The Best of Bali: Where to Eat, Play and Stay
Whether the weather is sweet or begins to turn a bit nasty, the allure of a hot, white-sanded beach paradise beckons and maintains a constant allure when you call the Great White North home. No destination seems more appropriate to while the days away than Bali; the Indonesian gem of an island can certainly be defined as paradise, regardless of your inclination while on vacation. The wonderfully diverse destination is, yes, undeniably beautiful, but is also the perfect place for unquenchably adventurous travellers, love-struck honeymooners and soul-searching yogis in equal measure. Below, your guide to the best of Bali.
No trip is complete without a suitcase filled with old classics and new favorites alike. Lugging around 20 kilos of your belongings is no one’s idea of fun though; pick wisely, and you’ll be spoiled for choice with just a weekender bag. The temperature and humidity demand light textiles and fuss-free beauty looks — Charlotte Tilbury’s Beach Sticks are the definition of easy, gorgeous makeup. Imparting a beautiful, elusively fresh-faced look that never slips in the heat, the shade Ibiza looks perfect when swiped right underneath cheekbones for a little glowy structure, while Es Verda, a peachy coral, enhances and brightens a sunkissed complexion.
Ensuring lips stay hydrated, protected from the sun and dressed up all at once is no easy feat, yet Fresh’s Lip Treatment manages to do it all. It packs a winning combination of gorgeous texture, addictive, sophisticated citrus flavour, and instant and long-term smoothing results. With moisture-preserving sugar, nourishing precious oils, antioxidant-rich polyphenols, and essential SPF protection, one easy swipe of this lip-beautifying balm instantly pulls your look together. Choose from a myriad of sheer shades, from a moody, sultry plum to a bright, bold fuchsia.
Post beach day, pamper sun, wind and surf-dried skin and hair with Aerin’s Beach Cream. With an illuminating shimmer and a super hydrating formula, this double duty cream makes both skin and hair soft and gorgeous. It sinks into skin quickly, is deeply hydrating and comforting, and, when warmed in hair, a deep conditioning treatment is activated and restores strands, even if you’ve been swimming in the Indian Sea all day.
When it comes to packing clothing items, a few simple swaps can make all the difference. Choose easy one-piece outfits, like a summer dress that can be thrown on at the beach, and look perfectly in place over lunch in town. For extra comfort and style points, pack a few playsuits by beloved Australian designer Alice McCALL. Feminine, frilly details balance mega short hemlines (that are strategically angled to elongate and slim the legline), and beautifully display a bare shoulder here or low back there. Colours, patterns and silhouettes vary, and there is certainly a style for every taste, while ease and sartorial superiority are injected into each and every piece.
When you’re enjoying frolicking on the beach, there is inarguably a better suit to swim in than a Maaji piece. Geniusly and generously providing two suits in one (packing made easy!), each piece is reversible (and each side is as gorgeous as the other). This Colombian brand is well known and well loved for their whimsical, bold and bright colour palette and patterns, yet each design remains tasteful, refined and alluring. Paying close attention to every little detail, Maaji’s cuts are artistically designed to flatter figures like none other — seams all but disappear, silhouettes both support and enhance, and bottoms come in a variety of coverage options to allow the wearer to customize their preferences. If that wasn’t enough, this seminal swimwear brand created the Earth Warriors initiative — a nonprofit project that plants trees in Colombia, this campaign helps protect and preserve the environment and strives to “plant an ocean of trees” (they’re well on their way with a forest of 90,000 trees in the Maaji forest!).
Flip-flops are an obvious beach trip necessity, but they need not be rubber nor clunky. Rather, pack a pair of Tkees — designed in Brazil, these sumptuously soft leather thong sandals are produced in eight shades of nude to all but disappear on the wearer’s feet. Sophisticated and displaying true craftsmanship, Tkees make legs look longer and leaner while taking you from beach to sundown cocktails.
