UP, UP AND AWAY

Susan Kuro­sawa en­joys the zesty air and cul­tural con­nec­tions of Bali’s hill sta­tion of Ubud

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

AT a cool el­e­va­tion just 45 min­utes by road north of Denpasar and the hol­i­day coast of Bali, Ubud con­forms to the clas­sic hill-sta­tion tem­plate of clean and crisp air, gen­tle pace and deep green views. Ubud has been a haven for for­eign artists and creative cast­aways since the 1930s, when it must have seemed like Shangri-la. Ubud has also been a trav­ellers’ get­away since (at least) the 1970s but the hip­pie flower-power at­mos­phere has been re­placed with a smarter vibe and cafes are as likely to serve ex­cel­lent es­presso and wines by the glass as they are mango juice and herbal teas.

To­day, the main streets are a jum­ble of shops that may not be all that dif­fer­ent to their coastal coun­ter­parts in Kuta or Seminyak but the me­thod­i­cal fos­sicker will be re­warded with good an­tiques and hand-made finds, es­pe­cially wood carv­ings.

Best an­nual event: The Ubud Writ­ers & Read­ers Fes­ti­val (Septem­ber/Oc­to­ber each year), founded by Aus­tralian ex­pa­tri­ate Janet De Neefe, is a lively litfest of pan­els, work­shops, book launches, lunches and per­for­mances, many in ex­quis­ite gar­den or tem­ple set­tings. This year’s at­ten­dees in­cluded 2006 Man Booker prize win­ner Ki­ran De­sai and Aus­tralia’s Richard Flana­gan. www.ubud­writ­ers­fes­ti­val.com.

Best read­ing-up: Copies of the Hello Bali glossy monthly mag­a­zine are avail­able in most re­sort gue­strooms. Fra­grant Rice by Janet De Neefe is a mem­oir laced with food tips and eas­ily ac­com­plished recipes. Is­land of Bali by Mex­i­can ex­pa­tri­ate painter and au­thor Miguel Co­var­ru­bias, pub­lished in 1939, is an an­thro­po­log­i­cal clas­sic (a few of his paint­ings are dis­played at Neka Mu­seum); paper­backs in Bali shops, in­clud­ing at Denpasar air­port.

Best mu­sic and books store: Ubud Mu­sic Cen­tre on Jalan Raya Ubud (of­ten known lo­cally as the main road), di­ag­o­nally op­po­site Cafe Lo­tus, has beau­ti­ful cof­fee-ta­ble books on In­done­sia such as Trop­i­calGar­denDe­sign by Made Wi­jaya (Aus­tralian-born land­scaper Michael White, who adopted Bali, and a lo­cal name, decades ago) and well-priced CDs from Cafe del Mar and Pu­tu­mayo world mu­sic col­lec­tions (look for Asian Lounge). A ter­rific CD of In­done­sian mu­sic with the sub­tle beat of African drums added to zither and flute is Sunda Africa. (But don’t fall for the fake DVDs and CDs at the rear of the store: de­spite the slick pack­ag­ing, th­ese are poor record­ings and not worth even the $1 price ticket.)

Best restau­rants: Casa Luna, run by the ubiq­ui­tous De Neefe, has a street­front patis­serie (de­li­cious cin­na­mon buns) with cafe seat­ing plus ta­bles spread over two airy lev­els; the menu has In­done­sian spe­cial­ties but most din­ers who gather here seem to be at the musthave-a-pasta-or-pizza point of their Bali itin­er­ary and they go for the West­ern food. De Neefe runs pop­u­lar cook­ing classes, too. www.casalun­a­bali.com.

Casa Luna is just along from two-storey Ary’s Warung, a long-time favourite that has also had a groovy makeover and added a street­front lounge bar. Ary’s does well-priced tast­ing menus (a mad cross-cul­tural Ba­li­nese tapas) and sub­lime desserts of the or­der of sage and maple-syrup pan­na­cotta or frozen lemon­grass par­fait. Dragon­fly, on Jalan Dewi Sita, is a chic hang­out with open kitchen, bistro menu and free WiFi.

