It’s surprising just how many Aussies still view Bali as our tabloids portray: a red-hot global no-go zone filled with drug-smugglers and “jungle juice”. But the small island off the Indonesian coast is not the boganville it’s made out to be. Beyond the headlines, clichés and warnings lies a melting pot of cultural travel highlights offering the imaginative traveler utter sophistication, beauty and charm.

However I do feel the need to put a disclaimer on this article because – let’s face it – Bali is whatever you want it to be! So if you’re up for a bender in Kuta then by all means, chuck your guts up at a nightclub and get hassled on the streets – I don’t think this article is for you! But if, like the rest of us, you want nothing more than to chill out among the coconuts, immerse yourself in culture or get lost in the jungle then you’ve come to the right place!

You’re still here? Good. I take it you’re part of the latter set, then. You’re not a bogan (thank god) and you want to find your bliss in Bali, a breathtaking and friendly place so close to home yet worlds away from reality, but you might not know where to look. Well you’re in luck, the following is a collection of Bali travel highlights offering insider knowledge on where to eat, sleep and go in Bali as experienced during my recent trip there. From the forests and food of Ubud, to the yoga retreats of Bingin beach, I can say without hesitation that Bali is my happy place.

 Bali Travel Highlights – Trip Notes for the Imaginative Traveler

EAT/DRINK

Metis
JL petitenget 6, Kerobokan

I have no idea why it took me almost three full laps of the street to find Metis on my scooter, particularly because the building is a picture of modern architecturally designed perfection.  Aside from my questionable map-reading skills, dinner at Metis is perfection in every way, and is an absolute must if you’re in the Seminyak area. It’s fine dining at it’s most seductive. Arrive early, grab a designer Martini and watch the sun set over a quintessential Balinese scene of lotus ponds and rice fields. The cuisine at Metis is even better than the view (if that’s possible), with French, Mediterranean and Asian influences. The place is booked out almost every night so be sure to reserve a table more than a fortnight in advance.

Metis Restaurant Bali

Petitenget
JL Petitinget 40X, Seminyak

I stumbled upon this restaurant a couple of years ago while surveying the trendy dining district of the same name and I’ve been a convert ever since. Petitenget allured me with its casual yet sleek sidewalk vibe and mouth-watering menu and it didn’t disappoint. Walking up the steps and into the restaurant you get a sense that every little thing is styled and cared for, right down to the type of flowers filling the many vases that dot the tables. The food is fresh, seasonal and full of seafood. It’s easy on the wallet too. Refuel with a crab risotto or a goats cheese and beets salad. I also hear they also make killer cappuccinos.

Sea Circus
JL Oberoi, Seminyak

With its pastel-coloured louvers, bright yellow chairs, zebra stripe walls and hot pink menus, Sea Circus is the quirky, cool kid of the Seminyak dining scene.  Hangover breakfasts come with Berocca and Marguerites with cheeky names like Holiday Pash are served in milk bottles. The taco-bar is something to write home about too – filled with scrumptious pork and seafood fillings. The service is fun and full-of-life and come weekends, the place is the proverbial beehive of activity.

Sea Circus Bali

Ibu Oka Ubud
Jalan Suweta, Ubud.

This modest eatery located on the main drag in Ubud serves up fast food, Bali style. A never-ending supply of fresh roasted suckling pig (with the crackling on top) is served on paper-plates to the hoards of in-the-know tourists and locals patiently sitting cross-legged and shoeless on floor mats. I was salivating over the $4 special Babi Guling, which came with rice and sayur, vegetables cooked with coconut milk and shallots.

SLEEP

Natura Resort and Spa, Ubud
Laplapan Village, Petanu River Valley

Yes, it is possible to stay in the lap of luxury without dropping one month’s pay on a one-night stay! There are plenty of smaller 4 and 5-star resorts in Bali that are just as breathtaking, just as accommodating and just as unique (maybe even more so) than you’re normal run-of-the-mill big name brand hotels. One of those places is Natura Resort and Spa in Ubud. Set high on a mountain-top overlooking the lush and vibrant jungle below, the 4-star Natura Resort and Spa is made up of fourteen 2-level villas (with private pools and day bed).

