Gdas Bali offers vegan wellness with a hint of hip-hop in Ubud - Hotel Insider

Cultural connections combine with peace and quiet at this new sanctuary

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Gdas Bali Health and Wellness Resort, in the cultural and spiritual enclave of Ubud – a verdant oasis contrasting with the buzzy beachfront bars of tourist hotspot Seminyak – is making waves in the retreat scene.

With 27 rooms and villas, this boutique sanctuary is the brainchild of Russell Simmons, the entrepreneur and founder of hip-hop label Def Jam who followed his love of yoga to Indonesia from the US in 2018.

Tucked away in the artistic village of Mas, known for its generations of skilled artists and stone carvers, Gdas Bali lies just off the beaten path.

Officially an hour's drive from the airport, but more realistically a scenic two-hour journey through Bali's lush landscapes due to the island’s notoriously heavy traffic, the resort promises a haven of tranquillity and artistic heritage.

The National checked in to a Grand Deluxe room for two nights to experience Gdas Bali’s all-vegan vision for wellness with a hint of hip-hop.

The welcome

At Gdas Bali, the welcome ritual is an experience in itself. A ladle of cool coconut water is gently poured over your head, symbolising a fresh start and setting the tone for a transformative stay.

This ceremony – a pared-down version of the traditional Balinese melukat purification ritual – instantly connects you with the island's rich cultural heritage.

Post-ceremony, the check-in process is a breeze. Guests are welcomed with cold towels and a refreshing iced tea, much-needed respite after a long journey in the humid Balinese heat.

Then, it's a leisurely stroll along the resort’s winding wooden walkways, leading you to one of the four interconnected “houses” set over two levels.

Each house faces either the lush neighbouring rice paddies – offering some of the best views – or the Bali Eden, the hotel's wellness retreat, which is set for its grand opening this month.

The rustic charm of traditional keys to unlock the door to each room contrasts with the contemporary flair of the black-and-white open lobby, and a flower-filled bath overlooking the fields is ready for you to take a refreshing soak on arrival.

The neighbourhood

Gdas Bali is down a winding driveway off the backstreets of Mas, a spot that's all about embracing Bali's spiritual and cultural heart.

It is a perfect base for exploring – it's close enough to the action but still a peaceful sanctuary to return to at the end of the day.

The hotel’s free shuttle service is your key to unlocking the treasures of central Ubud, or local taxis can be ordered via Bali’s Careem equivalent, Grab, to whisk you into the town.

Here, you'll find yourself wandering through a maze of lively streets, a vibrant contrast to the resort’s serene, green setting.

The room

Like elegant glass boxes nestled in nature, each Deluxe room at Gdas Bali features full-height windows, immersing you in the surrounding beauty of rice paddies and jungle greenery.

Colourful artworks on the walls and intricate ornaments dotted around the room’s plush king-size bed are all created by painters and craftsmen from Mas, adding a touch of authenticity.

The generously sized bathroom is luxurious, with green marble counters, a glass-enclosed rain shower and a deep stone bathtub hidden from view by lush vegetation.

In Bali’s wet season, the tropical rain taps gently on the houses’ glass-domed roofs, adding a soothing, rhythmic backdrop to the peaceful ambience.

The service

The staff, predominantly from the local area, bring genuine Balinese hospitality to the hotel – they’re more than happy to talk through the culture of the surrounding area or make recommendations for bars.

From the welcoming smiles at the front desk to the culinary expertise of the chefs, the service is warm and authentic throughout.

The nightly turndown service comes with thoughtful gifts and delicious glutinous cakes nested in bamboo baskets, and room service is swift throughout the night.

The scene

The ambience at Gdas Bali is one of relaxed sophistication, with the boutique pool area a particular hotspot for unwinding in the sun on wooden loungers or in cabanas.

The resort has a laid-back elegance that feels like an escape from the tourist-filled streets of Bali, with figures from the worlds of hip-hop and yoga often dining in the lobby.

A yoga shala overlooking the rice fields and surrounding jungle hosts daily classes. Or you can head to the reading room and its shelves of interesting books from around the world.

Daily complimentary cultural experiences, including hat making and walks to the local village, offer more opportunities to connect with Balinese tradition.

The Bali Eden wellness retreat will feature a traditional bathhouse, where guests can immerse themselves in warmed, filtered spring water and breathe in steam scented with organic herbs, spices and aromatherapy oils.

It will also include cold and warm plunge pools, salt therapy and one of the only in-house IV drip facilities in Bali.

The food

The all-vegan Tangi Restaurant is a culinary haven for plant-based food fans, serving everything from enormous slabs of tempeh steak to jackfruit spring rolls and the Indonesian classic gado gado (vegetables with tofu in peanut sauce) from a busy open kitchen.

The restaurant's name is inspired by a Balinese Hindu traditional story, in which the saint Dang Hyang Nirartha planted a sacred stick at a nearby templed that miraculously grew into a tangi tree with golden flowers.

A standout dish is the teriyaki wok-fried “chicken”, which delivers a burst of flavours so authentic, it gives the real thing a serious run for its money.

However, be wary of the spice levels – unless you're up for a face-tingling adventure, ask for a milder version.

There’s another clever substitution at breakfast – a salmon benedict made out of papaya.

The cake selection changes each day, adding to pan-Asian dessert options like sticky mango rice, an oat brownie artfully plated with orange zest, plus pandan crepes doused in palm sugar sauce.

You won’t find any alcohol on the menu at Gdas Bali, but there are plenty of smoothies, mocktails and several versions of the traditional Balinese herbal drink loloh featuring turmeric, ginger and vegan honey.

While the restaurant closes at 10pm, the full menu can be served to your room 24 hours a day. Service is speedy, but it comes with a 20 per cent surcharge.

Highs and lows

A full week of plant-based meals might not be for everyone, but following guest feedback, the hotel is considering introducing a new restaurant with non-vegan options.

The hotel's hidden location in the forest, while adding to its mystique, can be a tad challenging for first-time visitors to find. Also, the attentive service, though warm and personalised, might feel a little overwhelming for those seeking a more private stay.

Before plunging into your flower-filled bath, watch out for walkers ambling along the tucked-away path just in front of the rice paddy rooms.

The insider tip

The resort is a sanctuary of peace, but if you're itching for a change of pace then hop on the hotel’s free hourly shuttle service to central Ubud.

The first stop is at the must-visit Monkey Forest, an enchanting sanctuary where playful primates are the stars of the show, and then it’s on to the art market surrounded by cocktail bars, each with its own unique flair.

The verdict

Gdas Bali is off to a promising start, and it’s fast becoming a notable addition to the island's flourishing wellness scene.

Its combination of traditional Balinese hospitality and a deep connection with nature, courtesy of those floor-to-ceiling windows, sets it apart.

The Bali Eden retreat promises to enhance the hotel's appeal significantly, offering a range of relaxation options ideal for yogis and wellness enthusiasts.

Once completed, Gdas Bali is poised to become a go-to destination for those seeking both relaxation and a genuine connection to culture in the heart of Ubud.

The bottom line

Grand Deluxe rooms officially start at $700 per night but can be booked in low season for about half that price, with the rate including daily breakfast and yoga plus a complimentary spa treatment and airport transfers on stays for three nights or more.

Check-in is at 2pm and checkout is at noon, with early room access available from 4am for an additional charge;

This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel and reflects hotel standards during this time. Services may change in the future.

Updated: December 22, 2023, 6:02 PM