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The More Tranquil Side of Bali: Alila Uluwatu is for Zen-Seekers

Photos Credit: Dan Avila Photography

There is a reason that over three million travelers choose to visit Bali every year. For decades, Bali has consistently drawn holidaymakers from around the world by offering diverse experiences with a common theme of beauty, hospitality and authenticity. The island nation offers a wild night life, crowded markets and plenty of action, but not Uluwatu—which sums up why we visited. I have been to Bali more times than I can recall, but this last trip was a favorite.

alila uluwatu

Unlike the action centers of Seminyak, the party-town of Kuta, and different from the spiritual mountain setting of Ubud, Uluwatu has a calm, Zen-like feel. Although its idyllic conditions have made it Bali’s surfing mecca, its world-class accommodations and impressive dining venues represent a major draw for non-surfers as well.

alila uluwatu

Staying in Uluwatu demands finding accommodations that do justice to this serene environment. We chose to stay at Alila Villas, about three miles out of town, and it was simply breathtaking. The resort has successfully distilled the essence of the region, providing a most romantic and calming experience. Alila is poised on a cliff top, 328 feet directly above a private beach. The architecture is linear, modern and understated, all fitting beautifully within the environment.

alila uluwatu

Arriving at the resort is truly memorable. Walking through a white architrave into the open air foyer, surrounded by green coastal vegetation, your view is drawn through the multilayered levels of blue: infinity pool, ocean and sky. It is utterly romantic, calming and truly beautiful. Revisiting in the evening offers the same view painted pink and magenta by the setting sun. The center piece of the resort is an open air lounge that extends over the cliff edge offering a stunning perspective of the azure ocean and corals below. It was a little unnerving at first. I imagine if you have a fear of heights, it would give you pause.

alila uluwatu

The villas are private and elegant, blending understated opulence and the latest technology. One afternoon, my wife was reading a book with feet lazily dipped in the pool and closed her eyes to absorb the delicate scents of frangipani and the waves hitting the rocks far below. When she opened her eyes again, she was surrounded by a stealthy macaque troop of monkeys all watching her very quietly.

Inside, the residences are modern and flow from indoors and outdoors, seamlessly. From any villa it is possible to imagine that you have the resort all to yourself. In fact, even when occupancy is very high, Alila is wonderfully tranquil. I found myself always speaking with a quiet voice, not because it was austere and formal, I just felt that being loud would ruin the peacefulness of this place.

alila uluwatu

The property’s construction has paid close attention to fitting within its cliff top location and coastal environment. This extends beyond its single-story architecture to the extraordinary level of environmental discipline in design, construction and management. Alila Villas Uluwatu is the first resort in Indonesia to receive the highest level of certification from EarthCheck as a “Best Practice Building Planning and Design” (BPDS) development. Measures such as using predominately local materials, water conservation with soaks and rain gardens, state-of-the-art waste management, use of local plants and sustainable/recycled materials as well as measured work practices, all come together to create a paradise with the lowest possible environmental impact.

alila uluwatu

Uluwatu is known for its beaches and surfing, and a visit there is incomplete without some time at in the ocean. At the bottom of the cliff below the resort is a private beach that all guests are welcome to visit. It is a mere 600 large steps down and 600 larger, steeper steps all the way up. The resort staff insists you take your time, and make sure plenty of water is packed for the walk. Although the staff do tell stories of some guests needing a little assistance to get back up, the walk is an enjoyable challenge for anyone with a moderate fitness level.

alila uluwatu

Thinking that this stroll would be a necessary break from otherwise sedentary resort life, I convinced my wife that we should do the 600 steps before breakfast. Setting off early we noticed a cloud bank rolling past. “It’ll be fine,” I said, “it’ll roll straight past us.” About 10 minutes after reaching the beach, the cloud bank settled above us and the tropical deluge set in. After huddling under the enormous granite boulders that are strewn around the beach like artistic statues, we decided we had no option but to make a break for it. However, it was the only time it rained during our trip. The rest of the time saw perfect blue skies and beach-worthy weather. Needless to say, we earned breakfast that morning.

alila uluwatu

Dining can takes places either in your villa or at either of the two on-site restaurants. The Warung offers traditional Indonesian and Balinese cuisine and CIRE restaurant headed by 38-year-old French national Executive Chef Stephane Simond.

alila uluwatu

Uluwatu Temple is short drive from the property. The sunset dance ceremony is held at the ancient cliff top temple and reflects the cultural importance of Hindu observance in the daily life of the Balinese people. Traditional Balinese cultural dance, music and performance is a valued career with universities offering full-time courses producing professional performers dedicated to the craft. Moving through the stone carvings into an amphitheater on the cliff at Uluwatu temple there is a palpable sense of the ancient heritage. Mystical stories are played out in a show of emotion, power, athleticism and humor. It all culminates with fireballs being kicked into the air and over the stone walls into the crashing ocean below.

Not all of Balinese spiritual life is so dramatic, but it certainly is ever-present. Hindu offerings adorn the streets throughout the island and respectful observances of such traditions are universal, regardless of age or occupation. The gentle spirituality of Bali is a large part of its appeal, engendering its population with hospitality and kindness.

alila uluwatu

Uluwatu is a unique part of Bali, but it does share some elements that are building the global reputation of this island. Specifically, we keep going back for the extraordinary gastronomy. Balinese food is wonderful, skillfully prepared by locals and unique. Over the last 10 years or so, the allure of Bali has proven too strong for some of the world’s best chefs and restaurateurs. The island is simply awash with world-class dining options from the finest European fare to the most authentic Asian cuisine and all manners of modern fusion.

Bali is like a veritable United Nations of fine food. One of our favorites in the area is Uluwatu’s Cuca. Cuca is a Spanish style tapas restaurant owned by a husband and wife team heralding from the finest kitchens in Europe. Tapas dining is designed to be a casual affair, and Cuca achieves this while delivering the most sumptuous, balanced, and complex dishes that brilliantly fuse Spanish flavors and techniques with sustainably-sourced local produce. Dining at Cuca is a wonderful experience and highly recommended.

alila uluwatu

In all, Uluwatu is a relaxed, calming and supremely enjoyable experience. Alila Villas endures as an all-time favorite retreat perfectly placed to be a base for local exploration or a place to spend your entire visit. Look to other regions for excitement and faster paced activities, but visit Uluwatu if natural serene perfection and a romantic escape is just what the doctor ordered.

Dan Avila

Dan lives in the coastal city of Fremantle, Western Australia. Dan is a press credentialed photo-journalist with International Federation of Journalists and is a full writer member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. Dan is a frequent traveler across the globe, camera in hand - shooting unique people and places. Dan is frequently contracted to shoot images for high-end resorts as well as ...(Read More)

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