Discover Bali's jungle paradise in the cultural capital of Ubud

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Kitty McGee
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Bali is one of this year’s hottest destinations. Stylist’s executive fashion director Kitty McGee enjoys a taste of Ubud life 

Anywhere beyond five or six hour flight is, let’s be honest, a ‘big trip’. Such big trips fill me with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and hesitation. Without a reason to take you half way around the world, surely Europe or morocco will do? But then this time I do have a reason: my sister (currently residing in Australia) and also the fact that Bali was recently named the most desirable travel destination in the world*. The fact I bagged £350 return flights with Qatar for the journey also helped my decision no end. There aren’t any direct flights available yet but a two hour layover in Doha was no hardship.

It’s hard to know where to start in Bali; in my mind it was a small dot on the map but in reality the island is almost 6,000 km² made up of vast stretches of lush jungle, forested volcanic mountains and iconic rice paddies. Plus a few small but dynamic and highly populated cities, with long stretches of narrow beaches, the most popular of which line the west of the island.

There are a handful of key spots that are super-beautiful with lots to see and do. The most action-packed of those is Ubud, at the heart of the island, which is small enough to walk pretty much everywhere with food to get excited about - from traditional warungs to great sushi bars; even vegan salad bars are not out of place here. There are also some excellent bars - a few with pools to satisfy those who want a day to sunbathe, piña colada in hand. Walking through the centre along Jalan Raya Ubud you'll come across yoga studios, clothes shops, markets, temples and galleries too. It's a relaxed pace of life but local life feels more dynamic than any other area and there's more on offer, definitely worthy of a 4-6 day stay.

The Bisma Eight hotel is off the main street in Ubud on Jalan Bisma- it’s a largely concrete structure with a nod to Balinese architecture, which means it’s nice and cool in the 28 degree heat. It’s where I’m eternally grateful to be greeted with a welcome cocktail of sweet pink dragonfruit. The views from here are spectacular: sweeping panoramas of the Ubud jungle that looks exactly as it does in the photos. Up on the roof – there’s three rooftop restaurants- I order snacks of tuna tataki washed down with a mojito, surrounded by stylish wooden loungers and four poster daybeds which face the infinity pool. It’s all incredibly appealing. Although the only downside of being in the jungle is the humidity. It’s not Monica from Friends in Barbados bad (although there is an abundance of nearby salons who offer cornrows), but you can pretty much say goodbye to any semblance of your normal hair while you’re here, with 80-90% humidity not being uncommon. 

On our first night Bisma Eight’s main restaurant Copper Kitchen & Bar was serving a 16-course taster menu in conjunction with fine dining restaurant Blanco – another local restaurant from the Ubud area that’s attached to Ubud’s Blanco Renaissance Museum. It’s a great introduction to the region’s cuisine. And while later in our trip we typically ate Nasi Goreng (fried rice with fried egg on top), fresh fish (raw tuna, deep fried mahi mahi and freshly cooked fillets of barramundi) and beef rendang curry, this menu was another level. And another after that. Pickled squid, beef cheek, lobster tail and fried frogs legs with a chilli dipping sauce made way for mains of smoked venison loin with sweet potato cream, grilled peking duck breast and beef brisket with red chilli sambal – finished off with pisco sour sorbet and caramelised ‘Pie Susu’ with sea salt and sesame ice cream. 

Outside of the hotel, we spend the day exploring the North of Bali, it’s off the usual tourist path but Bisma Eight offers a curated day trip up to Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan – known as the the Twin Lakes – two enormous lakes are separated by a rainforest-covered hill and are a major tourist attraction, on to the waterfalls before stopping for a picnic lunch at the Bali Botanical Gardens, and stopping off at a Luwak Coffee plantation on route home before heading for a more low key dinner at Umah Pizza. The pizzeria is a great local find which is always busy with queues and sells delicious stone baked pizza for under £2 alongside Indonsian wine (there are only two types on offer – Hatten at £2 per glass and Plaga at £2.60) and bintang – the local bottled beer. 

The next morning we climb Mount Batur – a volcano in the north-east of Bali which peaks at 1,717 m high. We’re collected at 2.30am and driven for 90 minutes before setting off on foot for our sunrise trek. We’re taken up the less busy route to the summit which, of course, is the steepest. However at only one hour and 50 minutes to the top we’re grateful as we climb beyond the jungle quicker than we thought and can see for miles, including to the top of the volcano – reaching the summit just ahead of sunrise. There's plenty to see and do beyond simply lying on a beach. Although that part is pretty spectacular too.

Garden Suite Rooms at Bisma Eight are available from £150 a night and include de à la carte breakfast and free daily rooftop yoga classes,