David A. Carol finds some luxe at Alila Ubud.
AN UNDERSTATED, glowing sign points to Alila Ubud from the roadside, and the winding, moon-lit path through the rice paddies feels full of secrets. However, rather than delivering you to some manner of tropical Bat Cave, you arrive at a serene, two-storey resort on stilts overlooking lush rainforest.
The resort is laid out like a Balinese hillside village, with 68 rooms and villas standing above a ravine on the banks of the Ayung River. Wherever you look, the resort marries Balinese design elements with modern geometry and minimalism. Think concrete and thatched roofs, terrazzo tiles and crushed rock.
“Alila” is Sanskrit for “surprise”: a word that describes even the most jaded globe-trotter’s first reaction to the resort’s dramatic emerald-green infinity pool, which appears to levitate effortlessly into the horizon. Even the stairs down to the pool are dramatic enough to trigger a double take, but if there’s an accompanying sense of déjà vu, it’s probably because you’ve seen this view before as a solid contender in lists of the world’s best swimming pools.
Looking out from the Cabana Lounge, monkeys can be seen swinging in the trees by the water’s edge. Open all day, every day, Cabana serves up everything from light bites to mouth-watering, family-sized roasts that require 24 hours’ advance notice. If you’re peckish between meals and dips in the pool, then try the citrus-flavoured popcorn, spicy roasted cashew nuts with Balinese sea salt, or the breaded calamari with crispy parsley, lemon and remoulade sauce. At the other end of the hunger spectrum, cave in to the crispy roasted local pork belly served with oven-roasted baby potatoes, homemade apple sauce, wholegrain mustard and braised red cabbage.
Overlooking the jutting pool and plunging valley, Plantation offers open-air dining under towering coconut pillars and a traditional alang-alang roof. Due to executive chef Erwan Adri Wijaya’s strong commitment to using local ingredients, all vegetables and herbs are grown in a nearby organic garden and an extensive cocktail list includes locally-sourced arak infused with lemongrass, vanilla, coffee and cinnamon. Tables of two or more can order from the authentic Balinese or seasonal tasting menu, where highlights include pan-seared scallops with tapioca, herb crème fraiche, salmon caviar and crispy potato wafer, as well as pork ribs with chilli glaze with wok-fried fern tips. Stand-outs from the local tasting menu include grilled mackerel fillet topped with mild tomato sambal, pickled vegetables, wok-fried water spinach and slow roasted chicken wrapped in banana leaf and smoked in rice husk.
A dedicated concierge team provide guests with a smorgasbord of unique experiences just outside the resort’s grounds, including visits to the mountain village of Kintamani, the spectacular rice terraces at Tegalalang, and the natural springs at Tampaksiring. There are bicycles available for guests to explore the gardens, where complimentary yoga and tai chi lessons are taught. However, more active spirits can choose from a detailed list of trekking, mountain-biking and rafting adventures. There are also experiences to understand Bali’s cultural roots, with the focus varying from history, religion and ritual, flora and fauna to architecture and art of living. On excursions to the local markets, the chef can teach guests how to identify exotic fruits and vegetables before teaching an outdoor cooking class.
Rooms are scattered throughout the lush gardens, with the Superior Class on the second level offering wonderful unobstructed valley views. Sitting below, all Deluxe Rooms feature individual garden terraces and a back courtyard with an open-air bathtub and shower. Valley Villas boast spectacular views from a spacious walk-around deck while the Pool Villas offer even greater seclusion with large private swimming pools and open-air bathtubs set in the middle of lotus ponds. Perhaps the best place to view the sunrise is from the spacious, wooden deck of the Terrace Tree Villas, surrounded by the tranquil views of far-off plantations and rice paddies on the banks of the valley.
Spa Alila blends ancient Asian healing techniques with age-old beauty recipes. During the warm stone massage, stones taken from the riverbed below are heated and placed on guest’s energy points to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential. The rhythmic flowing strokes are designed to melt tension and soothe emotions. The more traditional Balinese Massage combines gentle stretching, long therapeutic strokes and skin rolling to relieve muscle pain. Luxuriant treatments include a rich cacao, coffee and coconut scrub designed to awaken senses and tone the body.
Alila Ubud effortlessly exudes placid romance, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with its honeymooner clientele. With cinematic vistas and some of the best local and international cuisine available on the island, what’s harder to understand is why the resort’s restaurants and bar are not discussed more as local destinations in their own right. Next time you’re ready to impress that special someone, all you have to do is show her/him the view and s/he’ll be picking their jaw off the floor for the rest of the evening.