Honeymoon – cue audible sigh. It’s the post-wedding wind-down, the relaxation, the food (“don’t stare, it’s the first burger she’s been able to eat in months) the calm after the glass-smashing storm. Those well-earned two weeks are for pure luxury, pampering, bubbles – both to drink and to bathe in – and the exotic location you pick is where you’ll be flicking through your wedding photos and showing off to your Facebook friends.
To assess some of the best options, Mrs O and I flew 7,730 miles to review two top-tier hotels in Ubud, the central Balinese town made famous in the book Eat, Pray, Love, later made into a film starring Julia Roberts. Why there? Because this is as lush and as exotic as it gets, because the Balinese are the friendliest people on Earth, because we’d never been and because up in the highlands you get the ‘real’ Bali, not the overcrowded beach variety of the south. Oh, and because Ubud has some of the best hotels in the world.
Two of these are The Viceroy and The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah; the former is very good indeed, the latter spectacularly good – and cheaper. Both offer private pool villas, and of the two, The Viceroy sets out its stall most obviously as a honeymoon destination (Chedi is so good it needn’t set out its stall as anything… In fact, it needn’t have a stall).
The Viceroy’s USP is that hopelessly romantic view, down the winding
valley, through which monkeys roam, long-tailed blindingly-white birds fly, and strange rare tree shrews scurry.
The five-star hotel’s rooms, restaurant, bar, small pool and new spa all cling precariously to the top of the bank in pleasant but limited grounds.
At 25 suites this is not a big hotel, but it is routinely voted one of the best small hotels in the world, and one of the best ‘honeymoon hotels’ with so many awards it’s running out of space on the walls.
Our room was a deluxe terrace villa, the highlight of which was the balé, a small Balinese pavilion, positioned elegantly above a private outdoor heated infinity pool, from where we read, sipped fizz and gazed through drifting mist at the Petanu River gorge.
Inside, under ylang-ylang thatch (the smell of which is not as nice as it sounds), was a bed the size of a football pitch, so big that Mrs O and I entered from our respective sides and waved to one another. Likewise the palatial bathroom had more marble than most palaces.
Make it to the bar, and the staff will mix you delicious cocktails using local ingredients such as tamarind, while in the kitchen, a mix of Balinese and Belgian chefs offer both Indonesian and European food for those of you – like Mrs O – not yet brave enough for the country’s famously savage spices.
The Viceroy is excellent in many areas, but it is also very expensive, and for us, it didn’t reach as high as it could have. For instance, we sat down to our romantic candlelit dinner to a card welcoming ‘Mr and Mrs Santayoshi’ (if only our surname were that simple…). Likewise, while the Balinese are the most polite, gentle and generous people on the planet, the staff at The Viceroy sometimes seemed to be just going through the motions.
Our main complaint, however, is that, in such a small hotel, you are surrounded by other honeymooners, and it is difficult to feel special when all your neighbours are special, too.
No such problems across town at The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, Ubud, one of the Leading Hotels of the World, where we soon ran out of superlatives. Run brilliantly by a Swiss manager, but owned by an Indonesian architect, here be an oasis of private butlers, panoramic views of jungle and mountains, with night-time fire dances, blissful spas and infinity pools that lick the emerald rice paddies from where ducks occasionally pop in for a swim.
Everything about this hotel reeks of class, to the historical artworks of national importance adorning the walls, to the ludicrously tasty food (try the Dutch-inspired Rijsttafel dinner and local dishes such as nasi campur or ayam sambal tomat), to the staff, to the stunning setting, in extensive, fascinating grounds, featuring cascading lotus ponds, pavilions and statues of Ganesh, the Elephant God.
We are fortunate enough to have become increasingly experienced at reviewing and have never not found a fault with a hotel, however insignificant, but we were at a loss to find even the minutest flaw at this property, even after five days of looking.
This makes Chedi our first ever 10-out-of-10 and the ultimate place
to spoil yourselves after the big day and escape the family.
Book Villa 6 for seven days of unimaginable bliss and seclusion, and let your private butler take the strain. And no, I’m not talking about your new husband.