There’s camping. There’s glamping. And then there’s Capella.
I’m not a camping person. Certainly not the sort of person who would jump at the chance to sleep in a tent. Aside from the lack of a toilet, I don’t enjoy the idea sleeping on wet, soggy ground without access to things like a door that can shut and preferably, lock. I did sleep in a tent once. Although sleep is a relative term. I was able to shut my eyes, plug my ears with wax so that the slugs and the worms or whatever else was crawling around on the earth’s surface would not mistake the orifice of my ear for a nest. The surface my head prefers to rest on is a pillow which is preferably atop a mattress. I recall that I lay there, counting the hours until sunrise when I could unzip the sliver of canvas that separated me from the elements, crawl outside and stand upright again like a human, and return to civilization.
But then came the chance to visit Capella Ubud. I was told it was a refined jungle camp “experience” and that word, so closely connected to “camp”, naturally, made me nervous. What kind of experience? The experience of returning to sleep in a tent was not high on my list of priorities. However, one quick glance at the website, I was packed and ready to go.
From the description, I could tell that the one bedroom and two bedroom tented villas, set in the rainforest and rice paddies, were awash with five star luxury, detailed and elegant touches, that clearly defied the associations one has with camping. Namely, hardship. There would be none of that. These were not TeePee tents and while the accommodations are technically considered tented, this term functions more as a concept than an accurate description of what you’re getting. I would soon discover it’s a bit like describing a luxury super yacht as a boat.
Now reader, as you might have gleaned, I am a fussy traveler. My adventurous spirit extends to not eating sushi on a Sunday when I know it’s not fresh. My eye is trained to spot the dust and the rust and the nature I am most in tune with is the cynical one inherent in my being. So when I tell you that this jungle camping tented experience was astounding, I mean this from the bottom of my picky heart.
There’s camping, there’s glamping, and then there’s Capella.
Though near Ubud, the Capella grounds are located in the terraced landscape of Keliki, an authentic Balinese artists village which has less foot traffic and provides an immediate sense of entering a private sanctuary, removed from conventional tourist destinations. Upon arrival, I was greeted with a refreshing ginger and coconut water drink served in a Riedel crystal tumbler at the elegantly tented reception.
The concept of Capella is a throwback to the more romantic elements of the 19th Century European Dutch settlers. The decadent perks of luxury are seamlessly blended with whimsical art objects, and antiques. Tented style, as you can imagine, is quite different than a tent and the visionary behind the Capella Ubud is the noted landscape architect and designer Bill Bensley, whose taste, artistry and talent has placed him in the pantheon of design superstars.
What distinguishes this property and makes it special is his vision. He’s taken a theme without exploiting it so that it’s a presence without being oppressive. This is an art. It’s a masterful blend of immersing the guest in untouched natural surroundings (no trees were moved or cut during construction) with spectacular comfort, playful style, and it’s all subtly integrated.
There are 22 one-bedroom tents – individually decorated to reflect the charm of the 1800’s while making sure every modern luxury and convenience is intact. For instance, an antique rotary phone on the bedside table – actually works and connects to the front desk. A technical marvel. While each tent varies in theme (the Cartographer’s tent displays maps, telescopes and compasses – the Birdwatcher’s Tent is adorned with exquisite drawings of birds, specialty equipment, etc) they are all secluded, quiet and large (173sqm) – some with private pools and each with careful detail, handpicked art and artifacts that reveal Bensley’s exacting eye. All tented villas have a traditional hand-carved Balinese door. The heavy duty material used for the tent is the same material used for Formula One in Abu Dhabi and the inside is covered in refined batik fabrics while the floors are made of dimpled teak wood made in Central Java.
Each fixture and fitting is unique and the understanding of lighting has been perfected. The night I stayed, there was a rainstorm and as I slept soundly on the Italian Poliform mattress (yes, I checked because it was one of the best mattresses I’ve ever slept on), with the soothing sound of raindrops, feeling utterly protected and comfortable while still in nature.
Every tent is set apart and hidden in various landscapes – rainforest tents, river tents, terrace tents – and should you wish to encounter other guests, there is opportunity for that as well. The Officer’s Tent is a meeting place with a billiard table, cocktail bar – reserved for camp residents, there is a wide range of coffee table books and an ideal place for a coffee, tea or gin and tonic. It’s like being dropped into a Rudyard Kipling poem. The antiques are exquisite – decorative without being kitschy at all. There is also the camp fire – a large pit lit up at night where guests can gather around and roast marshmallows under the stars.
Given the particular clientele, accommodations are made for any type of discriminating eater and times for dining are negotiable. If you’d like breakfast at 2pm, no problem. Meals at Mads Lange, named after the Dutch spice trader, are served under an enormous and magnificent bespoke Kamasan – a traditional painting that tells the story of Ramayana – which gives the effect of eating in a sacred environment and should you wish for an even more theatrical meal, there’s Api Jiwa (Sanskrit for soul of fire), where the chef creates an Omakase menu in front of you that feels like more of an event than a meal.
All prints on the premises and all artwork are sourced in Indonesian and European auctions or come directly from the private collection of the owner and Bill Bensley and the atmosphere is in equal measure as pleasurable and stunning as the food.
Whereas in my previous camping excursion I had been counting the hours until I could escape, staying at Capella Ubud had the opposite effect. I was aware of the passing time with only one desire: to stave it off.
Therein lies the magic of this truly exclusive and special experience. You won’t want to leave. A.L.