For years Bali, the pearl among the Sunda Islands, has been touted as an earthly paradise, thanks to its tropical landscapes, its white sandy beaches, the tormented beauty of its Hindu temples and its inhabitants’ reputation for kindness and tolerance. Its hippy beach shacks may have given way to five-star hotels, but Bali still has pockets of untapped beauty as serene and laid-back as they ever were.
It is also a place where modern sports such as diving, sailing, rafting and above all surfing have taken hold and are enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year. It is a place where the ultimate luxuries of life: fine dining, spas and massage have reached the peak of perfection along with the serene natural beauty.
The inland town of Ubud in Bali is the island’s cultural hub. A 30-minute drive north of the southern city of Denpasar—Bali’s capital and home to the island’s only airport—Ubud offers a wealth of experiences, from admiring Balinese artwork at the Museum Puri Lukisan to sampling the roasts at nearby coffee plantations to seeking out the best handmade wares.
Today, Ubud is the most famous country village in the tropics, after the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Eat Pray Love’, starring Julia Roberts, was filmed there. Bali’s reputation as a tropical island paradise has its roots in an expatriate artists’ colony in the hills near Ubud which, 80 years ago, attracted Noël Coward and Charlie Chaplin, among others.
Enchanting as the jungles of Bali’s interior may be, the island’s diverse beaches are some of the world’s most beautiful. It’s hard to go wrong with any on the Bukit Peninsula, Bali’s southern tip. Shamaris frequents Padang-Padang, a cove dotted with theatrical rock formations, as well as Dreamland, a popular surf spot.
Just a few miles north of the peninsula is the fashionable Seminyak district, which features a high concentration of smart shops and restaurants. Start with the busy streets Petitenget and Batu Belig, home to Carga, a chic purveyor of gifts and housewares, and the ceramics studio Kevala Home, respectively. For an unforgettable meal, the restaurant and boutique Métis serves elegant French-Mediterranean cuisine at tables overlooking an idyllic rice field. Hardy’s area picks include La Finca for Spanish dishes, Mama San for Pan-Asian fare, and Sardine for freshly caught seafood.
A 30-minute drive northwest of Seminyak is Tanah Lot, perhaps the most recognizable of Bali’s shrines. From its west-coast position, it offers one of the island’s best sunset views, and less than ten miles away is the Alila Villas Soori hotel, a favorite of celebrities seeking a secluded getaway.
Bali is always evolving, with a steady stream of new restaurants and luxury hotels attesting to its global appeal. Alongside some sophisticated international developments, the island’s age-old traditions and natural beauty continue to thrive, making Bali a uniquely captivating destination.