It's 6am on a steamy Bali morning at the Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua Resort, and I'm up to meet my friend for a workout; not something I would usually do but we had that start-of-trip optimistic rejuvenating energy and we'd seen the impressive facilities at the SoFit gym. The plan was to take it easy, 20 minutes tops, and then sit down to a breakfast at the Pan-Asian market-style Kwee Zeen restaurant adjacent. We'd talked about it the night before, firming up our meeting point and time; we just didn't know that the staff had overheard and instinctively organised something special.
At 6.05am we were stealthily whisked by golf buggy away from the gym through narrow paths flanked by lush foliage and chirping birds to a grand beachside conference hall where four buff trainers eagerly awaited. With all eyes on us, two nervous students were taken on a course starting with an entree of Zumba dancing, then a main of extreme bootcamp, the same that NASA astronauts are subjected to, followed by a massage. It was unexpected and over the top, painful while it happened, but it felt good. It's just one example of the intuitive experiences at this resort.
Walk out of your suite or villa and there's a smiling golf buggy driver available to take you across the resort's sprawling 8 hectares to the beach, to the pool or to breakfast. Dial 0 and the butler can arrive at your door to replenish the macarons, unpack your suitcase, or iron your shirt, if that's what you desire. It's all part of the plan. General manager Sylvain Pasdeloup has gathered the best staff he has worked with over the years, and all beam with an enthusiasm born out of shared experiences, including a particularly gruelling launch. This was the hotel that opened early in order to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 2013.
Harmonising the outdoors with the indoors is an essential step in channelling the serenity of a paradise like Bali. I'm staying in a walled pool villa, one of 17 in the resort. The bathroom (with an abundance of Hermes products) opens up to a private terrace garden where splashes of vivid colour from orchids, heliconias and frangipani contrast with the marble floors and deep terrazzo bathtub. Open the French shutters from the bedroom and you can slip into your own plunge pool and then choose to lay back on the sun lounge or take a afternoon siesta in a cloud-like Sofitel signature MyBed.
Equally impressive, the Pool Access rooms on the ground floor of the main complex are flanked by a long pool; you can wake up, walk out to your patio, jump in and paddle down to breakfast at the Beach Bar and Grill.
The glamour is upped a notch for those who choose club access. At Club Millesime you can enjoy an a la carte buffet breakfast, high tea in the afternoon and cocktails and tapas at dusk. There's an extensive library of books to leaf through, a children's play area and an indoor/outdoor pool.
The stretch of white sanded beach in front of the resort, framed by palms, is strikingly beautiful, especially when enjoying a beach BBQ under the stars or attending a wedding at their new beachside "Jewel Box'' glass-walled chapel.
It's all a revelation to me. Last time I was in Bali I was a child in the 1980s. My visit coincided with President Ronald Reagan's "winds of freedom", tour. No sign of the Gipper at the hotel we bunked at in Kuta but I do remember spying Irish singer Feargal Sharkey lounging by the seaside eating a plate of average looking nasi goreng. Shopping then consisted of pirated cassette tape shops (Feargal's works included) and oversized "Bali" singlets, now replaced by a mix of upscale resort-style boutiques, art galleries and yoga studios.
It's also much easier to arrive in style these days. Qantas has recommenced year-round flights after a successful summer season, and the relatively new terminal at Denpasar International Airport makes getting through a breeze. A quick shuttle along Bali Mandara Toll Road means that within an hour of disembarking we were sitting in the open air lobby lounge looking out to the ocean with a welcoming cocktail in hand, followed by a visit to the spa.
They take pampering seriously here. There are two So Spa locations, one beachside on canopied day beds and its glorious temple of wellbeing with high ceilings, Clarins products, a singing bowl to start the treatment and Elvis cooing over the sound system; they did promise to attend to all the senses in the leaflet! On top of this, there's an anti-aging wellness facility called Vietura serving up a menu of botox, dermal fillers and threading if you feel the jowls need a lift. Those desiring inner wellness can opt for colon hydrotherapy or IV drip nutrition.
Come dinner and there's an array of cuisine on offer at Cut Catch Cucina, a combined steakhouse, sea grill section and Italian Osteria. The restaurant also serves as the venue for Balinese cooking classes with executive chef Daine Gilbert. Originally from Brisbane, he's a skilled leader, who tends daily to the on-site vegie garden. He passionately talks us through all the steps to making his hot, sweet and spicy Balinese paste. We sit down for lunch to sample our Sate Lilit (minced seafood sate) and Ayam Pelalah (shredded chicken chilli and lime) together with bright green pandanus crepe with sweet grated coconut.
The real food highlight though is the weekend brunches where stations of seafood, sushi, roasts and sweet treats are set up, including (it was the holiday season) a giant gingerbread house and fairy floss. One more day and we might need to have considered the endless rounds of burpees at bootcamp again, or at least beachside yoga. Instead we are shuttled back to our villas to take one last rejuvenating private plunge.
Qantas flies four times a week between Sydney and Denpasar with additional flights over summer. See qantas.com.au
Rooms at the Sofitel Nusa Dua Beach Resort start at about $235 a night for two, with pool access rooms from $430 a night. See sofitel.com
Andrea Black was a guest of Accor Hotels and Qantas