There are several distinct regions within Bali, each with their own unique topography and atmosphere.
Loosely speaking you have:
This area includes Uluwatu (and its famous temple overrun with larcenous monkeys), Jimbaran and Nusa Dua.
Nusa Dua is a private strip of white sand upon which numerous hotels are located. You have to pass through security checkpoints to enter the area and access resorts such as the St Regis, Sofitel and Conrad. It scores approximately 0/10 in the cultural stakes but the beaches look pretty decent.
Uluwatu occupies the southernmost edge of Bali. It is home to a number of cliffside resorts such as Bvlgari , Banyan Tree and Alila Uluwatu. Whilst this offers around 4/10 in terms of cultural experiences the cliffside resorts are quite unique, with many rooms having uninterrupted ocean views which stretch as far as the eye can see. We chose to spend 2 nights in Alila Villas Uluwatu at the end of our trip. The hotel is a destination in itself and has won countless design awards. I was also very intrigued by the fact it is run by former Aman staff, with service standards reported to be of an exceptional calibre.
Relatively off the beaten track save for Amankila and (to a lesser extent) Alila Manggis. There are numerous interesting villages to visit and you are close to some excellent hikes, including volcanoes and waterfalls. If you want to dive the Tulamben shipwreck (located in the northeast), this is a good place to stay. However, as mentioned above, the ocean views are somewhat spoiled by passing container/ cruise ships and the water can have the odd bit of garbage in it.
Seminyak and Kuta are very close to the airport. For many young backpackers this is a place to just hang back and get totally effed up. Not the place to go if you want to experience yoga, quiet village ceremonies, a life free from chlamydia, etc.
Further up the western coast you have the very famous Tanah Lot Temple and with it a number of upmarket resorts such as the Fairmont Sanur and the Pan Pacific Nirwana.
As you continue up Western coast you will find numerous private hire villas which offer full service without the fuss of a hotel. Another Alila hotel: Alila Villas Soori, is pretty much the final large scale hotel you'll find on this side of the island.
This area has a slightly more rugged coastline with plenty of temples, hot springs and lakes to be explored. Lovina is the most well known area here, it is the place to go for dolphin watching. At present there are no major hotels in North Bali. Your only real options are (incomprehensibly cheap) private villas or guesthouses.
The town of Ubud and its surroundings, dominate central Bali. This region of the island is famous for its picturesque jungle landscapes, rice terraces, yoga retreats and the numerous villages each specialising in one unique area of arts and crafts. Want a wood carving? There's a village for that. A sarong? There's a village for that. A stone head? There's a village for that. etc.
Whilst Ubud town centre has become hugely commercialised in recent times, the outlying villages offer a unique view into Balinese village life. We wanted to experience sunrise over a jungle valley, the sound of geckos chirping us to sleep and lazy afternoons enjoying cocktails poolside with no other guests to interrupt the experience.
In Ubud all of this is possible.
I'm all for collecting points for aspirational hotel stays. Some locations are best enjoyed from a hotel with a unique history or a spectacular, privileged view. The Park Hyatt Sydney immediately springs to mind.
However, I truly believe that Ubud is not such a place.
In Bali there are literally hundreds of villas with full complements of staff: cooks, cleaners, drivers, groundskeepers, all of which can be hired in their entirety for immensely reasonable sums.
Whilst Ubud has a number of very well regarded hotels - COMO Shambhala, Oberoi, Hanging Gardens, The Chedi Club and Amandari - all of these charge significantly more than our villa for a basic (albeit very tastefully decorated) hotel room with service and facilities to be shared with all of the other hotel guests.
After extensive searching we decided to begin our 5 night stay in Bali with 3 nights at Villa Shamballa.