This luxury accommodation is an adventure all of its own, finds Bernadette Chua.
Armed with walking sticks, my travel partner and I are about to embark on a journey through the forests of Ubud in Bali, much like the Dutch colonists who settled in Indonesia in the 1800s. Our culturalist, Okta wishes us a safe trip to our tent. “Get ready for your adventure,” he says, and down the winding path we go, jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone, past rice fields where the cocks crow, as the distant wailing and cries from a Balinese funeral procession fill the valley.
This place is something special. Nestled in dense rainforest beside the sacred Wos River, the lavish Capella Ubud in Bali was designed by award-winning architect and Baliphile Bill Bensley. The site wasn’t originally intended to be a hotel; the land was purchased by steel magnate Suwito Dunawan to house his impressive art collection, but he decided it was so special it needed to be shared with the world.
Designed to leave as little a footprint as possible, not a single tree was taken down in the construction of the resort. As a result, you’ll find that all the tents – from the main dining area called Mads Lange after the Dutch explorer to the Officer’s Tent where afternoon tea and pre-dinner cocktails are served – are positioned randomly around the four-hectare property.
On arrival, we are equipped with a survival kit that contains rain ponchos, organic mosquito repellant and earplugs to block out the sounds of crickets and roosters in the morning.
At the entrance to the Farmer’s Tent, our home for the next two nights, are ornately carved double doors that open into the kitsch space. It is beautifully equipped with a comfortable Chinese four-poster bed and a sitting area that boasts a leather lounge and armchair, as well as a cowhide-covered bar filled with top-shelf liquor and complimentary Bintangs and wine.
In typical Cappella fashion, every detail has been carefully considered and it’s the little touches that make the experience unique. I’m told that each of the 23 different tents is decorated with artifacts representing the occupation of early 1800s campers it is named for; the walls of the Farmer’s Tent, for example, are decorated with coloured rice paddy hats, the Cartographer’s Tent features old maps of the region. But the most amusing part of our accommodation is the throne-like toilet. With a high wooden carved back, deer antlers adorning the top and a leather lid, the toilet is as much of a focal point in the tent as any of the other features, but its prominent location might be a bit much for shyer guests.
Days are spent by The Cistern, an above-ground saltwater pool with giant faucets that continuously fill the 40-tonne pool. Guests can relax on the sun loungers that overlook the valley, or play rounds of pool in the Officer’s Tent. There are no televisions anywhere on the grounds but the tents are filled with books and board games so guests can pass the days.
Part of the Capella experience is understanding and appreciating Balinese life; guests can take dawn hikes to the top of Mount Batur to watch the sunrise, embark on a coffee-making experience, or take a helicopter ride over the island. Bali is known for its exquisite handicrafts so our choice is the Artists’ Trail, a day tour that takes us to a painting school in the artists village of Keliki and to meet a traditional wayan mask maker where we try our hand at painting and mask carving. Our lunch during the Artists’ Trail is served picnic style, a full Balinese spread with satay and local curries laid out for us to enjoy as we watch children learn the intricacies of the village’s painting style.
Capella offers several other dining experiences. The main dining tent is split into two levels; upstairs, Mads Lange serves Western options as well as traditional Indonesian and Balinese dishes. Downstairs, Api Jiwa is a chef’s table style that offers an omakase dining experience, fusing the best Balinese produce with Japanese cooking styles. We feast on chicken hearts, local oysters and grilled Balinese river prawns, paired with unusual but delightful cocktails. After dinner, the staff offer hot chocolate and marshmallows by the fire.
The Island of the Gods is one of Australia’s favourite holiday destinations and filled with brilliant five-star hotels and resorts. But a stay at Capella Ubud is more than that, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Prices start at $1,300 per night. See capellahotels.com.