Seminyak — The Place to Party
Generally, when you fly into Bali, you’ll land at Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport (fun fact: it’s also known as Denpasar International Airport, as visitors couldn’t pronounce its proper name). Close by is tourist-favourite and the ever-buzzing city of Seminyak. Motorbikes by the hundreds whiz by in every direction, and late night drinks and parties spill onto the hot, steamy streets. Just north of the crowded Double Six Beach and popular surf spot Kuta Beach, The W Retreat and Spa Bali -Seminyak is an oasis in the middle of all the action. Upon arrival, the dazzling bright and enchanting entrance instantly transports you — a canopy of trees shimmer with legions of lights, and the noise instantly dims.
Replaced is a glamorous, artistic aesthetic the W is known for; notoriously bold Alec Monopoly paintings decorate the lobby, as do local Balinese touches, like the Batik ceiling and subtle wave patterns in the marbled floors. If you’ve just arrived from a long and punishing flight, book yourself a treatment at the Away Spa for the world’s best way to beat jetlag — it’s open 24 hours a day, and will surely aid in adjusting you to your new surroundings. Afterwards, get yourself settled into one of the many sleek and modern suites or villas.
If it’s a (super glamorous and plush) home away from home you’re after, book into the Extreme WOW Suite. Paris Hilton herself has rented the suite (which says a lot, as there are Hilton-partnered hotels mere meters away), and it truly lives up to its Extreme WOW factor title. The multi-level, sprawling space boasts a modern and comfortable lounge, dining space and kitchen, which all overlook the stunning Indian Ocean (sunset dinner, anyone?). An inimitable, illuminating terrazzo catwalk overlooks the lower level space via a classically sophisticated spiral staircase, and connects the gigantic master bedroom.
The resort is situated beachside, with a large, black-tiled and tiered swimming pool (designed to look like the quintessential Indonesian rice paddies; another nod to local culture) overlooking the ocean. Snag a daybed in the sand, and soak up the scene and sun all day long. When your stomach starts to grumble, there’s no need to pack up; order an absolutely perfect pizza and ice cold Bintang right to your shady, breezy Oceanside daybed and experience what heaven on earth really feels like. When the sun begins its slow and vibrant descend, slink over to Woobar to sip a fruity cocktail and take in the spectacular scenery. A live DJ spinning lounge-y, chill sounds evokes a relaxed and entertaining vibe. For serious musicians, there’s a brand new draw to the property: the first-ever W Hotels Sound Suite has just opened its doors, and is an artist’s recording studio dream. The ultra-private space is tucked away in a quiet corridor, and features nearly 20 instruments, state of the art DJ and monitoring, mixing and processing equipment, and includes a lounge, main control room, a live room and access to a beautiful outdoor garden, which doubles as an event space.
When it’s time for dinner, sidle up to the sleek seafood and steakhouse Fire. Boasting the islands biggest and best selection of beef, Fire aims to ensure you enjoy your most favoured cut, type and flavour — they have a meat sommelier who discusses the day’s selection, and guides you based on your taste and preferences. Watch the action take place in the open-kitchen, and take pleasure in savoring an exceptionally good meal that manages to balance a relaxed environment with seamless service. Special touches, like a bespoke knife selection chosen tableside and specific salt and pepper options to best compliment your steak make Fire a top choice.
When zigzagging through the bustling city centre, stop and shop at the gigantic (and indoor, meaning a welcome shield from the blazing Balinese sun) Seminyak Village Shopping Mall, and then wander further down to Legian Beach and grab a bite at Sacred Ground. Serving up simple, delicious dishes on the cheap, this casual, open restaurant is perfect for an anytime bite. Fresh, tasty and healthy picks, like the Superfood Granola breakfast bowl powers up your day with coconut flakes, goji berries, roasted buckwheat, sunflower seeds and natural yogurt and honey; while local favourites like Nasi Goreng, an incredibly delectable Indonesian fried rice dish, is served with homemade prawn chips.
