Discover the real Bali

There is a lot more to Bali than Kuta Beach and noisy bars, travel editor Winsor Dobbin reports.

Tucked away in the hills above the northern Bali coast is a superb rural getaway that allows guests to experience the authentic sights, sounds and tastes of the holiday island. The Damai, which reopened last year after a three-year Covid closure, offers a luxury villa experience surrounded by temples, small farms, and rice paddies. 

The 15 private villas (in four configurations) all offer an essence of Balinese style (think al fresco garden showers), but each has its own swimming pool and western comforts, including fast, dependable wi-fi. Think simple, but elegant, in a serene garden setting. 

The Damai’s slogan is: “hard to find; harder to leave” and it offers a rare sense of tranquillity just a winding 4km drive up from the black sand beaches at Lovina, where visitors can go swimming with dolphins on a local fishing boat, and sample the many local warungs, and maybe try some babi guleng (suckling pig). 

It is also close to several remote but spectacular waterfalls. As the light fades, guests can sit on the terrace with spectacular views down to the water below and take in sounds wafting mellifluously across the landscape. 

The soundtrack ranges from the call to prayer at local temples, the sound of gamelans practicing their art, resident frogs, and local roosters.

The word damai means “peace”, which seems appropriate. 

Many guests choose to spend most of their time at The Damai, where local experiences are highlighted and most of the very impressive staff come from the hillside villages. Think herbal shots made from local plants for breakfast, a daily menu of Balinese food specialities, and cocktails made with local ingredients that the bar staff have marinated themselves. 

Meals are served either in the open-air dining room, at poolside, or in your villa’s garden, should you be looking for complete privacy. If you are looking for a local breakfast, try a colourful fresh fruit platter followed by a spicy mie goreng and chicken skewers. 

At dinner there is always a Balinese three-course menu choice, perhaps featuring a half chicken from a local village, or some crabs from local mangroves. The western food is also very good with the Balinese-style Angus burger for lunch a standout, and dishes like yellowfin tuna with mango, langoustine and green curry, or fish of the day with beurre blanc or a spicy soy sauce; served with pilaf rice or steamed greens.

The Damai uses organic ingredients where possible with herbs and salads from the on-site market garden, honey from the Damai bees and poultry, eggs, and fresh coconut oil from the neighbouring village.

When you dine you can see the local fishermen in the distance, out at sea readying for tomorrow’s catch.

The hotel can arrange for you to take a trip further up in the hills to visit “Vanilla Farm” where you can see vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices being farmed and dried – as well as exotic fruits like jackfruit and dragonfruit.

The ambience here is totally relaxing, but if you really want to chill, the signature The Damai Massage is an excellent excuse to nod off. 

The Damai offers a slice of authentic Bali, and a range of packages can be tailored to your preferences – and drivers are available to take you where you want to go (at extra cost, of course). 

For more details see Villas are surprisingly affordable.

# The writer was hosted by The Damai.

Finding a locally owned and operated place to stay can be one of the keys to an authentic – and affordable – stay in Bali.

If you want to avoid the hustle and bustle, opt for a quieter resort area. Like Sanur. Bumi Ayu Bungalows is tucked away down a quiet laneway in Sanur but is just a short stroll to the main street, and a slightly longer walk to the beach. There are several local eateries and massage options within five minutes of your accommodation. Sit by the pool and order some satay sticks (above) and fresh juice and enjoy Bali as it used to be.

Bumi Ayu Bungalows has been operating for over 20 years and offers a variety of accommodation – from poolside villas to hotel rooms. There’s an excellent pool, with a jacuzzi, wi-fi, a library and on on-site eatery that serves excellent breakfasts (both traditional and western).

My bungalow was older style, but very comfortable with a large bed, air con, fridge, bathroom with amenities and a lovely deck with garden views. I paid around $50 a night – which is excellent value.

The property is very well maintained, and the staff are charming. The front desk can arrange tours and transfers around the island. Within a five-minute stroll of the Bumi Ayu Bungalows are several warungs offering cheap eats – Lilla Waring was excellent – as well as a Japanese restaurant and steakhouse.

You can walk along the beach via a laneway from the Griya Santrian hotel.

So what, exactly, is Sanur like? 

As the coastal area closest to the capital, Denpasar, Sanur predates Kuta, Nusa Dua and Uluwatu as the oldest destination for beach tourism in Bali. The waters of Sanur are protected by a string of offshore reefs, creating large, warm shallow, safe lagoons that are clear and excellent for swimming and water sports. Accommodation prices drop dramatically if you are willing to stay a few blocks away from the water.

Sanur has a quiet and relaxed feel to it and tends to appeal most to middle-aged and older groups. If you want to party you have come to the wrong place. Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main street in Sanur, has several outlets for car, motorbike, and bicycle rental – and hosts a night market.

Sanur is a 20-minute taxi ride from the Ngurah Rai International Airport – unless it is raining – and around 30 minutes driving time from Kuta or Legian. Your taxi driver might not be familiar with it, so take a map with you. Bumi Ayu Bungalows designed in Balinese style and surrounded by lush tropical gardens tucked well back from the road. 

Search the internet for deals (the prices on the website are inflated) and see for property details.

Qantas flies Sydney-Denpasar with daily direct flights operated on an Airbus A330 aircraft, fares start from $414 one way. The quality of the full-service airline experience is vastly superior to that offered on Jetstar. See

See more of Winsor’s travel tips at