I miss not heading to Bali for my long weekend escapes and quick celebrations. For the last 11 years, Bali has been my go-to destination when in need of a short break. I have found myself celebrating family get-togethers and anniversaries in Kuta and Seminyak, winding down to decompress in Nusa Dua, after completing major projects, and when in need of a dose of inspiration – heading to Ubud.
It has only been 18 months since I last visited Bali, but somehow this short passage of time feels like an eternity. In moments of nostalgic daze, I catch myself wondering, as silly as the notion may sound, whether the beautiful sunsets of Bali have dimmed and greyed their pastel display in the absence of tourists or has the steady gush of salty breeze in my Uluwatu cliff villa muted itself down, saving up its freshness for the future. Will Julia Roberts be able to find love again in Ubud in her future travels to Bali? Such thoughts result from a body that is in lockdown and a mind that is yearning to travel.
Bali has its luxurious resorts, sun, sand and the sea, the perfect ambience with the crucial exception of the vital tourist population, a temporary glitch that we hope will soon be fixed as vaccines race forward. I got in touch with some of Bali’s leading hoteliers, and they all reassured me – the sunsets in Bali continue to be just as gorgeous, the weather excellent, and yes – it is still a straightforward affair to fall in love with Ubud.
Space, Sunsets And Sustainability In Uluwatu
Heading south of Bali to Uluwatu, the land of limestone cliffs, world-renowned surf, and luxurious resorts await my return. Alila Villas Uluwatu’s General Manager Hemal Jain shared his excitement on the island escape and Uluwatu’s success, “Bali has everything for everyone. The island has culture, boutique shopping, pleasing design aesthetics, energy, adventure, and an excellent wellness destination. The universal charm of Uluwatu comes from the way this stretch of Bali’s southern coast is setup – it is all about luxury, space and privacy. I think that’s the reason why people will want to return to Uluwatu.”
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Staying At Alila Villas Uluwatu
The all-villa Alila Villas Uluwatu resort is generously spread out on a hill and along the limestone cliff covering 14.4 hectares with one, two and three-bedroom villas that range from 3,000 sq ft to 32,300 sq ft- guaranteeing space and privacy. This also allows the guest to be confident that they will be well looked after and all the precautions of social distancing taken care of with ease.
“The two essential experiences of Uluwatu are the ease of beach hopping from Alila and spectacular sunsets from our cabana”, Hemal explained. The wild surfing beaches etched along dramatic cliffs make for exciting photo feeds and excellent beach-bum days.
Best Beaches Of Uluwatu
Some of the best beaches in Uluwatu include the Padang Padang Beach known for its rock caves and world-class waves, Suluban Beach with its sandy cave that leads to the Hidden Beach, Thomas Beach with its soft white sand and turquoise waves, the pristine 1.5km Nyang Nyang Beach, the rustic Bingin Beach, the up and coming Pandawa Beach, Balangan Beach that generally makes any photo taken here go viral on Instagram, Tegal Wangi Beach, Green Bowl Beach, Karang Boma Beach and Jaran Cliff Beach.
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Best Views Of Uluwatu’s Sunset
Stepping away from the sand and observing the never-ending ocean waves from the cliff tops, I recall spending a good part of one evening at Alila Villas Uluwatu’s iconic sunset cabana, jutting out slightly over the cliff. The Bali evening, cocktail in hand, intoxicated by eagle-eye views, rhythmic sound of crashing waves and refreshing breeze all combined to make the anticipation of the orange-pink sunset bewitching.
It’s these dreamy clifftop views of the Indian Ocean and the glow of the beautiful Uluwatu sunset that makes Alila Villas Uluwatu an elegant wedding destination. The sprawling lawns and the resort’s signature overhanging cliff-edge wedding cabana are beautiful backdrops to plan out romantic ceremonies with group size that can range from an intimate gathering to a gala occasion.
Away from the wonders of Uluwatu and closer to material desires, the one thing that my family and I absolutely love about Alila are their natural face & pillow mists and natural insect repellent sprays, all made with natural ingredients sourced from the local villages.
Sustainability At Alila Uluwatu
In addition to their gift shop and villa amenities, natural and sustainable practices do find home in quite a few of Alila’s operations. Alila’s landscaping team plants lemongrass near the entrances of villas to keep lizards away from villas – simple, natural, organic and effective.
Biodegradable amenities for the villas such as bamboo straws, glass bottles, an on-site water purification system and bottling plant, a Sustainability Lab that converts organic waste into compost used in the organic garden are all small steps with a big impact on environmental sustainability at Alila.
To ensure air-conditioning energy consumption was kept to a minimum, a uniquely Balinese material – black lava rock – was incorporated at the design stage of Alila Villas Uluwatu. The terraced, low pitched roof of the villas was developed using Balinese volcanic pumice rock, a naturally insulating material that can support local ferns & succulents and absorb the heat of the tropical sun, keeping the interior of the villa cool. It is simple and sustainable steps such as the ones adopted by Alila that will ensure that travellers will leave an overall neutral to positive impact on the environment.
