Jimbaran Bay, Bali: Eat, Stay, Do

After five amazing days at the Viceroy, we were genuinely sad to leave this morning. It seems all the staff knew of our departure as they all thanked us for coming, wished us well and hoped to see us again. Overall, we would rate this one of the top hotel experiences of our lives. We will be back.

Traffic near Denpasar stretched what should have been an hour’s long transfer into a two-hour journey. But, met with a cool towel and welcome drink while taking in sweeping ocean views from the lobby of the Four Seasons, any stress melted away.

Here’s where we stayed, what we did and ate during our five days in Jimbaran Bay, a former fishing village that many are now predicting will be the next Bali “it” location.

Stay.
The Four Seasons is a 150 all villa property sitting on 35 acres at the far end of Jimbaran Bay. The compound took upwards of 2 years and 4,000 workers to construct – and it shows. It’s a massive resort and, to be honest, after the intimacy of the Viceroy, we had our doubts that it could provide the same level of service.

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We were completely wrong.

To start, after being brought to our villa (number 238) by “buggy” (or golf cart), we entered an immaculate courtyard and garden, complete with Balinese sculptures and a temple. In the outdoor living space, we had a dining room, a pair of chaise loungers and a plunge pool. Views through the garden were out to the ocean.

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Inside, a pillow topped bed, free standing tub and rain shower. Oh, and just in case, a private outdoor shower in the side garden. Yeah, this place would do.

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The hotel has a nice sized infinity pool by the lobby as well as a beach club called Coconut Grove, a short walk or buggy ride from the villa. The pool and club are served by attendants setting up your towels, bringing ice water, fresh fruit – even cleaning your sunglasses! Breakfast, an over the top affair of buffet and hot menu items, was served from a Balinese pagoda – complete with koi pond – overlooking the pool with traditional live music.

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But back to the service, which was phenomenal. The entire staff has walkie talkies in their ears. It’s a little strange at first until you realize they’re essentially one step ahead of what your needs are – delivering on what you want, or what you think you want, before you even ask.

The one potential downside of the hotel, its proximity to the airport, proved to be not much of a downside. Yes, there was a view off in the distance of planes occasionally taking off and landing, but there was rare audible disruption and the reality is that on a small island like Bali, planes are everywhere.

Do.
These five days were our opportunity to unplug, read and relax. We wanted to forget what day of the week it was and what time it was. This was almost too easy to do.

We spent our first and most of our second day at the resort, splitting time between our private villa pool, the hotel’s infinity pool and the beach club. In the afternoon of our second day, we took a taxi into Seminyak, a flashy little town that felt like South Beach. We checked out lots of boutique shops, massive pink Buddhas and did some serious people watching.

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Our third day, we were back on the beach. That night, we attempted to watch the sunset from the Rock Bar at the Ayana but got turned away because a wedding party had taken it over.

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The fourth day, we took a private snorkeling trip with Jet Set Marine. The drive to Tulamben on the East coast of Bali was a bit much (over 2 hours) but did give us an opportunity to check out some parts of the island that we had not yet seen. When we arrived, the ocean was rough and visibility was low, so we tried the nearby town of Amed, whose volcanic beach is black. Visibility was much better there and we scoped out blue starfish, long trumpet fish and neon angel fish. On our way home, we stopped at Bali Antique, a massive antiques stores, and found some great pieces that we sent by way of container ship back to Boston.

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Our last day, we considered taking a day trip to Finn’s Beach Club but ultimately decided to just hang out at the villa. Late that afternoon, we took a taxi to Uluwatu, the oldest temple in Bali situated precariously on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Unfortunately, the crowds were a bit overwhelming and the monkeys, aggressive and overbearing.

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Having to do it over again, we probably would have not done the snorkeling day trip. Jimbaran Bay and the Four Seasons is about relaxing and the beach. That’s the extent of what you should accomplish there.

Eat.
Most of our meals were had at the Four Seasons and they were all excellent. The breakfast offered both a cold buffet and an a la carte off menu option. The daily juice specials, in particular the mango soursop, were killer. We had several lunches, like prawn BLTs and wagyu beef burgers, there were also quite good. Finally, dinners, including a surf & turf meal with a mountain of shrimp on a bed on the beach, as well as a spectacular beach buffet with every conceivable Indonesian dish to celebrate the country’s independence day were spectacular.

