08/06/18

My perfect weekend escape; local enchantment in Ubud

Most people get away to Bali, so where do Bali-dwellers get away to? And… what’s there to escape in the first place? It might seem paradoxical to need a break from paradise, but routine anywhere dulls the senses, and a novel weekend reinvigorates the spirit to return refreshed to everyday life, whatever that may be. Living in Bali has shifted my perspective of scale, short distances are now long, and a long time is now inconsequential. Ubud is one such place, considered “far away” from my homebase of Canggu, but in reality it’s no more than an hour away. What normally would require no more than a day trip, in Bali needs to be stretched out over a 3 day weekend. Canggu is the first choice for beachlovers but Ubud is the village of enchantment - a labyrinth of tropical mountains, old artisan networks and a strong air of the quaint. There’s plenty to do around town, but I love Ubud for a deep, slow recharge, preferring to retreat into their jungle-crafted resorts.

Umjati Resort Ubud

Infinity pool at Bisma Eight

Friday: Bisma Eight to recharge 

After breakfast at newly-opened Kembali coffee shop in Canggu (my daughter recommends you try their After 8 chocolate-mint smoothie), we set off with plenty of time for a leisurely moto ride, with my 7 year old as co-pilot. Our first stop is Bisma Eight, a stunning paradise with a Japanese - Industrial architecture and design that would blend into LA’s downtown art lofts. Bisma Eight is a world in itself - intimate, yet the space is laid out in a in a way that there’s plenty do without being temped to leave. Their infinity pool is perched mountaintop and overlooks a wide tropical canyon. It makes lounging poolside feel like a meditation. Bisma knows how to spoil you - their afternoon tea of sweet cakes (Balinese and European) is brought out on tiered platters poolside, complete with ceramic clay pots of green tea.

Pavilion Umjati Ubud

The pavilion at Bisma Eight

Their rooms are designed “Zen-Bali” style with natural wooden finishes, right down to the circular wooden Japanese soaking tub. It was here that I was finally able to take a Balinese ceremony class, where I could gently interrogate the sweet woman weaving prayer baskets on the details of this custom. This distinct Balinese form of Hinduism is what accounts for the flower offerings you find strewn over doorways, temples and roads all over Bali. She taught us how to weave an offering basket from coconut leaves and the significance of the flowers. Saturday morning starts early with 8am rooftop yoga, a delicious experience which gives me a deeper understanding of being “oxygenated”. My daughter and I follow up with the freshest breakfast in all of Bali in their greenhouse-inspired garden restaurant. Their tapas-style breakfast is an feast of side dishes that covers every flavour. Bisma 8 is a flawless experience, and we say a sorry goodbye.

Saturday : Natural Dye and Textile Workshops @ Umajati Retreat 

After a night that feels worthy of a week, Saturday I’m ready to get my hands dirty. As a lover of artisan work and textiles, my first choice is one of the Natural Plant Dye workshops from Threads of Life. Check their website for workshop dates. Threads of Life have been working with communities of the Indonesian archipelago for over 20 years, preserving the textiles and traditions of the region. William, one half of the husband-and-wife team, is a walking wikipedia of cultural, historical and textile knowledge of Indonesia. They hold the workshops at their resort, Umajati, where they’ve built an independent dye studio.

Workshops are in-depth and suited for fashion designers… you begin by harvesting dye plants from their own botanical garden (such as indigo leaves) and then experiment with the processing methods and varying rainbow of dye results. This team is innovating the investigation of natural dye process in Bali, and participation in their workshop is like being part of a live investigation lab. I absolutely recommended checking out the Threads of Life gallery store in Ubud center, where they showcase stunning pieces such as an double Ikat weave, a complex feat that’s only executed in two other places in the world. Their large-scale models breakdown the Ikat weaving process to make the whole artistry comprehensible. The Gianyar region of Ubud is famed for their woven accessories, and this history lesson brings insight on the context that’s informed today’s artisans.

