It’s never easy escaping the realities of life, but once in a while you find yourself in an environment so unusually dreamy and secluded that you manage to silence the freneticism and finally tune in with your mind, body, and soul.
Capella Ubud is one of those rare havens that has the ability to whisk you away to a different world, mostly because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever come across. Inspired by the first European explorers that settled in Bali in the early 1800s, the exclusive luxury tented camp takes glamping to the next level with a little help from famed architect and designer Bill Bensley, who has so successfully managed to translate this untouched landscape into a tribute to their spirit of adventure.
It is here where his vintage stamp really shines through, creating a playful yet respectful atmosphere that celebrates the best of Balinese culture and the city’s exotic past. Using furniture and materials native to Bali also means that he’s managed to keep the resort as authentic as it can be without losing his contemporary touch. The detailed eclecticism here gives the place such character that it’s near impossible to replicate or even compare to anything else in the world.
Swathed by the rainforest and rice terraces along the sacred Wos River, Capella Ubud sits proudly within the ancient Balinese village of Keliki. The hilly village north of Ubud lends a distinctive old-world charm to the region, one where art and culture are still untouched and at its finest. It is, however, about two hours away from the airport by car, so be prepared for a drive.
Still, the journey and Bali’s infamous jams are all but forgotten the minute you first enter the property’s premises. Bensley’s signature touches are apparent from the get-go; carved wooden antelope heads are the first things that greet guests here, each named after the design team. Bensley’s is, of course, the largest.
In keeping the experience as exclusive as possible for the lucky few who can afford the luxury, Capella Ubud only has 22 one-bedroom tents and a two-bedroom lodge. The tent’s interiors are each uniquely themed around camp life back in the 19th-century, so unless you request for the same room, no two experiences there are the same.
Themes can vary greatly here, and it’s not all randomly assigned. Capella’s dedicated team takes the time to get to know every guest, especially their interests and even occupation to find the best possible match. In the true spirit of adventure, vocations such as Captains, Cartographers, Architects, and Naturalists are brought to life as a background design, which really is a charming insight into the traditional way of life during Bali’s yesteryear.
The Naturalist room that we stayed at, for example, saw quirky hints of wildlife amidst the dizzying array of local textiles and ornate woodwork.
Monkeys make a number of the artwork here, and framed clippings of encyclopaedias have found a place on bathroom walls. The four-post bed is plush and generously-sized, and the bathroom is well-stocked with amenities — alongside a masterpiece of a copper bathtub, painstakingly hand-hammered into shape. Two showers are on offer here — indoor and outdoor — but the biggest highlight of the room remains to be “the throne”, literally a loo shaped like an armchair with another antelope’s head at the very top. If you’re a newly-wed, you’ll get to know your other half much faster than expected.
Every tent is accessed via its own suspension bridge and leads to a spacious private deck and salt-water plunge pool. It’s easy to while an entire afternoon away on the deck’s lounger, where you’ll enjoy a view of the rainforest.
You won’t have to travel far for good food. Two beautifully decorated open-air restaurants are on hand, perched on the hillside for dramatic effect and also views of the forest and pool below.
Mads’ Lang is an all-day eatery that serves up a hearty buffet breakfast, followed by authentic Balinese dishes by noon. Menu items for breakfast range from a full English — served in a cast-iron frying pan, no less — to local favourites such as Nasi Campur and Bakso. For the health-conscious, there are paleo options and super bowls to start your day on the right foot with.
Lunch here is just as diverse, but you’ll want to hit up the Indonesian Rijsttafel lunch to share. The elaborate meal — with strong Dutch colonial roots — is a smorgasbord of Indonesian side dishes that are eaten with rice and shrimp crackers. Dishes such as gado-gado, rendang, and satay are also part of the hearty meal.
For dinner, Api Jiwa’s Omakase menu is a 10-course long affair that you won’t want to end. Famed Aussie chef Matthew McCool helms this theatrical Robatayaki establishment, delivering an enriching farm-to-table experience that features some of the freshest seafood the island can offer. Dishes change daily, but if you’re lucky enough you’ll get a taste of his homemade skewered Tsukune, or his unusual take on a chawanmushi. King prawns are also grilled to perfection on the charcoal grill.
Amenities and activities
Like all Capella properties, you’ll find that you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities here. The Capella Curates list offers a balanced mix of both on-site and island activities. Those looking to delve deep into Keliki Village’s culture will enjoy the traditional Keliki painting activity at the art school nearby, or simply a scenic bike ride through the village.
For the adventurous, one of the most memorable experiences that can be had here is the sunrise trek up to Mount Batur. A team of experienced guides will lead you up the 1,717m-high peak, where you’ll sit way above the clouds and neighbouring mountains to witness the first crack of dawn. A lavish picnic is set up at the peak, so you’ll enjoy the sights with a warm cup of coffee and croissant in hand.
If it’s a digital detox you’re after, the 24 Hours “Confined to Quarters” allows you to disconnect from the outside world with Balinese rituals, meditation, and treatments at Auriga Spa. The experience culminates with a purification ritual at the Wos Beji River temple.
There’s plenty that can be said about this Bill Bensley masterpiece, but this Ubud gem is best experienced in person. No amount of professional photography can do this establishment and its experiences justice, nor can it capture the passion and enthusiasm of its staff, who were nothing but friendly and accommodating throughout.
If it’s a well-deserved retreat you’re after, do yourself a favour and check into the Capella Ubud — we guarantee you’ll never want to leave.