PETAL POWER

Chris­tine McCabe finds the per­fect venue for a private, flower-filled birth­day in Seminyak

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

OUR small party of trav­ellers has ar­rived in Bali to cel­e­brate a sig­nif­i­cant birth­day. En­er­vated by the damp heat, not to men­tion our ad­vanc­ing years, we are flopped by the villa pool sip­ping G & Ts while the younger, more ro­bust mem­bers of our group prac­tise their bomb­ing and pin­drop­ping tech­niques, a pas­time not en­cour­aged in your run-of-the mill re­sort.

Af­ter­noon tea of strong cof­fee and a sharp ginger brew served with dainty ba­nana frit­ters has been cleared and Kris, Alu Bali’s head but­ler and res­i­dent party plan­ner, has re­turned with a bare­foot team laden with large iron can­de­labras and sacks of hibis­cus petals.

As dusk draws in, the birth­day prepa­ra­tions be­gin. The name of our pen­t­a­ge­nar­ian mem­ber is painstak­ingly spelled out on the lawn in gi­ant let­ters made en­tirely from flower petals; the pool is strewn with thou­sands of hibis­cus blooms; and hun­dreds of can­dles are lit around the gar­den and through the high-ceilinged liv­ing pavil­ion.

A seafood ban­quet is be­ing bar­be­cued some­where nearby (we can hear the siz­zle of cook­ing and mut­ter­ing of chefs be­hind the villa wall). All that re­mains is to don our best sarongs and as­sem­ble the spe­cial bot­tles of wine we’ve car­ried from Aus­tralia. (Al­though much cheaper than it was, wine is still an ex­pen­sive com­mod­ity here.)

Alu Bali rep­re­sents the hottest new trend in Ba­li­nese ac­com­mo­da­tion, private villa rental, pro­vid­ing all the com­forts of a five-star re­sort with the added ad­van­tage of a team of staff ded­i­cated en­tirely to your needs.

Lo­cated in fash­ion­able Seminyak (or the Yak as it’s called here by those in the know), 100m from Petitenget Beach, Alu Bali is owned by Aussie ex­pat Lewis Norman but it’s the un­flap­pable and al­ways-charm­ing Kris who re­ally runs the show.

He’s there at break­fast pour­ing cof­fee and ad­just­ing the gar­nish on the nasi goreng and mix­ing G & Ts at lunch; he’s whisk­ing off the laun­dry, book­ing masseurs, or­gan­is­ing cars and cre­at­ing as­tound­ing flo­ral tributes, all at the drop of a hibis­cus petal.

Noth­ing is too much trou­ble and the mark­ing of spe­cial oc­ca­sions is con­sid­ered a point of hon­our for Kris’s team, whether ar­rang­ing a Ba­li­nese orches­tra or light­ing more can­dles than you’ve had hot din­ners.

Hon­ey­moon­ers are oc­ca­sion­ally sur­prised by the ap­pear­ance of a gi­ant sty­ro­foam heart float­ing out of the dark and across the pool, an in­no­va­tion in­tro­duced by Kris who, I am con­vinced, has missed his true call­ing as a wed­ding plan­ner.

And this is the real charm of Alu Bali: the pre­scient but never in­tru­sive min­is­tra­tions of Kris and his team cou­pled with ab­so­lute pri­vacy, mak­ing it per­fect for fam­i­lies or small groups of friends.

The com­plex con­sists of seven one, two and three-bed­room walled vil­las, each with its own pool, clus­tered around a tem­ple and tucked away down a ba­nana palm-lined track in the heart of the in­creas­ingly ur­banised Yak.

The largest three-bed­room villa fea­tures con­tem­po­rary and clean-lined bed­rooms, each with cable television and a charm­ing in­door-out­door en suite. (Ours comes with a res­i­dent crab that deftly dances be­tween shower and bath when the fa­cil­ity is in use.)

