Ubud and Beyond

Gisela Williams, a frequent contributor to American Express DEPARTURES introduces Ubud in the May issue of the magazine to those with the blue, green or golden plastic cards:

If South Bali attracts an Ibiza set, then Ubud is for a Santa Fe crowd: artists, intellectuals, and wealthy New Agers who come to Bali's central region for a cocktail of tropical design, spa treatments, and spiritual reinvigoration. "Ubud is about people, culture, and nature," explains Tjok Putra, a member of Ubud's royal family. "Our commitment is to maintain that balance while moving forward." To that effect, Putra has become a generous sponsor of local students, artists, and dancers; he also runs a hotel-management school that trains the staff at his three hotels. After lunch at the Hotel Tjampuhan, a royal-family holding since 1944, Putra escorted us to the site of his latest project, the Royal Pita Maha. Ubud's largest resort, it will open half its 92 villas this month; the rest will be finished by the end of the year. Unlike its neighbors—such as the Four Seasons Sayan and Amandari, which offer modern takes on local architecture—Pita Maha is purely Balinese. Traditional stone murals, sculptures of Hindu gods, and paintings of silk-wrapped dancers decorate the hotel, whose construction was delayed because of the dearth of tourists after the bombing. "The traffic light for Bali was yellow," he says. "Now it's green."

Besides Ubud's new resorts (which will soon include Orient-Express's forthcoming Hanging Gardens), what draws many to this region is the Balinese experience on a smaller, more personal scale. Which is why interior designer Linda Garland recently began taking guests at her estate, Panchoran, a 25-acre ecosystem of bamboo, recycled teak, lacy hammocks, and waterfalls, which she has spent 30 years perfecting. "Ubud is more about health; it's an artistic and intellectual center," she says. "[The club] Exiles on a Saturday night is the closest one gets to a rave up here."

As laid-back as Ubud may be, its restaurant scene has nonetheless been recharged. Chris Salans, chef of the French-Asian restaurant Mozaic, says that "we were pretty empty for a few months" after the bombing. Today the place is booked weeks in advance. Even the old standbys have caught a second wind. A dozen years ago I used to drink juice on batik pillows at Ary's Warung; now I'm sipping a ginger martini on a goat-hide stool at the bar. "Just two years ago we thought everyone would have to close down," says owner Agung Odeck. This winter he'll open Betel Nut, an Asian-style bistro down the road.


Begawan Giri Estate Acquired not long ago by Christina Ong, this stunning resort set among jungle gardens on top of a river gorge will add a spa building and spa villas by fall. Rates, $495-$4,400. At Banjar Begawan; 62-361/978-888;

The Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah Once the estate of Indonesian architect Hendra Hadiprana, this new hotel is the sister property of The Legian in Seminyak. (Guests traveling between the two are accompanied by a personal butler.) With its lily ponds, rare birds, and spectacular vistas of rice fields, the Chedi provides an authentic—if eccentric—experience. Pool Villa 6 has the best views. Rates, $310-$830. At Jalan Goa Gajah, Tengkulaka Kaja; 62-361/730-622.

Panchoran After living here for 30 years, Linda Garland just opened her lush, ecofriendly estate to adventurous guests. There are only two villas, the Waterfall and River houses. Rates, $350-$650. At Nyuh Kuning village; 62-361/974-028;

Royal Pita Maha The traditional Balinese resort owned and designed by the Ubud royal family is the largest in the area, with 92 villas on some 30 acres along the Ayung River. Rates, $400-$1,500. At Kedewatan; 62-361/980-022;

Uma Ubud Christina Ong's newest retreat on the island is a bit of Seminyak glamour brought north. The rooms are stylish but small, at least by Bali's standards; try the more expansive Pool Suites. Rates, $205-$385. At Jalan Raya Sanggingan; 62-361/972-448;

Villa Kirana The area's most stylish private rental, designed by Made Wijaya, is a colorful five-bedroom compound that has glorious views, an infinity pool, and an impressive collection of Southeast Asian antiques and modern art. Jeweler John Hardy lives a few blocks away. Rates, $750-$1,250. Contact Bali Luxury Villa; 62-361/754-344;


Ary's Warung The sleek decor of the Ubud classic has been recently modernized with an Indonesian-fusion menu. Dinner, $40. At Jalan Raya Ubud; 62-361/975-053;

Ibu Oka This street-food stall, a well-kept secret among Balinese chefs, serves the best spicy suckling pig. Lunch, $2. At Jalan Suweta, Ubud.

Lamak This two-story, thatched-roof restaurant wrapped around a courtyard bar has become an expat favorite for its good wine list and funky but exclusive atmosphere (the huge art-filled bathrooms feel like VIP lounges). Dinner, $45. At Jalan Monkey Forest, Ubud; 62-361/974-668;

Mozaic Chris Salans, who studied with Thomas Keller in Napa, delights his following with dishes like crispy seared foie gras with apples, guava, Spanish saffron, and spicy rujak sauce. Reserve at least a week ahead and ask for a table in the torch-lit garden. Dinner, $75. At Jalan Raya Sanggingan; 62-361/975-768.

Warung Enak Made Wijaya's latest project brings food from all over the Indonesian archipelago. Try the pangek sapi from Sumatra, a sweet basily beef dish served over rice and crunchy winged beans, or the asinan Jakarta, a mix of vegetables and tofu in a nest of fried egg noodles. Dinner, $35. At Jalan Raya Pengosekan; 62-361/972-911.


Gaya This contemporary art center was founded by a collective of regional artists. It exhibits Indonesian crafts, modern furniture, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. At Jalan Raya Sayan, Ubud; 62-361/979-252;

John Hardy Bali's preeminent jeweler shows his collection by appointment only in a stunning showroom in Mambal. At Jalan Baturning;

Treasures The first stop for jewelry, both traditional and modern, carries a variety of gorgeous baubles fashioned by some of the island's most celebrated designers. Among them are Tricia Kim and Carolyn Tyler. At Jalan Raya Ubud; 62-361/976-697;


MASTER MASSEUR When he's not traveling the world tending to clients, Ketut Arsana works his magic at Ubud Bodyworks. Book way in advance. Massage, $45. At 25 Jalan Hanoman; 62-361/975-720;

TRANCE DANCE Every new and full moon at 7 p.m., the ARMA museum puts on a concert of Kecak dance, a hypnotic performance involving scores of men making music with only their voices. At Jalan Pengosekan, Ubud; 62-361/976-659.

ART CONNECTIONS The Bali Purnati Center for the Arts, which counts theatrical designer Robert Wilson as a collaborator, is the best source of information about Indonesian art. At Jalan Gunung Abang, Batuan; 62-361/294-590;

MOUNTAIN BIKING Bali Sobek rents bikes and hires out guides for jungle and village excursions. Rate, $55 a day;

COOK'S TOUR Every Tuesday and Wednesday, local restaurateur and author Janet De Neefe conducts a tour of the Ubud food market, followed by a cooking lesson on Balinese classics like fern salad and mie goreng (fried noodles). Rate, $20 per person. At the Honeymoon Guesthouse, Jalan Bisma; 62-361/973-282;