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We had not anticipated eating most of our meals at the hotel. That’s not usually our plan. We had made dinner reservations at restaurants in Seminyak but realized after our first day that the construction traffic made the trip not worth it. A taxi that should have been 15-20 minutes could take almost 2 hours. We did squeeze in one meal at Sardine, an excellent fish restaurant that was well worth it. We stopped for post dinner drinks at the W, including a bizarre cocktail called the “British Summer Garden Martini,” served on a turf plate with smoking watering can and mini tools. We made reservations but decided not to go to Sarong and Metis.

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We also had dinner one night at a place called Teba Mega Café, right on the beach in Jimbaran Bay. It was super casual seafood place where you pick out what you’d like – in our case, a red snapper, some jumbo prawns and calamari – and they simply grill your fish over a coconut husk fire. Dishes were served with rice and vegetable. It was the cheapest meal of our trip and probably the best.

Ubud, Bali: Stay, Do, Eat

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

We hopped on an Air Asia flight from Singapore this morning for a short trip south to Bali. Our plane touched down into chaotic Denpasar airport around 2.5 hours later and we made our way into the arrivals hall to kick off our trip.

Here’s where we stayed, what we did and ate during our five days in Ubud, the Bali location featured somewhat infamously in Eat, Pray, Love.

Stay.
There are dozens of hotels in Ubud, ranging from backpacker lodges to yoga retreats to luxury five star villas. As this trip was celebrating a special occasion, we considered two options: the Four Seasons or the Viceroy. The Four Seasons looked like a spectacular property but we ultimately decided on the Viceroy since it was a smaller, more intimate hotel.

Our villa, number 18, was one of the nicest rooms either of us has ever stayed in. To call it a room is an understatement. Massive, it featured a thatched roof and bale – a traditional outdoor Balinese gazebo floating over a private plunge pool. The marble bathroom, much of which was hand carved, had both a soaking tub and rain shower large enough to accommodate maybe six people (just an estimate – we didn’t attempt.)

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The view from the villa was nothing short of spectacular. The Viceroy has been magically built into the side of a river gorge; on the other side, lush tropical greenery and rice paddies go for as far as the eye could see.

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The service could give the view a run for its money though. Unobtrusive, highly professional and polished – the staff all knew us by name after our first day and it never took more than a quick phone call or request at the reception desk for us to be well taken care of.

Facilities were top notch. The restaurant, CasCades, overlooks the same river valley as the villa as does the infinity pool. Food, both Western and Indonesian, was solid – we ordered dinner to our villa the first night and were really happy with it. Ditto for lunch by the pool and breakfast in the morning, although admittedly after five days of the same menu, it did get a little boring by our last day there.

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Finally, we treated ourselves to some treatments at the Lembah Spa. I’ll defer to Charlotte on exactly what was done to me (and why) but will say I’ve never been rubbed, scrubbed or polished in that way before. And, of course, the spa has the same killer view that the Viceroy is famous for.

Do.
With four full days in Ubud, we wanted to take full advantage of all that this artistic and cultural hub of Bali had to offer.

We spent our first day exploring the city itself, visiting the royal palace (still home to the local royals!), temple and bustling market. Ubud is packed full of local shops, selling soap, lace, jewelry, crafts and antiques. It took us a better part of the afternoon to conquer them all and we ended with quite a few shopping bags. Our day concluded at the Monkey Forest, teeming with, you guessed it, fearless monkeys wandering among temples.

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On our second day, we took a private day trip with Banyan Tree Bike Tours. This local operation, unique in that it’s owned and operated by a Balinese family, took us on a downhill cycling trip through the region’s rice paddies.

Along the way, we stopped at a coffee plantation to taste the notorious luwak coffee – beans eaten, pooped out by a big marsupial and then roasted to perfection – and experienced signs of everyday life: farmers in the rice paddies, two brothers getting a kite off the ground and women placing intricately arranged offerings respectfully to the Gods.

Afterward, we were treated to a fantastic, traditional Indonesian lunch at the owner’s home.

