Being Australian, I used to have many preconceived notions of what Bali was all about. There is no delicate way to say it, but there is a certain demographic of the Australian population (perhaps 'strayan is more appropriate in this context) who seem to deem Bali to be the only place worth holidaying, and do so with a constant supply of VB in their bloodstream. I don't generally tend to have much in common with these groups, and so I have been, until now, happy to save my holiday money for elsewhere.
Well, what a revelation this trip has been for me and my smug attitude. Starting in Ubud, a gorgeous mountainous town about an hour and a half from Denpasar, I was eating all of my words. Quaint shops, awe inspiring jungle scenery, beautiful ruins casually strewn throughout town, and a plethora of healthy, vegetarian or vegan restaurants. My idea of heaven.
For all the healthy foodies out there, I would recommend a week in Ubud if you can. Not only are there loads of delightful places to eat calling your name, there are also exciting activities such as rice paddie walks, downhill bike rides (lush scenery to ensue) yoga, Eat Pray Love-esque soul searching activities, markets, temples, gorgeous random side streets that will draw you in, etc.
WHERE TO STAY:
I stayed on Monkey Forest Road (aptly named for the tourists because of the Monkey Forest at the end of the road) for two days, and at a little slice of heaven called Maya Ubud Resort for the other two. My sister/travel companion and I thought this was a perfect balance - being central made it outrageously easy to walk to all our foodie destinations, while being at Maya provided the tranquility and awe inspiring nature that we didn't know we needed and now thoroughly miss.
A bit about Maya Resort: Maya Ubud is a luxury resort about a ten minute drive from Monkey Forest Road. It is built around a plush rainforest, and you will probably walk around the extensive grounds with your jaw open for about an hour. It has two infinity pools overlooking the Petanu river (!!!!) and the option of having a pool villa, so you can be fat and swim in private.
Every morning there is a free yoga class at 7am, and, as much as I hate early mornings, was the perfect start to the day. The buffet breakfast is daily perfection - the pumpkin and coconut rice pudding is an absolute standout, but there are so many options you won't even know where to begin. Want a customised omelette? Done. How about a mangosteen? Of course. Pastries, Maktabar, rice porridge, bircher muesli - there is a perfect mix of the familiar and the foreign. If you let the staff know, they have lovely fluffy gluten free bread, raring to go. They even remember if you requested it the day prior, and ask if you would like some more. Now that is service.
If, after yoga and breakfast and lolling around the pool, you are feeling peckish, fret not, because here enters the River Cafe. Focused on organic, fresh, refined sugar free and mostly gluten free, vegetarian or vegan food, the cafe overlooks an infinity pool and cascading river. You can request for these dietary friendly delights (hello there coconut carrot cake with coconut cream icing) to be served to you by the pool as you lie back and think about how you have nothing to do and it feels great.
Did I mention their spa gives you the opportunity to bathe in an open air bathtub filled with flowers, overlooking the jungle and river below? Here are a few photos I got up in the nude to take, just in case you can't imagine a scenario as glorious as a riverside flower bath.
WHERE TO EAT:
ALCHEMY: Alchemy is a bit of a walk away from Monkey Forest Road, but more than worth the trek. I am fairly certain that absolutely everything is vegan. They have a menu or a salad bar which allows you to customise your own salad with things like rawmesan and pink sauerkraut. I had the raw nachos, which were divine, but I recommend doing the DYI option for optimal satisfaction. The coconut ice cream frappe is well worth a run.
SARI ORGANIK: This has been the best Nasi Campur that I have had in Bali to date. It would seem that there are two locations - one in an idyllic rice paddy and one on the same road as Alchemy. I inadvertently went to the one without the view, but the food was delightful just the same. My sister had a papaya smoothie and it has stolen a lot of hearts. Mine included.
DOWN TO EARTH: A little gem located in both Ubud and Seminyak, Down To Earth serves vegetarian and vegan food, catering handsomely to all sorts of food intolerances. I give the Mediterranean platter, the iced coffee with cashew milk and the 'nutrient nourisher' smoothie a big tick of approval, along with the Earth platter and the dragon bowl. Warning: you will take at least 20 minutes to finalise your order because the menu is outrageous.
RIVER CAFE: The Cafe located at Maya Ubud, which is about a 5-10 minute taxi from the centre of Ubud. Maya serves up a series of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free or refined sugar free delights. My vote goes to the coconut flour carrot cake and the dragon bowl with spirulina and tahini drizzle. Heaven.
BALI BUDA: I give this one a vote based on what I believe it could be, rather than what I experienced. I went there for dinner and was disappointed at the Nasi Campur, particularly in relation to Sari Organik. However, the menu looked delightful (big props for the newspaper style thing they have going on) and the adjoining shop (on Ubud main road) sold a host of delicious treats, such as the peanut butter ball. Yes, peanut butter ball.
CLEAR CAFE: I have to say, I didn't rate this as much as my heart told me I would. I think my issue is that when I arrive in a country, I want to try the most authentic versions of the local cuisine as I can. I had the Nasi Campur here and left disappointed. However, I now see the error of my ways. These delightful healthy gems don't specialise in authentic Indonesian food - you are better off trying something else, and saving the Nasi Campur order for a street stall. The view at Clear is awe inspiring, as is the menu, but order something more superfood-esque and less Indonesian to avoid disappointment.