Ubud provides a dose of Balinese culture in a lush country setting but, most of all, has gained a reputation as a major spa retreat, with dozens of spas vying to pummel and pamper you into a state of permanent bliss.
A whole menu of spa treatments and massages provide temptation. Royal Kirana Spa & Wellness goes for Japanese-style Shiseido, which links massage rhythm to your breathing the better to promote energy flow.
The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah draws treatments from various cultures: Swedish and Thai techniques combine in its signature four-hand ‘Chedi Jade’ massage, which promises to knead all your tension knots away.
Mango Tree Spa, which sits beside a huge mango tree at luxury Kupu Kupu Barong Resort, uses techniques such as Chinese acupuncture, Indian Ayurvedic principles and Swedish massage that combine to both soothe the body and align the chakras.
Rituals at Furama Villas & Spa use also use Indian, as well as Hawaiian and royal Thai, techniques. It even has a seriously indulgent ‘Romantic Chocolate’ treatment using pure chocolate for exfoliation and warm chocolate oil for massage.
Try local treatments too. Traditional Balinese medicine has always placed importance on the healing power of touch, and Balinese massage has a long history.It’s based on the use of aromatic oils such as sandalwood, jasmine and ylang-ylang.
A variety of pressures ranges from long firm strokes and stretching to acupressure on the feet and gentle flicking of the fingers on the skin.
Refresh and Revitalise
Balinese massages are usually followed by wraps or scrubs intended to refresh and revitalise. These are commonly based on sea salt, clays from the island’s several volcanoes, or local plants such as coconut, which makes the skin more supple and acts as a moisturiser.
The signature ‘Royal Touch’ treatment at Kamandalu Resort uses Bali sea salt, seaweed and clay to draw out impurities. The spa lies in idyllic grounds just outside town, surrounded by lush rice terraces above the gurgling Petanu River – enough of a tranquil oasis to supply some energy-restoring magic before treatment even begins.
Maya Ubud is another resort on a secluded hillside and has a spacious spa nestled on the banks of a river. One of its specialities is the gentle four-hand massage. Traditional Balinese techniques are used, with firm finger and hand pressure and a little aromatic oil.
Double treatment pavilions also allow couples to share the experience together. Maya also has a ‘Masculine Express’ package specifically for men, starting with feet therapy to relieve stress and finishing with a Balinese massage.
Beyond simple massages, spa packages are the ultimate in treatments. Try the Javanese lulur, traditionally enjoyed by a royal bride on the night before her wedding. It begins with a kneading massage (with particular emphasis on the soles of the feet), followed by an exfoliation to soften the skin and a final soak in a petal-filled bath.
Lila Ulangan Spa at Puri Wulandari priovides a terrific lulur using turmeric and other sweet-smelling herbs, followed by a yogurt rub. Komaneka at Monkey Forest provides two types of lulur with different body scrubs for your skin type.
You can also try the lulur at Natura Resort & Spa, among others.
Another very local treatment is the Balinese boreh, a herbal scrub that traditionally eased the aching muscles of rice farmers. The boreh consists of a paste made from powdered sandalwood, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.
After it’s applied, you’re left wrapped in white cotton and left to drift off as the penetrating heat from the paste soaks into your skin and muscles. A gentle massage or reflexology is given at the same time, especially on the feet, which is said to stimulate internal organs.
After 10 minutes or so the boreh paste has dried out, and flakes off with vigorous rubbing, with the added benefit that it exfoliates and softens the skin. You’ll need to take a shower to wash away the rest of the paste; often in Ubud this is taken in an outdoor setting.
A cup of herbal tea is the final part of the treatment; the brew is thick and smelly and perhaps the only part of the treatment to be avoided – you might want to ask for lemon tea instead.
You can enjoy a great boreh at Pita Maha Resort, where the spa is a private villa tucked away behind high walls, often booked for a full two-hour session by romantic couples.
Afterwards, sizzle in the sauna, take a plunge into the cold whirlpool, or sit on cushions and watch late afternoon sunlight turn the rice paddies across the valley to molten gold. Then paddle sedately across the swimming pool and flop into the final plunge pool, fed by spring water and carpeted in tropical blossoms.
Count the petals of pink frangipani and your blessings: holidays don’t come much better than this.