy with Javier Bardem) for themselves. What’s more, Smith members can get 20 per cent off membership at Everyman…
*Sorry non-UK folks, this one’s not for you.