Alila Ubud’s Terrace Tree Villas showcase this beguiling resort’s subtle beauty. By Stephanie Mee.
I recently attended a party where the majority of guests were expats living in Hong Kong and Singapore, and when I told them that I lived in Ubud, the standard response was “How amazing!” I didn’t have the heart to tell them that sometimes the reality of living in ‘paradise’ isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. In between battling terrific traffic jams and dealing with dodgy landlords, week-long Internet outages and the canine cacophony that wakes me up every morning, sometimes I just need to escape. Lucky for me the ultimate sanctuary of serenity lies not so far from my somewhat chaotic home.
Perched on a hilltop high above the Ayung River Valley, Alila Ubud is just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Ubud, but it feels like a world away from the pandemonium of Ubud’s busy streets. As you turn off the main road in the village of Payangan and make your way down Alila Ubud’s kilometre-long drive, rice paddies open up on either side, coconut trees sway in the breeze and the odd kite soars high in the sky. By the time you get to the security gate, a sense of tranquillity has already set in.
Alila Ubud is laid out like a traditional Balinese hillside village with stilted villas perched on the edge of a ravine and dotted throughout the sprawling grounds. At the centre you have an open-plan reception bale, the world-class Spa Alila, the Alila Art Gallery and Alila Living Boutique. Walk towards Plantation restaurant with its towering coconut wood pillars and you’ll see steps leading down to their stunning 25-metre infinity pool with jaw-dropping views of the ravine and its jungle-cloaked banks.
My crib for the evening is one of the Terrace Tree Villas just up the hill from the hub of the resort, and this is where I can really see the subtle beauty of Alila Ubud’s unique architecture and design. Designed by the renowned Kerry Hill Architects firm, the villas are made with smooth concrete and natural stone and topped with grass and volcanic stones to blend into the natural environment. Wooden balconies jut out amongst native trees, and the villas are arranged so that each abode has unobstructed views of the natural greenery.
My villa interior features cool grey and white patterned floor tiles, an oversized daybed with batik-covered cushions, a canopied king-sized bed, and a semi-outdoor bathroom with a huge black stone bathtub set next to a bubbling water feature and open to the skies. Added touches include a tropical fruit basket, an Illy espresso machine, bathroom amenities made with Alila’s unique blend of natural botanicals, and my favourite – a gorgeous book filled with illustrations by A.A. Made Djelantik, one of Karangasem’s most charismatic princes.
I could spend hours chilling on the daybed, sipping coffee on the balcony and using the ultra-fast Wi-Fi, but it’s cocktail hour and Cabana Lounge is calling me. Set just back from the pool, Cabana Lounge is an inviting open space with soaring stone pillars and walls made from terracotta bricks arranged in geometric patterns. I order a cucumber and basil gin and tonic and watch the sky dim and flickering lights blink to life at the temple across the ravine.
It’s Friday night, which means that the Spice Market is taking place upstairs at Plantation restaurant. This all-out feast is a massive spread of authentic Balinese and Indonesian dishes, so guests can fill their banana leaves high with roast suckling pig marinated in local herbs and spices, fresh mussels doused in tangy tamarind sauce, charcoal-grilled prawns and calamari, and beef rendang cooked in a rich gravy. Throughout the dinner villagers perform traditional dances set to music by a gamelan orchestra.
My usual Friday night involves a few drinks out on the town, but I’m here to unwind, so I call it in early and head back to the plush pillows of my king-sized bed. I love that the staff have turned down the fluffy duvet, set the lights low and added extra touches next to the bed like a bottle of Alila’s Deep Sleep Pillow Mist made with a calming blend of French lavender and chamomile essential oils. The mist does its trick and I’m soon enjoying one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a very long time.
Definitely get up early for breakfast if you can because the views of the mist curling up out of the ravine as the sun warms the treetops is simply epic. Plus you can watch monkeys cavort in the trees while the cheekier ones attempt to swipe the Balinese offerings the servers lay out. Breakfast options include freshly baked bread with homemade jams and made-to-order dishes like poached eggs with carrot, coconut and curry hollandaise sauce and cocoa pancakes with chocolate chantilly cream.
Were I staying longer, I would indulge in some spa treatments, take a bicycle ride through the rice paddies, or join one of Alila’s famous experiences that include trips to the sacred hot springs, volcano trekking, and Balinese cooking classes using fresh produce grown in their organic garden. Sadly though I have to check out and return to the fray. The further I drive from this tranquil hideaway, the heavier the traffic gets and I’m already sorely missing my peaceful corner of paradise at Alila Ubud.