One of the pools – and the view – at the Royal Pita Maha

Infinity Beckons

21st September 2012

Katie Beck reveals exactly how – and where - to find enlightenment in Ubud, Bali

in the cool, mountainous centre of Bali, Ubud is known as the cultural, artistic and spiritual heart of the Indonesian island. The name Ubud comes from the Balinese word for medicine and people have been coming here for centuries in search of healing energy.

In recent years, with the influx of mind-bogglingly luxurious accommodations, yoga studios, and an estimated three thousand spas, the area has become the ultimate destination for those hoping to find spirituality and purification. With the help of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale of travelling here to find herself and finding love along the way, a new avalanche of retreat centres, raw food restaurants and holistic health facilities is moving in. The wellness scene is fast approaching fever pitch.

Bali has long been a sought-after tourist destination. As far back as the 1920s travellers started visiting the island, and ever since, droves of foreigners have been flocking to the sandy southern shores of Kuta, Jimbaran and Seminyak for sunbathing, scuba diving and surfing, not to mention copious amounts of boozing, along with more illicit activities.
If you can tear yourself away from the beach though, and make your way through the lush interior to the impossibly green rice paddies, mountains, and river valleys of Ubud, another Bali will come into focus. This haven for art and spirituality is far from secret – Charlie Chaplin and Margaret Meade vacationed here in the 1930s – but it has maintained its well-earned reputation as a bohemian oasis.

Despite the fact that many people you’ll see on the well-trodden main roads are tourists, the oft mentioned ‘magic’ of Ubud is alive and well and the strong culture of religious devotion along with the vibrant tradition of Balinese dance, music and art come together here in a manner that supports foreigners in search of their own spirituality and wellbeing.

The range of ways to explore and experience Ubud is as varied as the intricate, multi-coloured, batiks and woven sarongs worn by the locals here.

Underground pool at the Como Shambhala


If secluded luxury is what you seek, arrangements can be made for you to be whisked away straight from the airport, bypassing the security and immigration lines, to a private driver who will deposit you at the sprawling, gated grounds of Como Shambhala Estate. Hidden down a long, narrow road in Bagawan Village, this is one of Bali’s most exclusive and upscale establishments with only 30 rooms. Here you can luxuriate by turn in each of your villa’s two private pools, one of which is located directly under your room with access from your expansive collection of dressing, shower and bathrooms.

Stays include breakfast and morning yoga classes and rooms can be booked by the night or with one of a variety of retreat packages designed to foster cleansing, fitness, stress management, or rejuvenation. The staff includes yoga masters, energy healers, nutritionists, and Ayurvedic doctors. (Villas start at $2000/night in the low season, while retreats including accommodation start at $5200 for seven days. Booking at least two weeks in advance is advised).

To enjoy a more traditionally Balinese experience – without sacrificing one lavish detail – book your stay at one of the Ubud royal family’s hotels. They own three, and the Royal Pita Maha in Bunutan village, is at the top of the list. The stone-carved rooms, yoga and meditation spaces, gourmet and organic restaurants, temples, spa and pools are built into the side of a dramatic gorge, offering panoramic views of the Ayung River and the Camphuan valley below from absolutely everywhere. (Suites start at $400/night and booking at least a month in advance is advised).

Bamboo hut up coconut tree at Bambu Indrah

If your tastes are on the more whimsical (and more affordable) side, reserve a space at the Villa Bambu Indah, a collection of antique Javanese bridal bungalows and larger structures made entirely from bamboo. The buildings alone are worth a visit. Each of the 11 rooms has a distinct, rustic style, but is equipped with sumptuous details inside. The grounds, overlooking the Ayung River below and endless rice fields beyond, are a tropical wonderland with ladders leading up tall coconut trees to bamboo huts perched in the foliage, and shaded conversation areas scattered with pillows. No lodging in Ubud would be complete without a pool, organic restaurant, yoga studio and spa, and Villa Bambu Indah does not disappoint. (Rooms start at $70/night).

For total seclusion, how about a private villa in the middle of a rice paddy? The views from the Infinity Villa in Tegalalang give you a direct look at the peaceful, slow pace of life in Ubud. Every window and patio of the two storey villas looks out into the expansive rice fields that surround it, and the staff here have thought of absolutely everything – from the extra deep infinity pool, to the organic breakfast served in your room each morning, to the local mobile phone for use during your stay. (Villas start at $120/night).

As tempting as it is to stay in, most people come here to work on some aspect of themselves – and whether it’s physical, spiritual or emotional, Ubud is full to bursting with healing centres of all kinds.

If you are in need of a body treatment, there are quite literally thousands of spas waiting to rub, scrub, massage, shampoo, polish and knead you into the deepest relaxation, and with an average price for an hour long massage hovering at around $15 you could (and many do) have a massage every day of your stay.

If you want to put some effort into your transformation, the Yoga Barn holds the title of the most popular spot in town for ecstatic dance, yoga and meditation (and yes, they have an Ayurvedic spa and health food restaurant too).

If you are in need of more complex healing, the retreat scene in Ubud is growing rapidly, and your ailment or issue will surely be on the list. From seminars focusing on tantra,and on how to love and be loved, to how to eat well, prepare raw food, and lose weight, you can have your pick. Increasingly, gorgeous retreat centres like Villa Gaia in Tegallantang are cropping up and with massage therapists, private yoga instructors and raw food chefs on hand; it might be hard to leave.

Statue outside temple

Historically, Balinese kingdoms would send their subjects to Ubud for rehabilitation. And although now the knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs has spread throughout the island, Ubud is still home to many shaman, known here as Balian – men and women believed to hold powerful healing abilities. It is possible for foreigners to arrange a session with a traditional Balian healer but beware of people claiming miracle cures and do be sure to consult with a trusted source before making any appointment.

No matter where you choose to stay, or what you choose to do, it is hard to imagine leaving this ‘island of the gods’ the same person as when you arrived.

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