Ubud a small town toward the center of the island of Bali, Indonesia. It’s about an hour from the Denpasar airport – not because of distance but because of the narrow roads and excessive traffic.
But if you make it through the dusty streets to this tropical Garden of Eden, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping vistas of lush rice terraces cascading down the highlands. The aroma of sweet frangipani and hibiscus saturates the air — but don’t stop to smell the flowers for too long, you’ll likely have to dodge a poor American learning how to drive his scooter.
Ubud is a city that seems hang in a delicate balance between the eastern and western worlds.
Largely untouched by big brands (in town, you’ll only find a Starbucks and DQ) it’s peppered with warungs (small, family-owned restaurants), local herb shops and boutiques flaunting hand-made wares. But, 10+ years after Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” and Bali has been officially ’discovered.’ Expect to see an abundance of Australians with yoga mats strapped to the backs and European digital nomads hunched over laptops at craft coffee shops across town.
You’ll revel in beautiful Bali-style villas with open-air bathroom and kitchen while still appreciating abundant wifi, plumbing and swanky pools. Dine on traditional Balinese dishes like sate, nasi campur and gado-gado, while knowing alternative tastes of home are also available (like hamburgers, pasta, burritos and pizza).
Try to learn a few words of Bahasah Bali (like the greeting “Om Swastiastu”) — the locals love it. But, it’s not necessary to know the language. Nearly everyone speaks English and all signs and menus are in English as well.
So, if you venture to this island paradise, you’ll likely hit the I highly recommend you check out the three things below.
Indulge in a gastronomic experience at Kubu at Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
While you can snap up a fabulous meal for under $10 most places in Bali, the prix fixe multi-course menu at the Ritz Carlton Ubud is worth the price tag; the same meal in the U.S. likely would cost at least double. Reservations are required, and I’m told they fill up far in advance. You immediate feel like an A-lister, as your name has to be on *the list* to enter the giant gates at the front of the hotel. From the front outdoor foyer, you’re whisked away on a private golf cart down the hillside villa complex. The staff know your name before you arrive, and you’re quickly nestled in a private cocoon overlooking the Ayung River. You didn’t travel all this way for the ordinary. The 7- or 9-course degustation menu features small bites packed with flavor, like their lobster and fennel ravioli and melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu beef. Add a wine paring to accompany each course for an extra 400,000 rupiah (~$30). They also have a tasty menu for vegetarians. $56-$85
Sip a cocktail overlooking the Indian Ocean at the Single Fin
Step into the Single Fin, and you’re transported to somewhere reminiscent of boho beach towns in SoCal. Sip an ice-cold beer overlooking the Indian Ocean speckled with surfers. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sun set, and there is live music upstairs. Take the stairs to the bottom of the cliff and enjoy one of Bali’s most beautiful beaches. As the sun sinks below the horizon, it’s a scene that can only be described as magical.
Eat dessert first at Room4Dessert
Will Goldfarb isn’t native Balinese, but he’s well-known around Ubud. Everyone I talked to seemed to know the accomplished pastry chef. He earned a nomination from the James Beard Foundation for Best Pastry Chef in America. And he’s likely the best pastry chef in Indonesia, too. The Space is all created custom, from the beautiful custom bar to the lush canteen in the back. Even the plates are custom-made for each dessert by Gaya Ceramics. Snack on their delightful aperitivi collection of cheeses and meats, accompanied with toasted house-made bread. But the real star of the show is dessert. Opt for the BIG dessert tasting menu ($825) to get a full-sized portion of the nine out-of-this-world desserts. Dragon fruit dances with beetroot cake while cookies, kluwak, nibs nougatine and warm mousse from a deep, rich chocolate sensation. This isn’t your average dessert menu – so prepare to try the new and unusual, like jackfruit, kemangi and salak.