If you’re keen to partake in the party culture, Legian Beach is the place to be. Cocoon Beach Club throws a Splash Party on Sundays, and draws crowds of fun-loving tourists to the beach-side day club with their top-tier DJ’s and outrageously costumed staff (don’t be surprised to see Go-Go dancers surrounded by plumes of pink feathers, perched high upon stilts in full flamingo get-ups). For a stylish beach soiree, arrange a table at the discernibly fabulous Potato Head. Designed by acclaimed architect Andra Matin as a modern take on the Coliseum, this magnificent space boasts three restaurants, each with a distinct milieu; two bars, each with fabulously imaginative and delicious cocktails; and an enormous, perfectly manicured lawn that leads to an equally impressive infinity pool (in which one of the bars is in) overlooking the beach. With Balinese-style touches, like the interiors lined with 18th century teak shutters, sourced from across the island and the owner’s very own antique furniture in one of the bars, you’ll want to come early and stay late.
Uluwatu — A Pampered Paradise
Further south down the coast of Bali lays Uluwatu. Far more serene, authentic and sanguine in nature, The Four Seasons Jimbaran Resort encapsulates these stunning features, and does so while evoking the sense of pure joy. Upon arrival, you’re greeting with a delightfully refreshing sparking ginger and lime beverage, and blessed with a hand washing ceremony; immediately, the impression of being indeed blessed seeps in while taking in the sweeping views of the resort. Situated on the golden stretch of Jimbaran Bay’s shores and boasting 35 spectacular acres of tropical lush greenery, breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe the sensation.
Archetypically known as the first large-scale resort to boast villa-only accommodations, the newly renovated accommodations can only be described as heaven on earth. Offering utmost privacy, each villa offers a supremely indulgent living space both indoor and out; each master bedroom opens onto a sundeck with a generous infinity plunge pool and dining area, all surrounded by indigenous gardens. Through the luxuriously spacious bathroom, which includes an indulgent, massive soaking tub and double vanities, lays both an indoor and outdoor shower; the latter enclosed by greenery and tranquility. The living space, housed under a traditional Balinese thatched roof and made modern with comfortable, contemporary touches, makes you feel at home immediately. Impeccable service, like always having fresh water tableside, the best room service you have ever indulged in and being welcomed to your villa with golden truffles ensures you’ll want to make this your permanent new home.
Around the resort, there are plenty of places to simply watch the undulating welcome of the shore, take in the culture by participating in activities such as learned to weave baskets, or get your heart rate up by trying your hand at stand-up paddleboarding. If your desires fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, take in the magnificent views from any angle, and book in for an aerial yoga session. The private pavilion is a tropical bliss, and the blend of practicing poses and mindful meditation brings a special kind of peacefulness that can only be found in moments of true tranquility.
If your idea of leisure is lazing in the sun, head to the resort’s private beach club to score a daybed either on the sand shore-side, or beside the gigantic and glamorous 60-meter long infinity pool overlooking the fabulous beach. For a more downtempo escape, there are two pools in which to sunbathe and swim; one boasts a waterfall and separate hot and cold plunge, while the other is strictly for quiet time. No matter where you set up and settle in, impeccable, warm and genuine service follows; homemade popcorn and popsicles circulate; icy, citrus-scented towels feel incredible against sun-warmed skin, and complimentary SPF reminds you someone is always looking out for you.
When it’s time for a nosh or meal, the resort’s stunning Sundara restaurant can’t be beat. Sanskrit for ‘beautiful’, this all-day venue boasts a relaxed beach vibe and sophisticated setting in equal measure. The marbled outdoor space is host to some of Bali’s most talented live musicians, and is arguably the best place on the island to unwind with a cocktail at sunset. Inside, the open-kitchen means mouth-watering flavours waft freely through the space, as does the ocean’s roar in the open-air breeze. The food is phenomenal, and is presented with a uniquely structured menu; dishes can be ordered in small, medium or large portions, allowing for a customized dining experience and the ability to taste a variety of the delectable preparations.
