The Southside of Bali has its many attractions like Seminyak and Canggu’s rollicking beach clubs, boutique shopping, and luxury nightlife. But sometimes on a short break less can be more. If you have the feeling you’ve been there and done that, it’s time for a change of scene. On this short break we set out to rediscover the natural world, get in tune with our bodies and with the earth, undistracted by bright lights, dance beats, and crowds. Our journey takes us to Ubud and Gili Meno for a 3-day trip away from the hubbub and back to nature, quietude and healthy living – but without sacrificing any of the comforts we deserve!
From Bali’s Denpasar Airport the expressway to Ubud is far less congested than the roads into Seminyak, and your resort shuttle or taxi will get you there in 30 – 40 minutes. The town of Ubud, in the uplands of Bali, is known as a center for traditional crafts and dance. As we got closer we rolled down our windows and felt we were passing through an open-air art museum. We saw woodcarvings, huge stone sculptures, straw weaving, and latticework – no wonder so many expat artists had set up their workshops in Ubud. But the natural beauty was really the show-stealer on this journey. The surrounding district’s lush rainforest and rice paddies, dotted with Hindu temples and shrines, are among Bali’s most famous landscapes.
Alila Resort, Ubud.
We chose Alila Resort Ubud for the start of our healing break because of its remote, stunning jungle location with its proximity, at only 15min away, to the arts, crafts, and culture of central Ubud. Arriving at reception, the first thing you’ll observe is the harmonization of architecture and nature. Blending contemporary design and traditional Balinese architecture, the resort sits high up on the edge of the verdant Ayung River valley in Bali’s central foothills.
The wood exteriors of the villas with their tall thatched roofs complement the dense botanical richness all around. Our Pool Villa provided 120sqm of space and seclusion with high ceilings, landscaped gardens with a large private swimming pool, and an open-air bathtub set in the middle of a lotus pond bustling with fish and garrulous frogs. Cobblestone walls surround each villa and line the footpaths adding to the feeling that this must be Middle Earth (without the orcs and dragons)!
The resort restaurant Plantation built in the Balinese style with an angular straw roof over tall trunk-like pillars was the perfect setting for a contemplative morning coffee and an a la carte buffet. Plantation’s lunch and dinner menu infuse organic health and freshness into every dish. Executive Chef Erwan Wijaya is committed to locally sourced ‘Farm to Table’ freshness and is a proponent of the ‘Slow Food’ movement. Plantation has earned the ‘Snail of Approval’ by Slow Food Bali for its organic and sustainable food, and has been voted “Best Balinese Restaurant” in the 2014 and 2015 Now! Best of Bali Awards.
Downstairs from Plantation is Cabana Lounge, overlooking Alila Ubud’s celebrated 25-meter infinity swimming pool on the ridge of the valley. Cabana provides evening relaxation with a drink menu curated by Conrad Michael O’Riordan, whose creative flair is more than evident in the selection of signature organic cocktails, featuring ingredients picked fresh from Alila’s organic garden.
A night in Ubud would not be complete without dance, one of the highlights of the region. We were lucky enough to dine on a night where Alila had organized a Balinese traditional Kecak dance with over 30 performers. Sitting and standing, some in extraordinary masks, they chanted, danced, thumped their breasts, hurled fire at each other, and competed for a young woman whose wide unblinking eyes darted left and right as her fingers drew intricate patterns in the night air.
After morning coffee we walked up to Alila’s sculpture park and joined the 8am Tai Chi session, one of many weekly fitness activities for guests that include yoga and aerobics. Before checking out we could not resist a visit to Alila Spa. The spa provides unique holistic treatments developed in-house, blending traditional Balinese healing techniques with timeless beauty recipes using all natural ingredients. Alila has its own line of bath and spa products. They also feature unique outdoor treatments in inspiring settings. As it was raining we chose the indoor Balinese massage. With the sound of the rain and the precise but intuitive palm and thumb pressure on our limbs and back, we drifted into a state of Zen. We’ve tried the spa at many a five star but Alila was in a class above.
The taxi ride from Ubud to Padang Bai is roughly an hour and traverses a stunning landscape of mystical hills and valleys. Allow more time if you want to stop at viewpoints along the way. Ferries to the Gili islands depart from Padang Bai with various boat companies. It is best to book in advance and choose a large capacity boat (we chose the Eka Jaya Fast Boat)as the smaller ones pack in tourists like sardines. From Padang Bai to Gili Trawangan is an hour and a half and it is recommended you sit at the back of the boat for smoothest passage. Once we arrived at Gili Trawangan, our Seri Resort boatman was waiting to shuttle us to Gili Meno.
