Far removed from the commercial and at times, grimy environs of Indonesia’s capital city, Alto at Four Seasons Jakarta offers one of the most elegant dining experiences a couple of newly weds can hope for. Jakarta was our final stop in Indonesia but we were determined to make the most of it. And with a dinner reservation at this fine Italian restaurant, one thing was for sure – we were ending our honeymoon in style.
There are two Four Seasons hotels in Jakarta so after some re-routing, we managed to find the right one. The hotel itself is extremely elegant and luxurious, manned by uber-courteous staff. We were directed to the 20th floor to reach Alto, their Italian restaurant. Rich hues of red and ochre combined with grand seating arrangements and a sweeping view of the city from 360 degree glass windows greeted our suitably impressed eyes.
Polished wooden chairs and tables were nestled at cosy spots by the windows or found centre-stage in the midst of the restaurant. Ours was one of the cosier tables, separated by slim curtains from the busier main section. We were welcomed with a tall glass of Prosecco wine and thereafter, the four-course set dégustation menu was ours to enjoy.
While the meal didn’t disappoint us at any point, we were particularly pleased with the creaminess of the risotto and the seasoning of the glassy spaghetti. The salad was very light and refreshing – great for calorie counters. The pistachio flavour in the crème brûlée was quite intense and took some getting used to. But this was a meal to remember indeed and we’d like to thank the hosts for their excellent service.
Address: Four Seasons, Jl. Jendral Gatot Subroto Kav 18, Gatot Subroto, Jakarta Reservations:021 22771888 Cost for two: IDR 500000
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Don’t be too quick to believe people when they say there’s nothing to see in so and so place. True, Kuta is more urbanised than Ubud or Sanur but its beaches are no less spectacular, it’s a good access point for the spectacular Tanah Lot Temple and luxurious Nusa Dua area and best of all, it lets you stay in a four start hotel for the price of a three star. Our stay at Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta, was made most memorable by a lovely dinner at the gourmet lobby restaurant, a sunset soak at the rooftop infinity pool and a couple spa session to soften the ache of a beautiful trip coming to an end.
A large bed with a thoughtful pair of towel swans, little balcony lined with green fronds and a bathroom with a beautiful patterned wall were some of the salient features of our honeymoon suite at Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta.
The TV even had a couple of Indian/Hindi channels to keep us entertained while we sipped on some coffee. We had some issues with the Wi-Fi and air-conditioning, both of which were quickly and satisfactorily resolved. So you can definitely expect great service at this hotel.
The seven-storey Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta sports some stunning architectural touches such as a rooftop infinity pool; a ground-level lagoon-style pool with a long walkway that leads up to a bar, along with rooms on either side; couches backed by arresting paintings, exhibits of Indonesian masks and Buddhist percussion mallets outside some elevators and a spectacular view of the pool and the sky from the railing at each level.
The fitness centre adjoins the pool at the rooftop, which is also where Sandekala, the hotel’s sprawling in-house restaurant is located. The spa is also on the roof-top and tends to be very busy so book your treatments in advance. We enjoyed an hour-long full-body Balinese massage in a functional but comfortable therapy room. If you have children along, they can swim in the kids’ pool beside the rooftop infinity pool.
The breakfast buffet is served in the enormous and cheerful Sandekala restaurant featuring usual favourites like eggs, fruit, cakes and French toast along with an impressively large array of juices and shakes and a ‘surprise’ counter with a different Asian or western specialty everyday.
There’s always one traditional Indonesian sweet on offer as well, such as sticky rice or pumpkin pudding, as well as one Asian/Chinese dish as stir-fried noodles or rice.
Dinner at Angsoka, the lobby-level gourmet restaurant was an experience to treasure, as every dish that came to the table awed us with its delicate perfection. The consistency of the pea and leek soup was just right – neither too creamy nor too thin, and it was served with soft and delicious garlic bread soaked in the soup.
This was followed by a platter of vegetarian spring rolls served with lettuce and carrot salad and dips. Finally, we feasted on a classic pizza Margherita.
The hotel also serves a buffet dinner in a wonderfully luxurious ambience set to soothing lounge music.
Kuta, Seminyak and Legian beaches are all close to Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta and form a part of the same gorgeous coastline. We went to Seminyak Beach in the bright light of day and were dazzled by the picture-perfect reflection of the clouds on the shore.
