Abena Bailey on how to fill your every desire in just six days on the mystical Indonesian island.
I have holidayed in Bali before but this trip was out of wanting to share my love of the island of the Gods with my parents.
We arrived at Denpasar Airport to relentless traffic. As the taxi crept along the road we kept an eye out for a fun bar or restaurant. Kuta and Legian beach towns both appeared scruffy and the latter was devoid of life yet packed to breaking point with establishments.
We finally came across a gorgeously designed beach club called Potato Head in Seminyak.
This prestige bar restaurant and boutique hotel has been designed by one of Bali’s acclaimed architects and is a modern take on a coliseum.
It has spacious lawn and beach beds overlooking the crashing waves along the shore, a mezzanine and upstairs area with great views.
People stay here all day sunbathing and all night partying.
The menu is to die for – we got addicted to the wagu beefburger topped with brie and red onions caramelised in red wine. It was all very westernised yet design-led and artistic, which fitted into the Balinese spirit.
A must do – Potato Head Beach Club.
Top tip – arrange a hotel pick up if they offer 300,000 rupiah or less.
Desperate to remove ourselves from touristy Legian, we went in search of a more authentic Bali so we hired a driver for the day (costing about £25) and headed to Pura Luhur Temple in Uluwatu, in the south of the island.
This sea temple, which sits on a clifftop 250 feet above the sea, was built in the 11th century to ward off evil spirits and today is popular with tourists and well worth a visit for the views alone.
We had heard that Pandawa Beach was secluded so we headed there for a little tranquillity. The drive rewarded us with dramatic views of cutaway cliffs that had numerous Balinese statues carved into them.
Unfortunately the beach was so packed full of people, hawkers, cafés and red umbrellas courtesy of Air Asia, we could barely see the sand. We jumped back in the car and sped away to Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park.
This manmade feature set in over 240 hectares is still in the making after 22 years of the project being founded yet it does not fail to impress. It has breathtaking monuments of Hindu Gods and wild animals, an amphitheatre, regular performances, restaurants and even segway tours. We ended our day dining at Jendela, a beautiful restaurant on the site with a gorgeous panoramic view of the region.
A must do – GWK Cultural Park.
Top tip – see the sunset at Uluwatu temple.
I pulled on my trainers and went jogging around Legian in search of the beach but what I found was literally a dumping site for rubbish next to the sea. Shocked and disappointed by my discovery, I took a taxi to both Kuta and Seminyak beaches only to find the same thing.
Saddened by my discovery I called our driver to take us away from the area.
He drove south and stopped at a coffee plantation, which produces the famous luwak coffee. For those who are unfamiliar with this delicacy, it is the most expensive coffee in the world and is made with the droppings of the civet cat after it has feasted on coffee beans. Gimmick or not, it did taste awesome.
Our next stop was Tanah Lot temple in Tabanan. It is one of seven sea temples along the coast and fun to visit. The temple itself sits on an offshore rock so wading through the sea is necessary to get to it. There are also dozens of restaurant surrounding the site giving plenty of opportunities to enjoy a sunset dinner.
We opted for a glass of wine at The Cliff Restaurant, which has the most romantic setting of all but not the best food. We ate at Potato Head beach Club again and then popped into The Red Carpet Champagne Bar for a glass of bubbly. It’s a buzzing place and I ended up dancing the rest of the night away in La Favela with some new-found friends!
Must dos – Tanah Lot at sunset and Seminyak nightlife.
Top tip – Have a picnic at Tanah Lot.
We found a new base further north in Ubud, which is my favourite place in Bali for its creativeness, spiritual vibe and traditional culture. To this day this area of Bali is still the most beautiful place on earth to me. It is covered in rice paddies, fruit plantations and temples. The architecture is mesmerizing.
Ubud is also a foodie destination with suckling pig and duck being specialities people travel from miles around to feast on.
We dined on suckling duck at Café Lotus in central Ubud so we could enjoy the traditional kecak dancing show at the restaurant in its incredible lotus pond setting.
A must do – Café Lotus
Top tip – book a table at the front of the restaurant for the best seat in the house.
I wanted to plug into the source of Balinese spirituality with a blessing at Tirta Empul Water Temple, which is one of the holiest temples in Bali, built around a spring that people believe was created by a Hindu god – it is the Lourdes of the east.
I met a holy man who guided me through 15 minutes of meditation before explaining that I was to pray, drink and dunk my head under the water of each of the temple’s 30 spouts as they all had different meanings, such as wisdom, health and love.
After my purification I certainly felt revitalised and humbled at having the opportunity to engage in a centuries-old Balinese tradition.
Suckling pig is available all over Bali yet Ibu Oka is the eating place everyone talks about. It has two branches so we enjoyed the underground roasted pig at the second prettier location on the outskirts of the town.
Must do – Tirta Empul Temple.
Top tip – Make an offering at the temple, tip your guide and do some shopping.
After champagne bars, beachclubs, temples and blessings we were all feeling lethargic and took this as the perfect opportunity to have some much needed spa time.
Bali is a world leader in spa destinations and has so many to choose from. My favourite is Karsa Spa in Ubud because it is set on a backdrop of terraced rice fields and is designed to bring outdoors in so you can benefit from the fresh air and natural surroundings. Of the hundreds of massages I have experienced in my lifetime of being a lifestyle writer, the treatments I have had at this spa are in my top five.
A few months back I had enjoyed a calming Balinese massage so on this occasion I went for the intuitive heart massage that is a mix of Reiki, Swedish massage, Balinese massage, deep tissue, lomi lomi and shiatsu. The therapist enters a high state of consciousness to hone in on your body to give it the technique it needs where it needs it. Bliss.
We all flopped into the car and took in the scenery as we made our way to the volcano in Batur where we enjoyed lunch overlooking the active mountain.
A must do – Karsa spa
Top tip – stop off and buy fruit and art along the way to Mt Batur.