Island Hub of Painting, Music, and Dance, and a Temple of Hospitality
The Balinese have always believed that the gods live in the mountains, one reason to leave the teeming beach area of Kuta or Sanur behind and head north into the hills. For years Ubud has been known as the harborer of Bali’s artistic heritage – a significant distinction on an island where art is everywhere and everyone lives to create and embellish as a means of “making merit” and honoring the gods.
It is useless to dwell on what Ubud was like before today’s streams of tourists and foreign artists. The off-road town still possesses much of the allure that first drew European painters and sculptors in the 1920s, and their spirit lives on in the programs and schools for young artists they founded. Jump onto a ramshackle bemo packed with locals and chickens, and get off somewhere beyond the reach of Ubud’s motorbike- and four-by- four congested main strip to find yourself among its fabled rice fields. Under the cone of an extinct volcano, farmers still cultivate these terraced paddies by hand, using a complex irrigation system dating back to the 9th century.
You may see those same farmers perform in tonight’s temple dance, and this morning’s waiters from your hotel may show up as members of the local gamelan orchestra.
Sitting serenely among these terraced rice paddies, the Amandari resort (a name that roughly translates as “peaceful angel”) is more retreat than hotel, a luxurious, idealized adaptation of a traditional walled Balinese village, built with native materials by local craftsmen. It is one of Asia’s loveliest destinations. The reception area, an open thatched-roof building, recalls a wantilan, the meeting hall of all Balinese villages, while its pool hugs the contours of the surrounding emerald-green rice paddy terraces, overlooking the Ayung River and the valley beyond.
With the gracious and ever-smiling Amandari staff (four to each guest), who come from the nearby village of Kedewatan, visitors needn’t go beyond the hotel’s lush, temple-like, frangipani-scented grounds to immerse themselves in the magic of the Balinese spirit. For those who do venture out, the staff will share their knowledge about festivals, celebrations, and dance and music performances on the island.