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Our third day was spent relaxing at the main pool and getting the most confusing – and awesome – spa therapies at the Viceroy. While being rubbed in Balinese sea salts and then slathered in a cold lotion of exotic local fruits, Char had to stop me from eating the treatment! Besides that, it was a great success.

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On our last day, we returned to the spa and pool in the morning, and then made our way over to the Yoga Barn in town for a vinyasa class. We agreed that the setting – among rice paddies, with birds chirping off in the distance – couldn’t be any more namaste. That night, we made our way to the royal palace for a colorful Balinese dance performance.

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Eat.
We ate surprisingly well in Ubud – the important thing to remember was, we were in Bali. Keep it simple. Keep it fresh. And we didn’t go wrong.

For lunch, we really enjoyed Three Monkeys. The setting, in another rice paddy, was awesome. Add to that really solid wood fired pizzas – mine was blue cheese, walnuts, caramelized onions and arugula – and you’ve got happy patrons. You also can’t go wrong with lunch at CasCades, the Viceroy restaurant. Get lunch or have a local Bintang beer while sitting in the pool bale.

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For dinner, we tried Mozaic, a much-hyped (acclaimed?) restaurant that is said to be the best in Ubud and even Indonesia. We had high expectations, and unfortunately, they were not met. The food was okay but the wine pairing was terrible and the whole experience felt too fabricated and theatrical for Ubud. And for what we paid, we could have had dinner at L’espalier in Boston. Just not worth it.

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Much better options that we would recommend include Minami, a sushi joint with a really talented chef putting out super fresh dishes, and Bali Buddha, a local organic restaurant where we treated ourselves to juices, salads, fish burgers and awesome cheesecake (all for $30). We also tried the famous warung (local restaurant), Naughty Nuri’s, a super casual joint known for its ribs and martinis. The ribs left much to be desired for but the martinis – literally just big glasses of vodka – somehow made them taste a heck of a lot better than they probably were.

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Planning a honeymoon in Bali

Bali, Indonesia

When it came time to deciding on where to honeymoon, we wanted to find a destination that would balance our need to recharge with our interest in exploring somewhere new together. Simply put: it had to be more than just a beach vacation.

We researched small exotic islands in the Pacific, cities in the south of Italy or France but ultimately decided on Bali. Sure, it wouldn’t be an easy place to get to but if it was, where was the adventure? Bali was Southeast Asia “light” – all that was great about that part of the world (the people, culture, climate) with none of what could be challenging (the hassle, language barrier or downpours.) Bali it was.

Both of us could take a total of two weeks from work, but factoring in travel, we would have 10 nights. Figuring out how to spend that time was difficult though. We knew we wanted some time on the beach as well as time to immerse ourselves in the island’s rich culture.

The heart of Bali’s culture happens to be in the heart of the country. Situated among verdant rice paddies, rising volcano peaks and rushing rivers, Ubud was the obvious choice of where we would base ourselves for the first five days of the trip.

When it came time to choosing where to spend our other five days, the number of beach options was daunting. There was Nusa Dua, a five star resort area developed by the government in the southern part of the island with great beaches but no local flavor. There was Seminyak, a glitzy town that the W decided to recently open in with great nightlife but not much relaxation. Then there were other islands, like Lombok with great beaches but only accessible by ferry.

Ultimately, we decided on Jimbaran Bay, historically a small fishing village south of Seminyak but an area that has recently exploded with development. Its calm waters, beautiful crescent shape beach and location – about a 30 min taxi ride to Seminyak – ultimately made us overlook the one downside, its proximity to the airport.

With that, we had the big pieces of our honeymoon figured out. We were going to Bali, spending five nights in Ubud and five nights in Jimbaran Bay. Now the fun part: where would we stay, what would we eat and how would we spend our time?

Day on the Right Bank

Paris, France

Paris is well known for its patisseries, those spots where Parisians start their days sipping espressos and nibbling on croissants. This morning, we set out to experience a new patisserie – one pushing the creative boundaries. What we found was La Patisserie des Reves, where delectable goods are showcased under futuristic bell jars.

Pick out what you’d like and a complex pulley system gives you access to some mind-blowingly delicious treats.

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Ready to start seeing the sights, we made our way over to Musee Rodin. The Thinker was understandably a mob scene but we did have other outdoor works, including Gates of Hell, to ourselves (at least for a few minutes).

