Shhhh. If you’re hearing that Bali is becoming too popular and you’re not in the mood for partying or trendy eateries, rest assured it doesn’t have to be that way. Serenity still sets the tone when you venture beyond Bali’s tourist hubs. Head east and you’ll find uncrowded, sparkling beaches and splendid scene-scapes, along with the gentle Balinese culture that has so many travellers hooked on this accessible and affordable destination.
Between Mountains And Sea
Lush highlands and incandescent green rice fields nudge up against the sea at Candidasa, a coastal district that conjures images of the ‘old Bali’ that baby-boomers reminisce about. The ocean here is a brilliant blue and the pungently salty air works its way deep into your lungs.
Situated about two hours drive from Bali’s international airport, low-slung Candidasa is a relaxed base for exploring east Bali’s rustic charms and world-class underwater attractions. There seems to be a beautiful temple just about every way you look. Across from the Lotus Lagoon is the Puri Candidasa temple complex. To the south is Goa Lawah ‘bat’ Temple, it’s one of the most important in Bali and most evocative in the morning when locals make offerings. Glorious tropical gardens combine with iconic architecture at the Tirta Ganga Water Palace - a sacred place for the Balinese Hindus and beautiful to boot - and the nearby Taman Ugung Water Palace.
It’s hard to resist shopping in Bali, and in Candidasa you can indulge without the stress of crowds and clamour – expect everything from covetable antiques to art, tailored clothing and jewellery.
At Alila Manggis, the loudest sounds are the swishing ocean, geckos and frogs. Situated amidst a coconut grove and near the rice fields south of Candidasa , this stylish, low key resort exudes tropical elegance.
Simply roaming about the frangipani -festooned grounds and hanging out at the vast pool is a pleasure in itself. Languid, contented days could be spent de-stressing here, lapping up yoga sessions by the ocean and spa treatments administered in a soulful open-to-the-sea pavilion.
Shoulder knots smoothed, there’s many ways to immerse yourself in this peaceful and fascinating region. Grab one of the provided bikes – and helpful maps- and trace a route through the painterly rural landscapes nearby. Alila Manggis also offers expeditions involving cycling from Mt Agung to the ocean. Another essential outing is the snorkelling trip; in a traditional timber boat, visiting locations such as the acclaimed Blue Lagoon as well as nearby islands and reefs. Foodies are welcome to accompany the chef to the market and the organic garden and learn new recipes afterwards.
Alila Manggis has teamed up with the knowledgeable and friendly team at Zen Dive Bali to offer eye-boggling underwater experiences around the rocky islands just offshore and off the volcanic beaches further north. A special treat is diving or snorkelling along the wreck of the USS Liberty. There’s an eerie beauty about floating over the mysterious wreck, now encrusted with corals and sponges, as large fish loop around divers and snorkellers. Back home, crank up the romance with a bespoke candle-lit dinner (special diets are carefully catered for at Alila) surrounded by reflection ponds.
Accessible Island Escape
Less than an hours’ boat ride from Candidasa or Sanur, a replenishing mix of beauty, adventure and culture awaits on the island of Nusa Lembongan. There’s hardly any cars on this chilled out island, but plenty to please fans of diving, snorkelling, surfing, or simply hanging out on quiet beaches. Lembongan is the perfect size for free-form exploring, with secluded, cliff edged beaches and coves, mangroves, traditional villages and sprawling temple complexes.
Follow the southern coastal road and you’ll pass alluring places to eat and spa amid besotting views. When it comes to feeling alive in the morning, nothing beats jumping into the ocean straight out the front of your bungalow. And that’s just one of the pleasures of staying at the beachy-chic Hai Tide Beach Resort, which overlooks sheltered Mushroom Bay. A walking track leads to secluded beaches and there’s also bikes, kayaks and paddle-boards to help work off the delicious pizzas.
With extensive, thriving coral reefs, exciting walls, manta rays and turtles galore Nusa Lembongan serves up a marine fantasy, thrilling divers and snorkellers with scenes on par with remote parts of Indonesia. As this area is prone to strong currents, it’s best explored with a conditions- savvy and experienced team. Bali Hai Diving, situated within Hai Tide resort, is a top notch operation which also welcomes snorkellers. Divemasters Nicole and Ash give safety upmost priority and the dive boat is large and comfortable. They’re passionate and very knowledgeable about the extraordinary marine life on offer here – everything from mantas and gargantuan mola mola to vast plumes of reef fish and neon- bright nudibranks.
A wealth of dive-sites is dotted around neighbouring islands; each strikingly unique, and each offering an encounter with the sublime. After feasting eyes on captivating underwater vistas, looking up and seeing Mt Agung crowding the backdrop is a bewitching encore.