A neat array of lounge chairs sheltered by cute pink umbrellas lined most of the beach. We sent the waves flying, carved our names on the yielding sand with our toes and walked the length of the sun-kissed sea until we could walk no more.
Nusa Dua is half an hour away and perfect for those who wish to try water sports. We undertook the longer ride (21 km) to Tanah Lot temple instead to enjoy one of the most breath-taking sunsets of our lives.
Rooms: Rooms at the hotel start at around 2500 rupees per night. Book them here.
Address: Jl. Sunset Road No.9, Seminyak, Kuta (don’t rely on Google Maps – the marking is inaccurate – ask the locals). The hotel is only 7km away from Bali International Airport.
Tip: Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta is a part of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and you could get a free stay there if you join their Rewards Loyalty Programme.
Getting around: Rent a two-wheeler for around 60000 IDR per day or book Bluebird taxis. There is also the Kura-Kura public bus shuttle service with fixed routes.
We had grand plans for our last day in Ubud, Bali. We were to be up hours before the crack of dawn, and ride through the shadowy darkness to make it 46 km north to one of Bali’s most famous and picturesque temples – Pura Ulun Danu Bratan or the Bedugul Lake Temple.
This plan was an impromptu alternative to our initial aim of witnessing the sunrise unfold over the volcanic Mount Batur at Kintamani. We realised that there was a long trek involved to get up to the summit and we’d have to leave in the middle of the night to make it in time for sunrise. And after a day filled with exploring the Sacred Monkey Forest, Goa Gajah Cave Temple and Tegallalang Rice Terraces, we didn’t really find the time to book ourselves on a group tour to Mount Batur. Besides, riding on our own in the wee hours of the morning sounded like a more exciting prospect.
And that was how we ended up rubbing the sleep out of our eyes at 4:30 AM on day six of our Balinese honeymoon.
At 5 AM, the darkness was yet to pierced by the first semblance of light. Our route took us through various little roads, involving so many turns that we lost count. It was also surprisingly cold at that time of the morning, a fact we hadn’t accounted for. It was summer after all, with day temperatures hovering at a sunny 28 degree Celsius. But combined with the gusty wind and the light fabric of our summer overalls, we were left yearning for the fluffy jackets in our winter wardrobe back home!
Advice to travellers: Carry a warm jacket for early morning trips, regardless of what time of the year you travel to Bali.
Eventually, we left all the little roads behind and caroused smoothly for a good 26km on Jalan Baturiti Bedugul, with beautiful vistas passing us on either side of the road. It was nearly 6:30 AM now and Mohit was pressing down on the accelerator hard so as not to miss the first rays of dawn. The sun had begun to announce its presence and I was able to feast my eyes on the misty Bedugul mountains in the distance. Other cars and a few bikes/scooters kept us company as we finally made our way to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, the water temple dedicated to Shiva and his consort Parvathi.
Note: Google Maps asked us to ride further ahead but we soon asked a local and turned back. Take a small right when you start nearing the temple, as per the map.
After confirming with a guard that the temple was indeed open, we entered. There was no entrance fee or the compulsion of a sarong. A handful of tourists were already there, all seemingly mesmerised by the golden brilliance being cast from the high heavens. In silence, we walked around the banks of Lake Bratan, admiring the 11 storey tall Meru tower of the temple and its wobbly reflection on the water.
The pagoda-like Meru tower is made of wood and always the primary shrine of a Balinese Hindu temple. While Pura Bratan’s Meru tower is dedicated to Shiva and Parvathi, the temple is also used to worship the Balinese water, lake and river goddess Dewi Danu as Lake Bratan is the chief source of irrigation in central Bali.
It is also possible to go boating on the lake for a price and we did see some colourful canoes lined up on the banks but there didn’t seem to be a boatman available. A lone boat carrying a couple of western tourists slid through the water while the rest of us looked on. After having our fill of watching the sunlight glimmer over the temple, we took a walk, circling the lake as far as we could. There was no one on the other side and we had the view of the mountains and the sky streaked with haloed clouds all to ourselves.
