The Enduring Charm of Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

One of Bali’s most acclaimed resorts is not one to rest on its laurels, as a recent visit attests.

Mandapa’s signature Kubu restaurant features wicker dining “cocoons” and a romantic riverside setting.

When it opened in September 2015 on the outskirts of Ubud, Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve quickly earned recognition as one of the year’s best new hotels. This was not unexpected. As the third property in Ritz-Carlton’s ultra-exclusive Reserve portfolio, the 10-hectare resort had plenty of hype to live up to, and the finished results were suitably impressive, from the aerie-like lobby perched above a luminous green valley, to the thatch-roofed pool villas laid out alongside the Ayung River below in the style of a traditional Balinese village (complete with terraced rice fields and a venerable Hindu temple).

Fast forward two and a half years and, while the hype has dissipated, Mandapa is perhaps more alluring than ever, its gardens now full and lush and its staff—which includes a team of private butlers—poised and confident. Guest activities have also been recently honed to offer a host of fresh experiences. So even if you’ve stayed before, there’s something new to look forward to. Here are some highlights:

A circa-1970 VW 181 used on the resort’s Hidden Jewel driving tour.

Roads less traveled
Mandapa has offered driving tours in classic Volkwagen Type 181s—boxy convertibles first designed in the 1960s for the West German Army and later marketed variously as the Thing, the Trekker, and the Kurierwagen—since it opened. But the latest off-the-beaten-path itinerary, Hidden Jewel, is every bit the gem that its name suggests. Heading northeast along sinuous back roads past the lush rice terraces of Tegallalang and the sacred springs of Tirta Empul, the half-day tour stops first at Tukad Cepung Waterfall.

Getting to the cascade provides an opportunity to stretch your legs—it involves a kilometer-long hike down a jungle path to a ravine, where the waterfall plunges 15 meters into a cool, misty chasm. Next comes a visit to Pura Kehen, an ancient temple complex (said to be the largest on the island after Pura Besakih, Bali’s “mother temple”) on the outskirts of Bangli; then a walk around the car-free highland village of Penglipuran, known for its well-preserved traditional houses and layout. The trip ends with a picnic-style lunch of ciabatta sandwiches at a coffee farm overlooking a bucolic valley.

A Balinese priest conducting the Homa Yajna fire blessing ritual.

Healing touch
Mandapa’s serene riverside spa has long championed a holistic approach to wellbeing rooted in ancient Balinese healing practices. Guests can, for example, have their chakras realigned through energy work and acupressure, or arrange sessions with a blind healer who is said to be able to identify ailments through touch and cure them with reflexology and massage. Now, those looking for an alternative spa experience have two more traditional healers to choose from: Rini Soe, a palmist and spiritual medium who offers two-hour “anointing oil” treatments designed to sooth muscles and joints while realigning the body’s energy centers; and Pak Wayan, a specialist in Panca Mayakosha therapy, which, after a prayer and meditation, involves him passing his hands over the body to clear it of any unhealthy energy.

Food for thought
The food at Mandapa has always been a draw. Kubu restaurant, a beautiful bamboo structure with teardrop-shaped dining “cocoons” that overlook the river, can be a tough table to book thanks to both the magical setting and Maurizio Bombini’s inventive, southern Italian–inspired cuisine. The resort also offers a Dining Beyond series of private culinary experiences that include barbecue dinners beside the rice field, gourmet picnics in a rice barn, and in-villa degustation menus. New to the lineup is The Cliff at Sawah, a wooden deck perched amid greenery above a bend in the Ayung River. It’s the perfect spot to savor a menu of Indonesian specialties like sop buntut (oxtail soup) and bebek betutu (Balinese roast duck), with many ingredients coming from the chef’s organic on-site garden.

One of the Mandapa’s riverside pool villas.

The rite stuff
For a unique cultural experience, guests can now arrange to take part in a fire blessing ritual at the resort’s temple. With origins in the ancient Vedic texts, the hour-long ceremony, called Homa Yajna, is conducted at the end of the day by a Balinese priest, who begins by ringing his bell, sprinkling holy water, and intoning Sanskrit mantras to evoke blessings of health and abundance. The proceedings crescendo with the ritual lighting of a fire in a terra-cotta brazier set amid a mandala-like arrangement of flower petals; between chants, the priest feeds the flames with lashings of ghee. Guests are welcome to add their chorus to the mantras, and to toss offerings of rice balls and lentils into the fire in a symbolic burning away of negative thoughts or unwanted energy. A few minutes of silent meditation brings the mesmerizing experience to a close.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Mandapa Revisited”).

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