THE SANCTUARY, CANGGU

With a big age milestone looming, I've been pondering the many forms of celebration. A low key dinner with lots of Shanghai dumplings, drinks with friends at an old reliable or a family holiday. In reality, my vanity has decided on none of these, ignoring the event entirely, but I have also found my back-up option for a group getaway.

Villa The Sanctuary is a unique exclusive-booking property that boasts enough villas to sleep up to 16 adults (ask about their bunk bed set-up to accommodate a further 20 children).

A master sanctuary (for the star of the trip perhaps?) is a retreat in itself, with an outdoor rain shower, deep tub, verandah and pool overlooking the resort river.

Complete tranquility and privacy is guaranteed. The Sanctuary owns the surrounding land and across the river.

An entertainment hut with open air lounging and pool table allows your group to relax in the evening. For parties, this can be turned in to a bar and dance floor, with DJ facilities available.

The villa is centred by the infinity pool, leading up to the main dining area. Perched overlooking the pool and river, you are served by attentive staff on a long polished table with warm lighting.

Cuisine is changed daily and is at your request. Want Mexican? No problem. Can't get in to Mama San? Don't worry, the chef here has red curry perfected. If you're in the mood for something, he can make it for you. The produce is all sourced locally and on the day, so it's fresh.

The villas are dabbled around the grounds, giving you space just enough space from your other guests. It makes you feel like you've booked out a resort just for yourselves.

Bali weddings, a thing so common these days, can avoid the stigma by using The Sanctuary as an intimate setting for nuptials. You and your guests feel like you're on your own island here, surrounded by the river and private grounds.

Furnished in a distinctly Balinese aesthetic, you still get the amenities you'd expect from a hotel. Turn down service is prompt and the king beds are spread with silky sheets and mosquito nets.

Waking up to this view each morning, I really didn't miss the hustle of Seminyak. I had come to a sanctuary and still had the best of what the towns could offer. That said, you have your own driver provided to you as part of the booking and you're only minutes away from Canggu or 20 minutes from Seminyak. The best part is that you could do all this with your friends.

The Sanctuary is flooded with bookings for the year, as the Belgian owner, Frank, tells me. And it's no surprise. You could easily spoil your staff for a yearly retreat, celebrate your nuptials, have an annual family get together or embrace that not-so-flattering birthday number. In fact, if I was visiting Bali with a large group, I'd skip Seminyak altogether and just book The Sanctuary. The driver at your disposal will take you to the markets in the day, the town at night and the beach when you need. And if you feel like none of those things you've got your own resort with chef to enjoy with your loved ones in complete privacy.

 

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Balinese.
ROOM PICK: Master sanctuary (if you're the guest of honour).
WIFI: Yes, included in the booking throughout the grounds.
CHECKING: Organised upon booking - driver provided.
BREAKFAST: Up to you.
RATES: On request.
CHILDREN: Yes, welcome. Bring lawn games for their enjoyment.
IN-ROOM: TV, air con, shower, fridge.
MINI BAR: Yes, plenty of bottled water provided.

http://villathesanctuarybali.com/

 

ALILA, UBUD

The long drive up in to the hills to Ubud, my reliable car sickness overwhelming me, I was really looking forward to the end of my Bali tour. Keen to escape the busy crowds of Seminyak, tourist markets and the never ending strip of same-same resorts, I anticipated Alila Ubud like water in the desert. 

Driving through Ubud, a small town which is known for its exquisite cuisine, resorts are many but far between. Turning in to the long driveway, passing rice fields and chilli plants, you arrive at a divide in the Ubud valley, which is Alila. Your breath is taken away and you're still in the car.

Check-in is personalised and relaxed. Lounging in the reception, your host greets you with cold juice (watermelon) and refresher towels. Discussing your individual itinerary from dinner reservations to spa treatments, they have everything covered down to the last detail.

Guided through the resort to my Terrace Tree Villa, I felt inner calm landing on my patio. Plantation views surrounded the villa with a feeling of total privacy and escape. The 120sqm treehouse is naturally furnished, with particular attention to soft light, candles and neutral tones. A refreshing change from the heavy balinese aesthetic that is the norm.

Fresh tuberose perfume your room (and the resort) and the daily turndown service comes to light candles and mosquito coils for sunset on your terrace.

Entering the bedroom, the bed faces a bay window lounge and morning views are peaceful and perhaps cheeky (monkey alert). Sinking in to the king bed, it was hard to decide which of the eight pillows to use. Ranging in size and weight from heavy to light, there were no complaints of a poor night's sleep. 

Alila's full range of his and hers amenities feature throughout the room. From his and hers robes and straw sunhats to shampoo, cleansers and lotions. The differences are subtle in fragrance but distinctly feminine and masculine.

Oversized stone bath tubs and rain showers give you the sort of unnecessary luxury that feels totally necessary. How can one go back home to apartment living after this? I tried not to think about it - just fill the tub and submerge. 