While the main shrine is on the water, there are many other temples inside the complex, accessed by well-maintained gardens strewn with large animal statues and tall coniferous trees. We walked through the garden, admiring a dolphin and a tiger, lavender fields, a couple of fighting pigeons and an Indonesian woman wearing the local straw hat.
Presently, we encountered an arresting pair of gates which we presumed to be the main entrance to the temple complex. In all, there are four groups of shrines housed within the complex, dedicated to the Gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Goddess Danu.
A pair of beautiful snarling dragons awaited us on this side of the lake, surrounded by a cluster of short bamboo trees.
Witnessing the sunrise over the mountains on our way to Pura Bratan and then immersing ourselves in the scenic serenity at the lake temple was a deeply spiritual and satisfying experience for us in Bali. After our invigorating walk and exploration of the temple complex, we rode back to Maya Ubud Resort & Spa, thankful for the warmer air and the promise of another destination waiting to be explored before we bid goodbye to Indonesia’s favourite honeymoon destination.
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No trip to Bali would be complete without a visit to the forested, mountainous Ubud. And in our humble opinion, no visit to Ubud would be complete without a stay at the magical Maya Ubud Resort & Spa. Lined with traditional Balinese-style cottages that come with private gardens and pools as well as a serene golf course, gym and ethereal riverside spa, this resort is an extension of Ubud’s prime attractions such as the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Goa Gajah Cave Temple and Tegallalang Rice Terrace. Ubud was our second stop in Bali after Sanur, and so large and enticing was Maya Ubud that we changed our hectic travel plans and spent an entire day simply enjoying the various sights and pleasures the resort offered.
We reached Ubud after an hour-long drive from Maya Sanur and the change in landscape was remarkable. Gone was the easy, seaside rhythm of Sanur and in its place was an older, deeper music, personified by stunning paintings on display outside art galleries at Ubud market, little roads fringed by whispering trees and a cloudier sky. A long path within the gate led us to the bright and cheery reception area of Maya Ubud Resort & Spa. All the staff wore the traditional dress of kebaya (fitted lace blouse) and sarong for women and sarong, shirt and udeng (head dress) for men. After a brief wait during which a refreshing welcome drink kept us company, we were taken to our cottage in a golf buggy.
A luxury hideout in the woods
Our cottage was so vast and the room so wide that we were simply not able to contain it all in one frame. Photos really don’t do justice to this resort but we’ll endeavour to give you a glimpse of its loveliness, even if we did have to pan each time to include the high ceiling crisscrossed with Balinese wooden beams! Our cottage had a high, four-poster bed, a large LCD TV hidden within a multi-purpose unit, writing desk, wardrobe with self-sensing light and a luxurious bath-tub and entrance to the outdoor shower in the bathroom. Yes, we had a completely private outdoor shower adjoining the cottage pool, both of which were surrounded by thick, protective foliage. But the fixture we ended up using the most was the comfy, long settee outside the cottage, perfect for listening to the birds and bees and dozing the afternoon away.
Early morning jottings
Tiny blackbirds slice the Balinese sky Even as a golden orb peeks From behind the trees – It’s divine light so all-powerful That even the neighbouring clouds aren’t immune.
The sun rises early at Maya Ubud, as do the little spotted doves and other myriad birds on the elven property. Last night, we glimpsed the tinkling Petanu River and waterfall in the indigo moments of a passing day. This morning, the light flutters in through our shuttered door and reminds us of lovelier joys ahead.
The day we arrived, we kept up our exploration of Maya Ubud’s infinity pools, walking trails and hidden sanctuaries well until darkness took over. We raced against time to make it across the wooden bridge over the robust Petanu River, close to the spa and the riverside restaurant. We felt like we were in a rainforest, surrounded by lush greenery and the soothing gush of the waterfall. Another favourite moment was when we climbed a large mound in the middle of the resort garden so we could be silhouetted against the setting sun. We also toured the prestigious Petanu Villa and observed red and orange fish swimming around in the L-shaped pond between the gym and golf course.
High tea and breakfast
Maya Ubud offers complimentary high tea for its guests at Bar Bedulu, the garden restaurant, consisting of tea, coffee, iced tea, cakes and one Indonesian specialty such as laklak, a delicious pancake served with grated coconut and palm sugar. We chose a table on the terrace where a sweet breeze kept us company and panoramic views of the forest and mountains enveloped us on all sides.
