May 11, 2018

With so much of the world to see, rarely do I plan repeat visits to a particular place. Unless that place is Ubud. This was my fourth visit to Bali's darling gem, and I'm already scheming up plans for a fifth trip later this year. I'm asked all the time what it is I love about Ubud, and I always have trouble answering that question. It's just a feeling I have when I am there - a crazy wonderful reaction to the energy, the zen and the beauty of the darling chaotic wonder. And I'm not alone on this one. The word is out. Ubud definitely felt more touristed this time around, surely thanks to Instagram, Eat, Pray, Love and just all-around good word of mouth. If it was busy when I first visited five years ago, well now it's bordering on overrun. But I say that with the utmost affection. Even battling the crowds of people and insane traffic, the place has still retained all of its charm. And after five years of coming to Ubud, this visit hosted by Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan has been my favorite to date.


 Soaking in the Ubud sunshine from the Royal Villa, at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan.


 Swinging through paradise over the Ayung River.


 Happiest in the jungle.


 My stylish digs at the Four Seasons.


 Obsessed with the pool vibes at Folk Ubud.


 The dreamiest rice paddy fields at the Four Seasons. Could the property be any more beautiful?




 I'd travel to Bali just for the passion fruit sorbet at Gelato Secrets. I devoured five cups over four days.


 Obsessed with these Ayung River views from the private pool at the resort's exclusive Royal Villa.


Banyumala Twin Waterfalls .


 Tastiest acai bowl ever at the Four Seasons. 


One of at least three swings in the Tegalalang rice terraces. Wheee! 


 Touring the Four Seasons gardens with the resort chef, as part of the Sokasi Cooking School.


 Oh just hanging with my dear friend (and best driver in Bali!), Made Dana. We go back three years now, I always book him when I'm on the island. Will include his contact details below!


 Chillin' in the coolest (and scariest!) hammock ever!


 In-villa breakfast Four Seasons-style.


Taman Ayun Temple.


 I visited the local Ubud Market to shop for fresh ingredients with the Four Seasons chef, as part of the resort's Sokasi Cooking School.


 The lovable streets of Ubud.


 My favorite.


 Prettiest resort views at breakfast.


 Canang sari.


 Watching the sunrise over this gorgeous valley.


 Fresh coconut juice at the Four Seasons. 


The prettiest floral bath at the Fivelements Retreats


Post massage swim at the Fivelements Retreats


Crazy for cute coconuts in Ubud.


Exploring the rice terraces of Tegalalang. 


 Tastiest french toast ever in the privacy of my villa.


 In love with this resort.


Dharma Shanti Yoga Bale. Thanks for the most amazing stay, Four Seasons!



I've been to Ubud so many times that I wanted to put together a list of all my favorite places, people, properties and activities, most of which were a part of this recent visit. I thought this mini-guide might be useful for anyone planning a trip, and answer all the questions I get about what to do, where to stay, etc. It's all of my favorites, all in one place!



Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan

I've stayed at some amazing hotels, resorts and villas in Bali, but nowhere has ticked all the boxes, and gone above and beyond like the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan. In fact, the resort ticked boxes I didn't even know existed. Set in the most sweeping of settings in the Ayung River Valley, the property's location was otherworldly - land of rice paddy fields, gushing rivers, swaying palms and expansive villas. Four times I'd been to Bali, yet it felt like I'd just discovered a secret island oasis, a place known only to the guests staying at the resort. 


I felt so lucky to call this place home for a few days. My 3,700+ square foot villa was completely lavish and beautiful - truly a place to experience, and so hard to do justice with a few photos. From my private lily pond and meditation area upstairs, I took a staircase down to an outdoor living area that overlooked my plunge pool, backed by palms and tropical fauna. Oversized doors opened up to the gorgeous master bedroom that boasted a king-sized bed adorned in plush white linens and perfectly fluffed pillows. The spacious bathroom was ridiculously beautiful with a walk-in closet, double vanity, deep soak tub, outdoor shower and indoor shower.


