Ubud lures you away from beaches to Bali's central hills. The town is cool and pleasant, and provides a refreshing dose of Balinese culture in a lush rural setting. Gamelan orchestra concerts and Balinese theatre performances are held regularly, and the town has a good assortment of art galleries, antique shops and laidback cafes. Monkeys cavort in the countryside around town, which dazzles with hidden valleys and hillsides blanketed in tumbling rice paddies.
Used by Hindu priests since the 11th century, Elephant Cave just outside town at Goa Gajah is carved with hunting scenes, demons and sacred elephants. At its centre lies a bathing pool fed with spring water from urns held aloft by alluring female figures. The jungle setting and tumbledown temples will make you feel like Indiana Jones. Also worth visiting is the royal temple and water garden of Pura Taman Saraswati, which hosts evening dance performances.
Sculptural steel and burgundy walls make hip, designer restaurant Lemak (lamakbali.com) a standout along the road to the Monkey Forest. Eye-catching dishes range from Indonesian to other Asian and European cuisine. Mozaic (mozaic-bali.com) is probably Bali's most ambitious gourmet restaurant beyond those in luxury hotels. French-American chef Chris Salans conjures up tastebud magic by marrying French flavours and cooking methods with local ingredients in various fixed menus whose dishes change by the day.
Ubud is the traditional artistic and cultural centre of Bali, and by the 1920s had attracted a bohemian community of Western artists, too. Head to Neka Museum (www.museumneka.com) and the excellent ARMA Museum of Art (www.armabali.com) for eclectic works by Indonesian artists. Explore the town's many art galleries, which display everything from Chinese ink drawings to bark paintings and contemporary Balinese glassware. Agung Rai Gallery (www.agungraigallery.com) represents a community of interesting young artists from all over the country.
Ubud's surrounds provide a great range of soft adventure activities in beautiful landscapes. Various companies will take you on walks through the rice fields or up Mt Agung and Mt Batur volcanoes, or you can try Bali Jeep Adventure (balijeepadventure.com) or Bali Quad (baliquad.com) for off-road exploration. Alam Amazing Adventures (alam-amazing-adventures.com) has white-water rafting on the Ayung River and Bali Tubing Tour (balitubingtour.com) will take you on a float down any of three rivers.
Stay at Maya Ubud (mayaubud.com), surrounded by rice terraces and undulating, jungle-clad hillsides. With several restaurants, tennis courts and evening cultural performances, you hardly need stray, though a complimentary shuttle bus takes you into town. Chic white decor and dark local wood provide contemporary style, thatched villas a local flavour. The swimming pool with a view is just the place to while away a languid afternoon, and the spa specialises in four-hand massages and tangerine scrubs.
Ubud is the spa centre of Bali, with dozens of spas ready to pamper or pummel you into blissful wellbeing. Try the boreh, a herbal scrub for aching muscles that uses a paste made from ginger and cloves, before relaxing in a petal-strewn bath.
The writer travelled at his own expense.
See also: The best places to shop in Bali
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