The Best of Bali

There are more than 17,500 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, but for many travellers, there is just one. More than 1.1 million Australians touched down in Bali in 2017, the island attracting party people and posh in equal measure. There’s plenty of hedonistic nightlife, but also health retreats where you can atone for those evenings out. And — with Australia being one of its closest international neighbours — there are dozens of homegrown dining, drinking and shopping options, too.

Wellness Retreats

Opened in December 2005, the Como Shambhala Estate near Ubud enjoys an international reputation as the wellness resort to check in to. Here, nationalities ranging from Lithuanian and Australian to Chinese and Russian come seeking respite and relaxation amid the famous terraced gardens of the property. 
To foster an intimate feel, the resort includes five residences, each with a unique atmosphere. Stay at Tirta Ening — meaning ‘clear water’ — and enjoy a private waterfall and Japanese-style garden, or opt for Tejasuara’s earthy influences and thatched roofing. Each residence caters to solo travellers, couples or groups. There are also six wellness programs, each beginning with a consultation with an expert, who will tailor a ‘prescription’ that could include food ideas, massages and exercise. You can choose how closely to follow it.

Calming Cures

From chakra cleansing to cave meditation, there’s not much that isn’t on the menu at Fivelements. In the jungle-laced foothills of central Bali, the wellness resort’s collection of curvilinear buildings, crafted from sustainable local materials, is ringed by tropical gardens that are immediately soothing. It’s here the staff pluck flowers and herbs — pineapples, ginger, turmeric —used in vegetarian meals and spa treatments. Oranges and limes are pressed for bath rituals, cucumbers are muddled for cooling masks, and ylang ylang and frangipani blossoms are added to tonics for fragrant facials. Between the weird and wonderful therapies and calming rooms, you won’t want to leave. Ashtanga, vinyasa, hatha, fly high — whatever type of yoga you’re into, you’ll find a class offering it at Desa Seni. Sessions are held in open-air pavilions, made all the more serene by their setting amid tall palms and frangipani trees. When you’re not practising, there’s a spa where you can book treatments such as the Balinese boreh, a traditional remedy that sees a medley of warmed indigenous spices rubbed into your skin. An additional reason to linger is the accommodation, set in antique wooden homes sourced from across the Indonesian archipelago.

Lounge Life

Now-legendary restaurant and lounge bar Ku De Ta opened in 2000. The concept was remarkably simple: sun lounges overlooking the Indian Ocean, well-mixed cocktails, tasty international cuisine and chill-out music. Tourists and locals alike now flock to Jalan Laksmana to enjoy the restaurants and bars that line the pavement. And beautiful people descend on the island to be part of Ku De Ta’s famous house-music parties.

Unsurprisingly, plenty of other local establishments have duplicated Ku De Ta’s blueprint, including Potato Head Beach Club, a Jakarta export known for its quirky style. In Bali, design whimsy has been injected into an amphitheatre-like Seminyak space with a soaring wall of colourful antique shutters salvaged from across Indonesia. There are multiple restaurants and bars beside an infinity pool and DJ booth, but come sunset, the only place to be is on the grassy area overlooking the ocean.  

In neighbouring Canggu, The Lawn is exactly as it’s named — a sprawling green expanse with requisite pool and sun lounges, steps from the sand. There are daybeds by the water and tables on the deck, and when the live music starts, the best seat in the house is close to the bar. Finns Beach Club has also moved into the area, offering poolside lounges, live tunes and a stacked menu that will easily see the day away.

Wining and Dining

Over the last decade, the food scene in Bali has been increasingly shaped by Antipodean expats moving north for the sunshine and laid-back lifestyle on offer. With its blazing neon sign and share-plate menu, Bikini is the latest Australian culinary assault on the island, at the hands of Adam McAsey. 

The Melbourne native has opened a number of other restaurants along the same street, including Sisterfields, where you can order smashed avo on rye; Bo$$ Man burger joint, known for its 60-day dry-aged steaks; and Expat Roasters, where another Aussie, Shae Macnamara, heads up the barista team, sourcing single origin beans from across the globe. Others who have made the sea change include Ryan Clift, who recently opened Grow and rooftop bar Grow Up. (OK, so Clift is actually an honorary Aussie — he was born in the UK, but spent his formative years as head chef at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, a role he held for almost 10 years.) Clift’s Tippling Club in Singapore is one of the most innovative restaurants in the city-state, and he brings the same mix of culinary theatrics to his new Bali offerings. Expect a laboratory-inspired cocktail menu and experimental dishes such as a salad of roasted bone marrow or confit egg yolks with tiger prawns.  

Mrs Sippy’s sprawling establishment is home to the island’s largest saltwater pool, replete with multiple diving platforms. It also has table space for 500 diners. The menu stays true to its Aussie roots, with items such as grilled tiger prawns, steak sandwiches and half-a-dozen burgers; the cocktails and tropical tunes provide a nod to the tropical location. 

Modelled on Frank Camora’s Spanish restaurants in Melbourne, the island outpost of MoVida calls the trendy Katamama home, the flagship hotel from the Potato Head group. As with Camora’s other spots, the menu is all about small bites and share plates, perfect for the Balinese climate.

GETTING THERE

To book your flight to bali, visit, https://flights.virginaustralia.com/en-au/flights-to-bali-denpasar  

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