Seri Resort, Gili Meno
The Gili islands are a series of three distinct islands that fall within the province of Lombok, just East of Bali. Gili Trawangan, the largest, is known as ‘the party island’. Gili Air, closest to Lombok mainland, is known as the ‘social’ island. Gili Meno, the smallest and least developed, lies in the middle and is known for its serenity and romantic sunsets. All three islands share a special feature: no motorized vehicles are allowed on them. Horse and buggy is the quaint but common mode of transport, as are bicycles.
As our hotel speedboat lunged across the waves leaving busy Gili Trawangan behind, we felt we were really getting away. Ahead was Gili Meno, rumored by some to be the island that time forgot. Within 10 minutes we had half-circled the island and Seri Resort loomed almost majestic before us. The three-story main building stands out white and bright like a miniature palace as turquoise waters lap over an unspoiled white sands beach in the foreground. Our boat pulled up and we stepped ashore, catching sight of the infinity pool and the Sea View Beach Bungalows we were soon to move into.
As we walked the grounds of Seri Resort, it was notable for a variety of accommodation from the luxury beach bungalows with king size beds and private verandah to the comfortable king and twin bed garden suites in the 2-storey ‘long house’ behind, and further inland the rustic but cozy bale huts for budget travelers. This brought to Seri a good mix of people from all walks of life.
For dinner, we ate at Seri’s main restaurant which spreads out from the lobby bar to tables around the pool and on the beachfront. There is also indoor seating on the second floor and a cocktail/shisha lounge on the third floor. Seri offers freshly caught fish and seafood grilled to perfection, along with a selection of healthy salads, soups and Indonesian dishes made from local produce. After dinner, you can stroll, chat on the veranda, chart the stars, listen to the sea, and like most guests, retire to bed at a good hour.
Mornings are golden on Gili Meno and it’s a joy to wake up early. Seri is more than just a ‘nice resort on the beach’ – it is also a Yoga Retreat and health and detox center with its own spa and vegetarian restaurant, fresh juices, and detox smoothies. After a light fresh fruit breakfast, we were eager to join the daily morning yoga session.
Yoga sessions are held with Swedish instructor Zandra twice a day on the second floor of a beautiful bamboo pavilion and wellness center. For a beginner, practicing yoga in this environment was very conducive to learning. Zandra also offers private yoga sessions and Reiki therapy as well. After an hour of stretching and sweating, I felt centered and cleansed – and ready for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and cycling.
Seri offers a variety of activities from island tours, fishing, snorkeling, horse riding, and sunset speedboat trips, to kayak, paddle board, and bicycle rentals. After a dip in the infinity pool and some snorkeling, we tried out Seri’s spa. Behind the yoga pavilion in a shady forested area, Seri’s bamboo spa rooms immerse you in the sounds and fragrances of nature while you lay down and let the therapists work their magic.
The first floor of the Yoga pavilion houses Seri’s vegetarian and detox restaurant. After all the morning activities and spa, we’d worked up an appetite. The menu offers a detailed selection of juice combinations for detox, power, hydration, weight loss, and dry skin. We started with soup and salad each. The Kecinan quinoa salad was so hearty and filling as to be a full meal in itself. But we couldn’t resist the sandwich and veggie burger list. The Trikona burger made of chickpeas with avocado and greens gets top marks!
Feeling stuffed full of health and not in the least guilty, we spent the afternoon cycling around the island and making new friends. Gili Meno can be circumnavigated by bicycle in less than an hour. There are many nooks and crannies, odd conceptual guest houses like Gili Gula, live music bars, rival beach resorts like Karma, charming local restaurants, a salt lake, goats, cows, laughing school children, and a Sunset Beach bar that is a must see in the evening.
Before bedtime, we shared a drink with Seri’s managing owners Eddie, Jane, and Akihiro. They bring a philosophy of living to their resort that is felt in the details and in the warmth of the guests and staff. The resort is ecologically conscious and encourages guests to participate in using water moderately, disposing of waste properly and taking care of this corner of the island. Or perhaps it was because we all walked barefoot and connected to the earth.
As morning came, we got in the last yoga session and reluctantly prepared for checkout. But on this short break, we felt we had accomplished what we had set out to do. We rediscovered nature, tuned in to health and tranquility, and found that the true luxuries of life are simple: sharing a smile, feeling the earth, caring for the body. A day spent doing these things is a day spent in paradise. Thank you, Seri.
Written by Nigel D’Sa / Coordination: Vincent Sung
Produced by Fluxus Agency
Photos by Vincent Sung