Ma and Pa Smith have four days’ parole from the parent trap. A five-hour flight from Sydney and 50-minute drive through a thousand shades of green later, the Viceroy Bali in Ubud has ensconced us in the lap of luxury with a view of the Valley of the Kings and smiles on our faces as broad as the equator itself.
Ubud. A town as mystical as it sounds. Even though the hubbub in this tiny Balinese province of 30,000 residents has grown exponentially since the Julia Roberts film Eat Pray Love was shot here in 2009, the local penchant for harmony keeps things laid-back. We hope a little of that will rub off on us.
Ubud gets its name from ubad, the Balinese word for medicine, and since the 1960s, the town’s soul-soothing qualities have become legendary. Ubud makes a religion of relaxation – Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, HG Wells and Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton all tasted of its virtues early and helped boost its global fame as an arty sanctuary.
No natural stone was left unturned in the 2005 construction of the Viceroy, a boutique hotel where ultra-luxe Balinese styling meets eco-chic. Framed by a tapestry of rice paddies and set in verdant cliffs along the Petanu River gorge, the Viceroy appeals to VIPs and hedonists alike.
Mrs Smith and I are in one of 14 Deluxe Terrace Villas. Our one-bed lodging has a thatched balé, or pavilion, overlooking our private pool and the surrounding jungle. We trade urban accoutrements such as phones, laptops, iPods and watches for day-beds, plunge pools and butterfly watching. Around us, streams tinkle and birds twitter in much less than 140 characters.
As the blush of dusk descends on our first day, we wander hand-in-hand to dinner along a winding path illuminated by tea-lights wrapped in tree leaves as transparent as our joy. At Cascades, the Viceroy’s swish alfresco restaurant, our table is strewn with orchid petals, and as the champagne gets guzzled and the organic canapés build to crescendo, we feel weight lift and serenity settle.
But before we crash onto the cloud that is our dreamy bed, we put an urgent call through to reception. See, the key to triumphant tomorrows in Ubud is to learn the Balinese phrase amati lelanguan... then immediately unlearn it (it means ‘non-indulgence in sensory pleasures’ – hang that!).
From dawn, the perfect Ubud day unfolds for us like the eight petals of the lotus. First, a private yoga session is conducted by a local yogi in a T-shirt proclaiming ‘Close your eyes to see’. We obey, embracing our bendy inner-pretzel despite the pops, creaks and protests of our desk-bound skeletons. Then it’s a breakfast of exotic fruits in the cabana before a plunge in the pool (and another betwixt the sheets).
It’s easy to anchor at the Viceroy but its driver-on-call policy means we can zip into town for shopping and street food and still be back in time for our couples massage and 68-jet Jacuzzi session at the hotel’s famous Lembah Spa.
As chilled as the post-treatment cocktail, we amble into the afterglow of the afternoon via neighbouring rice fields. The real Ubud is most vivid here: kids hauling kites skyward, mothers bathing babies in ditches, young men proudly washing motorbikes and old women effortlessly carting rice bales on their heads. All smile hello, human proof that Ubud’s gifts are there to be shared.
Back at base, Mrs Smith and I are joined in the bath by another woman – Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge and music. As we sink back in the suds and soak up the soundtrack of water trickling down the walls, her four stone arms enfold us, each symbolising a purushartha (pillar of human life) – dharma (righteousness), artha (prosperity), kama (desire) and moksha (freedom). Arm in arm with the gods, eye to eye with luxury and each other – that’s the Viceroy Bali.