Bali has been a popular travel destination for years, but ever since Eat, Pray, Love hit shelves and cinemas, the number of tourists flocking to this Indonesian island has skyrocketed. As a result, places like Seminyak and Ubud can be uncomfortably crowded, packed with people invariably chugging cheap cocktails or searching for some kind of spiritual fulfilment.
But there are parts of Bali that have remained unscathed. Located on the south-western tip of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu has long been beloved by surfers and peace-seeking travellers, but retains a sense of peace that’s lacking in other Bali hotspots. Weaving old with new, the rugged cliffs here are home to the 11th century Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple as well as several five-star luxury resorts. Most luxurious of all, I’d heard on the travel grapevine, is Anantara Uluwatu.
Probably the most striking thing about Anantara Uluwatu is its location, perched above the limestone cliff face and looking out onto the Indian Ocean. With the exception of a few surfers riding impossibly perfect waves and some fishing boats bobbing further afield, the ocean and the beaches here are quiet, and the views mesmerising from every way you turn.
There aren’t rooms at the Anantara, only suites – all with ocean vistas and outside decks. There’s a living area with a long couch, a desk by the window, a stylish bathroom with a huge rainwater shower, and a bed so comfy that I relished waking up in the night and realising I still had hours left to sleep.
I was disappointed when I didn’t see a bath in the suite – until I went out onto the deck and saw the outside spa bath. It doesn’t really get much more idyllic than sitting in a spa bath full of bubbles watching the sun sink over the Indian Ocean.
But, as huge as the bath is, in the stifling Bali heat you need a proper pool, and thankfully the Anantara has just that. A few steps down from the bedrooms is the glamorous two-level infinity pool, where the bright blue waters appear to melt into the ocean beyond.
When you’re not swimming or lying in your spa bath, there’s plenty to do. If you want to – gasp – leave the resort, the obvious choices are visiting the world famous Padang Padang beach and Uluwatu Temple, but the resort also offers activities like yoga, golf, surfing, river rafting and elephant safaris. I, however, had my eye on the Spice Spoons Culinary Journey cooking class, which promises to show you the secrets of the island’s traditional culinary scene.
A lot of traditional Indonesian meals contain fish or prawns, but the lovely chefs happily adapted the recipes for my veggie requirements. You choose what you want to make from a large selection of dishes – a hard decision, but in the end we went for gado gado, an Indonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce, soto ayam, a traditional chicken noodle soup sans chicken, with a fragrant ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, salam leaf and chilli broth, and mie goreng, thin yellow noodles fried with garlic, shallots, all tossed in clouds of steam.
We got to eat what we’d made (otherwise how cruel!) and it was honestly delicious. The true test will be trying to replicate these dishes without a chef standing behind me, but I’ll definitely give it a go. Afterwards you can make your own dessert too; we chose dadar gulung – palm sugar and coconut crepes, one of the most popular snacks in Indonesia. The crepes are coloured green by the aromatic tropical plant pandan, and stuffed with fresh grated coconut, vanilla bean and melted brown sugar. Seriously, seriously good.
The food in the resort restaurants is very good – as you’d expect from a luxury resort. The pool area is home to Splash, which specialises in grilled fish and meat, and the sixth floor houses two more restaurants: SONO Teppanyaki, a Japanese steakhouse, and the aptly named 360, from which you can enjoy incredible views of grass-topped suites cascading down the cliffside.
We are at 360: to start with I had the Vietnamese summer rolls, where the fresh, crisp vegetables went exquisitely against satisfyingly squidgy rice paper. Next up was ricotta tortellini with broccoli puree and asparagus, which I dithered over ordering (it’s not very traditional…) but it was the chef’s recommendation, and for good reason.
Tom had chilli prawns, which he loved, and we finished off with a dark chocolate rum cake with tiramisu ice cream. The quality of food is just as high at the breakfast buffet, where you can wander around for hours choosing pastries from the bread station, and having juices and eggs made to order.
Of course, a luxury resort isn’t that luxurious without its own spa. Designed to look like a traditional Balinese rice bar, the Anantara Spa is beautiful, and we decided to make the most of it with a massage. We’d enjoyed a couple of different types of massage in Fiji, but this was genuinely the best either Tom or I had ever had – probably not that surprising given that the Balinese massage includes acupressure, essential oils and draws influence from the traditional medicines of India, China and Southeast Asia.
As it always does when you’re staying somewhere so wonderful, our 48 hours at the Anantara Uluwatu flew by. The views, the food, the pampering and the wonderfully kind staff ensure that this is one resort that really does live up to the hype.