So you're looking to do a Bali holiday without the sunburnt Bintang-swilling backpackers? Adam Bub explores Seminyak, the most stylish Balinese 'burb, to test run its most exclusive private villas, fine restaurants and flashy resorts.
A visit to Bali doesn't have to be like one to the Gold Coast during Schoolies week. Sure, there are spots in Kuta where drunk Aussies congregate and cause a ruckus, but if you know how to do it right, you can experience the best luxury the island has to offer, conveniently located in one place: Seminyak.
Seminyak is Bali's up-and-coming fashion, dining and accommodation precinct. It's an upmarket coastal enclave just north of Legian and Kuta, and while the bumper-to-bumper traffic is not much better than either of its sister suburbs, the quality of its villas, resorts, eateries and bars are bar none the best.
Your own private villa
Seminyak is choc-a-bloc with spectacular villa properties. Most of them are cloistered together and reachable only through alleyways; a kind of labyrinth of luxury, if you will. There are many to choose from, and while most aren't absolute beachfront, the majority are only a 5-10 minute walk away from the long stretch of Seminyak Beach. But it's their extreme privacy that really attracts.
The five-star Chandra Villas are about as fancy-pants as it gets. Owned by Australia's 8hotels group, these villas are divided by three-metre-high cream-coloured walls, providing plenty of seclusion.
They're splashy in more ways than one each has a private pool that's cleaned daily, with its own sundeck and plush cabana perfect for dozy catnaps. Even the entrance is on water by stepping stones over a shallow aqua pond that transports you past the pool, into the tropical garden and toward the more than spacious bedrooms.
The suites mix the best of Balinese architecture with minimalist design: an open-air Balinese hut houses a kitchen and living room, plus a very up-to-date LG sound system and iPod doc. The large bedrooms spell modern style with their white king beds and flatscreen TVs, while their en-suite indoor/outdoor bathrooms and showers make for luxe and lavish living.
Best of all, the two- and three-bedroom villas can fit two to six people, and from around $500-$700 a night they offer remarkable value for families.
The Chandra Villas and their various villa neighbours are central, too. One exit takes you out to the beach and top-class restaurants like La Lucciola and Ku De Ta (I'll get to them later). Another alleyway puts you right in the hub of the Jalan Laksmana/Oberoi restaurant, bar and boutique fashion strip and on the doorstep of several mega resorts.
Stay in Seminyak: five-star hotels
Seminyak has some of Bali's best hotels. The Legian, The Oberoi and The Seminyak are all first class in design and luxury, and they're all on the beachfront. In fact, they practically own the walkway-less beachfronts exclusively, so they're great if you just want to lie on a pool chair and stare out at the ocean.
Like private villas, the plusher suites have private pools and gardens so you don't even need to bump into other sun-bunnies. The Oberoi offers various levels of garden, ocean and villa luxury from $360-$1100 per night (avoid July, August and the New Year period to get better rates).
One new hotel, the W Retreat & Spa, takes this five-star excess to new extremes. The cashed-up new kid in town, the W uses its worldwide brand of cosmopolitan hotels to compete in the Bali beach resort scene. It offers a steely, shimmery, highly synthetic casino-like environment that could be anywhere in the world.
Its assets are obvious: a spectacular beachfront pool, a 24-hour spa, a Jetsons-like glow-in-the-dark lobby bar, a 'singing wall' of wind chimes at the check-in desk (I didn't hear a word the clerk had to say) and blinged-up rooms with gadgets aplenty (I'm still perplexed about the function of that flashing white beacon in the corner).
But resorts-on-steroids aren't necessarily relaxing. The W prides itself on its hip and cool cache, and here the WooBar nightclub is the apex of that philosophy. Yes, it has water views, a helicopter-propeller-fan to fight away the hot breeze, rooftop seating and DJs from around the world. But if you're not into the party scene it's pretty much your bad luck. Trying to sleep under the echoes of thumping basslines at 3am is incredibly challenging, even for a seasoned hotel sleeper.
Lesson? When choosing a luxury hotel in Bali, pick one that's right for your purposes romance, relaxation, family, partying; whatever's your scene, there's something for you in Seminyak.
Wine and dine time
I'm going to make a bold claim and say that Seminyak offers Bali's best dining experiences, hands down. And that fine-dining meal will be half the cost of anything similar back in Australia, thanks to that robust currency of ours.
One stand-out is Chandi, a pan-Asian diner and bar helmed by New York expat Agung Nugroho, who worked at some of that city's finest restaurants, including Nobu and Spice Market. Using fresh seafood, organic local-grown fruits, vegies and tofu, and prime imported Aussie and New Zealand meats, Agung's restaurant produces mouth-watering dish after mouth-watering dish: the black pepper crab dumplings, Balinese crispy duck and hot lava stone platter of sate meats are all to die for.
Further down the strip is a gourmet supermarket, Casa Gourmet, at the super-modern Seminyak Square. This niche, small shopping arcade also houses a bakery, espresso bar, bookshop and a few other businesses geared to appeal to the well-heeled, organic-munching villa-bound visitors.
As far as nightlife goes, just three syllables sum up the best experience in Seminyak: Ku De Ta. The famous beach bar, restaurant, beer garden, nightclub and live music venue is the place to be seen in Bali. The atmosphere is hard to fault bright red umbrellas, long beach lounges, palm trees, funky music and of course, that exclusive beachfront view illuminated by a spotlight during the night.
But Ku De Ta's not all looks it offers some of Bali's best cocktails, like the passionfruit and vanilla highball or the watermelon and mint martini. Kiwi-born, ex-Aussie chef Phil Davenport (Hugo's in Sydney) helms the kitchen and succeeds in spades with his hearty 'contemporary global cuisine' including choice picks like rabbit agnolotti, sweet Alaskan black 'miso' cod and oxtail 'banh mi' baguette.
For more outstanding foodie haunts, check out Australian chef Will Meyrick's (Longrain, Jimmy Liks) hip Southeast Asian eatery Sarong, the fabulous beachfront Mediterranean diner La Lucciola and the super-cheap health-conscious cafe Zula Vegetarian Paradise.
*While you're there, pick up a copy of The Yak Magazine, a quarterly guide to what's hip and happening in the Seminyak scene. Check it out online at theyakmag.com or download the iPhone app for an up-to-date local guide.
*Fast track immigration at Denpasar International Airport by paying an extra fee (on top of the visa charge), organised in advance, often through your booked villas. The Chandra Villas offers a VIP immigration service for around $35 extra an attendant meets you at the airport, ushers you past the queues, gets your passport stamped and picks up your luggage in a speedy 10-minute turnaround. More time for Bali!
*When shopping in Seminyak, check out the many small shops run by local designers, like Lulu Yasmine, Prasada Bali and Paul Ropp. There are plenty of top-notch Australian and European brands around too, but it's nice to support the local industry.
Any Seminyak tips to share? Spill below!