FIVE BEST BITS OF BEAUTIFUL BALI
KAREN WALLACE travelled to Bali to discover what the Indonesian island has to offer inquisitive tourists…
When you step off a plane and smell the fragrance of frangipanis, hear the gamelan’s melodic riff, and see bright colours all around, you know you’ve landed on the tropical Indonesian island of Bali.
My first stop was a short taxi ride north from Denpasar airport, to the cosmopolitan town of Seminyak. Filled with boutiques, designer outlets, spas and cafes, it has rapidly expanded since my first trip to Bali six years ago.
Facing west, Seminyak is the most sophisticated of a string of resorts on the south west coast, which is best positioned for astounding technicolour sunsets. It is not surprising that many of the world-class hotels that line the sandy beach of Seminyak have capitalised on them by investing in swanky sunset bars.
We had arrived at the start of a long weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Our group opted to hire a private villa as there would be a large number of us for the first weekend. Villa-Bali.com offered Villa Yoga as it sleeps 14, comes with its own pool, and is within walking distance to shops, restaurants and nightlife. It was an added bonus that it also came with its own yoga studio!
In Bali, self-catering properties tend to come with a complement of staff, whether it is only a manager and someone to prepare breakfast and clean, or a full fleet that could include a butler, chef and driver, should you require their services.
After a few days of sun-bathing amidst the hustle and bustle of the south, it was refreshing to head inland for a change of pace, to the island’s lush interior that is packed with ancient temples, verdant rainforests and dramatic rice terraces.
The bestseller book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ tends to get the praise for putting Ubud on the tourist map.
We stayed in the marvellous Sri Ratih Cottages, a tranquil complex of hotel rooms, suites, restaurant, spa and swimming pool, all picturesquely set amongst trees. As with our first property, our suite came with a spacious bathroom, half of which was fashionably roofless. It was an experience to have uninterrupted views of the starry night sky and amazing sunrises at dawn while I showered.
Top of my Ubud list was a visit to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a natural forest where a band of grey long-tailed Balinese macaques live.
A banana seller showed me the safest way to hand a banana to a monkey, in order to tempt it onto my shoulder to avail of a photo opportunity.
As a guide to the size of the sanctuary, the forest is home to three temples and some 600 monkeys.
We also enjoyed a stroll around Ubud Palace, the official residence of the local royal family, and the Saraswati Water Palace next door. They are situated in the town centre, opposite the extensive Ubud market where you can while away an afternoon bartering for local art, crafts and souvenirs.
In Ubud by night, it is popular to watch a Balinese dance performance. We opted for a Kecak Fire and Trance Dance to immerse ourselves in some Balinese culture. Kecak is the most unique of Balinese dances as it is not accompanied by instruments but by a choir of around 100 people percussively chanting ‘cak’. They kept the best until last as the ‘Sanghyang’ dance that followed, involved a man who was in a trance, dancing on fire!
Bali is predominantly Hindu and its spirituality is evident everywhere you go. So, on our way to our next base we stopped at Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, a majestic temple on a lake. Built in 1634, it is the iconic feature on the 50,000-rupiah banknote.
Nestled between a lofty backdrop of the Bedugul volcanic mountains and the ocean, Lovina is the gem of the lesser-travelled north coast of Bali.
We stayed at The Lovina, a magnificent luxury complex that offers 66 villas and suites, a traditional Balinese spa, and two public swimming pools... aside from your own private pool, if staying in a villa. We were over the moon to be upgraded to an opulent Grand Beach Villa with a tremendous ocean view.
It was at this complex’s Heliconia Restaurant where we enjoyed the best breakfast buffet and best breakfast view of our trip.
We felt like popstars the moment we arrived, but we discovered we were in fact mixing with them when we bumped into Indonesia pop star Agnez Mo, who was also staying there.
With the strapline ‘Lovina, the way Bali was meant to be,’ the complex pitches itself as a place for tranquillity and a truly relaxing holiday, in contrast to the island’s frantic cultural fusion of the resorts 2½ hours away in the south.
It is a superb base if you like to swim in the ocean, as the sea is very calm, and its beach is covered in unusually black sand.
The Lovina is playing a key role in putting the area on the tourist map, as it carves a niche for itself amongst travellers as the place to go dolphin watching at sunrise. We were astounded at the number of dolphins we saw. Even seeing one or two would have made the early start worth it.
If you like to stay active you can make use of the complex’s kayaks, snorkelling gear or bicycles, go trekking to waterfalls, or experience the unusual combination of natural cold and hot springs. If you are into diving or snorkelling, nearby Menjangan island is home to the best preserved coral reef in Bali.
I can’t emphasis enough that it is worth taking the time to travel north to Lovina.
On the move again, this time towards the south east coast, we took a detour to see the island’s most iconic emerald paddy terraces, the Jatiluwih Rice Fields. The terraces have received UNESCO World Heritage status, listed in respect of the ancient rice-growing traditions. The view across the centuries-old rice fields as the emerald ribbons curve around the contour of the hills is something to behold.
In Keramas, we checked in to a couple of funky hotel rooms in the exotic eco-designed Hotel Komune for two nights.
This complex is quite the surfers’ playground. Its location fronts world-class surf breaks, but the property also promotes itself as a place to ‘connect adventurous, fun-loving, environmentally conscious travellers who share a passion for surf and beach culture’.
We never needed to leave the complex for the two nights we spent there.
We split our time between watching the surfing from the beach-side pool and its fabulous Beach Club restaurant that pumped out great music day and night, and the contrasting quiet pool next to the Health Hub café that specialised in growing its own ingredients for its menu.
The beach at Keramas stretches as far as the eye can see - a bonus for me as I love a good walk. There is also a boutique and a wonderful spa, where I tentatively tried a four hands massage!
My last stop was in another style of accommodation in Jimbaran, back on the central south coast.
The quaint Balquisse Heritage Hotel was built in the 1960s. Each of the 15 rooms is individually designed with a vintage feel and adorned with antiques collected across the archipelago.
Centrally positioned in Jimbaran, just opposite the Bali Intercontinental, it was only a short walk to the beach.
Situated on a bay, this resort is a swimmer’s paradise with hardly any surf and is complemented with a wide and long sandy, white beach.
It is from this resort that many tourists take a trip to the cliff side Uluwatu Temple to watch the sun set amidst the monkeys that live there. Afterwards it is popular to return to Jimbaran to enjoy a seafood dinner on the beach in one of the many restaurants that line the bay.
We visited at the time of last year’s supermoon which was a religious holiday for locals. For tourists it was a colourful spectacle as the Balinese made their way in traditional dress to the temple with plentiful bright offerings.
From yoga retreats to spa treats, and from sun worshipping to touring temples, there are many reasons to visit Bali.
It might have taken me a day on planes and in airports to get to Bali from Northern Ireland but it was worth it for a trip that has rewarded me with memories that will last a lifetime.
Flights: Karen flew with British Airways to London and then with Malaysia Airlines, via Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar, Bali.
Accommodation: Seminyak - Villa Yoga: villa-seminyak.com; Villa-Bali.com: villa-bali.com; Ubud - Sri Ratih Cottages: sriratih.com; Lovina - The Lovina: thelovinabali.com; Keramas - Hotel Komune, Bali: komuneresorts.com/keramasbali; and in Jimbaran - Balquisse Heritage Hotel: balquisse.com.