Like migratory birds, around October each year my husband and I would travel to Ubud in Bali for our annual break. This year we tried a different part of Bali.
My husband had kept a place in Bali’s south for several years, but had been driven north from Seminyak to Canggu to Kerobokan to Ubud as its roads began to congest and buckle under the strain of unprecedented numbers of tourists. What were once paddy fields in various stages of planting, growth and harvest streaked with rivers, creeks and streams have given way to developments that do not quite respect the landscape. Today, as far inland as Canggu are four and even five-storey hotels catering to overnighter party-goers, and instead of gamelan there is always the thump-thump-thump of a DJ playing in the distance; if you’re unlucky you might find yourself waking up to the final throes of his 5am set. Even in what the regulars and locals would consider low season, getting around can be a pain, even on a nippy *speda motor steered by an old hand like my husband.
Having made Warwick Ibah in Ubud our holiday home base, we decided to explore further north still to Bedugul this year. At 5,000 feet above sea level, Bedugul is where most of Bali obtains its fruit and vegetables which range from the humble string beans, carrots and broccoli to strawberries, raspberries and from what I’ve heard from my culinary friends in Ubud, even lemons whose seeds have been imported from Australia.
AltaVista luxury villas, the brainchild of a Singaporean couple, is located in Bedugul, just off Jalan Raya Wanagiri, the main road on top of the ridge connecting the twin lakes Danau Buyan and Tamblingan. The property itself is beautiful, and laid out and built to the exacting standards you would expect of a Singaporean innkeeper. Each villa is finished with excellent fittings; we love the roomy bathtub that can seat two tall people with a medium sized dog between them. For business owners like us who have to work on the go, the strong wifi signal is a plus.
Jalan Raya Wanagiri is dotted with vantage points for trigger-happy Instagrammers to capture the panorama straddling the lakes which are especially stunning during the sunny days of March right through to October. Depending on the influx of tourists and the mood of the locals you might be asked to pay for the privilege to take photos; and if so, it would cost around the region of 5,000 rupiahs or S$0.50.
However, the views there do not quite hold a candle to the stunning sunsets at AltaVista luxury villas around quarter past six, which are reason enough for guests to rush back from their day’s gallivanting. Alas, we have not been quite as lucky as the people capturing and uploading the sunsets on AltaVista Bali’s Instagram and Facebook pages. When we came in November last year most of daylight was an indistinguishable grey blur of rain, cloud, mist and fog. While the skies were much clearer on this trip, the sunsets we witnessed were mostly feeble streaks of amber, pink and purple which could only be properly appreciated from the Treehouse, the highest point in the whole property. Perhaps the only way to catch a brilliant sunset is to stay on for longer periods at a time and during the hot season, too! I found myself piling on and peeling off the layers depending on the temperature, which at this time of year, would fluctuate depending on cloud cover, foliage and time of day.
If you are planning on riding to get around, like many of Bali’s regulars and tourists, unless you are an experienced rider, you would find manoeuvering the sheer dips and hairpin turns of the terrain quite harrowing, especially in wet weather, so the safer and less nail-biting way for first timers to get around would be via personal drivers you can engage via the villa.
When we visited the smaller lake Danau Tamblingan it was too cold for mosquitoes, which was good, but its water levels were quite low, which was not good. One of the staff shared with us that Bedugul’s vegetable farmers have been suffering from a long drought. Clouds at this time of year are expected to roll in and thicken with rain being commonplace in the afternoons and evenings, but this year they seem to disperse as easily as they gather.
AltaVista has an in-house chef who cooks very reasonably priced meals if you so choose (breakfast is complimentary with each night’s stay) which I would also recommend as the fruit and vegetables are freshly picked from the farms and freshwater fish freshly caught from the nearby lakes. However you should not expect this part of Bali to have anything resembling the culinary scene of the south, or even Ubud for that matter, which is replete with foreign, sometimes Michelin star chefs trained in various cuisines. Most food establishments in this part of Bali either stir or deep-fry their food and don’t do heavy spices, which is certainly an excellent way to ease yourself into a diet, but only if you don’t run to the south!
The one restaurant with the closest thing to a Western menu is Warung Terrasse du Lac Tamblingan near Lake Tamblingan set up by a Frenchman, about five minutes from the villa by speda motor. Unlike most local establishments offering only Balinese coffee, it has an espresso machine. In the colder months when its owner goes home for the holidays, Jack, a friendly Golden Retriever might pad in and with a wagging tail implore visitors to give him a head rub, and for a moment you might feel like you’re in an English cabin in the winter which reeks of that precise blend of smoky fireplace and damp dog. That said, although lighting the fireplace by AltaVista Bali’s heated infinity pool warms the ambient temperature and makes for beautiful photos, you would come off smelling like you have been smoked even when seated some distance away in the main pavilion. I personally did not mind it, though.
The staff here were super friendly and helpful especially if you could speak Bahasa Indonesia. In addition to sorting out my day to day needs, they helped me sort out a miscommunication with one of their drivers who was supposed to take us to Ubud but could not do so at the last minute, and from whom I had to retrieve a precious duty-free something I had accidentally left in his car. I would not have been able to manage if they had not helped.
Although the north of Bali does not quite have the magical lushness or culinary scene of Ubud, I was glad for the chance to explore its surrounding natural wonders such as crater lakes and waterfalls, and most of the conveniences any traveller would expect anywhere, except in more square footage than that of the villas of the south. I would definitely recommend AltaVista Bali as a venue for any kind of retreat, or simply a place to rest for those who need a proper, deep-cleansing timeout.
*a 200cc motorbike
(All photos and videos are unedited, taken on a smartphone)