Dining in Bali can be hit and miss. I was told that Ubud had some of the best chefs the island had to offer and one of them was at Alila Ubud. There was no disappointment. The menus offered both balinese and modern options but avoided confusion. The options were on-point for today's palette without being fussy. Between room service and the restaurant, there was no need to leave.


Room service lunch on my terrace, was fresh and delivered quickly. Tea smoked chicken salad with mango, local broth soup with braised beef and freshly made fettuccine with tomato passata were all perfectly balanced.

Artisanal breakfasts changed daily. With a menu that allows you to choose small plates and as many as you want, there is no fear of missing out. Freshly baked croissants with honeydew and vanilla bean jam, local cleansing juices, palm sugar porridge and fruit with lime and mint gets you started. Followed by poached eggs, house made hash and bruschetta with local tomatoes, its a surprise you can fit in french toast and a smoothie.

Dinner under the open-air, thatched roof restaurant overlooking the valley was a spectacular and romantic occasion (they have their in-house Alila insect repellent lotion on hand if your require). Starting with cocktails on the verandah, I craved something sweet and fresh with gin and lime. The bartender was inventive and nailed it.

 A degustation menu that is sophisticated without being showy highlighted the chefs skills. Short ribs with sticky caramel, fresh tortellini and confit chicken were modern and expertly executed. I couldn't decide between banana fritters and black rice pudding, two of my all time favourite desserts. They surprised me with both. I rolled back to my room that evening. 

One of the unique parts of the resort is the Organic Garden. Open for guests to explore, much of the fresh produce is sourced here.

I was surprised to see how Bok Choy looks when it is grown, alongside chilli, galangal, ginger and shallots.

Afternoon refreshments on the restaurant verandah is served at 4pm daily. Snack on traditional cakes and herbal tea while local children perform their balinese dancing talents.

The Alila spa is a destination in itself. Outside visitors come far and wide for the ancient Asian healing techniques and the use of local ingredients in their products. My signature massage used long therapeutic strokes and skin rolling to relieve tension in an open-air enclosure listening to a soothing water fountain. 

Your private changing room gives you hanging space, robes and slippers and a petal foot bath to relax while waiting for your treatment. Rinse after in the stone shower.

The pool unfortunately was under renovations during my visit, but it has a spectacular view over the valley.

I didn't want to leave Alila. It was an oasis in an otherwise bustling island. Ubud feels like a real place, where people are truly interested in you and likewise you in them. The staff clearly love Alila and it's mantra and it showed through their engaging conversation. They didn't just ask how your day was, they made it. It was here that I fell in love with Bali.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Natural forest.
ROOM PICK: Terrace Tree Villa
WIFI: Yes, complimentary and works throughout the resort.
CHECKING: 2PM check-in | Noon check-out.
BREAKFAST: Included - artisanal menu changing daily. 
RATES: Terrace Tree Villa rates start at $400 USD p/n.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Bath tub, rain shower, two office areas, walk in robe, lounge area, TV, fridge, safe, hats, robes, all amenities. Mosquito coils, fresh flowers, candles, some light reading.

I stayed courtesy of Alila, Ubud.
http://www.alilahotels.com/ubud

OSSOTEL, LEGIAN BALI

Located on a corner bend on a little lane, only 50 metres from the beach in Legian is The Ossotel. A boutique hotel, with a Scandinavian vibe, this pod-style hotel really ups the game for low cost, luxe functionality.

Sipping on their welcome signature-mojito, check-in is located behind their restaurant Romeo’s. Don’t be unexcited by the name, the restaurant does a decent breakfast with fresh juices, French Toast and Nasi Goreng. Room service comes every day at 4pm to treat you with bottled water and a cake of the day – above and beyond thoughtfulness.

Staying in a Pool Room, you’re able to roll out of bed and have pool access straight from your terrace. The rooms above are the same fit-out and size. A full king bed (King Koil) with sateen sheets is the first glimpse they're trying to nab the discerning traveller. Add the rain-shower and free Wi-Fi and you’re starting to feel like you’re on holiday despite the 27sqm room size.

Included airport pick-up is a blessing, and the back exit at the pool gives you direct access to the beach. Spa treatment can be arranged off site at the Taman Air Spa. Try the signature massage and make full use of their plunge pool and sauna.

The Ossotel gives you a great value base camp on the beach, to facilitate your Bali activities. The concept is modern, the design is luxe and the service is distinctly Balinese. Perfect for a few nights before moving to a retreat.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Clean Scandinavian overnighter.
ROOM PICK: Pool Access.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary. Patchy – don’t recommend for the business traveller.
CHECKING: 2PM check-in | Noon check-out.
BREAKFAST: Selected hot menu plus limited local buffet.
RATES: From $99 USD p/n
CHILDREN: Yes, welcome.
IN-ROOM: King Coil king-size beds, bottled water, rain shower, robes, travel magazines.
MINI BAR: Beer and chocolate. Well priced.

http://www.ossotel.com/