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Bali, Indonesia: Exploring the Bukit Peninsula in the south


Think of the Balinese landscape, and rice paddies and palm trees are likely to spring to mind. But the Bukit Peninsula, the lemon-shaped bulge at the bottom end of Bali, is more rugged: an arid limestone plateau covered in shrubs and stones. Yet it’s also home to some of the best surf breaks on the planet and a growing number of incredibly stylish and comfortable villa retreats – including the two newish ones profiled here.

I can think of a few places around the world where I wouldn’t want to arrive in the pitch dark of night: the summit of Mount Everest; the airports of certain war-torn countries; Adelaide.

(I’m joking, Adelaide. I like you!)

Arriving at Alam Bali in the evening, however, is an invigorating joy. The distant roar of waves is carried up on a salty breeze from a hundred metres below the cliffs, and it’s all you can hear apart from the singing of frogs and the gentle hum of a swimming pool filter. If the weather’s good, the spread of stars is astonishing, too. It all conspires to make Singapore feel much more than a two-hour flight away and your first holiday Bintang taste mighty fine.

Then you get to enjoy it all over again the next morning (provided you didn’t have too many Bintangs) when you actually lay eyes on the Bukit’s extraordinary Indian Ocean views for the first time. It’s no wonder this area is the epicentre of Bali’s hang-gliding and paragliding scene.

It’s not the epicentre of much else. Despite being just 25 minutes from Denpasar International Airport, Alam Bali feels gloriously remote. In fact, once you’ve turned off the main road at the town of Ungasan, you’ll see nothing but stubbly paddocks, old quarries and the occasional cow. This is a radically different experience from Kuta (obviously), but it’s even a far cry from Seminyak’s buzzing streets and boutiques.

The villa was built last year and is one of a small cluster of similar properties set back from a small temple on the cliff’s edge. It’s an elegantly designed split-level property with an infinity pool at the top that flows down a rock wall into a second pool at the bottom. Every one of the five bedrooms is spacious and impressively kitted out. If you’re here with a group of friends, don’t worry too much when you lose the rock-paper-scissors battle to decide who sleeps where.

Elsewhere there’s a series of winding carp ponds, a large bale and an even larger living and dining area from where you can flop into the pool a few feet away. The whole place features quality electronics, including 50-inch plasmas, iPod docs, DVD players and surround sound. The Wi-Fi works brilliantly, too, so you won’t require a trip to the infamously named “Wank” internet café in Ungasan.

Speaking of DVDs, a wondrous thing happened during our first morning at Alam Bali. My wife and I had our two children in tow on this holiday, and because they’re aged three and four, we expected them to dash most of our opportunities to be slothful. Then they stumbled upon Toy Story in the DVD library, a film they hadn’t seen but had heard a lot about. It was love at first frame. “Go back to the beginning!” they yelled whenever the credits started to roll. We’re generous parents, so of course we obliged every time, before grabbing a cold beverage and retiring to the pool for the duration of the show. (A shame it wasn’t Toy Story 3, which is 29 minutes longer than the original.)

A stay at Alam Bali includes plenty of freebies: welcome drinks, fruit basket, laundry service, basic groceries, and breakfast each day for up to ten people – banana pancakes, eggs Benny, local dishes if you want them, and excellent coffee.

You also get a car and a driver for up to eight hours a day, but such was the allure of the villa, its pools and surrounds, it stayed in the garage for most of our stay. One of the exceptions was a predictable one: my wife’s visit to the nearest shopping enclave, Bali Collection at Nusa Dua. Less predictable was the fact that she didn’t buy anything.

We also took a quick trip to Geger Beach at my request. I’d been there a few years earlier when I was covering a media event at The St. Regis Bali Resort. I loved the sweep of the beach around to Pura Geger, the temple on the headland; it was a quiet place, populated by seaweed farmers and surfers waiting for the next boat to take them out to the reef break. While a few of these elements remain in place, the southern half of the strip is now a construction site that had us scrambling back to our oasis on the cliff. You can’t beat progress but you can at least run away from it!

