Four years ago, a travel journal was published in the US. Initially just 30,000 copies of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book were printed, but when Oprah Winfrey dedicated two episodes of her show to Eat Pray Love, it became a phenomenon, selling more than seven million copies.
Billed as ‘one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia’, the book describes the author’s real-life journey to find herself after divorcing her husband. Abandoning her New York life, she left for Rome, where she rented a flat, learned Italian and fed her soul with delicious pizza and pasta. In India, she learned to meditate and calm her troubled mind. In her final destination, Bali, she met the man who would go on to become her husband.
Now, the bestseller has become a Hollywood film. Starring Julia Roberts, it’s set to be the autumn blockbuster. To celebrate its release this week, Stylist has recreated Elizabeth’s incredible journey, uncovering the best places to sleep, eat and visit on your own mission to Eat Pray Love.
Words: Nicki Grihault
Eat - Rome
In Italy, cooking is a tradition, food and wine a religion and eating brings people together. Elizabeth, or Liz, as she calls herself, has the ‘best pizza in the world’ at Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples – where film retakes led to Julia putting on 10lbs – but her true conversion to devoted foodie takes place in the Eternal City. You can experience Liz’s Rome on Romaround’s (romaround.it) private three-to-five-hour delicious foodie walking tour.
Learn, as Liz did, about local produce at Campo de’ Fiori’s colourful open-air market and sample Rome’s best handmade gelato at San Crispino, where Liz once ate ice cream three times in one day. The zabaione is particularly special. Antica Pesa, the atmospheric trattoria where Liz learned to love ‘spaghetti cacio e pepe’ (a simple dish with pecorino cheese and black pepper), is a great lunch spot. Another lunch option is to prepare a picnic and follow Liz’s walk through the lovely Villa Borghese Gardens.
When filming Julia and the crew stayed at the beautifully classic Waldorf Astoria and ate at the hotel’s ultra-luxurious La Pergola restaurant. Don’t miss the soya poached fillet of beef with garlic dandelions wasabi and purée before sinking into your bed, wonderfully satisfied.
Citalia (0871-664 0253; citalia.com) offers three nights B&B based on two sharing at the Rome Cavalieri (from £695pp, with flights from London Gatwick)
Pray – India
India is a feast for the senses, but also one of the world’s most spiritual places. Barely able to zip up her jeans after Italy, Liz heads to an ashram (yoga retreat) near Mumbai – rumoured to be based on Gurudev Siddha Peeth (siddhayoga.org.in) – where she struggles with meditation. Tiny and very strict, it accepts few visitors but Liz credits it with changing her life.
Filming was at the Ashram Hari Mandir near Delhi, and Julia stayed nearby at the stunning Pataudi Palace. The dazzling white palace is the official home of the prince of Pataudi and his Bollywood star wife, and its old-world luxury, exotic Nawabi cuisine and breathtaking landscaped gardens make it an incredible spot to stay.
If you’re not as deadly serious about chanting Sanskrit verses at 4am as Liz, the stunning Ananda spa in the Himalayas (an hour’s flight from Delhi), focused on yoga, meditation and ayurveda, provides the perfect answer. Set in a former Maharaja’s palace near Rishikesh – the birthplace of yoga – morning yoga is al fresco, on an amphitheatre’s steps, with monkeys playing nearby.
Their Ananda Rejuvenation Programme creates menus according to your mind and body type, following a thorough consultation. Stylist recommends the ‘Ganga Aarti’ ceremony, where boys in ochre robes chant and circle oil lamps while women launch boats with candles, incense and flowers as the sun sinks over the holy Ganges. You’ve never experienced anything like it.
Wellbeing Escapes (0845-602 6202; wellbeingescapes.co.uk) offer a seven-night yoga retreat at Ananda in the Himalayas from £1,990pp sharing a deluxe palace view room full board with flights and transfers included
Love – Bali
With honey-skinned women in batik sarongs, smouldering incense wafting from flower-filled temples and rice paddies, it’s no wonder Julia Roberts declared the artists’ community of Ubud in Bali her ‘favourite place in the world’ on Oprah. It’s where Liz came seeking balance at the end of her journey, and fell in love.
Following in Liz’s footsteps means visiting a local healer. A ‘body reading’ (walk-in only; £16 plus medicines) by Wayan Nuriyasih, who befriends Liz in the film, at the Balinese Traditional Healing Center, revealed Stylist’s level of reincarnation (six: young in reincarnation terms). After a ‘rebalancing’ betel nut body scrub, Stylist ate Wayan’s multivitamin lunch which Liz declared ‘the best food in Ubud’.
The ‘water purification ritual’ at the temple of Tirta Empul, scouted as a film location, is prescribed by healers for stress and troubled minds. Barefoot and dressed like local women, we held our head under eight spouting gargoyles before praying with a priest who stuck rice on Stylist’s forehead. We followed this with an alfresco, organic lunch at Glow in the leafy retreat centre Como Shambhala Estate where Julia also sipped good-for-you juices.
Julia stayed in The Four Seasons, but the cast stayed in Christina Ong’s boutique hotel, the same thatched-roofed, tranquil Uma Ubud where Stylist started the day with free morning yoga in the alfresco pavilion. A healthy breakfast of black rice pudding with mango and coconut was followed by a body-tingling Balinese spice body wrap, frangipani flower bath and Indonesian massage at the Como Shambhala Spa.
The next day we cycled, as Liz did, into the hills before heading back to town for fashion finds in Ubud’s shopping district, where the hottest street is Jalan Dewi Sita. One of Julia’s dresses came from Ubud’s market, which is stuffed with sarongs, spices and summer dresses.
Steps from the hotel, Naughty Nuri’s restaurant is famed for ribs, vodka Martinis, and local gossip. But, like Julia, we couldn’t resist dinner at glamorous Mozaic. Its torchlit garden is ideal for couples, but pretty perfect for a woman on her own too. Its foie gras tapas (about £20) left Stylist sighing happily.
On our last day we, like Liz, stumbled upon a temple ceremony in the sacred monkey forest sanctuary. We watched in awe as women in white paraded offerings on their heads, including a sacrificial pig’s head on a silver tray. Later, young dancers dressed like mini Cleopatras angled their hands, tilted their heads and shifted their eyes in a subtle dance to the gamelan orchestra. It was time to leave the ‘Island of the Gods’, but we returned to Britain pampered, purified and inspired.
Virgin HIP Hotels (0844-573 2460; vhiphotels.co.uk) offer seven nights B&B at Uma Ubud from £1,259pp sharing with flights with Malaysia Airlines from London Heathrow, private transfers and, in October, a complimentary massage at COMO Shambhala Spa. All above activities bookable through the hotel. Find out about Eat Pray Love at letyourselfgo.com