What makes Capella Ubud in Bali so special?
The explosion of Instagram has made hotel interiors accessible to a much wider audience than the paying guest who will experience them. Designers now appear to try for copycat looks in their clients’ homes and even in other hotels they design. I find the lack of originality and potential homogeneity a little depressing. You cannot replicate a sense of place. And ‘the look’ is only one element in a successful hotel. Houses should be designed for living in, whereas hotels can and should be something completely different.
Few hotels combine a sense of place with a sense of theatre better than Capella Ubud in Bali. This is designer, Bill Bensley, at his best. He has a house on the island, so knows the culture and the craftsmen, but I am pretty sure that his home is completely different to the hotel fantasy that he has created in the rice paddies outside Bali’s cultural capital, Ubud.
For starters, the rooms are dotted far apart across the lush, forested hillsides. Each is angled to catch a view of the valleys and rice paddies beyond. This means networks of steep paths and carefully designed rope bridges, which lead to a private world where you are happy to spend many hours in quiet contemplation or valued time away from other guests to do what you will.
Secondly, the design of each room – a modern take on an explorer’s camp but with steeply pitched roofs and detailing that echo that of Balinese architecture – has a touch of film director Terry Gilliam. Expect exaggerated showerheads and thrones for loos, but there is also a fabulous balance to the brightly patterned fabrics on the walls and upholstery. If it doesn’t fight, it isn’t fun, but somehow there is a harmony in the competing patterns. Every room has a different theme but each one is clever, whimsical and deeply satisfying both in style and in comfort. I personally love the Birdwatcher’s Tent as it is deep in the canopy, down a winding path and across a rickety rope bridge. The Lodge is super-indulgent and ideal for a couple, but always bear in mind that a remote-feeling tent means a long walk back from dinner, so there is a cost to solitude. But having looked at most of the rooms I am still not sure if I have a favourite.
When you do emerge from your private explorer world – be it The Bird Watcher’s or The Photographer’s tent or one of 22 others in a similar 19th-century pioneer theme – the Gilliam-style fantasy continues: a raised pool like a cistern with copper standpipes gushing into it at intervals, stylised tanks suspended high above the loos that serve the pool deck, an open-air cinema around a firepit for black-and-white movies and marshmallows after a delicious dinner.
A highlight, on at least one evening of any stay, is Api Jiwa, where you sit at the counter and watch the chefs prepare an Asian barbecue of culinary surprises. Try not to look at the menu in advance and delight at the theatre of their presentation and the clever taste combinations. One of the joys of being in a great restaurant is allowing the chef to choose. Trust them to come up with something that you may never have found on an à la carte menu.
Capella Ubud is the perfect base for shopping in the craft market that is the town of Ubud. There are also a number of good bars and restaurants a short drive away for those who want some variety – some in other hotels and others freestanding. Most people will stay here for just a couple of days at the beginning or end of a more extensive itinerary in Indonesia. However, we suggest spending slightly longer here to really get under the skin of your surroundings and relax. Three or four nights will allow you time to set out on some expeditions in the area, explore Ubud itself as well as enjoying the hotel’s spa and the privacy of your explorer’s retreat.
Any tented camp in the jungle inspired by the explorers of the 19th century should be an adventure. Capella Ubud delivers in every sense. The Instagram images look great, by the way, but they can only ever tell a fraction of the story, good or bad.
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