The first time I visited Bali in the '90s, wide-eyed and sticking out like a sore thumb to opportunist hawkers, my then boyfriend and I heard about a high tea experience at Canggu. We were staying at Legian, and paid a driver to take us. We drove through endless miles of rice fields, and small villages where stray dogs, chickens and barefoot kids roamed free. We finally arrived in the largely deserted village of Canggu. There, we found a charming hotel filled with an impressive collection of Indonesian antiques and individually styled thatched suites, reminiscent of the Bali of old.
After countless trips to Bali in the decades since, I stumble once more upon the tiny Hotel Tugu, only now it's almost lost in a sea of funky beach clubs, hip bars and yoga studios.
It's here in Bali's latest hot spot you'll also find the uber cool new Como Uma Canggu, this year's most anticipated Bali hotel opening, by the luxury Singaporean hotel and resort group Como. This stylish new beachside resort ups the luxe factor on the black volcanic sands of Canggu, a hipster coastal village offering some of Bali's most coveted surf breaks. In fact, it's the first international five-star hotel opening in Canggu, widely touted as the new Seminyak.
Fronting Echo Beach on Bali's south-west coast, with a less frenetic surf scene minus the Kuta crowds (although that's changing fast), the resort reflects Canggu's relaxed coastal lifestyle.
"It offers the option of staying in a more laid-back place where you can still have your morning coffee with a view over beautiful rice paddies, yet Seminak is within easy reach," says Eugene Feklistov, Como Bali's regional director of sales and marketing.
Guests arrive off the main thoroughfare leading to Echo Beach. The street is lined with small market stalls, warungs, surf shops, bars, and more surfboard-carrying moped drivers than outlets selling acai, smoothie and poke bowls. Increasingly, there are fewer reasons to leave Canggu to find nightlife, shopping and eating out.
Como Uma Canggu brings together local and European influences, along with a fabulous beach club by Milan designer Paola Navone. The Como Beach Club is the hub of the resort and features Navone's signature style with its blend of contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship. Attentive staff ensure everything runs like clockwork.
Three of the resort's five buildings are grouped around a 115-metre lagoon pool, and being Como, there's the requisite on-site Como Shambhala Spa. Here eight treatment rooms deliver Asian-inspired therapies, and the impressive fitness centre offers twice-daily yoga and Pilates. Classes range from hatha, the fast-paced rocket yoga, through to yogalates.
The penthouses are the pick of the accommodation. With 400 square metres of sprawling luxury over two levels, they have 10-metre private rooftop pools and views of the Indian Ocean framed by striking arched roof-lines. If you're celebrating a special occasion, or travelling with extended family or friends, these are the rooms to book.
The 119 rooms (once the resort is fully opened) were designed by Japanese-born designer Koichiro Ikebuchi. Some have courtyards and outdoor showers; others direct access to the lagoon pool.
Both novice and veteran surfers are well catered for here, thanks to a partnership with luxury-focused and Australian-based wave-riding experts Tropicsurf.
Frustratingly during our stay, there are no waves but despite this, scores of hopefuls paddle out the back, sitting on their boards, chewing the fat.
Tropicsurf's resident instructor C.J. Kimell says there are six proper surf breaks within walking distance of the resort. At $US95 a person, it isn't cheap, but what you do get is one on one instruction (there is a maximum of four guests a lesson), new equipment and customised lessons under C.J.'s patient tuition.
After surfing, head for the Beach Club for swanky poolside reclining and dining next to the resort's second 25-metre pool. Here executive chef Dwayne Cheer, a Kiwi, mans the 1.5-metre wood fired grill and 1500-degree pizza oven (it can perfectly cook a pizza in 90 seconds). The menu is inspired by Cheer's global travels and his Moroccan wife so expect everything from pan-Asian to African and Ramadan dishes. Feeling virtuous? Order a juice from the beach-style bar and tuck into a red quinoa bowl with tempeh, soft boiled egg, avocado, sprouts and nori.
Personally, I love nothing better than ordering an Orient Express (a very fancy G&T) kicking back on the club's swing beds and watching the colourful parade of locals, travellers and ex pats pass by. As C.J. puts it: "There are many places in the world with coconuts and waves, but nowhere like Bali where the local culture adds a rich depth to its incense-scented backdrop."
Rooms from $US290 a night plus taxes including breakfast and Wi-Fi. Non guests can access the Como Beach Club and pool for IDR500,000 (about $50) minimum spend. See comohotels.com
FIVE MUST-DOS IN CANGGU
Take a left from the resort and walk along the beach to Old Man's for sundowners with the cool kids. See oldmans.net
Book for Sunday brunch at Slow, a hipster bolthole with a cool bar, restaurant, gallery and rooftop party space. See theslow.id
Take a yoga class with the expat and yogi crowd at the Practice. See thepracticebali.com
If you can handle the crowds, head to Crate Cafe for coffee and Instagrammable acai bowls with rice paddy views. See instagram.com/cratecafe
Canggu's coolest club, 40 thieves, is a New York-style speakeasy offering craft cocktails upstairs and Japanese ramen downstairs. See facebook.com/40thieves.bali
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Como Hotels and Resorts.
See also: The best time of the year to visit Bali