All I had to do was let the warm tide carry me to an empty beach on one of the many tiny paradise islands off the south coast of Lombok, then wait for the fisherman to pick me up for a snorkel in another bay. Back on our private porch at Gili Asahan Eco Lodge, we watched the sun set behind the hills across the bay before eating our body weight in pasta and lounging around a bonfire listening to the waves – the perfect way to round off our Bali adventure, which had started with excellent Emirates flights from London via Dubai (the cabin crew service was impeccable).
My partner Pieter and I had begun 10 days earlier in the capital, Denpasar.
Ringed by high-end or surfer beach resorts, the heart of the city itself is almost tourist-free, filled with temples, museums, markets and homes peeling back in layer after layer of courtyards.
Our hotel was as charming as the city – the Inna Bali Heritage. Built in the 1920s, in its heyday it hosted Charlie Chaplin, Gandhi and Marilyn Monroe.
It may not be as smart now but it still keeps its old world charm (at a staggeringly cheap £16 a night) – an oasis of cool, quiet gardens within walking distance of the main sights and markets.
Don’t miss the markets. On offer are fresh fruit, clothes, temple offerings, assorted car parts – you name it. And great street food, such as babi guling – roast suckling pig served with mounds of rice and bowls of soup from as little as £1.
Pieter and I picked small stalls or restaurants that looked busy and we never went wrong, from soups to spicy curries, fried rice, chilli greens or crispy tempura.
It was a relief from the city’s heat when we headed an hour north to the hills and plantations above Ubud. The town itself is often called the cultural heart of Bali but it can feel full-on backpacker central.
If you don’t want to join the crowds, you can stay in a nearby village in a B&B or with a family. However we opted for the Alila Ubud hotel about 15 minutes out – largely for its stunning infinity pool overlooking the forest. Sheer luxury.
Lazy afternoons were spent strolling past rice fields or through local villages, evenings back at the hotel eating grilled tuna in ginger and lemongrass, or chicken slow-roasted in banana leaves.
The next leg of our trip was a complete contrast, on the less touristy east of the island, Amlapura, staying in a corner of an old palace with the descendants of the district’s last rulers.
Now aged 70, Mr Agung took us on VIP tours of the other two palaces his family built – one manicured over a lake, for formal visits, the other a water pleasure garden where we swam at the edge of the forest, while children laughed in the next pool and jumped along stepping stones.
For supper we headed into the small town to either a tiny restaurant or food stall for satay sprinkled with fresh onion and soup pepped up with lemongrass.
Oddly, we couldn’t find a cold beer in the entire place – I’ve never craved one so much as when sundown came and we looked sadly at each other over sweet tea.
For our last three days, from a small beach south east on the main island, we hopped on to a fisherman’s boat and went over to Asahan’s eco-resort.
Finally, we were able to shed our shoes and spend time swimming, snorkelling and padding about on the sand. And – at last – I got that cold beer at sunset.
Emirates fly from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester to Bali via Dubai.
Book by February 21 for fares from £589 return. emirates.com
Gili Asahan Eco Lodge costs from £37-£131 per cabin per night. giliasahan.com Rooms at Alila Ubud hotel start at £145 a night. alilahotels.com.
Inna Bali Heritage Hotel has rooms from £16 a night. innabaliheritagehotel.com Tourist info: indonesia.travel
Published at Sat, 09 Feb 2019 13:14:00 +0000