Best nu­clear duck: Crispy duck is the sig­na­ture dish at Tepi Sawah on Jalan Raya Goa Ga­jah in Peli­atan (take a taxi from Ubud proper), a sim­ple cafe over­look­ing ter­raced rice pad­dies; the dish is al­most fried to obliv­ion, though, and the bones are in­tended to be crunched. It’s not to ev­ery­one’s taste but the menu also in­cludes good ribs, nasi goreng and sweet fried ba­nanas. (Its ad­join­ing art gallery, just off the car park, into which touts may try to hook you, is full of uniquely unattrac­tive items and is to be avoided.)

Best splurge din­ing: The restau­rants at Aman­dari and Four Sea­sons Sayan re­sorts, on the ridge slightly out of the town cen­tre, are to­tally glam­orous and well worth a splurge. Mozaic on Jalan Raya Sang­gin­gan, with US chef Chris Salans at the helm, of­fers a ‘‘ chef’s sur­prise’’ menu with op­tional wine pair­ing. Also di­vinely pretty is the restau­rant at Uma Ubud re­sort (sis­ter prop­erty to Como Shamb­hala) next to the Neka Mu­seum; if you don’t or­der im­ported wine, a meal for two should cost well un­der $100.

Best cook­ing school: Cafe Wayan and Bak­ery on Mon­key For­est Road runs In­done­sian cook­ing classes that in­clude lunch and up to three ir­re­sistible ba­nana-themed desserts.

Best mar­tini: Nuri’s Warung (widely known as Naughty Nuri’s), di­ag­o­nally op­po­site Uma Ubud, serves mar­ti­nis of eye­browlift­ing po­tency ( Hello Bali de­scribes them as ‘‘ bone twist­ing’’) and sa­tays cooked over a char­coal grill that’s al­most on the foot­path; ca­sual, fun and buzzy with ex­pats late at night.

Best spa: All the re­sorts in Ubud have bril­liant spas, many in stand-alone pav­il­ions with court­yard gar­dens such as Como Shamb­hala or Four Sea­sons Sayan. But smaller, and with a zen-calm Ja­panese vibe, is Spa Hati on Jalan Raya An­dong, bor­dered by rice­fields and of­fer­ing treat­ments in cool suites or a thatched bale screened by waft­ing white cur­tains. A one-hour Bliss­ful Jour­ney mas­sage costs about $20 and fa­cials and body scrubs are equally well-priced. There’s a beau­ti­ful pool and salt­wa­ter jacuzzi, too, so this is a very af­ford­able sanc­tu­ary for a morn­ing or af­ter­noon break and the feel-good fac­tor is en­hanced by the fact Spa Hati op­er­ates as a foun­da­tion and sup­ports a lo­cal kinder­garten and el­e­men­tary school. www.spa­hati.com.

Best home­wares shops: The Shop at Sayan (which used to be at the Como Shamb­hala re­sort), on Jalan Raya Sayan near the en­trance to the Four Sea­sons Sayan re­sort, is a trove of jew­ellery — in­clud­ing be­spoke pieces fea­tur­ing coins and South Seas pearls by ex­pat de­signer Carolyn Tyler — and such trea­sures as Vene­tian-style mir­rors, onyx ele­phants, dec­o­ra­tive suede and leather purses (a snip at about $15), and bags and san­dals by Kerry Grima of Seminyak. www.shopattheshop.com.

On Jalan Raya Sang­gin­gan, De­sign Unit is a cool show­room with a mix of items, in­clud­ing beau­ti­ful carved wooden fish and hand-painted boxes. Down a steep stone stair­case from Casa Luna, De Neefe has opened a big em­po­rium filled with myr­iad home­wares, classical dancers’ masks from the nearby wood-carv­ing vil­lage of Mas, pil­low­cases edged with pale batik trim, gor­geous cush­ion cov­ers, shadow pup­pets and lengths of ikat cloth.

