Situated within the rainforest and terraced rice paddies in the uplands of Bali, an area known for its miniature paintings, Hindu temples, ancient ruins and traditional dance performances, is the town of Ubud. Here, if you’re lucky enough to secure a room at the resplendently luxurious Capella Ubud – the most luxurious tented retreat we’ve ever come across – you’re in for a romantic interlude, superb hospitality delivered on demand, oodles of style and a chance to immerse yourself in true comfort.
Designed by American-born, Asian-based interior design’s man-of-the-moment Bill Bensley, The Capella Ubud, conceived to reflect a 19th-century jungle expedition, is pure fabulousness, realised within the limits of Bensley’s firm conviction that we should build without harm to our environment. Such a mantra shined through in this fun-filled and, at the same time, functional locale. Everywhere you looked something new, beautiful and built to last blended perfectly within the environment. Restaurants, as an example, boasted a zany irreverence. For the most part, the design worked; no doubt this hotel will become a place of pilgrimage for design hotel fans. This is hotel-keeping for the Instagram age.
Whilst most upscale retreats in Ubud are located in the Ayung River Gorge (from whence a thousand white-water rafts have launched), this one sits on the quieter Wos valley, about twenty minutes by car north of Ubud town with its vibrant restaurant, shopping and ‘new age’ scenes.
Generally, Ubud is not a place visitors come just to lie around, most seek something different or enlightening and the hotel aims to please in that regard. With an emphasis on ‘curated’ activities, guests are contacted ahead of their arrival so that any plans or reservations are made well before arrival. Most guests have a list of things they want to do or see and restaurants in the vicinity they wish to frequent, and so with a fairly busy schedule, there almost won’t be enough time to try all the culinary delights on offer here, and there are many, indeed.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Spa treatment
- One 50 minute massage for two people, per room, once during stay
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
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The journey from the airport can take anywhere between 90 minutes and two hours depending on how bad the traffic is, but the the air-conditioned, Wi-Fi-enabled luxury car transfer from the airport, included in the rate, helped ease the pain of the trip.
Ours, a very new SUV, was equipped with enough snacks and drinks to sustain us for the trip’s duration. And if the sightseeing from the car windows – including temples, craft shops and even a passing festival procession – wasn’t enough, there was a copy of the latest Vogue magazine in the side pocket, too, plus an iPhone charger, useful after a long flight. Excited to be here, we pulled in to the discreetly gated entrance of the Capella Ubud.
After the customary vehicle security check, we drove through bright green rice terraces to the hotel entrance. The reception, or Camp Post as it’s called, is an open-air venue which operates under a stunning red fabric canopy. Here we were met by several of the senior managers, a nice welcome.
Check-in formalities were quickly wrapped up, and we were led to our tented home for the next few days, taking our little gifts from the front desk with us: duffle bags that contained some emergency ‘essentials’ for our stay, including rain ponchos, bug spray and a first aid kit – none of which we, luckily, used even once.
Our tent was on the Terrace level of the camp, so close to most of the public spaces. After a Balinese blessing ritual at our compound gate to ensure an auspicious stay, we crossed a small rope suspension bridge and arrived at the deck of our residence.
Rooms and suites
Capella Ubud comprises just over twenty beautifully appointed and lavishly decorated “tents”, but with footprints of 170 m² (1,830 sq ft) plus, these are not the tents you will remember from your days as a scout. Within was a four-poster bed, a freestanding copper bathtub and original artwork. Surrounding the tent was an oversized deck with a small private pool which reached into the jungle sloping down to a bubbling stream. Not a tree was felled during the construction, so the feeling is entirely natural. Like many other Ubud resorts, though, there is some walking involved. To get from the bottom to the top of the site is a hike, not a problem if you are reasonably fit, but pick a room near the top if you are not.
All the tents have a different theme. Ours was the Librarian’s tent. Others include the Birdwatchers’, the Cartographers’ and the Captain’s tent. All the rooms are of a similar size, with the exception of the sole two bedroom lodge.
Dramatic black and white striped fabric made up the walls and “ceiling” of our tent, and the same fabric in the form of roller blinds adorned huge, fly-net covered window openings which had a clear plastic sheet on the outside to preserve climatisation. Supported by large pillars and ceiling beams clad in a dark wood, the room was screened off at one end by a ceiling height rattan partition separating the bathroom area. The whole space was quite a feast to the eyes, a cornucopia of colours and curiosities and quite the antithesis to a conventional hotel room where everything feels familiar.
The floor was solid wood but dimpled with irregular indentations to give the impression is of a beaten metal finish, mirroring some of the furniture and other fittings. Highly stylised and unusual, it was warm, slightly sensuous to walk on barefoot and completely non-slip.
The living area was done up with custom and quirky designer furniture – every piece of which was remarkable. We liked the enormous, floor-standing wooden chest which opened up to reveal a fridge and separate well-stocked wine cooler, the sides of which folded down to provide a flat surface on which to prepare drinks. From a beaten copper console, we made coffee from the Illy machine.
Importantly, the room was very comfortable. The huge bed sublime, the air conditioning was silent and effective, and the wonderful flooring made one want to pace about. A small luggage storage and dressing area was located behind the bed, so, to compensate for the lack of space, there are clothes rails in the bathroom area. We found the lighting (and switches) generally not so well conceived, and felt that styling had taken precedence over function, but that might be our only negative.
