My kind of place: This laid-back spot on the island's southern coast is now a hip and comfortable hangout, says Janelle Carrigan.
Seminyak is Bali's cool corner
With a mountainous, lush interior and a coastline crowded with swells for rookies as well as seasoned surfers, the island of Bali serves up almost year-round excuses to visit. Yet, despite the onslaught of sightseers bringing cultural influences from diverse corners of the world, locals continue to attend to their stunning temples and graceful daily rituals.
On the popular southern side of the island, with the Indian Ocean lapping at its shore, a coastal spot is garnering more attention for its gentrification. Seminyak has transformed in the past decade from a stretch of sleepy rice paddies into a hip spot boasting some of the island's best restaurants, hotels and boutiques. It's the upmarket antidote to nearby Kuta, notorious for its girly bars and relentless touts.
The best time to visit is from May to September, when the humidity drops and temperatures range from the mid-20s to mid-30s° Celsius. Party season peaks in August. If you don't mind sporadic waves of torrential rain, there are still picture-perfect days earlier in the year.
A comfortable bed
The W Retreat & Spa's unveiling a few years ago marked Seminyak's coming of age. With regular visits by international DJs, a cascade of saltwater pools and a sushi bar, the 237-room hotel is a hip beachside hangout as much as it is a hotel. Rooms have high-speed Wi-Fi, Bose sound systems and sweetly scented Bliss products and start at US$400 (Dh1,469, excluding taxes) for a garden-view room (www.starwoodhotels.com; 00 62 361 4738 106).
The Legian sets an upscale pace. The hotel's grand scale and clean Asian lines make for a soothing setting. Spend an afternoon at the ocean bar savouring Balinese sweets and tea or take a yoga class. All 68 rooms face the ocean (there's also a separate three-bedroom villa on the grounds) and a studio suite with espresso machine starts at about $495 (Dh1,818), including breakfast, excluding taxes (www.ghmhotels.com; 00 62 361 730 622).
For a larger group, Bali's private villas are the gold standard. Most boast more staff than guests, a swimming pool and entertainment system. Villa Alang Alang is a central property near the Oberoi Hotel. Starting at US$420 (Dh1,543) a night, it has two separate villas with three bedrooms in total, tropical bathrooms and a full-time chef (www.elitehavensbali.com; 00 62 361 731 074).
Find your feet
One of thousands of islands in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali is surrounded by coral reefs, which are perfect for snorkelling trips. Its tropical landscape has kilometres of twisting roads that lead inland to extinct volcanic craters and hot mineral springs. Seminyak stretches only a few kilometres along the southern coastline, with small neighbouring areas such as Petitenget within its boundaries.
The streets of Seminyak are narrow and winding, hence the popularity of motorbikes. To the north, it's one of the last of the built-up tourist zones on that side of the island. To the south is manicured Nusa Dua and busy Kuta.
Meet the locals
The fresh produce market at the northern end of Jalan Raya Seminyak, known as Seminyak Market, is crowded, but the produce is fresh and cheap. Stalls also sell popular cooked dishes found at roadside carts. Chicken sate sticks, fried rice or noodles with spicy pastes and water spinach tossed with chilli are usually economically served in small plastic bags. Food plays a vital role in the many religious observances on the Balinese Hindu calendar and Petitenget Temple is an important hub for locals. By the beach, just off Jalan Petitenget, families make daily offerings of fruit, rice and flowers to the well-preserved temple.
Book a table
Just a few minutes' walk from Seminyak Beach is the slick new restaurant and bar, Petitenget (www.petitenget.net; 00 62 361 4733 054). Modelled on a European bistro, it still has Asian touches, not only in the design of the space but in the dishes, too. For mains, there is the pan roasted red snapper fillet with prawn and chicken laksa broth (118,000 rupiah/Dh44). Finish off with a Bali lime and coconut meringue pie (55,000 rupiah/Dh21).
The serene Sarong (www.sarongbali.com; 00 62 361 4737 809) serves more traditional flavours in its two dining pavilions. The ubiquitous chewy, rolled-up betel leaf is given a fresh twist with a filling of raw tuna, lemongrass, shallots and lemon basil (25,000 rupiah/Dh9). Or try the deep fried turmeric crispy fish (159,000 rupiah/Dh60). The restaurant is often booked, so plan ahead.
For a more casual meal, take a seat among the antiques, quirky homewares and books (all for sale) at Biku (bikubali.com; 00 62 361 8570 888). There's great coffee, freshly baked cakes of the day (25,000 rupiah/Dh9), beef burgers (55,000 rupiah/Dh21) and classic Indonesian nasi goreng - fried rice served with chicken sate, prawn crackers and fried egg (40,000 rupiah/Dh15).
With narrow roads packed with motorbikes and potholes marring the footpaths, hire a driver to explore the boutiques around W Hotel on Jalan Petitenget. Namu (namustore.com; 00 62 361 279 7524) has stunning frocks and other chic necessities. For silver trinkets and local art, head to the ever-changing assortment of stores on nearby Jalan Laksmana.
What to avoid
Denpasar International Airport is drab and tedious. Long lines often form for the cash-only visa-on-arrival application and for customs. Hire a service such as the Bali Concierge (www.thebaliconcierge.com; 00 62 361 766 880) to speed up the process. They'll meet you as you step off the plane and handle all the paperwork and luggage issues at prices starting at US$35 (Dh129).
Watching the sunsets over the ocean. In prime position by the beach is the architecturally loopy Potato Head Beach Club (www.ptthead.com; 00 62 361 473 7979), which has daybeds by the infinity pool as well as three restaurants.
Etihad Airways flies from Abu Dhabi to Bali international airport via Kuala Lumpur in about 11 hours from Dh3,125 return, including taxes (www.etihad.com).
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