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LUXURY RESORTS: Uma Ubud, Bali, INDONESIA

Style: Traditional Balinese but more light, bright and airy.
Scene: tranquillity is assured here amid dense tropical forests and terraced rice paddies
Seen in the lobby: an iPad and Kindle-clasping holidaymaker.

"Are you menstruating?"
"I beg your pardon?"

This was the last question I was expecting from a man I'd just met seconds before and who was about to guide me through Bali's undulating rice fields.
"Um...no" I then cautiously reply wondering what this has to do with the showing me how the local food staple is grown.
"That is good, because it is important for a woman to be 'pure' in order to make an offering to the Gods."
 
My guide Suasta smiles innocently as he goes on to explain the Hindu custom of canang, a daily offering of thanks to the Gods made traditionally from young coconut palm leaf woven into a tiny basket and filled with small portions of food (generally rice or fruit) and flowers and a burning incense stick.

pool
pool
seating area
loungers
bali flowers
bedroom
bali farmer

I was going to get my chance to learn the art of canang-making over the next couple of hours on the Subak Keliki Walk. Our morning walk would also take us down Ubud's shady lanes, passed rustic villages, countless lichen and vine strewn-temples, across life-giving rivers and farms where the solitude is virtually guaranteed and broken only occasionally by the breeze in the trees, waddling ducks, a barking dog and the odd mooing cow.
For those looking for a real Eat, Pray Love experience this is it - but it's just a small sample of the enriching tour options available at Como's luxury Balinese retreat, Uma Ubud.
"A visit to Uma is about a cultural experience that has a connection to Bali - not about coming here and drinking cocktails in the lounge," newly appointed guest services manager
 
Marc Lacoste (formerly of Australia's Saffire Freycinet,Tasmania) explains as he takes me on a personal tour of the resort later that same day.
"We attract the more inquisitive traveller looking to do more which is why our list of activities ranges from guided biking and walking tours to dance and cooking classes."
Just my kind of holiday, I think to myself.
"Como also has a strong holistic focus - which is why we also offer daily yoga." 
Hmmm. I'd already found the rolled up mat in my wardrobe. I was a Yoga virgin but was always up for a new experience.
As if reading my mind Lacoste adds: "There's no pressure here. You choose what extent you want to participate - that's the undiluted philosophy of the Como group."
Situated within the Indonesian holiday island's fertile and spiritual hinterland, Uma is a member of the Como Group of distinguished boutique hotels and resorts created by Christina Ong, a savvy (yet media shy) Singaporean businesswoman whose high-end business interests include her Club 21 luxury clothing company and which also manages designer brands like Georgio Armani, Donna Karan and Issey Miyake.
Ong's hospitality venture began 20 years ago with the opening of the luxe designer Halkin and contemporary Metropolitan hotels in London's premier neighbourhoods of Belgravia and Mayfair/Knightsbridge, and over the years has expanded to include the Parrot Cay resort in the Turks & Caicos (British West Indies), remote Cocoa Island in the sundrenched Maldives, Uma Ubud resort in Bali and Uma Paro in Bhutan, a second Metropolitan in Bangkok and the company's flagship wellness retreat Como Shambhala Estate , a 15-minute drive from where I'm now lounging.
While individual in style and architecture, linking them all is Ong's single-minded drive to create the ultimate wellness sanctuary - no matter whether you're in a city or on a private island, travelling for work or pleasure.
For me Ubud's scenery alone has the power to rewind the effects of time.
 