I wanted to experience as much of the Four Seasons as possible during my short stay, and I admittedly had a tough time balancing Ubud sightseeing, resort experiences, rest and relaxation. I know it meant I was trying to squeeze too much into my stay (I always do that!). Highlights included sunbathing at the tiered infinity pool overlooking the river; yoga in the Dharma Shanti Yoga Bale; morning walks in the rice fields; touring the resort's famous Royal Villa overlooking the river; and learning the ways of a Balinese chef at the Sokasi Cooking School. The cooking school I especially enjoyed. A new feature for the resort, I spent a full morning with one of the Four Season's resident chefs learning about Bali's rich culture and the deep connection locals have with food. Together we visited the Ubud Market to shop for fresh ingredients; toured the Four Seasons gardens to pick herbs; and then got to work in the resort's open-air bamboo facility to cook a variety of dishes for our Balinese lunchtime feast.


When I wasn't eating at Sokasi, it felt like I was feasting 24/7 at the resort restaurants. From local Balinese cuisine to classic Western favorites, I had a bit of everything during my stay. A few highlights were the red snapper, dabu dabu, sweet potato, local basil and lime leaf at the resort's signature Ayung Terrace; crispy fish & chips poolside at the Riverside Cafe; and avocado toast, eggs benedict and cherry chocolate french toast at the most lavish in-villa breakfast at my plunge pool.



Zen Hideaway Swing

So, Bali has undergone a swing phenomenon. Two years ago, the swing at Zen Hideaway was the only one I knew of in Bali. Now, thanks to Instagram, there are swings everywhere! In the Tegalalang terraces alone, I counted three swings that definitely weren't around the last time I was there. But of all the swings in Bali, the original one at Zen Hideaway remains the prettiest with its soaring views over the jungle valley and Ayung River. The swing is free for guests staying at the villa. For non-guests, you can send an e-mail in advance and they will try to accomodate 30 minute visits for approx. 30 Euro. If Zen Hideaway isn't an option, an alternative is its neighbor Bali Swing. While it feels far more touristy, the pricing is about the same with very similar views (it's literally located next door to Zen Hideaway).



Gelato Secrets

My frequent visits to Gelato Secrets are a highlight every time I'm in Ubud. The gelateria is home to the tastiest passion fruit sorbet (my favorite!) - the perfect mix of sweet, sour and cold. Passion fruit isn't something I can get easily at home, so I grab a cup (or two! or nine!) every time I'm in town.


Warung Citta Ovest

I just happened to wander by this pizza storefront one evening in Ubud, and it was the best discovery I made on the trip. The tiny restaurant's open air concept was cute, colorful and overflowing with people - always a good sign. I'm always weary eating at pizza places in Asia (I've had so many bad experiences), but the pizzas and pastas here were fresh, and completely delicious. I actually ate at Warung Citta Ovest two nights in a row, that's how much I loved it.



For Michelin-quality dining with very affordable pricing, book a table at Locavore months in advance.  Their menu is seasonal and ever changing, but everything is always fresh, artful and completely unique. I've been twice, and both times I booked my table more than two months out.


Kebun Bistro

Balinese cuisine isn't my favorite, so I love that Kebun Bistro serves up tasty Italian in the heart of Ubud. The restaurant is one of the cutest in town, and they offer a wide range of pastas and pizzas. My go to meal is always a board of fresh bruschetta and a bowl of hearty penne. 


Ayung Terrace

My favorite breakfast in Bali was at the Ayung Terrace, inside the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan. Everything I ordered was beyond fresh including warm banana bread, a banana smoothie bowl, blueberry pancakes and waffles.



North Bali 

For travelers willing to brave the journey up to north Bali, a lush land of waterfalls, rice terraces and temple gates await. For me, it was a full day's adventure. 10 hours, in fact. 10 hours of navigating gnarly curves, blind turns and nail-biting narrows, but completely worth the crazy drive for all the amazing stops along the way. In this single day of adventure, I trekked through jungle to Banyumala Twin Falls; visited the famous highway macaques; snapped photos at the Handara Golf Resort's iconic Balinese gate; and lost myself in the sweeping rice terraces of Jatiluwih. A truly epic day exploring north Bali (and I still made it home in time for dinner).


