Ubud’s rice paddies and peaceful forests may have given way to a Kuta-like sprawl of shops and eateries on the main road, but the Ubud of my memories comes back into focus when we drive through the gates of HOSHINOYA Bali to find a serene sanctuary set in a lush green valley. An ancient water canal runs through the resort, surrounding you with the soothing sounds of flowing water as you dine or recline with the valley at your feet. Three stunning canal-like pools stretch from one end of the three-hectare resort to the other. Echoing the river valleys of the region, water gardens in and around the 70-metre pools create natural oases woven seamlessly in and around the 30 villas.
Architect Rie Azuma and landscape designer Hiroki Hasegawa spent considerable time researching Balinese culture, and have managed to merge Balinese traditions and Japanese minimalism with finesse. Marble and teak come together in perfect harmony inside each refined villa. A backlit Balinese wood carving covers the entire wall behind the beds (two single mattresses on a timber platform – Japanese style). And while the bathroom is distinctly Japanese (the toilet is seriously high-tech), vast sliding doors open from the bedroom to reveal a private tropical garden courtyard with a daybed under its own thatched gazebo -all very Bali. Outdoor stairs lead from the courtyard down to a private poolside retreat complete with daybeds, towels, robes and a shower – and a phone to dial room service.
Sacred waters – The three-hour time difference means I sink into a blissful slumber minutes after returning from dinner (Indonesian chicken cooked in a banana leaf served tableside with an assortment of tasty condiments), but I’m awake and ready for the day to begin the next morning at 4am – and a pre-dawn dip is calling. The water is balmy, despite the cool of night, and as I drift up and down the peaceful canal gazing up at the starlit sky, I relish the unhurried solitude.
By 6am I’m relaxing on the villa’s outdoor daybed, the scent of incense-laden offerings already in the air and the haunting sound of prayers being chanted at nearby temples drifting my way. After a relaxing yoga session and divine Japanese breakfast I’m immersed in Ubud’s spiritual side on a day tour of World Heritage-listed temples and sights. A highlight is Tirta Empul, an ancient water temple built around a natural spring. Here, you can join locals as they bathe in the pristine holy waters. My guide encourages me to close my eyes and ask the gods for what I want more of in my life. A little more of this would be nice; it’s profoundly calming.
Back at the resort, I’m keen to try out one of the seven birdcage-like gazebos perched in the trees. I settle into a daybed, press a button and order Champagne, which arrives with a skewer of tropical fruits – just the thing to whet my appetite for a degustation dinner of incredible Indo-Japanese fare. There’s another treat in store the next day. Deep in the forested valley lies the resort spa. Each treatment suite has its own Jacuzzi, strewn with flowers and just the thing to ease the last of your worries away after a massage, scrub and mud-wrap straight from heaven.