Bali, especially for people like me, is not about following in the footsteps of Eat, Pray, Love. (I am more of an eat, prey, love kinda person). It is much more than a book or a movie. It is a place to relax, unwind and immerse in Balinese culture. To kick off 2020, there would be no better place to take a break from the world than Amandari.
The drive from the airport into Ubud is scenic, if you don't mind the traffic. Amandari is about 15 minutes outside Ubud and it is far from the maddening crowd. Built to mimic a Balinese village, the resort comes with its own shrine, which is in a corner of the drive.
The open-air lobby is designed like a "wantilan" or village square, and houses a stone tiger, which is a replica of the scared stone tiger that lies in the 7th century shrine on the grounds. Do notice the split lobby roof, which was created to let the spirits of the land pass to the temple down in the valley. Follow the path via a few 100+ steps to see the shrine and valley, a path considered sacred ground. Great for that early morning spiritual workout!
The lobby, which also houses a bar, offers breathtaking views of the Ayung valley, rice terraces and Mount Agung, on a clear day. The bar is the best spot for sundowners like the Balinese Cooler, which is a tasty mix of housemade "berem" (black rice liqueur), gin, fresh lime juice, Angostura bitters and tonic. The lobby also offers a glimpse of the magnificent resort pool, which overlooks the valley, making you want to immediately jump into it.
Detailed wood carvings by local artisans are noticed all over, while the walkways are adorned with carved stone sculptures and small lotus ponds.
All the suites at Amandari are designed keeping Balinese architecture in mind, complete with "alang-alang" or thatched roofs, and entering each one is like entering a traditional home. The interiors are all wood and feature a four-poster bed, decorated with hand-painted Indonesian Kamasan tapestries, and are so spacious, it feels more like a private home, complete with plunge pool. Each has secluded outdoor terraces to make most of the views and if the plunge pool doesn't do it for you, there is always the outdoor marble bath.
The first five-star resort in Ubud, Amandari keeps with the theme that is Aman. It lets you immerse in Balinese culture without leaving its tranquil grounds. Around 4pm each day, children from the valley attend dance classes in a sala near the lobby. You can request a private Balinese feast overlooking the valley in a "bale", before which you will be treated to a show by the children. It is a treat to see the shy young ones in traditional attire putting their best faces and classical dance moves forward.
When in Bali, indulge your palate with the flavours of Indonesia and eat local. Amandari's executive chef Reynaldo deLuna does an excellent job of serving up the best local fare. I am partial to the Indonesian breakfast of Burbur ayam, which is chicken congee. When in Indonesia, my day always begins with this. In the evening, try the Ayam Pangang dinner where the ayam pangang, or roast chicken marinated in 23 local herbs and spices, is the central feature of the meal and is accompanied by side dishes and condiments.
The à la carte menu offers more local delights like Bebek betutu or smoked Balinese duck, Babi guling suckling pig, Sate campur or chicken, beef, fish on lemongrass skewers with peanut sauce and the tuna sambal matah or grilled tuna with kaffir lime and shallots. Wash all this down with the Amandari daiquiri. Balinese rindik music, played on a bamboo flute, will serenade you each night, while you enjoy the starry nightsky.
Shaped and inspired by Indonesian wellness traditions, Amandari's signature spa draws uses Balinese herbs, spices and flowers in its healing treatments. I had the signature massage in an open-air treatment room with the sounds of nature providing soothing background music, while my skilled therapist worked her hands over my aching bits. Bliss, thy name is Aman Spa.
If you must leave the bliss, then there is just one must-do activity, especially if you've been to Bali a few times. Take an Indonesian cooking class with Amandari Indonesian chef de cuisine I Made Rumawan.
Though this isn't the class where your mise en place is ready in bowls, chef I Made puts you to work. He sends you off to the local market with a list of ingredients. (Fear not, your driver accompanies you… someone has to do the haggling!). The market is busy in the mornings and the hustle and bustle adds to the thrill of the day. Once your basket is full, head to a house in Kedewatan village where chef I Made awaits you. The chef's one policy is that everything is cooked in the traditional manner, which simply reads as no appliances. The rice is cooked traditionally on a wood fire and the grated coconut is squeezed by hand to extract milk for the curry. All the ingredients are chopped, pounded and turned into curry paste the old fashioned way. And yes, you are doing all the work!
It was the most fun I've had in a cooking class in a long while and chef I Made's pleasant personality adds to the experience. Before you sit down to lunch, you are lead to the home shrine for "mesaiban", which is offering the food you cook to the gods.
Ubud is home to many artists and galleries are a plenty. For those seeking art at the source, visit the village of silversmiths, wood carvers and painters. You can even take a lesson with one! To immerse in the spiritual aspect that Bali is known for, excursions to ancient temples like the 11th century Mengening Temple can be arranged and at Amandari local priestess Ibu Luh Manis will conduct a morning of mediation and numerology before you begin your journey.
Though if all this is too tame for you, you can always trek along a ridge above the river, mountain bike through the forest and rice paddies, or explore the Taman Burung Bali Bird Park.
"One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things," said the American writer Henry Miller. And this is embodied on the fringe of Ubud, in the peaceful spirit that is Amandari.