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