On Jalan Hanoman (which runs par­al­lel to Mon­key For­est Road; the two link in a loop at the Mon­key For­est and both are crammed with shops), Wangi-Wangi Nat­u­ral, on the left-hand side down the hill, is a blink-and­miss shop that sells fan­tas­tic win­dow cov­er­ings. My beach house looks like the shop in minia­ture: rough-wo­ven un­bleached cot­ton blinds that drop from bam­boo poles (some have dou­ble pan­els; the front is opaque and pulls up to re­veal a semi-trans­par­ent lat­ticed back­drop; about $22 for a full-length glass door drop).

Best bar­gain­ing per­for­mances: Ubud Mar­ket, on the cor­ner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Mon­key For­est Road, is a me­an­der­ing mud­dle of stalls and a very cheap place to buy batik shirts, sarongs, wo­ven wares (lid­ded rice bas­kets painted with bright de­signs make great con­tain­ers for bread or fruit: about $5) and bolts of printed fab­ric. Go early and ask for ‘‘ morn­ing price’’; hag­gling is ex­pected and en­ter­tained and it’s pretty easy to swipe about 50 per cent off the first ask­ing price.

Best in­stant cul­tural con­nec­tion: Cafe Lo­tus puts on 80-minute game­lan mu­sic and tra­di­tional tem­ple dance nights sev­eral times a week from 7.30pm (the Thurs­day game­lan show and barong dance by chil­dren is es­pe­cially de­light­ful); din­ers who pur­chase tick­ets (50,000 Rp, about $6) watch from rows of chairs in the lo­tus-filled gar­dens fac­ing the per­form­ers be­fore tak­ing din­ner in the cafe. Oth­er­wise, sit at a tile-topped ta­ble inside Cafe Lo­tus or loll on flat cush­ions in a long wooden pavil­ion. www.lo­tus-restau­rants.com.

Best thrills: Raft­ing on Ubud’s swift Ayung River is a lovely way to cool off and plenty of lo­cal op­er­a­tors of­fer re­turn trans­fers to ho­tels. Sobek has good pack­ages, plus trekking, es­corted bike rides through jun­gle and vil­lages and bird-watch­ing ex­pe­di­tions. Half-day raft­ing tours cost about $US40 ($45), in­clud­ing lunch, equip­ment and qual­i­fied guides. www.99bali.com.

Best art con­nec­tions: Neka Mu­seum has the is­land’s best col­lec­tion of Ba­li­nese art. The his­toric paint­ings of Bali scenes prob­a­bly are of most in­ter­est to trav­ellers: look for works by Dutch artist Ru­dolph Bon­net, an early fan of Ubud, and Aus­tralia’s Don­ald Friend. Bon­net lived at Tjam­puhan in the ’ 30s, near the sus­pen­sion bridge that to­day leads up the hill to Jalan Raya Ubud, with fel­low artist Rus­sian­born Wal­ter Spies who moved to Ubud in 1927, re­put­edly with his pi­ano, a Ger­man bi­cy­cle and a but­ter­fly net.

The for­mer Spies house, over­look­ing a lily pond, is on the es­tate of the Tjam­puhan Ho­tel and can be booked in the same way as the stan­dard gue­strooms. This pretty ho­tel, by the river of the same name, of­fers ex­cel­lent value. www.tjam­puhan-bali.com.

Check­list

Jet­star flies to Bali from Syd­ney and Melbourne; specials (for travel to De­cem­ber 12) in­clude seven-night pack­ages for $1102 a per­son twin-share. More: 131 538; www.jet­star.com.

Mar­ket pic­ture: Luk­man S. Bintoro

Peace and plenty: Paddy fields near Ubud, top; above from left, a mar­ket stall; Ba­li­nese dancers; Cafe Lo­tus

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