"Ong oversees all her properties [fine tuning them down to the very last detail] and wants them to be a vehicle to express her style and how she wants to promote a holiday," Lacoste says.
That ideal goes beyond a Butler/ concierge/babysitter service, to include resident nutritionists and renowned haute cuisine chefs; highly trained spa staff; world-leading Yoga teachers and health and fitness experts; plus English-speaking guides like Suasta, armed with invaluable local knowledge and connections.
For example, if trekking isn't your thing but art is, a tour around the  best craft shops,  art galleries and studios that Ubud has become renowned world-wide for, might just be more your style. For me Ubud's scenery alone has the power to rewind the effects of time.
Overlooking the Tjampuhan Valley, Uma hugs the ridge of a densely forested gorge that plunges down to the gentle flowing rapids of the Oos River. This mist-filled view greeted me from my pool suite (one of three) on my first morning - which was a delightful surprise since my chauffeured car had delivered me from Denpasar's Ngurah Rai airport - an hour away- in the dark, late the night before.
And while the infinity plunge pool in my very private brick-walled garden was the perfect place to cool off after my walk, what's most refreshing about Uma is the interior decor. Its design, in essence, is traditional Balinese. The resort's Kemiri restaurant (housed in a tall pavilion adjacent to a waterfall-fed pond), Como Shambhala spa, pool area with bar/ lounge and wooden-gated villas are clustered together to create a small village, and feature intricately carved architraves, high ceilings and alang alang grass thatched roofs. However, the customary dark, hardwood furnishings I'd come to expect on my Balinese travels were instead livened up with a coating of whitewash creating a wonderful sense of coolness, light and space in the humid, tropical environment. Combined with my suite's four-post king bed surrounded in voile and made up with 300-thread-count Egyptian linen and fine goose duvet, the bathrooms sunken bath and semi-outdoor shower looking into a lush light-filled vertical garden, separate sitting and dining area  - the mood was beautifully set up for rest or romance.
The interior design is consistent across all four room types. Only their layouts differ slightly. Fourteen Terrace rooms sit behind the Uma suites and also come with four poster beds, French doors leading on private terrace and bathrooms with sunken baths. But my next pick would be one of the 10 Garden rooms. A roomy 60 sq/m, each U-shaped room has an internal open-air courtyard with Koi fish pond and sitting area which divides the bedroom and a more dramatic black-and-white open-air bathroom featuring polished terrazzo concrete and freestanding, veiled tub.
If you haven't got a pool, nothing quite beats a relaxing soak alfresco - even in the rain.
And rain it does, alot. Few visitors seemed to mind however. As one guest remarked while the heavens opened during breakfast on my second day: "We don't get rain like this in California. It's nice to see something different."
However, I'd booked a seat and a paddle on an inflatable raft which was destined to ride the gentle rapids of the winding Ayung River that morning. Although the chances were high that I would get wet, even without rain, I decided to delay my Sobek adventure until the afternoon in the hope the sun would eventually peep out from the clouds (it makes for better photos). The Gods were obviously feeling generous and appeased.
A 'thank you' every now and then, obviously goes a long way.
Check in: Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Banjar Lungsiakan, Kedewatan, Ubud, Gianyar 80571, Bali, Indonesia.
Ultimate Luxury:  The Como Shambala suite comes with a separate bedroom, bathroom and sitting room, infinity plunge pool, sundeck and its own treatment room.
Most Indulgent Moment: S oaking up the ridge views from my private plunge pool; a traditional Indonesian massage in the Como Shambhala Spa.
Insider Secrets: A magical garden fairy tirelessly kept my lawn and small sundeck leaf-free - not an easy task in this setting. Around 30 gardeners take care of Uma's beautiful tropical gardens.

The Little Things: Leaf prints embedded in the stone steps; scented and chilled refresher towels; a contemporary restaurant menu with healthy and vegetarian options; umbrellas at the ready. Uma Ubud offers complimentary WiFi and high-speed Internet access in the lobby, bar and restaurant. Guests can also enjoy free guided morning walks, daily Yoga classes and a frequent shuttle to and from Ubud town. Rooms come with carry bag and yoga mat for use during your stay.

Junior Luxies: Children are welcome. Lacoste says Uma has become especially popular with single parents holidaying with children. "The feedback we get is that it facilitates good quality time", he says. Even so, the resort's vast number of steps won't suit toddlers under five. Two garden rooms and four Terrace rooms interconnect - making them ideal for families or large groups travelling together.  Nannies are available on request to give parents time to enjoy the spa and other activities. Older children will enjoy the central 25 metre outdoor pool and soft adventure activities available such as what water rafting and biking down a volcano; canang-making (daily offering); a visit to the sacred monkey forest as well as traditional dance performances - like the Kecak Fire and Trance dance - staged in the town's many temples.

Dress code: Learn to tie a sarong
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Resorts Link: www.uma.ubud.como.bz
Debbie Neilson- Hunter 30/11/11
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