With dark tim­ber furniture and slowly whirring ceil­ing fans, the enor­mous liv­ing pavil­ion, hub of villa life, opens on to a large swim­ming pool in turn wrapped in lawn and shielded from neigh­bours by a wall of fan­shaped trav­ellers’ palms. Pol­ished con­crete floors are cool un­der­foot and the so­fas and day beds so com­fort­able that thoughts of sight­see­ing or din­ing out tend to di­min­ish with each pass­ing hour.

In-house meals are ridicu­lously cheap. Our Ba­li­nese ban­quet, fea­tur­ing sa­tays and tasty duck spring rolls, enor­mous plat­ters groan­ing with seafood to­gether with bowls of curry and sweet fruit plat­ters, costs Rp300,000 ($40) a per­son. Break­fast and af­ter­noon tea are in­cluded in the tar­iff.

Tempt­ing though it is to re­main firmly en­sconced within our comfy, se­cluded com­pound, the Yak beck­ons. Bor­row a bi­cy­cle or mo­tor­bike from re­cep­tion or take ad­van­tage of Alu Bali’s small fleet of cars and driv­ers (al­ways on standby and avail­able for ex­tended sight­see­ing tours). There’s good shop­ping to be had in the im­me­di­ate area: faux Vene­tian mir­rors, gar­den stat­u­ary, lovely silk ta­ble run­ners and any num­ber of dusty wooden stat­ues and pairs of tra­di­tional wed­ding dolls. Drive-by shop­ping is an op­tion for the in­do­lent or (in our case) on those steamy March days when walk­ing more than 100m re­duces one to a pud­dle of sweat on the un­even pave­ment.

Ex­cel­lent restau­rants are a neigh­bour­hood spe­cialty: the funky Liv­ing Room is just around the cor­ner and La Luc­ci­ola, set nearby on the beach, serves the best break­fast in town. Din­ner at Ku De Ta, near the Oberoi, is a must. Only a five-minute drive from Alu Bali, this is a pop­u­lar haunt for Euro­pean trav­ellers who tend to colonise the large loung­ing beds and arm­chairs perched above the sand (the per­fect spot for sun­set cock­tails al­fresco). Beach hawk­ers are kept at bay by a large se­cu­rity team but a chap sell­ing won­der­ful kites shaped like pi­rate galleons seems to have come to some sort of ar­range­ment with the guards (much to my sons’ de­light). The con­tem­po­rary and stylish Ku De Ta com­plex is con­fig­ured as a se­ries of de­signer bars to­gether with a more for­mal restau­rant where food, though pricey by Ba­li­nese stan­dards, is very good.

Fif­teen min­utes from Alu Bali and you’ll find your­self in Jim Bay (Jim­baran Bay) where beach­front re­sorts of­fer fur­ther good din­ing op­tions. Try the wood-oven piz­zas at the Four Sea­sons’ PJs (or the re­sort’s ex­cel­lent noo­dle restau­rant, Warung Mie) while the nearby In­terCon­ti­nen­tal ho­tel has a very smart tep­pa­nyaki restau­rant.

But all that is only if you can be both­ered to leave Alu Bali, where food is just a phone call away and you can count on Kris to have cock­tails and flo­ral tributes cov­ered. Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of Alu Bali.

Check­list

Alu Bali tar­iff starts at $US95 ($113) a per­son a night twin share (plus tax), cov­er­ing break­fast, one din­ner (in­cluded for a min­i­mum five-night stay), af­ter­noon tea and air­port trans­fers. More: + 62 361 736 445; www.alubali.com. Or, in Aus­tralia, con­tact Robert Wat­son, Tur­ra­murra Travel, Syd­ney: (02) 9440 8727 or 1800 288 266.

Snack at the Yak: Kris the but­ler in ac­tion

Spe­cial oc­ca­sions: Vil­las that pro­vide all the com­forts of a five-star ho­tel, in­clud­ing your own swim­ming pool, are now fash­ion­able in Bali

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