By Jacqueline Lang and Peter Rigby
Remember how peaceful, clean and quiet Bali was 30 years ago?
If you’re not knee-high to a gecko, you’d have dim memories of that more tranquil era when downtown Kuta was less like Hong Kong.
We recently paid a visit to Sanur, on the island’s south east coast – our first to the area in many years. What a pleasant surprise awaited! It was as if we were back in the 80s: uncrowded streets, clean exhaust-free air and beaming, relaxed locals.
We checked into the Regent Bali Luxury Resort, a spanking new seaside property on ten acres of lush greenery and manicured grounds.
The giant garden’s central feature is a gazebo surrounded by lotus ponds teeming with colourful koi, designed somewhat like a water palace.
Regent General Manager, Jamal (who speaks six languages, perfect for charming guests from many destinations), told us the hotel was designed by Hawaiian architects. This helped explain its clean, sleek lines with wood and natural materials – ideal for the tropics.
Our suite was spacious, low-key luxury, with separate lounge and dining area with complimentary mini-bar, and a bathroom well stocked with L’Occitane goodies.
Sliding glass doors separate the bedroom from the lounge/dining area, with views across the garden east out to the Bali Sea.
We could easily have lazed outside by the alluring, 50 metre beachside pool – but first, we set out to explore our neighbourhood.
Unlike central Seminyak, we were elated to find the streets were not buzzing with the usual throng of motorbikes, scooters and commercial traffic. We could easily wander around without fear of being bowled over.
Soon we were seated at one of our favourite Bali hippie hangs, Bali Buda Café (which has several other eateries in key locations like Kerobokan and Ubud) enjoying a refreshing turmeric-lime drink.
We then enjoyed poking through the small local shops, including an organic skin care shop, selling coconut oil facial creams and rose petal moisturizer (a steal at four bucks).
For dinner, we ate at the hotel’s premier restaurant, Layang-Layang, specialising in Indonesian cuisine. The atmosphere was casual, the food delicious – and very moderately priced. Naturally, we returned here several times during our stay!
Next morning, we enjoyed a complimentary yoga session by the sea, with a handful of other hotel guests. Our gentle Balinese teacher guided us through some breathing exercises and moves to ease us into the day.
This part of the Bali coast often has cooling breezes sweeping in of the sea, so it is very pleasant down by the beach any time of day. It’s no surprise that the area has been a favourite settlement among the Balinese for centuries.
Breakfast was a complimentary buffet in the fragrant outdoor courtyard at Layang-Layang, surrounded by lotus ponds and lush gardens.
We were spoiled for choice : on offer was an extensive range of Indonesian and Western fare, including delights like Australian Wagyu Minute Steak, and a choice off freshly squeezed juices and smoothies. The coffee was very good, too.
We then grabbed a couple of the hotel’s complimentary bikes and took a leisurely cycle along the 5km beach path in front of our hotel. While busy, this was nothing like the frenetic, bustling beach-side corridors over at Kuta and Seminyak, and one could actually relax peddling through the locals at work and play.
We glided past a stream of locals, fishermen, tourists, hotels, seafood shacks, handicraft vendors and several of lounge bars pumping out funky music while staff spruiked for customers. The scene was vibrant and colourful, without being crazy and over-the-top.
We spotted a large bamboo yoga meditation centre on our jaunt – further evidence that this area lures a more zenned-out visitor. We noticed travellers from all over the world enjoying the beach community, and a pleasing scarcity of rowdy bogans from our beloved homeland.
The scene was further enhanced by a rainbow palate of little outriggers – known as Prahu – perched on the white sands, the bright Balinese flags flapping in the breeze. The ocean here is clear and the air clean – altogether a far more inviting locale then the beaches on the opposite side of the peninsula.
It’s clear the local community take great pride in maintaining its civic traditions and better protecting its environment, after all the local economy depends on a good supply of fish and contented beach-going tourists.
What was once a small jungle hamlet has been occupied for at least 1000 years, villagers fortunate to be in an area with abundant fish in excellent water, and cooling breezes from the southwest for much of the year.
The first hotel in Sanur was built back in the 50s, when visitors, mostly Americans, began arriving by cruise ship.
Local Dayu Tuttie, whose father built the hotel recalls, “My father came up with the idea that our guests would be seated around Prahu on cushions on the beach.