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From there, it was onward to Les Arts Décoratifs for a crash course in French furniture and design. These chairs were my favorite.

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We had planned on getting lunch at Café Marly but the outdoor seating was without shade – and on this almost summer-like day, we didn’t feel like baking. Instead, we spotted a Paul vendor, grabbed sandwiches and a park bench. Much better.

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Taking advantage of our time on the Right Bank, we hit up the Champ Elysess and the Place Vosages. We poked our head into a few shops and Char spotted this awesome truck at Goyard (unfortunately, think it was like 14000 euros).

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We wanted to grab a drink at the Ritz but were running late so headed back to the hotel. After last night’s dinner fail, the stakes were high. But Itineraires, a place recently reviewed by the Times, came through. The best dish was this mushroom risotto – covered in paper-thin sliced shrooms.

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Whoa.

Birthday in St. Germain

Paris, France

The buzzing alarm wasn’t the most pleasant wake up call this morning but at least we got a decent amount of sleep. It was still dark as we made our way to the St. Pancras train station for our 7:22 am Eurostar to Paris. We watched the countryside whiz by and figured out our game plan before arriving around 11 am.

From Paris Nord, we took the RER – essentially the Parisian commuter rail – to St. Germain, a leafy neighborhood on the Left Bank. Our hotel, Hotel le Petite Paris lived up its name. While adequately trendy and modern, the rooms were tiny. Not that we intended on spending much time in ours. Paris beckoned.

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We threw our bags down and made a beeline for the boulevard. Char had, of course, compiled a complete list of stores that necessitated a visit, including Diptyque for some wild scented candles. There were lots of distractions along the way, including a tea and pain au chocolate at the iconic Café du Flore.

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My only request was that we stop at Deyrolle, a shop dating to 1831 and stuffed (literally) with taxidermied animals and all sorts of other strange curiosities. Char vetoed the stuffed anteater but we did find a set of old French gardening prints that we decided were coming home with us.

Being the foodies we are, we knew that we couldn’t come to Paris without eating at St. Germain at Le Comptoir, the buzzing bistro that has drawn accolades since opening a few years ago. The locals know it simply as Le Comptoir. Whatever you want to call it, we had heard much about celebrated chef Yves Camdeborde and decided to try our luck at snagging a seat for a late lunch. (We were told dinner reservations, and even prime lunch times, booked up weeks in advance.)

As luck would have it, a table had just gotten up when we arrived. We were handed menus, promptly realized that they were only available in French and our waiter spoke no English. Here’s what happens when you order a dish solely based on how the name and description sound like.

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No, I’m still not really sure what it was. Thinly sliced beef salad, maybe? Was it delicious? Absolutely.

Our grand tour continued as we crossed the river for a visit to Saint Chapelle. There are hundreds of beautiful churches in Paris but Saint Chapelle was Char’s favorite – plus, I’d never been. The line snaked outside but the worth was wait it. On this sunny day, the stained glass windows of this church (built in 1248) exploded with color.

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On our way back, we made a quick stop at the granddaddy of churches, Notre Dame, which took nearly 200 years to be completed. I’ll spare the history lesson except to say that the scale of this immense structure is difficult to put in perspective.

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Our walk home conveniently took us through Jardin du Luxembourg, where we stopped for a couple minutes on those iconic loungers.

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Back at the hotel, we rested, showered and changed for a big night out to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday. I’d read about a new bespoke cocktail bar called Prescription which had amazingly creative (and delicious) drinks. From there, the plan had been to get dinner at Huitrerie Regis, a well-reviewed oyster place.

Unfortunately, when we arrived, the lights at Huitrerie were out. Sure enough, closed. Oops. We made a quick change of course and settled into an outdoor table at a neighboring French bistro. Char ordered some oysters and a salad with bucheron cheese – and my steak frites was excellent. Crisis averted, day saved.

Proper British brunch in London

London, England

It’s been about two years since our last trip to Europe, so in celebration of Charlotte’s birthday, we decided a visit was in order this month. Deciding on our destination was actually quite easy – France in the fall. But in researching airfare, we saw that tickets into London were a bit cheaper, plus, Char’s friend Michelle and boyfriend, Will, offered to put us up. So, that’s where we found ourselves on this crisp Sunday morning.

