Amanda Linnell Discovers Luxury & Tradition In Bali
Viva editor Amanda Linnell heads far from the madding crowds of Bali in favour of a blissful break
"Om suastiastu,” sings the gentle voice overhead. I roll over on my sunlounger and look up to a smiling face handing me an ice-cold spoon of passionfruit sorbet. Hello, I smile in return, and gratefully down this unexpected treat in one cooling mouthful. My new friend then quietly tops up the ceramic goblet on the table next to me with ice cold water before moving on around the pool. It is, as they say, the small things in life that make the difference, and this is certainly the case at Alila Manggis. Situated on the east coast of Bali, this resort is a peaceful haven far from the madness of resorts such as in Kuta and Seminyak.
I try to read but end up giving myself up to the nothingness of it all, to the warm air that cocoons me, the expansive cool blue pool that beckons. Every 20 minutes or so, I dive in and rejoice as the water washes over my sunburned shoulders. I sink to the bottom of the pool and lie looking up, and marvel at the layers of blue and rays of sun filtering through the water. Bliss.
This is how I spend my first few days in Bali. Allowing the stress of work to dissipate. The mind to switch off. The body to slow down, so much so that the fastest I move is a gentle amble that takes me from the villa to the restaurant, to the pool, back to the villa for a siesta, to the pool bar, to the restaurant, to the beach, across the dry hot grass of the lawn to the spa, and back to the pool. . .
At the open-air Seasalt restaurant, meals are generous and delicious. After a morning swim, healthy juices and fresh fruit are on offer, as are buttermilk pancakes and huevos rancheros. But it’s the local dishes such as bubur injin (black rice pudding with coconut milk and shaved coconut) or the hearty nasi goreng kampung (fried rice with pork and vegetables) that prove irresistible.
During the day, it’s hard to leave the pool, where the menu offers a selection of light treats such as rice paper rolls or yellow fin tuna tostadas. Or, there is always the cart set up under the coconut trees, which serves afternoon tea, coffee and sweet local delicacies. Everything is all so delightfully elegant and easy.
A pre-dinner drink can be had down at the ocean bar on the water’s edge. Here I sip a fresh fruit cocktail through a bamboo straw. Everywhere there are clues to the resort’s dedication to the environment and social responsibility. Alila Manggish has a zero-waste policy, works with local dive companies on coral reef preservation, and employs locals in a community recycling project. When you get back to the busier and more polluted parts of Bali, you realise just how important these initiatives are.
It’s time for dinner. There’s nothing quite like sitting in the warm night air and working your way through the signature Balinese Megibung menu. With 10 local dishes to try, this is the ideal way to experience the local cuisine, and is an eastern Bali tradition when it comes to sharing food during village festivals and ceremonies.
When the sun goes down, my favourite place is back on my villa’s balcony, lying on the daybed. I ask for a mosquito net to be put around it, so I can sleep out here at night listening to the sound of the waves and the noise of the nightlife — the crickets, frogs and geckos. In the wee small hours, when it gets too hot, I stumble back into the cool, air-conditioned room.
Of course, there’s only so much relaxing one person can do — or is there? I shake myself out of my trance-like state and join a hatha yoga class on the lawn above the beach. Local teacher Gede encourages us to focus on our breathing, shake, stretch and let go. Lying on my back looking up to the sky and the swaying branches of the palm trees, I rejoice that I’m not in an over-packed yoga studio back at home, where the cold winter air is waiting outside.
Here the steady crashing of the waves add to my sense of appreciation and bring me back to just being in the moment.
While it’s tempting to not move (ever) from the resort, I also want to explore what makes this part of Bali so unique, and join guide Budi on a tour of the Karangasem area. We weave through country lanes lined with groves of palm and teak trees, their fresh green leaves providing welcoming cool shade. The coconut and banana groves offer a side business for the farmers, explains Budi, as we whizz past rice paddy fields and chicken farms. The towering Mt Agung looms in the distance. “There’s more nature here than Kuta,” he says.
We pass through small townships lined with bamboo decorations that symbolise the mountain and are remnants of the recent Galungan Day, a celebration also known as Victory Day — where good wins out over evil.
Our first stop is a village that is more than 1000 years old. The locals go about their daily business and ignore the few visitors wandering around with cameras. The elders are huddled in deep discussion, a group of men cook meat skewers in a cloud of smoke while the women bundle up dyed threads, which hang twisted from a tree. These will be woven into traditional Ikat fabric and sold to tourists or, more importantly, worn as a top or scarf for special ceremonies. “These pieces can take up to three years to make,” says Budi. “The people cannot sit for more than three hours weaving as their eyes hurt.”
The lesson continues as we learn how to spot the handmade versus the machine-made Ikat, which is what you’ll find in most tourist stores.
In the sunshine, outside another house, rattan baskets and handbags (popular right now as a summer fashion accessory back home) are drying ready for sale. The slow, peaceful vibe of the village is disrupted only by the chatter of the villagers and the crowing of roosters — many of which are kept in cane cages (and, says Budi, used for illegal cock fighting).
The village has very strict customs, explains Budi. “You must marry within the village. When the rice fields are harvested, the rice is shared with the community, and any money goes back to the village.”
The next stop on our tour is the former royal palace of Tirtagangga (which means water of the Ganges) with its fountains, swimming pools and sculptures. The place swarms with local tourists, and it’s fun to laugh at the children playing in the pools, feed the fish swimming among the dancing shiva statues, and watch families picnicking in the shade.
As we head to our final destination, the Ujung Water Palace, we pass through the town of Amblakura. A procession of about 200 people forces the car to stop as they beat drums and symbols and fill the air with a hypnotic rhythm. We have driven into the middle of a funeral ceremony designed to cleanse the soul.
The grounds of the palace are busy with picnics, teenagers dancing in one of the pavilions and a small speed boat whizzing around a pond creating ripples in the serenity of it all. With queues of cars and limited parking at these tourist spots, it feels rather special to have a guide and an air-conditioned car waiting at the gate.
And so we return to the Alila Manggis. I am due at the spa where I sink back into a deep place of relaxation as my body is massaged with grapefruit and juniper berry oil. “Om suastiastu,” sings a gentle voice, and I am slowly brought back to my senses and seduced, this time, with a fresh lemongrass, lime and salt sorbet, before heading back to the pool. As I say, it’s the small things.
• Amanda Linnell was a guest of Alila Manggis, Bali. To find out more, visit Alilahotels.com