“We would lay coconut fronds on the boats and present people with a Balinese-style feast. Because there wasn’t enough electricity in those days, we lit the whole scene up with coconut shell lamps and there would be performances.”
Dignitaries like the Sultan of Jogjakarta would drop over, and high profile celebs like Charlie Chaplin were fans of the area as well.
Gradually more tourists dropped into Sanur, helped by the construction of the Bali Beach Hotel, built by the Japanese government as compensation for their occupation of Bali in the wake of World War II.
The tourist trade was onward and upward from there, although during the last couple of decades the focus in Bali has of course been more on the Kuta, Legian and Seminyak areas.
Back at our hotel, we headed to the Spa for pampering: 75 minute Signature Massages. To the occasional alluring sound of Tibetan chimes, we were doused with aromatic oils and kneaded into blissful oblivion. This a must-do experience when luxuriating at the Regent.
Does it get any better?
We didn’t think it could, until we headed poolside and flopped into the clean and inviting 50-metre pool bedecked with a giant, sensual pink orchid sculpture.
The moment we flopped down on the comfortable deckchairs, a staffer miraculously materialised, proffering water and cool jasmine-infused face towels.
It was tempting to lie there like lizards, but we felt almost obliged to move our sedated limbs and do a few laps.
Then the culinary bandwagon continued. We shuffled three steps to the poolside restaurant, Nyala. Here were soon tucking into a light lunch.
Jacqui’s soup: prawns on lemongrass sticks in coconut milk spiced with ginger and turmeric was so delicious, we asked for the recipe and it’s in this issue. http://www.thestarfish.com.au/recipe-soto-udang-pesmol-splendid-spicy-prawn-soup/
(Peter’s steamed coral trout in laksa was also delightful, and we’ll feature that recipe in The Starfish next week.)
We later met whiz executive chef, Chris Patzold from Melbourne, an AFL fanatic who used to work at Seminyak’s renowned Ku De Ta restaurant and bar.
He’s a fan of the Sanur area, “I didn’t use to know much about this region but I love it here!” he enthused.
We ran into Chris the following day, as we headed for the weekly Sunday Lobster Brunch at the hotel. About 50 diners (hotel guests and expats there to indulge with pals) were in lobster heaven.
We feasted on fresh oysters, salads and lime-grilled lobsters, lobster pasta, lobster with chorizo and multiple lobster delights using these fine crustaceans from around the globe.
To top it off, there was an array of splendid desserts! Farewell, waistline!
Clearly we needed another walk. We headed the other way along the 5km path, and were soon witnessing a beach ceremony in which villagers appeared to be attacking themselves in a trance-like state. Thankfully nobody was hurt!
That night, we enjoyed a good old-fashioned traditional roast chicken banquet in our room. A staff member arrived and laid out a white linen cloth and silver service for our homely repast, which was tender and tasty.
We both agreed that, after many visits to this tropical isle, it was the first time we’d tucked into a roast. Certainly a fine experience in our opulent surrounds.
Later we got a cab across to Kuta, where friends had invited us to a Bali Fashion Festival event .
It was fun to be out among a swirl of beautiful people and glittering in-crowd at Kuta (alas, now more downtown Bangkok than the idyllic beach village it once was), but the lure of calming Sanur was strong, so it wasn’t a late one for us.
Throughout our stay at the Regent we were impressed by the gentle, friendly staff. Helpful, efficient, and good-natured, their sunny personalities were the magical ingredient that made our stay memorable.
We could happily come back and just stay at Sanur on the next Bali visit.
Up the beach the Hyatt is totally revamping its property, and a new Maya hotel is under construction.
Hence Sanur will probably become a little busier in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully though, it won’t ever become too much like its gaudy, flashy, over-populated sisters, Kuta and Seminyak.
We stayed at Regent Bali Luxury Resort: Jalan Kusuma Sari No 8, Sanur.
We flew to Bali on Air Asia, which flies from Perth up to five times a day.
www.airasia.com or from your mobile at mobileairasia.com
Ria Leimena and Jamal Hussain from The Regent Bali Luxury Resort.
Brenton Gibbs, RG Communications and Air Asia
Sally Morgan, The Unique Tourism Collection Pty Ltd
Starfish Photographs: Peter Rigby