You can't believe it's already day three? There's no question for those in the know that the real beauty of Bali does not reside uniquely on the sunny beaches. For the connoisseurs, the true Balinese fascination is distilled by the hills of the Ubud area, the refuge of artists and poets, where rice fields alternate with forests, by the whisper of rushing waters of the creeks and the howling of the monkeys in the jungle. That's where the old charm of Bali is kept. To enjoy it, several boutique hotels are recommendable in the area. But if like us you are staying at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay you have the easy option of being transferred to the sister Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, where you will be swiftly whisked. The devoted butler will even spare you the pain to pack.
On the way to Ubud, stop in Batu Balan to admire and maybe buy (they take care of the packing and shipping) one of the thousands of statues of animals, demons, or dancers after watching the sculptors at work. If you happen to get there at 9:30 a.m., don't miss the famous Barong Dance performed every day. It depicts the eternal fight between good and evil (dharma).
Further down the road, in the village of Mas, the sculptors carve wood and display hundreds of versions of their work of any size and description. Celuk specializes in gold and silver jewelry.
Arriving in Sayan at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is like landing on a launch pad somewhere in the galaxy. Surprisingly, the futuristic construction melts into the lush surrounding jungle. It is like walking on the cover of a science fiction novel. However, if your appetite is more down to earth, lunch at the Ayung Terrace while listening to the refreshing murmur of the torrent running at your feet.
At the center of the Ubud region, walk along the road, where shops, restaurants, galleries, and museums are juxtaposed with temples and the royal palace. The many rooms are separated by gardens and located in opposite spaces according to their functions. This visit is particularly intriguing, because this architecture and organization reveals what was the structure of the monarchy and how it exercised its power. Art galleries showcase the paintings of local and sometimes foreign artists. Puri Lukisan is one of them. We also enjoyed the Agung Rai Museum of Art that hosts spectacular old Balinese paintings. We found some delicate wickerwork and delicate silverwork at Shalimar (see address below).
As we walked and browsed up and down the shopping row, we encountered an engagement ceremony and later a funeral procession preceding a cremation. The beat of the drums and the deployment of sounds and colors reminded us of the brevity of life and thus of the urge to enjoy it while it lasts. We certainly can accept this lesson from this refined population that lives in tight and well-structured village communities. With the respect paid to their ancestors, these exuberant burials demonstrate that death is just the continuation of life.
Arguably one of the best restaurants of the island is Mozaic, where Franco-American chef/owner Chris Salans triumphs in merging the Indonesian "terroir" into his own art, based on a solid knowledge of classic principles. Octopus on grilled watermelon; boneless rabbit with fresh foie gras in phyllo pastry demi-glace infused with cinnamon are great dishes. Make no mistake, this is not another vague attempt in "Fusion land." Chris is opening a fresh, new, innovative avenue where the tastes are preserved and brought out by unexpected discrete alliances. Chris is a chef to watch. Also be sure not to miss the desserts of Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse's former pastry chef, Francois Seurin.
Dining more simply can also be fun at Warung in front of Market behind King's Palace, where they specialize in spicy pork (Babi Gulling). It's clean and safe, but be prepared to sit on the floor and see the food served in banana leaves. Try also Batan Waru, simple and authentic. Their specialty is Lemper, chicken cooked in coconut milk wrapped in sticky rice and grilled in a banana leaf. An American lady supervises the modest house.
At the end of these three days, you might decide to stay on. We are told that it is not unusual.
Good to know: Taxis are very cheap and always available. We would not recommend you to rent a car. Traffic can be disconcertingbeware of bikersand road signs are often absent.
(Updated: 05/15/09 HC)