Private Escape
It was also hard to resist the urge to stay at Alam Bali in the evenings, enjoying the in-house chef’s awesome Indonesian curries and chargrilled tenderloins, and listening to the distant sound of waves, frogs and Toy Story. But the staff’s suggestion that we head out for a beachside barbecue sounded like a winner.

The villa has access to a “private club” right on the water at Kutuh Beach, ten minutes away by car. It’s an interesting ten minutes, too: an unsealed track winds its way through the middle of a towering quarry, where giant niches have been cut out of the stone walls and will apparently be filled with statues at some point in the future.

Alam Bali’s “club” is like a miniature resort. It’s a small plot of lush, grassy land with a bale for reclining and dining, and a cute little plunge pool just two metres from the sand. While I swam in the ocean and our girls squealed themselves hoarse in the pool, the villa staff cooked up a feast of fresh fish, satays and salads.

A couple of sauv blancs later and I started determinedly trying to come up with an idea for a new phone app that Google might buy for a cool ten mill, enabling me to live like this every night of the week, not just three nights a year.

I haven’t had much luck with the app idea, sadly, but I’ve at least discovered a new favourite part of Bali. While it’s easy enough to escape the crowds by heading to the far north of the island – places like Munduk and Sidemen, for example – getting off the beaten track and still staying a short drive from Denpasar International Airport is a different matter.

For me, though, the south coast of the Bukit Peninsula satisfies the equation, and among its handful of accommodation options, Alam Bali is an wonderful choice in every way for families or groups of friends.

And if someone does insist on that game of rock-paper-scissor for allocating rooms, just remember that males are most likely to lead with rock, and women are most likely to lead with paper. (It’s scientifically proven!)

Why is The Edge called The Edge? No, nothing to do with U2’s guitarist. The first reason for the name becomes acutely obvious as soon as you lay eyes on the place: the villa complex is perched on a precipitous cliff, a hundred metres above a washing machine of ten-foot waves and rocky outcrops.

But I’m guessing there’s a second reason. Despite a price tag that suggests you’ll find nothing but sheer luxury, there’s also a sense of the unconventional here. Below are three of the edgier features of this top-end accommodation on the Bukit’s southwest coast.

What’s at The Edge?
Three separate villas with different room configurations:

The Mood: 1,500 square metres including two bedrooms and a natural-stone plunge pool.
The Cliff: 1,400 square metres including three bedrooms, a natural-stone pool and a library.
The View: 3,500 square metres including five bedrooms, a private dining room, two pools, two bales, a huge outdoor deck, a wine cellar, a cigar lounge, a children’s play room and a private home cinema.

Two other permutations are available: The Villa is a one-bedroom option (part of The Cliff) that can be booked by couples; The Exclusive, meanwhile, gets you the whole place – all ten bedrooms across all three villas. Each villa is staffed by dedicated butlers who’ll look after your every whim.

Make mine a see-through floor
If you approach a tropical island holiday like I do, you’ll find yourself becoming intimately familiar with the resort bar before the other facilities. This makes even more sense at The Edge, whose alfresco watering hole capitalises on its astonishing Indian Ocean outlook with oversized day beds and viewfinders for spying green turtles in the sea below. One section that hangs right over the cliff even has a glass-bottomed floor for those who love a bit of vertigo with their vermouth.

They take their drinks seriously at The Edge, too. This much is evident when you emerge from the infinity pool to find an artisanal tumbler of iced water with sliced lemon and mint beside your towel. And for those who want something a little stronger, the wine cellar is a walk-in behemoth with over 200 vintage selections.

Speaking of glass bottoms, apparently The Edge 2, a new development currently under construction on the adjoining cliff, will feature a glass-bottomed pool with the same swooning view down to the ocean.

Stop… hammer time!
You don’t win an award for “Most Innovative Spa of the Year” (AsiaSpa magazine, 2010) without doing things differently, and that’s exactly what goes down at The Spa at The Edge.