Classic and modern cuisines combine, and Balinese tapas are so fun and delicious; buttery, smooth black cod melts in your mouth, while chilled coconut crab mixed tableside equally pleases the palate. Don’t skip dessert: the imaginative menu ranges from delicate to delectable — a soft-serve textured boozy tiramisu served in a martini glass is a stand out. Enjoy the rest of Jimbaran Bay by strolling the long stretch of the beach after dark. Local fisherman line the shores at nighttime, and a seemingly endless offering of local restaurants crowd the sand come sundown with tables so close to the water, guests feet are often lapped by insouciant waves.
At the southern tip of Uluwatu lies the cliffside Bulgari Resort. The opulent jewelry house seamlessly incorporates its luxurious characteristics with Bali’s distinctly laidback ethos. The slick black aesthetic feels grand and equanimous at once, and blends unequivocal Italian style with warm, traditional Balinese touches. Take, for example, the resort’s spa: encapsulated by ancient carved wood panels that have been restored, the infinity pool overlooking the resort and Indian Ocean exemplifies modern indulgence. Time-honoured treatments, like ayurvedic therapies, are on offer alongside Asian and European massages, wraps and facials for a stress-melting experience at the ocean’s edge.
Further to the ocean’s edge is La Spiaggia, one of the most fantastically thrilling dining experiences one can take part in. Accessible exclusively by a custom-build open-air elevator-type lift, this restaurant is literally built into a cliff 150 meters below the resort. The mechanical conveyer lowers guests at an almost 90-degree angle, offering a sensationally breathtaking view. Once your feet are on solid ground in the restaurant again, really take in the glorious, expansive views; forcing guests to take a digital detox, there is no signal or wifi at La Spiaggia, which insists on a joyous live-in-the-moment attitude. Simple and super fresh seafood is a standout, and dining al-fresco on a cliff only adds to the meal’s enjoyment. A winding set of stairs, also built into the cliff, leads to the below beach’s access, and a private area complete with lounge chairs. Enjoy the pinch-me moments spent here, and save the social media posts for when you’re back in the real world (you know, with wifi) when you need a mental escape.
Ubud — An Artistic, Healthful Escape
In the middle of the Balinese rainforest lays the spiritual, richly-cultured town of Ubud. A well-known hub for traditional crafts and dance, there are many holy places in Ubud, too, such as the elaborately carved ‘Elephant Cave’, and many temples and shrines. Get swept up in the atmosphere and check yourself in to The Purist Villas and Spa. Situated in a private location away from (but still very close to) Ubud’s buzz, this tropical rainforest getaway allows for an ultimate retreat. The gorgeous jungle setting can be completely enjoyed; the pool and restaurant are surrounded, and bamboo encases the half-indoor half-outdoor villas. The bathroom is partially open, while the enormous, circular shower area is entirely in fresh air, evoking a sense of getting back to nature and enjoying the simpler things in life. Certainly some of these things include the warm, home-y touches like fresh baked cookies served in a beautiful, artistic and locally made tin carved with intricate and traditional designs.
Embodying the ancient Hindu beliefs of balance, harmony and purity of spirit, the grounds connect guests to these very notions with authentic artifacts and designs. Personal touches from the owners Yvonne Hulst and Alberto Cortes themselves (no corporate feel here) are evident; from the warm welcome at reception to the homemade dishes in the restaurant, this is a place to experience of all Ubud’s spirituality has to offer with a tasteful, beautiful touch.
While in Ubud, you mustn’t miss out on one of the most absolutely spectacular dining experiences to be had. Award-winning Mozaic Restaurant Gastronomique, which has been listed in the prestigious Foodie Top 100 Restaurants and 100 World’s Best in the San Pellegrino Guide (of Netflix’s Chef’s Table fame), can only be described as magical. Arrive a few minutes early, and sip a cocktail in the pre-dinner lounge that has been designed to mimic the chef Chris Salans’s living room. Truly embodying a hospitable atmosphere, sink into a plush couch underneath a chandelier, and admire the local art hanging on the wall. When you’re ready to be seating, prepare to have your breath taken away; a glittering, scented garden veiled in candlelight ensures the setting is romantic, relaxing and enjoyed by all senses in equal measure.
