And we’re off! Bali’s hedonistic southern hot spot Nusa Dua beckons, the name alone conjuring cocktails by the pool, blissful beaches, shopping and sunsets. What’s more, we’re shacking up at boutique retreat the Balé.
Surprisingly unassuming from the outside, the Balé is cocooned within concrete walls. Step inside, though, and a sinuous walkway flanked by water features leads to a cool, high ceilinged reception and library where we breeze through check-in and meet our dedicated butler.
Radiating calm, the resort feels insanely relaxing after the hustle of Bali. En route to our villa we get our first real view of this adults-only, white-stone temple to cool, laced with reflecting pools and sculptural stairways spiralling to the sky (or rather the main pool and restaurant, as we later discover). ‘We should have brought a ball of string to mark the path back,’ jokes my partner, Mr Smith, eyeing the extensive grounds.
Our butler ushers us through high wooden gates into our private wonderland, a Deluxe Single Pavilion, home for the next two days. A floating flagstone path, surrounded by water features and fountains, leads to the outdoor deck. To our left is our day-bed, shaded by an open-sided pagoda, where you can imagine lying back and sipping umbrella-toting cocktails while gazing over the paddy fields, before hitting the sunloungers on the lawn or diving into our sinfully large private pool.
Inside, the window-lined villa lets the light stream in with views of the secluded garden and pool from all angles. A king-size bed raised on a white-stone dais dominates the interior, flanked by couches and a work area. While we explore, our butler plies us with cocktails; Mr Smith opts for a fruity little number, I go for something tart.
With double doors opening directly onto the pool, the bathroom is a serious pleasure palace. A glass-walled shower looks out to the private garden and courtyard; there’s a black volcanic outdoor shower and a sandstone bath big enough for two. Double basins sport an astounding array of bespoke hand-made soaps with scents spanning jasmine and coffee.
After a quick dip in our personal pool we wander up to check out the main pool and the Balé’s award-winning restaurant Faces (a wall of beautiful metal face masks gaze across the gleaming open space, with views over the resort and water). Bowls of tropical fruits and rainbow-bright vegetables line the striking open kitchen, where the chefs are teaching a cooking class.
A blend of East meets West, the flavour-filled menu at Faces works fantastically. I choose a crisp salad while Mr Smith tucks into something suitably spicy. We polish off the meal with top-notch coffee.
Nusa Dua’s rated shops beckon after lunch so our driver whisks us past verdant golf courses to Bali Collection. If having a private butler, luxe villa and on-call car service doesn’t make you feel like a celebrity, the Bali Collection will. A gated, tourists-only shopping complex, linked by walkways and cafés, it’s a neverending Aladdin’s cave of treasure (aka bargains), selling everything from your favourite Polo Ralph Lauren shirts to the latest sneakers. If you ever wondered where the Doctor parks his Tardis, this could well be the place.
Within an hour we’re loaded down with bags, having bought entirely new wardrobes, including enough Calvin Klein and Pierre Cardin underwear for a menswear catwalk show. I roll my eyes as Mr Smith proudly shows me his prize find, a kitsch Balinese wooden figurine. While the locals have a love affair with these risqué statues, it might not look so good on his office desk. Time to call for the car…
While I tackle a spot of work back at our pool (cheers WiFi), Mr Smith has our driver take him down to the Balé’s private beach club to soak up the sun and surf, floating back a few hours later more mellow and tanned.
Come evening, I organise a romantic private dinner in the pagoda next to the main pool, arriving to find the table set with white linen, candles and flowers. Hamish, the Balé’s executive chef, prepares a tasting menu for us, which we match with cocktails, testing the barman to the limit.
Rest and relaxation is our mission the next day (as if a day in Bali could be any other way). We breakfast at Faces, settling in for coffee, bacon, eggs and all the trimmings, before alternating chilling out by our private pool with wallowing in the main pool. Mr Smith falls for the semi-submerged sunloungers in the upper pool, which allow him to combine sunbaking and swimming lazy laps without having to step onto dry land.
We’ve heard about a great beachside seafood restaurant in Nusa Dua, so we head there for dinner the second night. Arriving at Kendi Kuning, we discover that it’s actually right on the beach, with candle-lit tables surrounded by traditional fishing boats, palm trees and the lapping ocean just metres away.
After selecting our seafood, fresh off the boats and still live and flapping, we order cocktails (with an apology to our livers who by now are never going to forgive us) and kick back at our table to enjoy the sand between our toes. Our order arrives, perfectly steamed, grilled or fried as requested, and lightly spiced. After we devour our delicious mountain of seafood, we’re escorted back to the Balé by the restaurant’s owner Putu, who is a font of information on island highlights and regails us with hilarious yarns. If the food wasn’t enough of a reason to return to Kendi Kuning, Putu definitely is.