There were no TVs in the room (which we approved of), and the Wi-Fi was strong, fast and secure throughout the property. As a bonus, guests are provided with a tablet phone for use free-of-charge during their stay, including both internet and international calls. Most drinks other than international spirits and wines available in the chest minibar are also complimentary. Although not inexpensive to stay, Capella has a generous attitude to guest extras, as a small load of laundry service is also provided at no extra charge.
Outside the ornately carved, coloured wooden door to the tent was a large, balconied wooden deck which housed an oversized daybed, perfectly situated for contemplation of the forest with all its sounds. There were also two separate seating areas for breakfast or in-room dining and a small bridge to another terrace with a private plunge pool and loungers.
Standing proud in the bathroom area was the copper roll-top bath tub. It positively gleamed in the light shining from the window with a view of the jungle. The rest of the bathroom space consisted of a shower with copper heads and taps, a wacky wooden throne housing a WC adorned with a stag head, and a console, standing on what looked like cast horses legs, housing his and her sinks. Beyond being different, we couldn’t quite get what the theme was here.
From a door in the shower space, a large outdoor shower deck could be accessed. Needless to say, all the expected back ups such as a shaving kit, loofah and toothbrush were available.
Most meals are taken at Mads Lange, named after a Danish-born trader from the 19th century who became known as the king of Bali due to his great influence with local chieftains. Breakfast here was a delight, served, in fair weather, on a broad deck overlooking the forest-clad gorge full of birdsong. This view of nature will, thankfully, be preserved for the foreseeable future because the owner of the Capella Ubud has control of the opposite land.
The gastronomic output here at Capella Ubud is under the control of a young Australian chef, Matthew McCool, with Gault Millau toque awards to his name. He has drawn some parallels from the out-there designs and conceived a bold and quite radical approach to the food service. This was best illustrated by the dinner we ate in the specialist Api Jiwa Restaurant.
Served at a fixed time, we sat around a central Japanese style grill kitchen for a chef’s Omakase menu. With up to 15 courses, discussed in detail with chefs preparing them before our eyes, there were some new experiences, including chilli marinated frogs legs with banana leaf. All locally sourced, their family members sang to us plaintively from afar.
Other standouts included an Australian short rib in tamarind brandy and a yuzu crepe Suzette, flambéed before our eyes. It was an unforgettable meal which complemented the overall experience of staying at the Capella Ubud.
Other restaurant options
More straightforward cuisine is available at the Mads Lange restaurant for both lunch and dinner, and there was a reasonable selection of accompanying wines although as in some other parts of SE Asia these can be expensive due to high import tariffs. We ate an excellent sushi and sashimi lunch one day at the poolside bar.
Capella Ubud makes a strong push for outside dining experiences, either served in your tented compound or in a custom-made picnic taken at some beautiful location during an excursion. After dinner, we took the marshmallows provided in our room to be toast on the fire pit in the communal campfire where old black and white silent movies about Bali were on show which was pretty romantic.
Ubud town itself has a renowned dining scene, but with year-round tourism it’s worth remembering that the most popular spots can get booked up some weeks in advance, hence the importance of the dialogue with the concierge, pre-arrival.
Spa and wellness
Exercise is easily taken by just climbing the resort’s paths, made worthwhile here because at the very bottom of the premises near the banks of the Wos river is a beautiful little temple, still used by the locals, where purification rituals can be arranged for hotel guests. Nearby caves house the mythological red and black dragons who guarded the river’s source. Still in the planning stages for this area are waterside yoga sessions which will be held on a platform among the waterfalls – the perfect place to zone out.
For more conventional exercise, the themed Armory tent was an amazing gym replete with state of the art Life Fitness equipment, weights and mirrors. Here also you could try suspension yoga, and Barre fitness classes are available.
Top of the list for us was the Auriga spa. Balinese wellness therapists are justifiably renowned around the world, but there is nothing quite like putting them to test at home in a place like Capella Ubud. We pushed the boat out for the two-hour signature New Moon treatment involving a series of scrubs, organic wraps, stretches and tissue massages that left us remarkably energised. The therapies, in beautifully canopied rooms, are highly recommended.
Pool and beach
There was a public pool set down the slope below the Auriga spa treatment rooms. Constructed of braced steel plates which protrude from a surrounding wood deck, it has raised access stairs and six metal tubes feeding it purified water and resembles some post apocalyptic engineering feat. It is painted outside in jazzy black, white and grey chevrons, and on the inside in black, white and blue, which, when lit up at night, takes on a space-age appearance (another snap for the Instagrammers).
Beside the pool was a small bar for drinks and light snacks. There were a few rather clunky custom designed loungers overlooking the jungle canopy on the other side of the valley.
There were some young people in families at the hotel when we visited, and it would work for children who are reasonably self-sufficient and like excursions to volcanoes. However, this is not really a children’s hotel and only one tent has more than one bedroom.
Staff and service
Balinese staff are exceptionally kind and service oriented. When we visited, the hotel was brand new and, with a high level of employment being given to local villagers, it was evident that some training was still underway.
The property design has also made a number of staff tasks harder than they might otherwise have been. If anything, staff were a bit too keen to please, but that makes a change from developed world complacency.
With a very late flight from Denpasar, we were allowed to stay in our room until early evening before saying our farewells. There is no official check-out time so, if the hotel is not full, they will do their best to accommodate guests’ onward travel plans.
As a brand new hotel, guest profiles have not yet settled down, although Ubud typically appeals to Europeans and American visitors. While we were here, there were several Chinese families, Singaporeans on a gourmet tour and some Europeans.
How to get here
1 hour by road from Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport
33 tented retreats & lodges