It's impossible to keep anything on the down low in Bali. On any given weekend, someone you know is living it up on the island of the gods and pilgrimaging to the usual beach clubs and restaurants. Been there, done that. Hip hotbed Seminyak now boasts more cafés than Melbourne's CBD, laid-back Canggu is careening rapidly to become the new Seminyak, Nusa Dua is home to cashed-up honeymooners, while eat-pray-love yogis flock in droves to Ubud.
That leaves us with an underrated sweet spot: Jimbaran. This fishing community on Bali's southern coast is wildly popular for its seafood restaurants, but there's more to it than meets the eye. Characterised by local villages and religious traditions, Jimbaran has attracted discerning travellers looking for a cultural hit and a quintessential Balinese experience.
Nestled in the hills of Jimbaran is The Longhouse, a new boutique hotel and private villa concept unlike anything else in Bali. Guests have the option of booking just one of its six unique rooms, or the entire villa if they're travelling in a large group. Stepping into The Longhouse is a treat for the senses in itself — its main lounge area offers sublime vistas to behold. You're looking out into unobstructed views of Bali's web of villages, framed by the majestic Mount Agung. Birds and dragonflies fly into your line of sight, alongside planes from the nearby international airport — a short 20-minute drive away. At night, stillness descends on the island and the twinkling lights from the streetlamps below mirror the sky full of stars.
Take your pick of rooms depending on where your preference lies. Folks that enjoy luxuriating in the comfort of their rooms should go for the Bali Suite, a massive, homely retreat with a study, courtyard garden (with your own waterfall), and private plunge pool. The Lombok Suite, on the other hand, while just as spacious, will cater to sticklers for gorgeous bathrooms. Featuring both indoor and outdoor showers and bathtubs, and double stone basins, you'll want to spend hours soaking in the bubble bath of your dreams. There's also a private terrace complete with your own daybed for lazy afternoons.
Otherwise, the Sumatra Suite offers a huge stone bathtub set in lush greenery, the Sumba Suite showcases the art of Ikat and a pale gold onyx stone bathroom, while the East and West Java Suites are great for travellers who prefer two super single beds.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Food is at the heart and centre of The Longhouse, and Chef Ngurah and his affable team make sure your every need catered for. The minute you lounge by the pool or sink into a plush sofa, someone scurries up and asks if you'd like a drink. There's a wide range of dining options here — from Western to Indonesian, and the team is incredibly flexible. If you're booking out the entire villa, plan out your meals with Chef Ngurah upon arrival — he will then do a grocery shop for your entire posse and cook it up to perfection. Meals are charged at ingredient price plus an additional 20 percent. As a solo traveller or if you're simply booking out a room, there's a few options available daily which you're welcome to partake of.
Chef Ngurah's cooking class is a must-try. An early morning start saw us trail him to the local wet and dry market, where we watched him pick up fish and spices in a dank space filled with lively chatter and music from the local community. We learnt the ropes of making a fragrant chicken tossed in a Balinese yellow spice paste, succulent prawns with a Balinese red spice paste, and mixed vegetables with grated coconut. The chicken was fall off the bone tender, while the prawns were beautifully juicy and given the right amount of chewiness. After sweating it out in the kitchen, tuck into your dishes alongside a generous helping of coconut rice. A wide selection of cocktails, mocktails and award-winning wines accompany each meal.
Also call for Chef Ngurah's gado-gado, a spicy Indonesian salad tossed with crunchy vegetables, chilli peanut sauce, fried tofu, tempeh, lontong (rice wrapped in a banana leaf) and a sprinkling of prawn crackers. It's refreshingly light yet filling, making for a delightful lunch option. Finally, don't miss out on The Longhouse's al fresco seafood dinner, served under the stars on a private terrace. With a selection of masterfully grilled fish, prawns, and squid bringing out the freshness of the catch, you're in no better spot for this visual and gastronomic feast than in this Jimbaran property.
A LOOK AT BALINESE CULTURE
Mornings are best done at The Longhouse's on-site yoga bale, where the team organises for classes and Balinese meditation sessions to take place. Surrounded by birds chirping and the scent of forests after the rain, the relaxed vibes are set to centre any guest. There's a list of daily treatments in the spa, from Balinese massages to their famed hair cream baths, which you can relish in after.
Despite the hordes of tourists to Bali yearly, little is known about Balinese living. If you'd like to dig a little deeper, private tours can be arranged to a local village nearby. Hepy, one of the staff at The Longhouse, welcomes guests to her home for afternoon tea and a spot of dancing. Located a mere five-minute drive (or 10-minute walk) from The Longhouse, you'll find a large compound of several single-storey houses surrounding a courtyard. We're told this is typical of Balinese families, where most still live together. Each property has a family shrine, dedicated to various Hindu gods, situated in the most auspicious northeast corner of the compound.
Hepy's SariWangi tea (local black tea) and rice flour cakes with dessicated coconut were crowd-pleasers, as was the traditional dance we learnt from her female family members — most of them under the age of 16. They enthusiastically tied sashes around our waists as we gyrated — albeit awkwardly — to their precise, fluid movements. We might not have been the best dancers on the block, but participating in this dance was a nod to their vibrant culture, which had more depth than we ever imagined.
Hip squads are always on a merry hunt for the likes of sophisticated beach clubs, modern minimalist restaurants and decidedly cool stores. The good news is, Jimbaran has its fair share of these likeable establishments. Pop into Cuca, voted one of the best restaurants in Bali, for a melange of tapas and cocktails. Best spot in the house? The elevated bar, where you might just spot Masterchef moments and deft hands at work.
Fat Chow is another great option for those who are after hearty Asian fusion bites. Call for the Chick in Pandan, a boneless chicken marinated in Thai spices and wrapped in pandan leaves. The Pork on Fire is thinly sliced, sautéed with black pepper and Asian spices — no less than a flavour pairing made in heaven.
At sundown, take the road less travelled and drive 15 minutes to El Kabron, perched 50 metres above sea level on the cliffs of Uluwatu. This Spanish restaurant and cliff club is a sight to behold — an endless painting of white and blue, where the pool's edge seems to tip right over into the ocean below. Get a cocktail, order a few tapas dishes to share, and kick back to upbeat beach tunes and that paddle pop sunset. Heaven is indeed close.