Where else to Eat, Pray, (and) Love? Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal journey in search of self-fulfilment reached its conclusion (ahem, climax) in Ubud, the spiritual heart of Bali. Narcissistic navel-gazing? That didn’t bother the thousands who snapped up this gushy bestseller.
Wait for the movie, starring Julia Roberts, to reach a cinema near you… or experience the reality now, amongst the shimmering green rice paddies which surround Ubud.
The villagers of Bentuyung, where the Balinese scenes were shot on location, have pocketed their takings and gone back to what they do best: rice farming and ritual. You may find the main street blocked by a sea of white turbans as the hairy Barong demon and the shrine of Shiva the Destroyer are escorted back into the temple, accompanied by bells, brass gongs and cymbals.
In the other direction, an hour’s stroll through the rice paddies, past the studios of eager artists and artisans, then by a thriving organic food café, leads down into Ubud. Ducks dabble between the rows of shoots as a tropical sun sets over the still waters of flooded paddies.
Ubud remains at heart an overgrown village, albeit bustling with visitors. At the central crossroads, the royal palace faces a traditional audience hall, a busy meeting place. One morning, a white-robed, elderly priest settles himself in the middle of the roadway to commence the rites for a three-day Hindu ceremony. A procession of women – brilliantly-hued butterflies in their brocade jackets and kebaya – conveys offerings in the plaited baskets perched atop neatly-coiffed heads. Hours later, a tiny black piglet is despatched, discretely, amidst hundreds of worshippers.
Eat? Oh yes, you’ll eat well. Balinese-style treats range from the diced pork tossed with shaved coconut and ginger at Biah Biah on Jalan Goutama to the hearty serves of crispy pork roast at Warung Ibu Oka near the palace. In the main street, Jalan Raya Ubud, smart bistros like Nomad pack in the people-watchers.
In between eating, praying and loving, not to mention shopping, you’ll need somewhere to sleep. Ubud abounds with family-run guesthouses, usually within the brick-walled compound of an extended family.
At the top end, private villa accommodation offers privacy, exclusivity and independence; affordable luxury. Castello Jasper is a coolly-elegant Mediterranean-style villa in Bentuyung boasting four double bedrooms and three bathrooms, furnished in exquisite taste and fully serviced. Between excursions, we luxuriated in the 16-metre infinity pool.
Love? Best of luck! Some observers claim they spy a boom in women ‘of a certain age’ window-shopping the boutiques, showrooms and studios on Monkey Forest Road, searching perhaps for something money can seldom buy.
You can at least leave a little love behind, consider supporting Linda Buller’s Bali Adoption Rehabilitation Centre, a stray dog shelter whose watchword is Feed, Spay, Love.
More images of Bali.