Bali – ‘The art of giving’
Across the world, luxury island paradises compete with increasingly exclusive luxury resorts but few places offer the warmth and hospitality of Bali
The intoxicating smell of sandalwood incense fills the air as local women, dressed in exquisite sarongs and carrying intricately decorated baskets on their heads enter the peaceful temple. Each basket is filled with offerings for the gods; flowers, artisan crafts and other gifts, and is placed on a large table, which is quickly filling with baskets from other local families.
Eat, Pray, Love
This is a typical scene during festivals on the spice island of Bali. The island has a rich, authentic culture that is full of public rituals based upon the theme of giving. In fact the name Bali is said to come from a thousand year old word meaning ‘offering’. At this festive time of year, sometimes in Western culture the true meaning of giving and sharing is overlooked, surpassed instead by the intense commercialism of Christmas.
In Bali, even outside of festivals and religious ceremonies, families, office workers, shop keepers and hotel staff make daily offerings to the Hindu deities. One sees small, beautifully carved shrines everywhere on the island; beside roads, in hotel and resort complexes, and outside shops. Each is laden with tiny trays made from bamboo leaves, holding gifts of rice and flowers.
It is this strong culture of respect, sharing, love and celebration that defines Bali and is what makes the island one of the most special places in the world to experience. The Balinese must be amongst the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world, making their island a memorable destination.
Thankfully for the luxury traveller, Bali has always been at the forefront of upscale, exclusive hospitality with some of the world’s most prestigious resorts, enjoying pristine beaches, Indian Ocean views and exceptional service. Over the years Bali has continually refined its offerings for guests, with sophisticated restaurants, world class hotels and amazing beach properties.
This is a firm favourite all year round but especially at Christmas and New Year, where East meets West. International visitors can enjoy a traditional festive break and sensational New Year thanks to the islanders’ genuine ability to bring any celebration alive with a multitude of colour, flavours and sensations.
Bali has always been a favourite destination for travellers looking for a peaceful, tranquil and beautiful destination. Yet now a new generation of visitor has been inspired to come to this beautiful Indonesian island following the publication of Elizabeth Gilbert’s international best seller ‘Eat Pray Love’, recently made into a Hollywood movie starring Julia Roberts.
The south of the island has an extraordinary choice of places to stay, yet remarkably retains its charm and its unique identity. Travel inland just an hour or more and one soon discovers small villages and communities that continue to live as they have done for generations.
Ubud is one of the most famous and visited of the inland villages. From the more crowded south of the island, the journey here is fascinating. The traffic soon vanishes, the road narrows, and instead of the luxury resorts and exclusive shopping centres, there are expansive views of terraced fields flooded with water, where one often sees the locals planting emerald green rice shoots.
Ubud is an ancient spiritual centre, with a mix of yoga and holistic centres, healing retreats and spas, together with a mouth watering array of restaurants, and quirky individual cafes. The streets are lined with art galleries, craft stores, and antique shops making this one of the best places on the island for shopping.
The village also has a remarkable, seductive mix of old and new. From its ancient temple architecture to the upmarket boutiques, the village is a heady mix of ritual and luxury, of spiritual retreat and retail therapy.
There is the Sacred Monkey Forest, where one can walk amongst tropical trees towards the ancient Hindu temple full of inquisitive primates; whilst close by one can explore the traditional market, full of stalls selling spices, fine batik fabrics and exceptionally carved wooden artefacts. In total contrast one can then relax in a luxurious spa and experience one of the best massages in Asia; or eat in a world-class restaurant.
Continue north across Bali and one discovers the heart of this fascinating island. Dominated by Mount Agung, an active volcano, this is the place to enjoy stunning panoramic views and unwind in unspoilt nature; be calmed by a myriad of greens, the delicate colours of orchids, the majestic coconut palms and the enveloping sense of tranquillity. Here the villages and temples give a genuine insight into the island’s ancient culture.
The Indonesian archipelago boasts over 13,500 islands yet tropical Bali with its flawless beaches and its lush interior is without doubt one of the most compelling to visit; a place that will forever remain in the heart of each visitor.
©COPYRIGHT ANDREW FORBES