Many people combine a stay on the coast with a trip to the interior, but every journey you make around this Indonesian isle reveals a spot worth exploring further, whether it’s one of the 10,000-plus temples, a cafe or a secluded beach.
Bali’s tourism boom kicked off in the southeastern town of Kuta, which today is very much a playground for young Aussies, home to mega-bars, chain hotels and plenty of hostels. But despite all this, you’ll still find some good restaurants and pleasant beaches. Seminyak, up the coast, is a little classier, while further north still, in Canggu, you can expect a more laid-back experience — surf schools, cool coffee shops and rental villas abound. Head inland, amid verdant peaks and rice terraces, to explore Bali’s cultural epicentre: artists and writers flocked to the hill town of Ubud in the mid-20th century for the unspoiled landscapes and spiritual vibe, which you can still enjoy today. The town itself is bustling yet relaxed, and between the temples and craft shops you’ll find plenty of budget-friendly homestays, plus luxurious yoga and spa hotels. The island’s north is much less populated than the south: Bali at its most peaceful.
For yoga loers: Desa Seni, Canggu
Billing itself as ‘a village resort’, Desa Seni sits within a working rice plantation in Canggu. In keeping with the village theme, accommodation is in 10 wooden houses which were brought here from different parts of Indonesia, restored and decked out with a carefully curated array of antiques. Yogis will be right at home in the open-air studio, which hosts classes in everything from ashtanga to vinyasa — as well as meditation sessions and multi-day retreats. The good vibes continue at the restaurant, which uses produce mostly grown on site for its veggie- and vegan-friendly farm-to-fork menu (meat is served but veggies dominate).
Rooms: Doubles from US$223 (£178), including breakfast and classes.
For couples: Soori Bali, Tabanan
Yes, it’s a popular wedding venue, but while this classy address in a quiet corner of Tabanan is great for a romantic escape, it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly geared towards canoodling couples. Designed by Malaysia-born architect Soo K Chan, the striking low-rise resort has a touch of the Bond villain’s lair about it — though Blofeld’s hideout probably didn’t have guest villas that all come with their own private pools. Interiors are tasteful, if unremarkable (think crisp, white walls and dense, dark wood), while the main infinity pool, with its sea views, steals the show. What’s more, Soori Bali is the only hotel on Kelating beach, so you can expect to have the sand largely to yourself.
Rooms: Doubles from US$775 (£620), room only.
For pool: Bisma Eight, Ubud
For poolside lounging in a spectacular setting, head for hippy-happy Ubud. Here, down a quiet lane, you’ll find Bisma Eight, which has a small but perfectly formed pool with views over the jungle-clad valley. Taking a dip here feels like you’re swimming above the treetops. All you need to complete the tropical dream holiday scenario is a fresh coconut, which, as luck would have it, you can get from the pool bar. But there’s much more to this hotel; it’s got plenty of style, whether it’s the concrete-walled reception (complete with shrine to Ganesh), the book-stacked cafe, or the traditional, yet minimalist, guest rooms.
Rooms: Doubles from US$200 (£160), B&B.
For boutique on a budget: Akana, Sanur
Opened last September, this new-build addition to the southeastern resort of Sanur is perfect for those with Champagne tastes but a beer budget. Set a couple of streets back from the beach — a long, sandy stretch where you’re likely to see traditional jukung boats moored up — Akana is a surprisingly stylish affair. The lobby has a hint of a gentlemen’s club about it, all green leather chairs and dark wood, while the bedrooms are minimalist without being cold. The whole building is set around a courtyard with a small pool, but if you prefer reclining ocean-side, head to Akana’s own beach club.
Rooms: Doubles from IDR761,400 (£46), room only.
For views: Temple Lodge, Bingin
This eclectic assortment of accommodation above Bingin Beach ranges from a cottage carved out of coral — featuring a private balcony and a warning about thieving monkeys — to a hut made of driftwood. Choose your room wisely to make the most of the hotel’s clifftop location; some of the best views of the Impossibles surf break are from the Eagle’s Nest Suite. Alternatively, admire the Indian Ocean from the shower in the Gecko Suite. Interiors are rustic-chic, while the infinity pool adds a touch of luxury.
Rooms: Doubles from US$70 (£57), B&B.
For arts and crafts: Nirvana Pension and Gallery, Ubud
You’d expect something a little different from a stay with an artist, and this complex of stone-built, thatch-roofed buildings doesn’t disappoint. Painter Nyoman and his wife, Rai, have created a homestay with simple rooms jazzed up by ornate gold doorways and vintage furniture. There’s also an art school where you can learn batik and watercolour painting. The couple has another property with a similar feel, Kubudi Sakti.
Rooms: Doubles from IDR350,000 (£22), B&B.
For escaping the crowds: Abasan Mountain Retreat, Tejakula
Head to the north of the island for crowd-free beaches and quiet walking trails. With room for only 20 guests, Abasan Mountain Retreat is ideal for getting away from it all. Rooms are simply decorated; book one of the six self-catering bungalows to enjoy your own little garden. If you’re missing the sea, take the free 15-minute shuttle to Abasan’s sister property, Pantai Beach Resort, located right on Tejakula’s black sand and pebble beach.
Rooms: Doubles from IDR600,000 (£36), room only, including yoga classes.
For being in the thick of it: Poppies, Kuta
Kuta may be brash and rowdy, but spending a night here needn’t mean sharing a dorm with a bunch of bros from Brisbane. While Poppies is in the heart of town, its 20 thatched cottages feel a world away. The cottages have a traditional feel, while the property also boasts a library and sundeck. The original Poppies Restaurant, from which the hotel was born, has been serving up Indonesian favourites for more than 40 years.
Rooms: Doubles from IDR1,700,000 (£105), including breakfast and airport transfers.
For design: Katamama, Seminyak
Opened last year, this angular, red-brick mass won’t be to everyone’s taste; but Katamama is completely different from anything else you’ll find in Seminyak. The pool sits above a row of hipster-style coffee shops and boutiques, sheltered from view by tropical gardens, while the rooms are impeccably stylish, with exposed brick and terrazzo tiles in muted shades. The hotel comes from the same team behind hedonists’ paradise Potato Head Beach Club, which has hosted shows from the likes of Grace Jones and Rudimental — so party animals will fit right in.
Rooms: Doubles from US$270 (£224), B&B.
For adrenalin junkies: The Chillhouse, Canggu
If Cath Kidston designed a beach retreat, you might get something resembling The Chillhouse’s bedrooms — think cute prints, pastel shades and floaty canopies, albeit tastefully restrained. It’s a great choice for groups, with stand-alone cottages a short walk from the main building. Surfers can hire a board, book a lesson, or have a chat with the in-house coach before heading to Echo Beach — though at around 40 minutes’ walk, you’ll probably want to grab the hotel’s shuttle van. After some poolside post-surf recovery, set off on a new adrenalin-raising adventure: The Chillhouse also has a mountain biking centre.
Rooms: Doubles from IDR1,628,000 (£99), including breakfast, snacks and bicycle hire.
Published in the Jul/Aug 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)