Natura Resort and Spa Bali

Now, I feel it is my duty to divulge that I’m a bit of a Bali-bathroom connoisseur, insomuch as I believe that a sure-fire sign of a luxurious Bali dwelling is the presentation and functionality of the inside/outside bathroom. And as far as bathrooms go, Natura Resort is as good as they come. The bathroom is vibrant and luxurious yet adopts just the right amount of cultural rustic allure. In fact I loved the bathroom so much that I didn’t actually want to leave the spa bath at night; I was tempted to sleep there. And with a shower perfectly positioned to take-in the acres and acres of un-spoilt green jungle, the bathroom seriously gets my tick of approval. Actually so does the private pool, the views, the restaurant, the room and basically the entire resort, really.

Natura Resort and Spa Bali

The resort spa is an altogether blissful experience. Each thatched treatment hut blends in perfectly with the jungle and, after negotiating endless stairs to the foot of the mountain, you could be forgiven for mistaking them for little mirages among the trees. Because well, that’s pretty much what they are…the bubbling stream beside the Spa only adds to the relaxation felt while being cocooned by all sorts of sweet-smelling lotions.

SEE/DO

Surf/Yoga Retreat at The Temple Lodge in Bingin
Jalan Pantai, Bingin

Bali surf/yoga retreats have become a real mainstay for the experiential traveller wanting the best of both worlds – fun and fitness.  The Temple Lodge offers sparse yet unique Balinese-style accommodation perched atop the white cliffs of laid-back surfer mecca Bingin Beach. Uninterrupted 360-degree sea views span from Uluwatu to Kuta and the majestic volcanoes beyond. Promoting a healthy balanced lifestyle, The Temple Lodge offers daily yoga classes on-site in a beautiful garden setting and healthy lunch and dinner menus. Odysseys Surf School offers daily surf lessons at Bingin all year round. Free WiFi.

The Temple Lodge

Luwak Coffee Plantation Near Ubud
Btwn Ubud and Mt Batur

Whether you’re interested in trying coffee that comes out of a cat-like creature’s behind is beside the point. Visiting a Lawak Coffee Plantation, in particular the Alam Bali Agriculture Coffee Farm near Ubud, is a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting experience. You’ll learn all about the different types of coffee available (from vanilla to citrus, yes citrus flavours) and get a feel for how the coffee is roasted. You’ll even get to mingle with local farmers and workers while grinding coffee of your own (you can choose whether it’s of the Kopi Lawak variety). Perhaps the best thing about the Alam Bali Agriculture Farm is that it doesn’t get clogged with tourists in peak season, in fact, quite the reverse. What’s left is an inviting cultural experience filled with friendly people eager to please.

Ungasan Beach and Karma Kandara Beach Club
Karma Kandara Resort, Banjar Wijaya Kusuma, Ungasan, Bali

Getting to the Beach Club at Karma Kandara is half the adventure, with an inclinator scaling down the sheer cliff-face to the breathtaking turquoise water of Ungasan Beach below. This ruggedly handsome patch of the world is also one of the most deserted you’ll find on Bali’s main Island. Just make sure you stray away from the Beach Club (which, in itself is a destination worth noting) and you’ll find a deserted microcosm of rock pools, secret huts and waves crashing along the reef in the horizon. Spend hours meandering along the beach in search of starfish and drop into the more inhabited Beach Club for gourmet food and designer cocktails delivered directly to your deck-chair. Just don’t forget to bring your pretty pennies as it’s a little pricey!

Ungasan Beach Bali

Karma Kandara Beach Club

Cooking Class at Casa Luna, Ubud
Jalan Bisma,  Ubud, Bali

The gourmet restaurant Casa Luna, founded by Australian-born Janet de Neefe (who coincidentally also founded The Ubud Writers Festival), is a veritable institution. So it’s not surprising that her gourmet food tours and cooking classes aimed at putting the sensuality back into cuisine are renowned the island-over.  The Cooking School classes provide insight into the Balinese way of life, love and belief system through providing active participation and learning about the exotic herbs, spices and foods used in daily ceremonial dishes. Attendees also help to prepare a large feast, which is later enjoyed with a glass of local rice wine when the class draws to a close.

Watch the surfers take on the waves at Uluwatu

When the surf is big and the waves are pounding, it is easy to spend hours perched high on the cliffs of Uluwatu, feasting on local grilled prawns and Bintangs,while being mesmerized by the big-wave surfers taking off below at The Peak.  Even if you’re not a surfer, the sheer power and beauty of this place gets you every time. And once you’ve settled into a good viewing spot inside one of the many Warungs that line the jagged rock face at shore, you know that’s you for the rest of the day!

Uluwatu

AMW x