Escaping Into The Exotic At Ubud
Bali’s cultural centre has evolved from a sleepy artisan town with centuries-old connection to herbs, healing, enlightenment, rivers, rainforest, paddy fields and temples to a destination in itself with hotels, spas, organic cafes, yoga studios and a healthy dose of burgers and pizzas. A humourist would observe mainstream Ubud as a place where capitalism and a hippie dream paradise converged and shook hands. What was once an ‘off the beaten path’ is now a top 10 destination globally. Can you still escape into the exotic when at Ubud?
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A Stay At Capella Ubud
I have had Capella Ubud on my Bali bucket list since this unique tented resort opened in July 2018. Had it not been for this pandemic, I would have probably parked myself in one of their Bill Bensley designed exotic, luxurious, stylish tents during one of the long weekends of 2020. Capella Ubud’s appeal is design elegance married with sustainable practices and being true to elevating the charm & magic of Ubud to a new level.
This unique sanctuary is set within a dramatic landscape in Keliki village, complete with rice paddies and a densely forested valley down to the Wos River. Wait – that’s not all. Step into one of their 23 tents, and you would be transported into an eclectic, maximalism styled fantasy carefully stitched together by Bill Bensley and his team of artisans. Lounging inside the luxury tent, looking out into the depths of greenery, the unique charm and sensibility of Ubud rushes back.
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In my conversation with Mark Swinton, General Manager of Capella Ubud, he walked me through this dreamy camp resort getaway. “Stepping into Capella Ubud is like walking into a story and the designer and architect brings his fun and quirkiness and colourfulness to the property. It is a wonderful and different experience from anything else, taking you back in time. When you stay in the camp and hear the rain on the tent, it is soothing. It is meditative. You really feel as if a part of nature is singing to you,” Mark said.
Creativity In Ubud
Beyond the luxurious tented camp resort, the creative heart of Ubud is 20 minutes away and continues to be the epicentre of Bali’s creativity. “The daily rituals continue for the people who live on the island and everyone remains optimistic; the belief and spirituality remains stronger than ever and hopefully, we can welcome international guests back again soon. The Balinese living in this area are highly creative and craftsman in wood & stone carving in addition to excellent jewellery making,” Mark said.
Purification Ceremony In Ubud
One of my travel goals when in Ubud is to recreate that ‘Julia Roberts’ experience and find clarity and peace in a local healing ceremony. It is meditative and inspiring. The challenge lies in getting hold of the real McCoy.
“A lot of effort goes into creating curated experiences with personalized service that one can only do if you stay with us. In Capella Ubud, Bali we have Melukat – a ‘Soul Reborn’ purification ceremony right here in our camp, along the Wos River. Over the last few decades, local villagers have come to The Beji – an ancient spring to collect this holy water to be used for ceremonies in the temple,” Mark explained.
The water purification ceremony cleanses both body and mind, refreshing the spirit and dissolving away any negative influence. The local priest leads the cleansing ceremony with chants and offerings, using the holy water to bless the body and soul. The side effects of this morning ritual include acquiring a fresh perspective, an epiphany or a pleasurable moment of clarity – the motivation to call on Ubud again and again.
Immerse In The Shades Of Green, Black & Blue At Kerambitan
A family on vacation will generally stay close to the paths of Bali that are well travelled. A traveller attempting to break the tourist barrier will head to Kerambitan.
Rice Fields And Rural Setting Of Kerambitan In Tabanan
An hour or so north of Seminyak, Kerambitan, in Tabanan regency, is all about absorbing in the great blue sky and green fields of crop. I head to this part of the island when in need of getting in touch with old Bali, embracing seclusion and revelling in the rural, rustic surroundings of a quaint village.
The rice paddy fields here exist not for the sake of tourists enjoyment or for the purpose of an Instagram backdrop. The beach in this part of Bali is a bed of black volcanic sand autographed by silver-white waves. When looking inland, Mount Batukaru is a perpetual watermark against a sea of agricultural fields. There are no sarong sellers, no crowds, no traffic, just my million thoughts and a never-ending oasis of serenity.
Staying At Soori Bali
The region’s rural simplicity viewed from the sleek, modern villas of seaside boutique hotel Soori Bali is like being anchored in luxury while the winds, clouds, waves, the Sun and time continue on their journey, bearing witness to my stillness, the surrounding nature undisturbed by my presence.
Greg Hoehn, General Manager of Soori Bali, explains, “Soori Bali is well known for its spacious, private villas, design and architecture.” Soori’s villas range from 1,800 sq. ft to 6,950 sq. ft. all including a private infinity pool, private pavilion and dreamy views of the green fields, blue skies and black sand beach. “The unique volcanic black sand of Kelating Beach spans one side while the other is a sea of rice fields,” Greg added.