The Ubud region was a great place to base myself for daytrips all over Bali. This north island adventure was a particularly wonderful escape from the crowds of tourists that gravitated to Ubud. The sights I visited were in all the guidebooks, but honestly, I think the drive north scares people away. To paint a very vivid picture, two years I took this same route up to Sekumpul Falls, and had to pull over multiple times so I could be sick. So yes, at times a painful drive, but a "must" for anyone looking to experience one of the prettiest regions on the island.


Banyumala. Nungnung. Tegenungan. Peguyangan. The were so many waterfalls to choose from! I remember piecing together my plans for Bali and trying to decide which one to visit. I'd been to Sekumpul, Aing Aling and Git Git the years prior, and I wanted to add somewhere new to that list. I pretty much trolled Instagram in search of the prettiest watery havens, and that was how I decided on Banyumala Twin Falls. The Ferngully setting was an absolute dreamland, and I shared it with only four other visitors in the two hours I was there.


Located more west than north, I'd visited Jatiluwih before, but wanted to see the magical UNESCO World Heritage Site again. The place was a living, breathing postcard where the terraced greens seemed to go on forever. There were several trail options for trekking Jatiluwih, everything from 30 minute strolls to seven hour adventures. I opted for a shorter hike because it was late in the day, but even an hour in the terraces was enough to experience their magic.



Tegalalang Rice Terraces

While Tegalalang isn’t the grandest of rice terraces in Southeast Asia, there’s something truly special about this iconic Bali wonder. It’s become much more of a tourist attraction in recent years, especially with the addition of the swings, but still remains a must for anyone visiting Ubud. While I’d normally recommend a morning visit to avoid tourists, Tegalalang shows better later in the day when the greens are more brilliant and the morning shadows have disappeared. Grab a drink amongst the hilltop craft stalls to enjoy the views, and then hike down into the terraces for a bit of adventure.


Gunug Kawi Sebatu

For tourists looking to experience the Hindu culture, Bali offers a wealth of temples and shrines that welcome visits from foreigners. With so many “puras” to choose from, I thought it worth mentioning my personal favorite – Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu. A short drive from Ubud and just north of Tegalalang, the tropical utopia is a quiet, cultural gem. Bring a Balinese sarong and explore the colorful blur of holy spring water pools that dot the complex. I was lucky enough to be blessed and invited to climb into a temple pool where I was surrounded by koi fish, lotus and floating lily pads. Magical!


Monkey Forest Road & Surrounds

My favorite pastime in Ubud is wandering the area surrounding Monkey Forest Road to shop the little boutiques, bargain at the market stalls and soak in the charm of the city.



Cantika Spa (Alami location) - Hair Creme Bath

They have three locations in Ubud, I've only been to Alami. Set in the middle of the rice fields, Cantika's open air spa offers the most serene location for their hair creme bath. Essentially a scalp massage with a concoction of natural ingredients and remedies, the treatment feels absolutely amazing and literally transforms my hair  into silky goodness.


Fivelements Retreats - Sakti Bathing Ritual

There isn't a more zen experience in Ubud than the bathing rituals at Fivelements Retreats. There were five options to choose from, I opted for the Sakti that filled an open-air bath with lemongrass, Balinese orange, lime, flowers, pandan leaves, ginger and a special Sakti bath oil. With serene views of the gushing Ayung River below, I felt like I was nailing some serious #tubgoals in my prettiest spa experience to date.



Made Dana

With visit #4 under my belt, I've learned that private driver is the best way to explore Bali, and move from one part of the island to another.  Three years ago, I met Made Dana, one of the kindest souls on the island, and an absolute rockstar of a driver. He has become my go-to every time I'm in town. Made has driven me to temples, rice fields, beach clubs, markets, restaurants, airports - you name it. And if I asked him to do a 3AM volcano hike with me, I know he would say yes. I've recommended him to dozens of people, and everyone leaves Bali with Made as a newfound friend. So drop him a note if you need to pre-arrange daytrips, tours or airport pick-ups. Here are his details: @madesuardana.dana on Instagram, danamybali@yahoo.com and +6281338248445.


Many thanks to the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan for hosting my lovely stay and sponsoring this post. xx

All honest opinions are my own.

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