Stylist contributor Collette Lyons travels to Bali in Indonesia to experience tropical island life first hand
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Bali. In fact, I’m barely into the hour-long drive from Denpasar airport – lush paddy fields, ornate temples and roadside stalls piled high with flowers for holy offerings – and I’m feeling the first fluttering of a serious crush.
The sort of mythical place where the sea is blue and the sun isn’t some cold, strange light occasionally appearing from behind a cloud, it’s no surprise, it has become the destination for romancing couples and party-seekers.
Why is it hot?
Bali is a tale of two holidays. There are the party towns such as Kuta and Nusa Dua where bars spill out into the street and holidaymakers soak up the hot nights (temperatures rarely drop below 25°C) and garishly coloured cocktails. But then there are the spectacular, isolated five-star resorts that are so different from the busy hubs, it’s hard to believe they share the same landmass. And the four Alila resorts, of which we’re visiting two, rest in this latter category.
Our first destination, Alila Villas Soori, is set on the Indonesian island’s southwest coast and, thankfully, we arrive just in time for breakfast. They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach and at our first taste of Indonesian cooking, I really fall hard – we opt for the traditional Nasi Goreng (fried rice), which we eat while watching the waves lap the black volcanic sand.
Actually, the waves do rather more than lap – the Balinese coast is a surfer’s paradise, so swimming is a bad idea unless you’re Rebecca Adlington. But luckily, our villa suite at Alila Soori has its own – far more placid – pool, surrounded by cushion-strewn day beds and with much better access to the mini bar. We could jump from our living room into the crystal-blue water below.
The modern lines of the villas are softened by lush bamboo hedges; floor to ceiling glass doors give incredible views over the sea and paddy fields and huge beds and minimal furnishings add to the sense of luxury.
Tempting as it was to stay poolside for the whole three days, occasionally popping into the chic villa to change the tunes on the pre-loaded iPod that comes as standard, we reluctantly pack up and head to Alila’s second all-villa hotel. Close to the bustling, five-star resort of Seminyak, Alila Villas Uluwatu offers the best of both worlds. Set on the edge of a cliff, the sea views sea are extraordinary, but only the extremely energetic would be tempted to walk down (or, worse, back up again) the 600 steps for a swim. It feels delightfully secluded from the world.
This feeling is further enhanced by the villas themselves, which are surrounded by lemongrass to keep the mosquitos at bay (it really works – we weren’t bitten once). They are clad in flat lava rocks, decorated in local wood and rattan and all feature outdoor rain showers. The only noise you can hear while lounging in your private pool house is the occasional rumble of the golf buggies used to transport guests around. Or perhaps your private butler knocking on the door with a basket of rose petals to scatter on the bed
Eating and Drinking
It is hard to eat badly in Indonesia – and we really tried, tucking into a minimum four meals a day – but Ubud (Bali’s cultural capital situated in the centre of the island) offered perhaps the most exciting and adventurous cooking around. Mozaic is as close as Bali gets to a Michelin-starred restaurant, fusing western and Balinese techniques and ingredients – we’re talking truffle and foie gras plus lemongrass and galangal.
Slightly less high-end is Warung Pulau Kelapa, a pretty garden café where you can gorge on Opor Ayam (chicken in coconut milk with lime leaves, coriander, lemongrass, galangal and ginger) or Nasi Kuning (fried catfish with rice), made with organic ingredients from their own garden. If duck is your thing, take a seat looking out at the rice paddies at Bebek Bengil (it translates as ‘Dirty Duck’) and order up a storm.
If you only do one thing
Just 20 minutes away from Alila Villas Soori is one of Bali’s most-visited tourist spots, the Tanah Lot temple, which sits on a huge rock just off the coast. Time your trip for sunset, when the sky glows red behind the ornate 15th-century building, and I guarantee you’ll take photos worthy of a Kuoni brochure.
For your own Eat Pray Love moment, seek out the hidden temples in Ubud. They’re often tucked away in secret courtyards, so be nosey – turn a corner and you can find yourself looking up at a breathtaking, Lara Croft-style jewel. The Puri Saren, or royal palace, is a must-see and don’t miss the nightly candle-lit dance performances in the temples — Batukaru or Pura Dalem are among the best.
If you’re keen to be in among the island’s beautiful people, grab a 20-minute taxi from Alila Uluwatu to the centre of Seminyak to find a world of glamorous beach clubs and luxury boutiques. Perhaps the best of these is the glitzy W Retreat & Spa, with its sweeping driveway, lit by fire torches. We ate at Starfish Bloo – silly name, amazing food – grazing on a tasting menu that featured dishes from all over Asia.
Watching the sun set as we tucked into lobster on our last night in Bali, we decided that our love affair with Bali might be more than just a holiday romance. We’ve already booked for next year…
Practical and useful
Don’t be tempted to drive around the island – the traffic can be appalling, especially around Kuta and the airport, and taxis are so cheap it’s barely worth the saving. Oh, and don’t panic if you’ve forgotten to pack your flip flops or sarong, as almost every roadside shop stocks a huge range. Don’t buy too many, though – you will also want to pack your suitcase full of batik wall hangings and wood carvings. A word of warning: beware of overpriced faux antiques – unless they can prove their vintage status, many items will have been aged to look older.
A four-night twin centre package including two-nights at Alila Villas Uluwatu in a one-bedroom pool villa and two-nights at Alila Villas Soori in an ocean pool villa, daily breakfast, airport transfers and transfers between resorts (with a picnic lunch amid the rice terraces en route, served by a private butler) costs from £442 per villa per night. Visit alilahotels.com for more information. Malaysia Airlines flies from London Heathrow to Bali via KL from £873 return including taxes and charges, malaysiaairlines.com