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Ubud, Bali

Made famous by hippies, artists and prominent international writers, the inland town of Ubud is Bali’s thriving cultural heart. Its fame has grown steadily since the 1920s, when the ruling royal family invited out a collection of international artists to the town in the - ultimately successful - hopes that its dramatic, verdant landscapes might tempt them to stay. In present day Ubud, the marks of some of these artists are still present, from the zany and Dali-esque paintings of Antonio Blanco that hang in his eponymous gallery to the canvases of Rudolf Bonnet taking pride of place at the Puri Lukisan Museum. For those interested in learning more about the native Balinese art, we also highly recommend a visit to Neka Art Museum to trace its exciting development over the last century.

Aside from the fine arts, Ubud is a fantastic destination to witness many of the island’s other visual arts in their purest form. On any day of the week, visitors can attend traditional gamelan, Kecak dance and shadow puppet performances and if you find yourself lucky to be visiting during a Hindu festival, local temples come alive with traditional ceremonies making for an unmissable show.

The town’s rich artistic heritage, however, is just one lure for the foreign traveller. The town’s spirituality is what has in recent years garnered the town headlines and drawn in new-age hippies, digital nomads, and yogi enthusiasts in droves. According to an eighth-century legend, a Hindu priest from Java visited Ubud to meditate at an auspicious site at the convergence of two rivers where he founded the Gurung Lebah Temple. The town has since become a sacred pilgrimage site for Balinese Hindus, and visitors will find this spirituality imbued in the collective consciousness of locals in Ubud. We recommend immersing yourself in this side of Ubud, through taking yoga and meditation classes at one of the many local salas to indulging in the plethora of health-conscious restaurants that produce delicious and inventive cuisine that puts the body first.

The superb natural beauty of Ubud further renders it the perfect destination for an “Eat, Pray, Love”-style restorative retreat. Be awed by the dramatic, towering rice paddies at Tegallalang; acquaint yourself with Indonesia's most charming animals in the renowned Monkey Forest and take a cookery course to learn how to make simple and nourishing organic cuisine.

Although the mass tourism of recent decades has arguably over-commercialised some parts of the town, we still believe its charm and laid-back feel makes this an unmissable stop on any visit to Bali.

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