Ceremonies & Celebrities In Kerambitan
“The experiences to be had at Soori Bali focus on the local community, culture and nature. We are very close to the iconic Tanah Lot temple. Ceremonies are being held almost every day and the vision of a temple on top of the water with women adorned in their lace blouse kebaya, batik sarong kamben, and their head-dress udeng, it looks so beautiful, and everyone’s invited,” Greg explained.
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One of the royal palaces nearby, Puri Anyar Kerambitan, built in the 1620s by the 12th King of Tabanan, is worth visiting for its architecture and cultural performances. The palace became a social hub in the 60’s and 70’s with royal dinners being held with such a diverse set of guests that included David Bowie, King Hussein of Jordan and Mick Jagger. The celebrity following has not diminished over the years – a certain Kardashian and family vacationed for a few days at Soori Bali, celebrating a birthday in an oasis of privacy.
Surfing, Yoga And Fitness Vibes At Canggu
You may not be surprised to hear this, but Canggu is the homeland of digital nomads and advocates of avocado smash on toast. Canggu was a former sleepy seaside town with its original surfer dudes that had once called this place a hidden gem and has now been taken over by hipsters on laptops surfing the wild waves of the digital gig economy.
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Surf, Beach And Pool Bars In Canggu
Surfers were among the very first Australian and American visitors to Bali in the 70s. This is when the ‘island of the Gods’ started getting known as ‘the island of the surf’. Canggu is home to a tamer version of the famous surf found in Padang Padang and Uluwatu. You can catch some good waves at Oldman’s, Batu Bolong, Berawa or Echo beach – depending on your level of surfing.
For those like me who can’t muster the courage to venture out beyond the sand, chilling by the dark grey to black sand beaches with sights of surfers gliding on waves makes for relaxing days. It is easy to find a pool bar or hipster café here to chill and lounge – with wifi and vibes to match.
If you are one of those rare gems who has been working out during this pandemic for the perfect beach body, heading to Canggu would then naturally be on top of your travel list. Potential remote workers should explore the interesting long term visa options of living and enjoying life in Bali while working digitally, globally. I would not mind attending my next set of board meetings in September from the comfort of a beach cabana in Canggu.
Wellness & Fitness At COMO Uma Canggu
For the rest of us who have levelled up our waistlines during this one year of stay-home and developed love-hate relationships with our fridge & take-out food delivery apps, will the community at Canggu welcome me with open arms? This region of Bali has an entire industry in the form of yoga studios, gyms, boot camps and wellness academies, all dedicated to making you look and feel good.
The COMO Shambhala Retreat wellness facility inside COMO Uma Canggu, for instance, steps from the Echo Beach, offers an extensive range of detox treatments, massage therapies, fitness centre, and various classes & activities, including yoga and Pilates – an elevated and luxurious experience in Canggu.
Henry Scott, General Manager at COMO Uma Canggu, explained, “People are taking better care of their health and their lifestyle has now transitioned into one that is focused on wellness, fitness and nutrition. They are paying more attention to what they eat and how they work out. This wellness-oriented lifestyle complements the COMO brand.”
Henry continued, “We have a state of the art gym facility that spreads out and allows gym members to exercise and be confident that all current protocols are being observed. At COMO Uma Canggu, we have experts leading Pilates, Yoga and kickboxing classes that can either be done on a one-to-one basis or as a group of family members getting together, building on their wellness goals.”
Learning To Surf In Canggu
“The outdoor activity that gets Canggu five stars is surfing on the stretch of Echo Beach, home to some of the best surf breaks in the area. When we see the image of the surfers, sitting out there in the water, looking chilled, waiting for that perfect wave with their sun-kissed body and saltwater dripping off their hair – all of that is hard work. All that paddling is cardio, and the balance needed to ride the wave is yoga. Whether it’s a beginner, advanced or a grandfather, when it comes to surfing here, all that matters is your inner child and the accomplishment of riding the wave in Bali,” Henry added.
“At COMO Uma Canggu, we have the prestigious Tropicsurf academy with instructors qualified from technique to first aid certification. These instructors are gentle in the sense that they will not push you over your limits and this is fantastic for families looking to pick up a new hobby. From helping you with the surfboard into our 115 feet lagoon pool or to the beach, from the basics of how to paddle, how & when to stand up, what to do in case the wave hits, accessing your balance and confidence, our professional surf instructors guide you all the way through irrespective of your surf skill level. All you need to have is a positive spirit and an open mind,” Henry explained.
Optimistic on the future of this island getaway, Henry added “When Bali opens up, Canggu is probably going to be the hottest destination in Bali.” ◼
© This article was first published online in Apr 2021 – World Travel Magazine.