Australia’s political relationship with Indonesia may be rather fraught right now, but one island remains a firm favourite with Australian visitors: long-time getaway Bali.
Bali is best known for its fine stretches of sand, river gorges, ancient temples, adventure sports, luxury lodges, affordable spas and friendly people, and is also home to several top-notch golf courses.
Artistic types head for the hills of Ubud, party lovers find themselves in Kuta or Jimbaran Bay and solitude seekers set out for the almost deserted black sand beaches to the north and swim with dolphins.
One of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, Bali is home to around 4.3 million people, most of them Hindus, the remainder Muslims and expatriates. Always a favourite with Australians because of its proximity (just four hours from Perth and six from Sydney), Bali is also the largest tourist drawcard in the country; renowned for its arts, leatherworking and music (Balinese percussion orchestra music, known as gamelan, is popular).
The main tourist locations are the town of Kuta and its outer suburbs of Legian and Seminyak, the east coast town of Sanur, the arts stronghold of Ubud and the newer development of Nusa Dua and Pecatu to the south of the island. To the north, beach towns like Kalibukbuk, Singaraja and Lovina are more rural and less touristy, but also lack modern infrastructure. It’s a great pleasure to be able to head out with the local fishermen at dawn and be joined by groups of frolicking dolphins.
Two of Bali’s main attractions are its cuisine and its growing spa culture. The food draws on Indonesian, Chinese, Indian and Dutch influences and the rijstaffel, a selection of smallerspicy dishes, is a popular way to learn about the cuisine.
In addition to Indonesian staples like satay ayam (chicken skewers with peanut sauce), beef rendang (a pungent beef curry) and gado gado (a dish of raw vegetables with peanut puree), also try lawar (chopped coconut, garlic and chilli with pork or chicken meat and blood), bebek betutu (duck stuffed with spices, wrapped in banana leaves and coconut husks cooked in a pit of embers) and babi guling (spit-roasted suckling pig stuffed with chilli, turmeric, garlic and ginger). Pisang goreng (deep-fried banana) is a popular dessert.
Many of the top-end resorts have their own luxurious spa facilities offering a range of treatments. The Jiwa Spa at the Conrad Bali has been proclaimed the island’s premier wellness destination and has 17 treatment rooms along with its own 25-metre pool, while the brand new Amarterra Spa follows traditional Dharma rituals and offers Balinese ‘Urut’ Massage, a deep-tissue massage known for its ability to accelerate healing. In local shopfronts and on the beach, many locals will offer massage treatments and foot reflexology at varying levels of expertise (and comfort) starting from around $6 per hour.
Bali is home to a huge range of accommodation choices; from luxury villas with private plunge pools, dramatic clifftop resorts and family friendly brand hotels right on the beach. Three offering very different experiences are Amarterra Villas in the Nusa Dua tourism enclave, Anantara Uluwatu, overlooking one of the best surf beaches in Asia and the Conrad Bali, in the centre of the action on Tanjung Benoa beach but a little oasis of calm…
Amarterra Villas Bali Nusa Dua is an idyllic collection of 39 luxury one, two and three-bedroom villas in an exclusive enclave a short walk from the beach (where the resort has its own beach club). Opened in 2013, the resort offers peace and quiet and top-notch service. The villas are beautifully appointed with Balinese themes but 21st-century technology including free wi-fi and satellite TV. The villas are within walking distance of the Bali Collection shopping precinct and several restaurants, while the Bali National course is just a short drive away and the hotel has golf packages in the planning stage.
There is an on-site Terra Terrace restaurant (although private dining by your own pool is a real pleasure) and other elements include a free gym, welcome drink and cool towel on arrival, daily mineral water, fruit basket, free mini bar and snacks, whirlpool Jacuzzis and that enticing private swimming pool.
+62 361 776400. www.amarterravilla.com.
Conrad Bali, right on the beachfront at Tanjung Benoa, offers a more traditional family-friendly resort with a touch of luxury. The 353-room hotel, which also has a separate wing of 55 adult-only suites, offers a kids’ club, water sports, open-air massages, morning yoga sessions, gym, business centre, shopping village, several pools, tennis courts and three restaurants in seven hectares of beautifully manicured gardens (look out, that might be a coconut above your head). There’s a multinational clientele here and the service is excellent.
Several bespoke tours are available from the resort concierge desk (think elephant trekking, white water rafting or visits to a local artisan organic chocolate producer) but there is so much to do here you could easily spend a week without leaving the grounds. The food in the beachfront Eight Degrees South is excellent, there is a good choice of drinks and a selection of bathroom amenities underlines the attention to detail.
+62 361 778 788. www.conradbali.com.
Anantara Uluwatu is the perfect Bali resort choice for those who want to get away from it all in a spectacular setting. Situated on a clifftop terrace overlooking one of the island’s best surf beaches, the Anantara offers hotel rooms and villas with great views. It is located above Impossible Beach, aptly named for its surf, limestone cliffs and secret caves. The recently opened resort is also close to several surf beaches and one of the island’s most ancient temples, which hosts nightly dance performances.
Enjoy great sunsets and solitude, treatments at the spa and dine on Mediterranean cuisine, or poolside but beware: there are several dozen steep steps to be negotiated in each direction en route from the main building to the pool and the property is also very isolated – with a very long walk even to the main road, making a car obligatory for anyone planning to stay more than a couple of days. Service needs some attention – and look out for the cheeky monkeys that often parade through the resort.
+62 361 895 7555. www.anantara.com.