Wherever your villa is in Bali, do make sure you head for the hills and spend at least a day exploring Ubud. This once-sleepy village has grown into a bustling hub of activity since Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love film phenomenon almost a decade ago. Don’t wait for the annual Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Food Festival and Ubud Writers Festival; you’ll reap rewards with every visit to the island’s acclaimed cultural, creative and spiritual heart. Just ask your villa manager or concierge to organise a car and driver for the day, and then leave bright and early to give yourself as much time as possible to explore at leisure. Here we share a few ideas for your itinerary.
Make your first stop the famed Monkey Forest on the southern edge of Ubud – home to hundreds of long-tailed Macaque monkeys who are as comfortable with selfies as they are cunning/cheeky with stealing bananas (which you can buy at the entrance). It’s a magical place to visit before the crowds descend, as you can soak up the mystical atmosphere of the 14th Century Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal, one of three temples within the sanctuary.
From here, it’s a 15-minute stroll up Jalan Monkey Forest to Ubud Art Market – a popular stop for those seeking souvenirs. Small shops line this road, and if you’re feeling peckish, stop at Three Monkeys Café for a late breakfast overlooking a rare central-Ubud rice field – or make a beeline for Jalan Goutama for a huge choice of warungs and world cuisine.
Wander through the market marvelling at the kitsch, collectible and covetable, jostling with the tour group crowds and enjoying the Balinese stallholders banter. (While there, why not pick up a sarong and sash so you can be appropriately attired to allow temple visits during your trip – though you’ll be able to hire these at many of the more popular temples around the island). Then head across the street to the ornate Ubud Royal Palace; the front section is open to the public free of charge, and the traditional ankul ankul gate provides a splendid backdrop for family photos. Even more photogenic is the water garden of Pura Taman Saraswati with its carpet of lotus flowers.