Instant karma and a Bali state of mind
paradise island have indeed been paved over. Along the popular south coast, buildings, hotels, shops and restaurants appear to have been assembled with the care of a toddler emptying their toy box, squeezing A-roads down to pipe cleaners and causing 10-mile journeys from airport to hotel to extend to more than an hour – bad enough for tourists but excruciating for locals who have to deal with it daily. Bali is fragile and the relentless pace of development needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, but rest assured, the Island of the Gods still captivates, still weaves its spell – you just have to look a little bit more carefully to experience it.
A 30-minute drive north of Ubud, in the Keliki Valley, I find myself lounging on a teak deck stilted between frangipani trees and bamboo groves. The full panoply of nature surrounds me – sunbeams shoot through cascades of leaves, neon-blue butterflies prance by in trains of four or five, frogs ribbit, cicadas chirp, birds warble and trill. I can hear deep murmuring chants echoing across the valley from a nearby temple where villagers are calling out
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their daily prayers. The moment feels nothing short of magical. Bill Bensley, architect and designer of newly opened Capella Ubud, has taken enormous care to protect this idyllic environment as much as possible. Not a single tree was felled in the making of this tongue-incheek tented camp, 60 per cent of the always-smiling staff come from the local area, and the seductive interiors – intricate wood carvings, handpainted fabrics, copper bathtubs – have all been sustainably sourced from across Indonesia. I immerse myself here for four nights, practising yoga, walking in nature and philosophising with Bodhi, the doe-eyed in-house healer, while dining on a delicious fusion of Indonesian and international cuisine – roasted cauliflower with yuzu and lime leaf, seared scallops with sweetcorn velouté, black Balinese pork with peas. Since I visited, Capella Ubud has gone on to win the Best New Luxury Hotel award at Ultratravel’s ULTRAs, held last Wednesday in Dubai.
I’m fairly sure I could stay here forever, but another way to ease Bali’s tourism burden is to leave it altogether. Positioned between a dozen other equally spectacular Indonesian islands, including Sumba, Sumbawa and Flores (although there are more than 17,000 to choose from), Bali is the perfect jumping-off point to explore some of this region’s more adventurous corners. And so, with some reluctance, I hop on a one-hour flight to Flores for a cruise around the edge-of-the-world isles that make up Komodo National Park.
At pint-size port Labuan Bajo, the gorgeous 100ft teak and ivory-white Rascal awaits. The floating love child of three fun-loving British entrepreneurs, and the hippest phinisi yacht to grace these waters, it has the amenities and aesthetic of a boutique hotel – five spacious cabins (unusually, all above deck), with warm wooden floors, tropical-print fabrics, vintage renderings of Indonesian flora and huge windows from which you can watch the sunrise in bed. Single-use plastic is out; glass bottles and beach clean-ups are in. Rascal has its own brand of craft rum (every member of the crew seems capable of mixing a mean punch) and a partnership with Conservation International, which works with governments and local communities to protect vulnerable environments around the planet.
Komodo, sitting south of the Wallace Line that separates Asia from Australasia, turns out to be a fantasy of its own. As we sail from Labuan Bajo to Rinca Island I stare out at a thousand leagues of blue, striped with golden swells of land rippling with long grass;