Secret Hotels of Bali
The island is home to some of the world's most famous resorts: Aman this, Four Seasons that. When it comes down to friendliness, however, they can't compare with these seven intimate gems.
In northern Bali, Lovina is a miniature version of the hugely popular resort towns that lie along the island's south coast. So it might seem surprising that just 300 yards or so from the area's main drag is a place of peace and quiet. The Rumah Cantik--a homestay with four rooms in a flower-filled garden--was built by Made Kantra and Jette Stampe, a Balinese-Danish couple, and its eclectic design reflects its owners' diverse backgrounds. On the outside of the two pavilions housing the guest rooms, European-style pillars support a Balinese roof with upturned eaves. Inside, the mix of influences continues in the generous guest rooms: The beds are done up with romantic canopies, while the other furniture has a hint of Japanese simplicity. The large bathrooms have floors and walls made of layers of gray stones. In the garden, the feel is Balinese, with a large bale, or open-sided living room, surrounded by a small fish pond. On sunny afternoons, reflections from the water dance on the bale's ceiling. There isn't a lot to do: no pool, no TV, and--apart from breakfast and light snacks--no restaurant. Then again, nothing may be exactly what you crave. The homestay can be a little hard to find; if you tend to have difficulty navigating, Kantra and Stampe will meet you on the main road. 011-62/362-42-159, lovinacantik.com, from $65.
Blue Moon Villas
Though it's long been popular with divers and snorkelers, Bali's remote northeast coast is still off the beaten track for most visitors. That may change if more hotels follow the example of Blue Moon Villas, a stylish boutique hotel that makes the most of its dramatic coastal setting. Designed by local architect Pak Jaya, it has five rooms in three bright, airy villas, as well as an open-sided lobby/restaurant and a small infinity pool. The rooms all have balconies or terraces, some of which are large enough to double as living rooms. As in many Balinese hotels, the bathrooms are partly open to the outside but completely private. The staff is friendly but less deferential than in the main Balinese resorts--which could be because many of the staff members are related to the hotel's co-owner, Komang John, an engaging local guy who also gave his name to the hotel's restaurant (his brother is one of the chefs). After a dinner of fresh wahoo barbecued over coconut husks, you'll want to sit on your balcony and watch the fishing boats fan out into the ocean. In the morning, if the local roosters wake you in time, you can go out in a fishing boat to watch the sun rise. 011-62/812-362-2597, bluemoonvillas.com, from $60.
Nirarta Centre for Living Awareness
One of the things that first attracted Western visitors to Bali at the beginning of the 20th century was its rich spiritual tradition, which draws on elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and animism. These days, most visitors pursue physical pleasures, but anyone interested in exploring the inner self might like the Nirarta Centre. Founded by British psychologist Peter Wrycza and his Balinese wife, Dayu Mayuni, the hotel has nine rooms total in five cottages, some of which have two stories. Built of wood and stone with grass or shingle roofs, the spacious cottages--two are octagonal, from a traditional Hindu symbol--are simple but comfortable and offer pretty views of the valley below. The center sits amid rice terraces and has its own extensive vegetable gardens, which supply most of the largely vegetarian food served there in a separate, open-sided restaurant. Nirarta offers a number of coaching and counseling courses. Guests are free to take part in two daily 45-minute meditation sessions in the large meditation hall, also octagonal. Close to the river there's a small massage center with just one massage table. The river itself is what the hotel cheekily calls its "natural Jacuzzi." 011-62/366-24-122, awareness-bali.com, from $30, additional fees for non-meditation courses.
In 1963, Ida Ayu Mas Andayani and her family fled their home when Mount Agung erupted. "Stones and rocks fell from the sky," says Andayani. The eruption was Agung's first in 120 years, and while the mountain has been quiet ever since, experts warn that it may erupt again. Andayani will cope with whatever nature throws at her; she's not a lady to be put off for long by a mere volcano. The descendant of an important local family, she has welcomed an impressive list of celebrities to her homestay: Indonesian presidents and international artists and musicians, including Mick Jagger and David Bowie. She began building the three well-spaced villas in 1979, although they look as if they've been around for centuries. The villas are red brick and gray stone, and covered in intricately carved panels depicting scenes from Hindu epics. Fanned by breezes, the villas' wide terraces make for cool and calm outdoor living rooms. Inside, the bathrooms are a bit too functional-looking, but the bedrooms are large and tastefully furnished with antiques and original paintings, many by Andayani's friends. Indeed, she's just the person to ask if you want to know more about the area's famously rich cultural heritage. 011-62/366-23-005, firstname.lastname@example.org, from $45 (with breakfast) or $75 (three meals a day).