Breakfast was always served at Maya Sari, the signature restaurant with a variety of dining spaces. One counter was dedicated entirely to local delights and some of the dishes we tried and enjoyed included pisang goreng, banana fritters served with custard; bubur sum-sum; pandan rice pudding with palm sugar; pumpkin pudding and potato and vegetable coconut curry. We also loved the organic yoghurt with coconut and honey. We’d always choose a table overlooking the garden even if it became sunny because one simply can’t get enough of the scenery at Maya Ubud.
Balinese massage at the spa
Our second day at Maya Ubud began with a rejuvenating couples’ Balinese full-body massage. We were given a choice of three different oils – jasmine oil, ginger oil and a traditional Balinese flower oil with curative properties. The last one smelt heavenly and so, the Balinese oil it was. The cooling lemongrass drink we were offered on arrival put us in a great mood, as did the artful massage room, where we could hear the tinkling of the Petanu River. We’ve enjoyed several Balinese massages in India but to experience the real thing in Bali was a revelation. We wished we could learn to massage the soles of our feet the way the therapists did! After our session was over, we were asked to let the oil stay for an hour. In the meanwhile, we munched on a platter of fruits and relaxed by the infinity pool outside River Cafe.
Every morning at 7 AM, the resort conducts complimentary yoga classes at the open-air yoga pavilion overlooking the gardens and terraced rice fields. But if like us, you like to linger over your mornings, it might be a better idea to take a dip in the infinity pool outside Maya Sari (there are three different pools at the resort) and swim up to the rim to look over all of the surrounding forests.
Getting there: It’s a one hour drive from Bali’s international airport to Maya Ubud Resort & Spa.
Getting around: Rent a bike at around 75000 IDR per day or book a sightseeing tour from one of the operators at Ubud Market. You can go up to Mt Batur, an active volcano in Kintamani or Pura Bratan, a scenic temple in the mountains near Bedugul.
Bookings: Rooms at this five star hotel start at around 19000 rupees per night. Please visit their website for bookings.
Sanur doesn’t figure on any tour operator’s must-see places in Bali. Yet, this sleepy seaside town has a beguiling charm and it’s not just due to its glorious blue beaches. Sanur is the gateway to a chain of untouched islands and offers close proximity to offbeat attractions that let you discover Bali’s rich biodiversity. Here are our top seven picks of things to do and places to visit in Sanur, the non-touristy part of Bali that offers the best money exchange (better than market rate) and bike rental rates (50000 IDR per day)!
1. Go on a walking trail through the Mangrove Forest (Suwung Kawuh)
Beautiful board walks, observatories and serene pools of water and greenery replete with marine and avian species make the 1300 acre Mangrove Forest a rare treasure. Mangroves are crucial for maintaining the ecosystem as they provide sustenance for hundreds of types of animals. This forest has been funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The entry fee for foreigners is pretty steep (200000 IDR per person) but we managed to get a 50% discount so do try bargaining. Once inside, you’ll be glad you paid the price. Because the Mangrove Forest is a secret web of nature in its undisturbed glory.
You may see locals fishing with rudimentary rods, young couples huddled in the huts named after birds in the forest and many strange creatures in the undergrowth. Pointed growths typical of mangroves compete for space with larger trees in the water on either side of the shaky wooden bridge. There are two or three trails that you can follow within the forest and one of them leads to a mesmerising view of the sea and the city in the distance. We were there at sunset and stayed until twilight cast its moody shadows on the water.
2. Feed baby turtles at the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre
The Turtle Conservation and Education Centre on Serangan Island is home to six different species of rescued and baby turtles. These include the leatherback sea turtle, the largest of all living turtles; the large green sea turtle; the flatback sea turtle with a flattish shell; Olive Ridley sea turtles, the smallest of the marine turtles; the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle and the commonly found loggerhead sea turtle. For a nominal entry fee (around 25000 IDR if memory serves right), one can observe these turtles at close quarters and even feed the tinier ones from little buckets holding powdery turtle food.
We enjoyed analysing the patterns on their shells and were awed by just how huge these cute creatures could be. In a little pond outside the main shelter, many medium-sized turtles swim lazily. And there’s even a hatchery to welcome new turtles into the world. This centre was opened by the governor of Bali, Mr Dewa Barata in January 2006.