Umjati ubud

Umjati Retreat villas

Umajati Retreat 

After all these high-level information downloads, I’m happy to find the Umajati villas are only a tropical garden away from the Dye Studio. Umajati offers an experience of absolute seclusion and peace, served up on a grand scale. They have only two villas, and it seems they put the energy building twenty into these two. This is a case of quality over quantity. The wooden architecture was brought from Java, and the house structure was cut down, shipped and re-assembled on site. Rustic 30 ft ceilings cut from asymmetrical slabs, sprawling private rooms and terraces gives the villa the feeling of a manor. The bathroom hosts another luxurious Japanese soaking tub, this time in white stone, with an open window overlooking the garden. Umajati have the most expert staff I’ve met in Bali.

They treat guests with absolute warmth yet professionalism, artfully giving attention with total ease. Our arrival is met with fresh hibiscus-flower tea and Balinese dessert jellies with honeyed rice.The Villa’s wall-to-wall folding glass doors are too immense for guests to manipulate, and the staff wordlessly manage all opening and shutting to flow with the sun and your needs. Dinner is served in-villa, with local delicacies that place Umajati at the top of Bali’s best home-cooked food. They feature unusual organic ingredients, such a wild fern salad, along with a curried fish baked in banana leaves, finished with a traditional Balinese dessert of Pandan pancakes. Umajati feels like a hand-curated labor of love- and naturally they have best textile art on the walls. Sunday is met refreshed, and after swimming a couple of laps in their stone pool (rectangular, a must for exercise) our final day begins.

Sunday: Novelty Glamping @ Sandat 

If I have guests in town I’d head to John Hardy for their jewelry workshop tour, which starts at 11am (see article here) and one of their famous lunches, but since we’re alone we head straight to Sandat. Sandat Glamping is rare feature in Bali - despite the abundance of high-level nature, there is isn’t a culture of camping - or glamping. The Italian couple who founded Sandat designed it as a novel way to immerse yourself in nature without sacrifice. A secluded tent sits on a deck overhanging a sheer drop to the creek. A private pool and enormous outdoor pebble shower line the edge of this birds’ eye view. We can hear a waterfall echo somewhere 100 feet below, and birds, frogs an crickets hum in our ears. Sandat fosters contemplation and intimacy with nature… the sounds soften us and we lull into silence, tuning into the environment. The Italian owners have mastered a totally unique Indo-Italian design (and “welcome espresso”)… common areas feature spectacular vertical bamboo architecture which dwarfs a romantic scene. Cascading white stone floors bounces light up the infinity wall of vintage mirrors and lamps. The magnitude of the roof balances the delicate design details, and it’s the perfect cozy place for our chess game on a rainy evening. Breakfast is served the next day in the same dining space, laid out in style like an Italian banquet, with Alice-in-Wonderland style serving bowls and cake carousels.

Ubud Penjor Tent

Suite Tent Penjor at Sandat Glamping Tents

Yoga Joglo @ Sandat

I need to give a shout out to the Yoga studio at Sandat. As a traveling yogi, I can practice anywhere. On stinky mats, uneven wooden floors, in broom-closet size spaces… yoga smiles for peaceful acceptance. But when I stumble on a top notch practice place, I know it. Sandat have executed the perfect yoga studio, with flawless tools to boot. Only a year old, their yoga joglo features NY style hemp mats with grip, wooden blocks and new cotton straps. A total joy to flow in.

Perfect weekend in Ubud

Sandat Glamping Tents

Contemplations 

Our Monday morning drive back to Canggu is vibrant, with an unusual mix of joy and appreciation. Living in Bali has impacted my ability to understand what it means to appreciate. Most Balinese carry out ceremonies 3 times a day, thanking the weather, the gods, their health, and everything that treats them well. Bali is a country that treats you well, and Ubud ushered us into the natural world on a grand scale, like spectators at an art gallery. Ubud’s retreats couldn’t exist anywhere else in the world with the same flavor - they are molded by the landscape and culture itself. Newcomer’s lifestyles merge with the old, and a new kind of magic appears, a fresh culture that marks Bali Modern. I know why people go crazy for Bali, it’s a developing a new language that isn’t fully spoken yet, hidden away and unfolding in-situ.

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By Kerry Clarkson 

Kerry is British-Peruvian writer who spent the last decade as a fashion industry creative, living between Europe, the US and South America. She investigates how imagination can be used to innovate new paradigms in art, design, social advances and leading creative thought. To better understand the creative forces molding our future, she experiments with a semi-nomadic lifestyle along with her 7 year-old daughter, exploring the indigenous design culture of rural areas and the art of living.

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