Ubud: From Monkeys To Masterpieces

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This is a beautiful piece written by Anna. As you know we are big fans of Bali, having been ten times now and Ubud is our favourite place to stay. 

We take a look at what makes this little town in Bali so special.

It was a surprise to many when Condé Nast Traveller magazine voted Ubud Asia’s best city destination. After all, it had pipped Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong to the prize. Was it even a city? And where exactly was it, anyway?

But those familiar with this town (for it is, technically, a town) in inland Bali, knew that Condé Nast was onto something. For, though home to only about 30,000 people, Ubud punches well above its weight. Once a haven for backpackers and hippies, these days you’re more likely to find families, celebrities and glitterati wandering its streets, although it’s all-welcoming vibe remains part of its charm.

The town is a major centre for culture and the arts, and has been so for more than a century. Museums such as the Agung Rai display important paintings by Balinese, Indonesian and international artists. There’s also the Blanco Renaissance Museum, a flamboyant building dedicated to the Spaniard Don Antonio Blanco, perhaps Bali’s most famous resident artist. And all over town you’ll find galleries, ceramics studios and markets where local creatives and craftsmen sell one-of-a-kind pieces you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

Ubud has history as well as culture. Here you’ll find dozens of ancient sites and Hindu temples to explore. Pura Besakih, known as the ‘Mother Temple of Bali’, is one of the town’s must-sees. Over 1,000 years old, it’s perched 3,000 feet up Mount Agung, Bali’s highest and holiest mountain, and over the years has expanded to become a huge complex of 22 temples. And just 10 minutes outside town is Goa Gajah, a mysterious cluster of caves, relics and ancient bathing pools. This Hindu archaeological site, known simply as the Elephant Cave, is considered so important it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The countryside that surrounds Ubud, too, is awe-inspiring, with coconut palms and lush rice paddies providing a constant reminder that you’re in one of the world’s most beautiful and exotic places. You can hike or cycle along the paths beside the rice fields, stopping along the way at tiny villages dotted with thatched houses. Go early, so you can experience first-hand the breath-taking sunrises over Mount Agung.

Another highlight for many holidaymakers, children in particular, is the Sacred Monkey Forest, a nature reserve and temple complex that’s home to around 605 long-tailed macaques. Visitors can get up close to the monkeys and feed them, while learning a bit about the sanctuary’s important conservation work.

And if all that sounds like hard work, there are a number of luxury hotels in Ubud, as well as some first-class spas, where you can indulge in leisurely massages, facials and bath treatments. The spa at the Chedi Club resort has private rooms that look out over the rice paddies. Here you can enjoy spa treatments using organic products, have a sauna, or take a dip in the cold plunge pool whilst the children can enjoy art afternoon or dance classes.

Nor is this a town that dies in the evenings. Indeed, it enjoys a reputation as being one of the best places in Bali to eat out. Certainly there’s a healthy foodie scene, with eateries running the gamut from casual street-stands to upscale restaurants set in tropical gardens. While you’re here, be sure to try local dishes such as babi guling (Balinese roast suckling pig) and bebek tutu (smoked duck), which is Bali’s most famous dish.

After dinner, you can enjoy one of the traditional dance performances for which Ubud is known. You can regularly catch these in the courtyard of the 16th-century Ubud Palace. Or enjoy the Kecak dance – one of Bali’s most dramatic performances – in the chic surrounds of a traditional amphitheatre.

So – art, culture, history, fine dining and natural beauty. Ubud certainly has all the attributes of a world-class city. Clearly those Condé Nast editors knew what they were talking about.

Ian Garstang is a travel writer and marketing executive working in the luxury travel market. Ian is the editor at Luxury-Travels.net and has worked with such brands as GHM Hotels, Four Seasons and Aman. Ian was named Hotel Club's 'Bali Expert' and Nominated in the top 20 luxury travel bloggers on USA Today. Ian has written for various websites that include A Luxury Travel Blog, Luxury Asia News and Travelo Cafe.

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