It’s obvious this won’t be your average one-hour back rub when you find yourself wading across a “liquid floor” to reach your treatment bed. The shallow pond is as blue as the ocean, making the room feel like an extension of the panorama that’s on display through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Then they get the hammers out – a pair of small, ornate wooden hammers used for hitting gamelan instruments, to be precise. This isn’t for every treatment, just my “Meditative Massage”. A sheet of Chinese kepeng coins, long used in Balinese rituals, is placed on my chest as a kind of talisman, and then the hammers are lightly tapped on my feet and body. It’s all fairly awesome.

Other treatments include the use of arak (Balinese rice wine), hot and cold glass stones, a lotus blossom steam body-wrap, and Russian black caviar.

Giant screens and duelling games
The villas are beautifully designed and, unsurprisingly, equipped with every mod-con you can imagine, from fully integrated entertainment systems to seamless Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs in every room.

But if you book The View, the five-bedroom villa, you also get a tiered home cinema with eight plush leather couches and a monster screen, a cigar lounge next to the walk-in wine cellar, and a children’s rumpus room with painted murals, indoor play equipment, and two dedicated areas for gaming so that one kid (or parent!) can enjoy the PlayStation while the other is engrossed in the Wii. For the record, there are books, too, but something tells me they won’t get much of a look in.

If The View isn’t occupied, it’s fine for children from the other two villas to use these facilities, too.

Vows with a View
The Edge has clearly been designed with weddings in mind – in fact, we arrived the day after someone had booked the whole place for that very purpose – and a variety of packages are available for those who are tying the knot. These start from US$6,500, including everything from the blessing ceremony and floral decorations to the reception and a buffet menu for 30 to 150 guests (depending on the package), along with a wedding sign board, a hand bouquet and boutonniere, flower girls, a bottle of champagne and more. Also covered is the venue fee and accommodation in one or more of the villas (again, depending on the package).

The verdict? The Edge is about as high a price point as you’ll find in Bali – it’s not the kind of place to come to if you’re one to compare the prices on a fine-dining menu with what’s available at the warung down the road. But there can be no denying that it’s a truly spectacular spot for a special occasion.

Things to Do in the Bukit

Uluwatu Temple is in an incredible setting but the over-exuberant monkeys can be a chore – pin your sunglasses down or they’ll be gone in a flash. The famous kecak dance has been performed here for decades; it’s held each night at 6pm.
For outside dining, there’s everything from the cheap and cheerful seafood restaurants at Jimbaran to the signature eateries of nearby resorts, including Il Ristorante at Bulgari and PJ’s at the Four Seasons.
Keen clubbers are in the wrong neck of the woods, but a 45-minute cab to Mint, Potato Head or Woobar in Seminyak won’t cost the earth.
This isn’t Bali’s biggest shopping mecca – quite the contrary. Your best bet is Bali Connection at Nusa Dua, with department store Sogo, plenty of big-name surf stores and a number of discount fashion shops. The Balinese handicrafts and knickknacks are a highlight.
The nearest golf course is Bali Golf & Country Club, currently closed for major renovation work, probably until early 2013.

Getting There
Before I book a holiday in Southeast Asia, I generally go hunting for the best deals on the websites of the main budget airlines, Tiger, AirAsia and Jetstar. For Bali, though, I prefer the KLM option because you can get flights for around the same price but with the added bonus of full service, including all the baggage entitlements, entertainment and food and drinks options that you get on longer trips overseas.

The timings are excellent, too. KL 835 flies daily from Singapore to Bali, leaving Changi at 4.35pm and arriving at 7.15pm at Denpasar International Airport. Return flights leave Denpasar at 8.35pm and get into Singapore at 11pm. It makes it very easy to manage a long weekend and maximise your time away. (The “winter” schedule kicks in at the end of October and is roughly an hour later for each leg.)

Flight times are approximately two-and-a-half hours. Economy fares start at $254 return (including taxes and surcharges) and business class fares from $575 return. Members of KLM’s frequent traveller programme Flying Blue should note that they can redeem a Singapore-Bali return ticket on KLM for 40,000 Flying Blue Award Miles.

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