We took the Picadilly Line to Gloucester Road and then hopped into a black cab to Michelle’s apartment. After a short nap, we headed out to check out the Clapham Junction neighborhood, with stops for Chelsea buns at Jamie Oliver’s place and a few shops.

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We hopped in Will’s convertible, took photos along the Thames and then headed over to the Garrisonfor a traditional Sunday roast. This is the British brunch, with thick cuts of prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and seasonal vegetables.

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Properly fueled, we walked through Hyde Park and made our way to Buckingham Palace.

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We self audio-guided through the Palace – Char says the highlight was Kate’s dress, which was on display and surrounded by ogling women. By the time we had left the royal grounds, late afternoon was upon us and we were pretty beat.

We returned to Michelle and Will’s place and ordered some Asian takeout. The overnight flight and time difference had us in bed relatively early. Plus, tomorrow morning we’ve got an early curtain call.

Better luck with beaches in Tavira

Lisbon, Portugal

After my fail yesterday with our trip to overly windy Ilha da Tavira, Char took control this morning to ensure our last day in Portugal would be spent on a proper beach.

And, unsurprisingly, she came through! It wasn’t clearly marked and there was a bit of a walk from the parking lot, but Praia do Barril was perfect.

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Our stomachs growling for lunch, we got back on the road en route to Lisbon. About two hours later, we dropped off the rental car at the airport and checked into adjacent the Radisson Blue.

We were tempted to head into Lisbon for dinner but deferred to burgers and beers in the Radisson’s bar. Our flight back to New York, via Philadelphia, departs at 10:35 am tomorrow.

An afternoon on Ilha da Tavira

Tavira, Portugal

After a day of lounging at the hotel, we were well rested and ready to roll this morning for the drive to our final destination on the Algarve, the town of Tavira.

It was only about 45 minutes, but not without its mishap. We had booked a room at Hotel Vila Galé Tavira – but it turns out that there were actually two Vila Galé hotels in Tavira. Who would have thought! (And, unfortunately, one was a lot nicer than the other, and we were staying at the not so nice one.)

The hotel wasn’t terrible, just a bit older and more traditional than what we typically stay at. Despite this (and perhaps most importantly), the pool was still nice.

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After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we drove and caught a ferry to Ilha da Tavira, a quaint, car-free island. The beach was beautiful but Char said it was too windy (it was) so we didn’t spend much time there.

Luckily, there was an early return ferry to the mainland, which we caught and then proceeded to catch the tail end of the setting sun from our patio.

Day of rest at Pedra dos Bicos

Albufeira, Portugal

It was nice to sleep in this morning – and also to know that we didn’t need to move on to our next hotel. (We’re averaging a new one each day, so we were happy to “settle” in for two days – it’s like a record for us.)

As part of our day of rest, we agreed to stay at the hotel and just spend time tanning at the pool and going for a walk down by the beach.

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The beach was covered in small rocks and colorful shells that Char collected.

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On our walk back, we saw these super cool lights set out by the hotel pool deck. We agreed that they would make a good addition to our (future) home patio.

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After showering up, it was back to braving the Brits for dinner.

Portugal’s prettiest beach

Albufeira, Portugal

This morning we set out on a mission – to find that elusive beach in the Algarve, the one that has made this area such a popular destination for pasty-skinned Brits in search of sun.

Armed with a map, Lonely Planet and some tips from the concierge, we hit the road under sunny skies with high hopes.

Driving through Lagos, we found it. We parked the car in a public lot, waked down a steep encampment and put down our towels. Here is was, Praia da Marinha.

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With sheer limestone cliffs, crystal clear, calm water (perfect temperature, too), we had found it. This was Portugal’s prettiest beach. We promptly agreed to spend the day here.

As the late afternoon approached, we continued onward to Albufeira, the next stop on our road trip down the southern coast. Our destination was the Hotel Aqua Pedra dos Bicos, a stylish hotel with sweeping ocean views and massive room numbers.

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It turns out Albufeira the town isn’t much – overrun by sunburned Brits. We tried our best to avoid it all but ended up watching a Manchester United football match and drinking Guinness. We tried!

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