More than just a luxury hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Mandapa Reserve showcases Bali's tranquil natural beauty and the vibrant local culture of Ubud.
Bali is one of my favorite places in the world. If you have been there you will understand why. Its nickname is ‘the island of the gods’, and it really does have a sort of indescribable magic about it. The landscapes are exotic and beautiful, the people are friendly and seem genuinely happy, while their culture is strong, vibrant, and unique. Spirituality pervades everything the Balinese do, and their rituals are inescapable. Somehow though, it is more than the sum of even these parts. It has a feeling to it that cannot be put into words, and which keeps drawing people back, us back.
We count ourselves among those who have been drawn back, and have visited the island a couple times now. Ubud is one of our favorite towns to visit because everything we love about Bali seems to be compacted into its streets. It is the essence of the island distilled.
Sitting near the center of the island, Ubud was once the home of one of Bali’s kings and thanks to this important history, it is full of grand palaces and temples. It is the place to go if you want to see traditional local shows, or to try out the local meditation techniques. It is also surrounded by thick, dramatic jungle, and many hotels have set themselves up along the riverbanks within this. The Mandapa Ritz-Carlton is one of these, and it was where we would be staying.
We were picked up at the airport and driven the two and a half hours to Ubud in one of their luxury cars. Along the way we drove through in and out of villages allowing us glimpses of areas you might not visit, and to sneak a few looks at local life. Once we arrived in Ubud we were taken through its bustling streets, where vendors sold their wares, locals and tourists sat out front of cafes fanning themselves, as people on scooters weaved all around us. All of a sudden turned down a private road, where two massive ornate wooden doors opened, leading us down to the property
As if the grand entrance wasn’t enough, we pulled into a circular driveway and were immediately greeted by a team of people welcoming us to the property with fresh cold towels, drinks and friendly smiles. We walked into the “lobby” - which didn't look like any lobby I’ve ever seen before! In true Balinese style, it was open to the elements, and had local details all throughout. Best of all was one of the most impressive views I’ve ever seen in Bali. In an island as picturesque as this, that is a high accolade! It took in the famous rice terraces, the Ayung River which snakes through lush jungle, and temples covered in hanging plants. Pure beauty was everywhere I looked...what a first impression!
While it retains all the features that make the Ritz-Carlton such a great chain of hotels, Mandapa is not like other Ritz Carlton properties. It is a “reserve” property which means that it is designed to preserve the abundant nature within which it sits, and the local culture surrounding it. In this way,the Ritz-Carlton has incorporated the Balinese culture into the design and ethos of the hotel so that all guests can experience something truly unique. The property is laid out like a huge village, with private villas and rooms strewn amongst the rice terraces and jungle. Windy roads and golf carts take guests up and down between the lobby and their villas. It’s a sanctuary of sorts and a beautiful one that we couldn't wait to explore.
When we checked into our room we were greeted by our personal Patih (or butler), who was there to make sure everything went smoothly. She took care of our itinerary and arranged all of our activities. We would even come home for the night to find handwritten notes reminding us of our plans for the next day, and keeping us on top of our dinner reservations and excursion bookings.
The whole property is beautiful, but the most striking part is at the bottom, where the valley gives way to the river. We were lucky enough to be staying in in one of the ‘river front pool villas’ which put is in pretty much the best spot possible. Our bedroom looked out over a small seating area beyond which was the pool and behind that, the Ayung River. We also had a small outdoor living room (which could be closed up and turned into another bedroom) along one side of the pool.
Our villa was very spacious, and extremely so private. There were neighboring villas to the side of us, but you would never know it. We were in our own little bubble, and staying here makes you feel like you have your private vacation home while maintaining all the benefits of a resort. If you stay, make sure you book one of these villas, and choose a pool to get the full experience...it’s worth it.
Our villa was well planned and wonderfully decorated. Chris loved how we had an outdoor shower and I loved the huge (indoor) bathroom. We would spend the mornings on our little terrace eating breakfast, and listening to the sounds of rural Bali. We would stay there as long as we wanted, surrounded by nature and undisturbed by anyone.
Eventually we would emerge to eat, and here the hotel did not let itself down either. There are four restaurants on the property, and they can also organize meals by request in whichever corner of the reserve you would like. The food is wonderful, and you can find anything you want. From healthy, fresh salads and other western dishes, to local specialties or even fine dining. We usually opted for lunch served at the pool bar, and would have salads and sandwiches.
For dinner we would move to the Sawah Terrace, and go native with sates and mie goreng. Breakfast was the usual mix of fresh fruit, granola and smoothies or fresh coconut, and we would have it in our villa. We did wander up to the communal area one morning however, and enjoyed a brunch-style buffet. No matter where you’re dining, make sure to try the loloh tea. Loloh means herbs, and the tonics served at Mandapa are mixed from leaves, herbs and roots. They taste slightly bitter sweet, but are very nourishing and healthy.
If you’re a foodie, or looking for a special night of wonderful food, you have to visit Kubu, Mandapas fine dining restaurant. Set on the banks of the river, the restaurant takes full advantage of the beautiful river backdrop, and combined with the Bali hut setting, the dining experience is truly special. The restaurant features Mediterranean-European cuisine in the option of a-la-carte or tasting menus.
One night we walked the windy path to Kubu and sat under candle light in front of the river and enjoyed every moment of our 2 hour dinner. We feasted on dishes of tuna crudo with burrata pugliese and smoked lettuce, to mascarpone and eggplant ravioli with cod fish, to perfectly prepared Wagyu beef with braised tongue, celeriac and truffle jus. The food was great but when paired with the setting around us, this truly was one of our more memorable dining experiences :)
Apart from the jungle, the hotel’s main amenity is the spa, offering everything from yoga classes to saunas, and even traditional Balinese healing rituals conducted by priests. Set next to the river, the space is serene and comforting pulling elements in from the natural surroundings. Chris and I went in for a couples massage, and the therapists were gentle yet strong, and somehow knew exactly what we needed. Their magic hands made our bodies feel great, and by the end we were extremely relaxed. After our treatment, tucked in our robes, we wandered to the relaxation room, where we nibbled on biscuits and drank tea as we watched the river pass by.
There is so much to do in and around Ubud that you will struggle to see it all. The best way to do it is to hire a driver as they can help you cram in as much as possible without feeling rushed. Make a list of destinations, or tell your driver what you want and let him use his local knowledge. This also gives you the freedom to spend longer at places you like, and move quickly over ones you don’t.
At Mandapa they can coordinate this for you, and best of all, you get to travel in one of their vintage Volkswagen jeeps. It was so much fun riding around this car with its top open, and it allows you to see and hear everything going on around you. It is the perfect way to see the area’s temples, rice terraces, and landscapes.
Once again Ritz-Carlton had delighted us, and if you’re looking for a private and luxurious getaway in the heart of Ubud, Mandapa is the place to stay. It is perfect for couples and would make a great honeymoon spot. That said, it is a welcoming place for families and there are some great kid programs. Thanks to the privacy of the villas however, you won’t have to worry about noisy children. Mandapa is set up so that nothing can stop you completely relaxing and unwinding.