3. Surf the waves at Sanur Beach
There are a host of water sports available at Sanur Beach but the real joy is in finding a good spot on the sand and soaking in the perfection of the blue beyond. We loved how clear the sky was in the summery month of May and how well the water of Sanur reflected its azure magnificence. You can spend half a day at the beach, swimming in the sea, surfing the waves or simply sun-bathing to acquire a healthy tan.
4. Watch the locals play football at Lapangan Puputan Renon
Did you know that Bali has its own worthy answer to London’s Hyde Park and Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens? Lapangan Puputan Renon in Denpasar is a sprawling garden that comes alive with joggers, walkers, football players and yoga practitioners in the evening. Part of the garden often serves as a venue for concerts and other events and when we were there, there was a Yamaha company event adding to the festive spirit of the park.
Lapangan Puputan Renon is also home to the towering Bajra Sandhi Monument, dedicated to the struggles of the Balinese people throughout history. There are three courtyards within the monument but unfortunately, entry is restricted and one has to be content with admiring the carvings on the gate. Interestingly, a lot of fitness enthusiasts prefer to do their crunches and spot jumps on the steps leading up to the monument.
5. Listen to the mesmerising temple chants at the Pura Blanjong temple
Hinduism is the dominant religion in Bali, unlike other parts of Indonesia where most residents are Muslim. However, the temple chants in Bali are quite different from those in India. Sung in the Indonesian language with bells and the traditional bamboo and flute music, the overall effect is quite mellifluous and enchanting. We paused every time we heard these sonorous chants in the evening from one of the many temples in Sanur.
The most prominent one in the area is Pura Blanjong, adjoining the Blanjong inscription. The inscription dates back to 914 CE and serving as evidence of contact between Bali, Java and the Indian subcontinent. Although the pillar is not much to look at, the temple is pretty with its coral wall and pair of headless calf statues. It was built as a cenotaph for Sri Kesari, a Buddhist apostle.
6. Take a ferry to Nusa Penida-Ceningan-Lembongan islands
Various kinds of boats ranging from cheap local ones to high-speed motor boats go to the triad Nusa Penida, Ceningan and Lembongan from Sanur Beach. There are two or three different ferry points depending on which island you want to go to. Once there, you have a host of exciting water activities to choose from such as snorkelling, swimming and canoeing. Nusa Lembongan is also home to an underground cave built by a local man, mangrove forests and glorious white sand beaches.
At Nusa Ceningan, you can jump off a cliff, get a glimpse of seaweed farming and explore a swallow’s cave at low tide. With its gorgeous marine life, Nusa Penida is the best spot for diving and snorkelling and also visiting the Bali Bird Sanctuary. This island houses incredible marvels such as a natural infinity pool and a ‘broken sea’. Day cruises will let you return the same day but if you’re on your own, you’ll most likely have to stay overnight at one of the many resorts on the islands and return the next day.
7. Go ghost hunting at Taman Festival Bali
If you love haunted places, this abandoned theme park might give you fresh fodder for the next session of ghost story telling. Built in 1997 by the Indonesian government with aid from an affluent investor, the park failed to attract tourists despite its $5 million laser show. Today, it’s a quirky attraction with ruins of a ticket booth, an arcade room, an ominous crocodile pit, many broken windows and decrepit graffiti. It’s unlikely that you’ll find any locals inside as Balinese believe such places are frequented by malevolent spirits. But the isolation and overgrown paths enhance its creepy allure!
There are also a lot of museums and galleries in Sanur such as the Le Mayeur Museum, Seiki Torige’s Open Space Gallery, Griya Santrian Gallery and Darga Gallery.
Get there: Sanur is just a 30 minute ride away from Bali’s international airport by cab. The ride will cost you around 150000 IDR.
Stay:Maya Sanur is a beautiful five-star resort with lagoon access and beach view rooms, a sea-front restaurant and bar, spa and gym.
Eat: There are several great restaurants and bars on Jalan Danau Tamblingan. We enjoyed pizza and mie goreng at Gopal’s Cafe and sandwiches and sayur urab (brown rice with long beans and shredded coconut) at Warung Blanjong.
We have so much more to tell you about Bali and Indonesia, so stay tuned!