It’s easy to see how Mozaic achieved its prestigious recognition; the award is “nominated first on whether the food is exceptional, and whether the décor, service, and drinks program complement the dining experience within the context of the food.” Excelling in all aspects, chef Salans expertly blends clasissical French culinary philosophy with local ingredients and flavours. The result is unique, surprising and sensational dishes that delight with each passing course. Two tasting menus are offered, each accompanied by its regularly awarded wine pairings; the wine expert’s passion is evident, as he comes to chat about how each choice enhances the dish (which is no easy feat, considering the unique flavour and ingredient profiles). An incredibly special setting, outstanding service and a mind-blowing meal make Mozaic a must-do; but the talented chef has recently opened a second, more casual spot to grab a bite that’s also a top pick.
Spice by Chris Salans offers a similar ethos, with locally sourced ingredients prepared using traditional French techniques, albeit in a more relaxed, casual experience. The enormously popular gastro-pub serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner, and expertly combines highbrow and simple ingredients, crafting outstanding dishes with incredible, full flavours. Cocktails are also a standout, with a unique and delicious nutmeg margarita and a spicy, classic and well-paired bloody mary standing out. A relaxed vibe and cheeky sense of design (the chandeliers are custom-made from a variety of wine and liquor bottles) elevate the atmosphere, and it’s easy to see why diners often return for multiple meals.
For a luxurious, eco-friendly and complete holistic healing experience, be sure to stay awhile at the Fivelements, a multi-award winning wellness retreat that realigns, transforms and transcends. Nine eco-villas are nestled deep in the lush, emerald jungle and surrounded by the rush of the Ayung River. This serene sanctuary has been inspired by the traditional Balinese way of life, and encapsulates the spirit of caring for nature and oneself. Healing the mind and body through ‘Panca Mahabhuta’, a Hindu concept which represents the five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth), Fivelements approaches with a harmonious philosophy that balances, restores and rejuvenates.
Traditional healers, who have garnered wisdom through ancient practices passed down through generations, administer all holistic Balinese therapies. Upon arrival in the massage treatment centre, the sight of expert aromatherapists extracting oils by hand is what greets you — organic, natural and supremely fresh, all aspects of Fivelements support and encourage wellness and renewal. Deep massage treatments detoxify and alleviate, which is further encouraged by soaking in a gigantic, marble tub overlooking the river post-therapy. Practically overflowing with good-for-you ingredients like lemongrass, ginger, salts and citrus, the open-air bath further soothes the soul and body. Other forms of healing, such as meditation, yoga (practiced in an enormous, traditionally hand-made thatched structure) prana energy and water healing, aid in deeper purification, balance and regeneration.
The concept of Living Foods is also an integral part of Fivelements healing. The world-renowned Sakti Dining Room, in which the river also lends its tranquil sounds and sight, serves supremely nourishing plant-based, vegan and mostly raw dishes teeming with living enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Pioneering the green gastronomic movement, the avant-garde menu has been designed to offer modern, delicious dishes that repair on a cellular level. Tasty, refreshing and wholly salubrious, each carefully curated and well -thought plate pleases the palate and body in equal measure.
Before leaving, ensure you take your newfound serenity and balance with you by participating in a very special and moving Fire Ceremony, or Agni Hotra. The fire, a symbol of divine light, is lit by a specially-trained priest. Participation in the ceremonial ritual includes reciting mantras in Sanskrit, which invoke blessings of health and abundance. Making offerings to the fire — fruit, which represents an acknowledgement of gratefulness for what we have; sugar, to symbolize forgiveness; and a coconut, which is smashed open by each participant, and symbolically breaks a hard ego to reveal a pure heart and intention, furthers this notion. To close the ceremony, the priest personally blesses each participant by smudging ash on the foreheads, and secures a bracelet as a further blessing and reminder of the ceremony, and the Hindu Trinity’s process of life: creation, preservation, disintegration.