Have you ever had an experience that’s so visually jaw-dropping (and overwhelming!) that you’ve shed a sneaky tear? Highly embarrassing but in a nutshell, that was my first reaction to Part #2 of my Bali escape, the astounding Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (and it’s not even a year old – it opened last September!).
My stay at Mandapa was nothing I’d ever experienced on a holiday – a magnificent blend of nature and Balinese culture and a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Seminyak and Kuta. From the 100m high lobby you’re greeted by a dream-like fusion of a working rice paddy surrounded by the landscape from The Jungle Book. Nestled in the hills of Ubud, the hotel embraces the spiritual and peaceful side of Bali and is the ultimate place to shut yourself off from the rest of the world. The working rice paddy is at its core with the accommodation camouflaged into its surrounds and the tranquil Ayung River gently weaving along the boundary.
Each Ritz-Carlton Reserve has less than 100 rooms and there’s a good chance you won’t even cross paths with other guests unless you venture out for dinner or to the main pool overlooking the rice paddies. Accommodation wise you can choose from 35 suites and 25 pool villas, which are the epitome of understated luxury. The elegant materials and textiles are locally sourced, huge windows showcase tropical plants (my favourite window framed my huge freestanding tub) and the intricately carved furniture and woodwork is a reminder that you’re deep in the heart of Bali.
My pick of the bunch is the Riverfront Pool Villa, with an infinity pool overlooking the river plus a separate, stand-alone living area with glass walls that can be fully opened. When you spent hours in the pool completely engaged by tiny birds fossicking for nest building materials, you know you’ve found somewhere pretty damn special.
The attention to detail throughout Mandapa is exquisite and deliberate, even down to the hue of its logo – the terracotta shade represents the colour of the Balianese temples. Guests have their own butler (Patih in Indonesian) throughout their stay (big shout-out to Nuh, my lovely Patih!) and transport along the winding lanes is via golf buggy (or on foot). Giant Birds of Paradise plants and frangipani line the cobble-stone paths, bougainvillea cascades over the walls and coupled with the ancient 150-year-old temple it’s a sacred, serene setting.
Although you could spend a whole day wordlessly exploring the grounds there’s no shortage of things to do from learning about the rice growing process to yoga and rafting down the river. Don’t miss a visit to the Sawah Terrace at sunset for complimentary cocktails and canapes, and a chat with the fantastic General Manager Ana, who makes a point of saying hello to all of her guests. My preferred choice of ‘activity’ (if you could call it that!) is a visit to the spa, perched on the bank of the river. You can have a scrub, massage, treatment…or combination (cue: option anxiety!) or you can have a dip in the vitality pool or head to the sauna, ice fountain or experience showers.
There’s plenty to choose from when it comes to eating and drinking, and during my stay I had one of my top dining experiences to date at the Kubu Restaurant. A dinner at the amazing Kubu is an absolute must-do at Mandapa with just 9 private cocoons dotted along the riverfront (practically the entire restaurant is made from bamboo!). If you’re happy to splurge, the Degustation Menu should be at the top of your list but there’s also an a la carte menu too. For a more casual experience there’s the Sawah Terrace and Library or the Pool Bar (lunch only). For breakfast you can order off the menu or help yourself to the buffet at the Sawah Terrace but my favourite brekky option is to have it delivered right to the room!
Learn about the process of rice growing in Mandapa’s own rice paddy. You can also have a shot at planting your own rice (great for families – prepare to get a bit muddy!).
Order off a special a la carte menu and chill out beside the river with your very own picnic!
From its raised position, the heated pool in the spa precinct looks over the river and jungle. The bubble beds and the back/neck massage fountain are SO good!
Various offers for Mandapa can be found on the Ritz-Carlton website here.
Mandapa is also the only Ritz-Carlton property to have an Instagram page. Check it out at @mandapareserve
Written and photographed by Jade Just – Contributing Travel Editor