The next morning, after breakfast at Faces, we say goodbye to the Balé team who have helped us recharge in style. We may have gained an erotic sculpture and a lot of designer pants, but we’ve lost a tonne of stress.
The Balé, reviewed by Nadya Hutagalung, 2010
Is it possible for the Island of the Gods to transform a tired mama and papa into a hip and happening Mr and Mrs Smith? In my head, at least, it doesn’t seem an incredible stretch, especially since our ultimate destination is the Balé, a child-free retreat on the eastern side of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula at Nusa Dua.
We are ushered in from the sweltering tropical heat to our Deluxe Single Pavilion – minimal, chic and deliciously secluded – and our first mission becomes food. Even before our gado-gado arrives the smell of the alang-alang roof and the plinking chords of the gamelan have lulled me into a midday trance. Mr Smith, on the other hand, has plunged into the nearest body of cool water. Naked.
Thankfully, our villa has a private pool or the resort’s other guests may have had a rude shock. Gado-gado devoured we take to skinny-dipping interspersed with competitive bouts of Scrabble. When we’ve had enough triple-word score seeking, Mr Smith, who is something of a zen master, indulges in a spot of yoga in the buff; my mind, however, turns once again to food and I peruse the menu, contemplating our next meal. This is already proving such a luxury: we have barely arrived and already we’ve had time for each other and for ourselves.
For those who want to explore the more – how can I put this? – rustic side of Bali, there is always popular Geger Beach, which is across the road and down a side lane, as are most things on the island. (The Balé runs a complimentary shuttle service here, as it does to many local places of interest.) We last less than five minutes among the European tourists, mangy stray mutts and deckchairs before deciding that nice though it is a meal by the main pool at the Balé seems like a far more civilised way to pass the time.
The restaurants at the Balé are helmed by chef Brandon Huisman who has done an amazing culinary leap from preparing yak at his previous post in a Bhutanese resort to offering up delicious raw food options for his guests in Bali. We order a raw coconut pad thai made using chilled slices of young coconut as a substitute for the rice noodles traditionally found in the dish. In the mid-afternoon heat this sour, spicy, slippery version of a Thai classic is exactly the cooling diversion we need after our failed beach outing. Mr Smith is so taken with the meal and the whole concept of living raw that he is soon suggesting enthusiastically that we should convert to uncooked at home, too. I have visions of myself clasping a coconut between my knees, struggling to scoop out the succulent flesh.
As good as the food is at the Balé, the local in me begins to hanker for some tasty Indonesian fare. Not knowing the area at all, we ask the hotel staff for a neighbourhood recommendation. Initially sceptical and convinced we would be served a westernised version of Indonesian food, the grumpy foodie in me is quickly pacified at Bumbu Bali. All the traditional Balinese dishes are on the menu and we decide on the vegetarian rijsttafel – a Dutch word translating as rice feast – and it almost knocks the two of us off our chairs. Each course is an exquisite sampling of flavours that in itself seems like an entire meal. A vegetarian spread of such a high standard is a real treat and if you’re ever in Bali we highly recommend trekking here from wherever you are staying.
The following day, we decide it is time to take relaxation to the next level and so book in for two hours of pummelling at the resort’s spa. The hot stone therapy using crystals looks promising, since I fancy myself as something of a modern-day hippie chick and have indulged before in crystal healing. Our spa room is, like the rest of the property, somewhat overly spacious. Personally, I prefer things a little more intimate – nesty and cosy – but that doesn’t stop me from falling asleep almost as soon as the therapist places her hands on my back. I wake when the aromatherapy massage ends and the crystal healing begins. By now, I’m eagerly awaiting some words of ancient wisdom passed down through the elders – what magical crystals might open which chakras, for example – but the therapist simply proceeds, without a word, to give me what feels like a hot stone massage (she’s a junior, it turns out, so the experience may be more revealing with a more experienced practitioner). While incredibly relaxing, it could be more personalised, with an analysis of what types of healing crystals are used to suit each individual.
Back at our villa, my head clear and body nourished, I start making up a little ditty: ‘This little piggy went to Bali / this little piggy ate dessert naked in the pool / this little piggy has been rubbed and loved…’ And, at that moment, it dawns on me that the only parts of my body that have been on duty since arriving at the Balé are those used for eating, sleeping or playing Scrabble. Sure, by this point, I am feeling a little like a sloth, but I’m also enjoying every sun-kissed minute. The mind is a magical device and, teamed with our private paradise at the Balé, I’ve forgotten about anything beyond the wooden gate. This is exactly what we needed. It’s only taken a couple of days but a tired and testy mama and papa are indeed transformed. Meet the young, revived and relaxed Mr and Mrs Smith.