Even for tough-to-impress luxury travelers, Bali holds a certain bucket-list fascination. For one thing, it's exotic, with its ornate, gilded temples; thatched-roof villas; and Technicolor traditional clothing. For another, it's far away — too far, in fact, to be a destination North Americans are likely to visit too often but perfect for a honeymoon or other occasion special enough to entice travelers to spring for high-end accommodations.
During my recent visit, I experienced two distinctly different accommodations: a resort and a boutique hotel located far enough away from each other geographically and stylistically to give me a taste of the variety this destination offers.
An integrated destination resort
We spent the first two nights at the 282-room RIMBA Jimbaran Bali, one of two resorts at a 200-plus acre property on Jimbaran Bay on the country's southwest peninsula.
We arrived bedraggled from our long trip and were greeted with leis in a serene, open-air lobby before being escorted to the rooftop Unique bar for drinks and tapas, served by roving wait staff who carried the tempting food items on belted trays, like cigarette vendors you see in old movies.
Our guestrooms at RIMBA exuded the elegant calm of a spa, with the signature round bathtubs we were to see throughout our stay and dizzying views of the lush gardens and forests beyond.
The next day we toured the property, which also includes the adjacent 290-room AYANA Resort and Spa. Guests at either property can take advantage of the pools, private beach, spas and restaurants and bars that dot the combined resort.
Breakfast at a villa plunge pool at the AYANA Resort and Spa. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
There are 15 restaurants and bars in all, and we managed to hit quite a few of them, including dim sum at the Ah Yat Abalone Seafood Restaurant, a seafood barbecue at Kisik Bar and Grill and a tasting menu at Dava Restaurant.
Highlights were cocktail hour at Rock Bar, a bar with DJs and live bands set on a rocky promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean and accessible via funicular, and lunch at the private Kubu Beach, which can only be reached by climbing 197 steps but which offers turquoise water, shaded lounge chairs and picnic food items that range from burgers to traditional Balinese cuisine.
Other noteworthy moments included a lava stone reflexology massage at AYANA Spa and a two-hour hydromassage at the Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool. Couples looking for something even more special can book a tandem treatment at the exclusive Spa on the Rocks, where treatment ingredients include diamond, silk, pearls and Champagne.
To get a sense of the different styles of accommodations at the resort, we moved to lavish private villas at AYANA halfway through our stay, where the digs were so exclusive that most of us admitted to skinny-dipping in our private, infinity plunge pools whenever we found a spare moment.
An AYANA bathroom. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
Massive marble bathrooms with rose petal-filled, hand-carved bathtubs; huge living rooms with 55-inch, flat-screen TVs; giant canopied beds; and, my favorite, covered outdoor lounging beds in our private yards were so appealing that it became increasingly difficult to lure us from our villas. With that in mind, those of us who wished were served breakfast in our plunge pools on floating trays, complete with eggs Benedict and French press coffee.
The combined resort is family-friendly, and there are two separate kids' clubs, one at RIMBA and one at AYANA (guests can use either one). All children's activities are on-property and most include culturally relevant themes, like Balinese dancing lessons and crafts with coconut leaves. In all, there are 78 private villas, 11 swimming pools, two fitness centers, a putting green and eight wedding venues.
A cultural center featuring an amphitheater and cooking school is in the works. In addition, the property is in the process of constructing 155 AYANA Residences, set for completion in 2016.
Because of the vast size of the property, we did most of our navigating via shuttles that ply the grounds regularly and, once we were ensconced in our villas, by golf carts driven by our personal butlers.
Villa rates range from about $1,100 for a one-bedroom to $8,800 for the three-bedroom AYANA Villa. RIMBA suite rates start at $600 per night.
On our fourth morning in Bali we embarked on a 90-minute ride to the Viceroy Bali, a family-owned boutique property near Ubud, a charming town with a modicum of nightlife and seriously great shopping, especially for visitors looking to take home high-end batiks.
Perched on a ridge overlooking the Valley of the Kings, the 25-villa property has the feel of an exclusive retreat; because of the Viceroy's size, the staff quickly gets to know the guests and their likes and dislikes.
The property owners are often on hand to greet guests, and villas come in five categories offering one or two bedrooms, but all feature individual plunge pools and luxe Balinese decor touches.
Because our stay coincided with the annual feast of Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence during which all travel outside homes or hotels is forbidden, we were able to luxuriate in our villas for a whole day, enjoying spa treatments and really getting to know the property. Guests can also do yoga, take Balinese dancing lessons or enjoy professional dance shows, learn to cook local specialties and take helicopter tours, taking advantage of the property's helipad.
My villa wowed with a terraced infinity plunge pool and a covered pavilion where I snuck away to post to my Instagram account via the robust, complimentary WiFi.
About a third of guests book through travel agents, and about 12% of the overall business is from North America. The hotel doesn't do a lot of weddings, but it is extremely popular with couples, with about 95% of guests falling under this category.
The property hovers around an 85% occupancy rate year-round, including a few high-profile guests who stay for months on end, despite rates that range from about $500 to about $2,000 per night.
The CasCades Restaurant serves Balinese and European tasting menus as well as low-key fare with such eclectic choices as fish and chips and duck confit.
Rice paddy tours were a highlight of a Viceroy Bali stay. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
As lavish as the property is, its location near the attractions of Ubud is another serious draw. Hotel staff are on hand to arrange and accompany guests on outings to local attractions, such as a trek through the terraced rice paddies nearby, a jaunt through Monkey Forest, whitewater rafting and volcano hikes.
For my recent visit, I boarded two long flights on Qatar Airways (eight and 12 hours) to get to Bali from the U.S. East Coast. Because the flights are so long and some connections require long layovers in Qatar Airport, business class, which features flat beds in individual podlike seats, is a good splurge, especially as it includes access to the posh new Al Mourjan business-class lounge in Qatar.