The villa people

Breathtaking ... Karma Kandara Resort sits on a secluded stretch of coastline.
Breathtaking ... Karma Kandara Resort sits on a secluded stretch of coastline. 

Elicia Murray enjoys luxury and monkey business at a cliff-top oasis in Bali.

There are intruders at Karma Kandara, just waiting to break in. You see them as you walk around the winding pathways bordered by whitewashed walls and lush tropical gardens. They leer at you as you survey the panoramic view of the Indian Ocean from the cliff-top bar, and spy as you laze on the deck of your private pool.

Given the right conditions - an open door and a bowl of fruit should do it - they have no qualms about coming inside and making themselves at home. But we're too smart for these cheeky monkeys, so the furry fugitives creep off to find other victims to stalk, other visitors' sunglasses to pinch.

My husband and I had long resisted Bali as a holiday destination, having neither body ink nor bone structures naturally flattered by braids. In the past year or two, however, we had noticed a shift among friends traditionally happy to stay at rustic shacks on secluded beaches in Thailand or Vietnam. They started returning from Bali raving about the food, the resorts and the beaches. Perhaps it's a sign of ageing - many now have young families and these days prefer creature comforts with their cocktails. Whatever the cause, it convinced us to give the island a go.

The guest villas have all the comforts.
The guest villas have all the comforts. 

Karma Kandara, which opened in 2007, is 15 kilometres from Denpasar airport. During this trip, we experience our first taste of Bali's shocking traffic. The journey takes the best part of an hour, much of it at a standstill. We later discover gridlock is not confined to such things as peak hours, striking much of the day and long into the night.

After checking in, we are driven via buggy to our four-bedroom villa. With high white walls and brilliant splashes of bougainvillea, the resort looks like a cross between a Greek village and a tropical paradise.

The isolation is a big part of Karma Kandara's charm.

The spacious villa is contemporary in design, with elegant Balinese touches, including intricately carved timber door frames. A fully equipped kitchen is generously sized and the main living/dining room is also enormous. In the main bedroom, a white-curtained canopy king bed has a view over the deck and pool. There are twin sinks and a shower in the en suite, and a deep bathtub in a sheltered courtyard. Bliss.

If inside is understated chic, outside is in-your-face wow. Lush gardens frame our private infinity pool. There is an embarrassment of places to kick back, from a cabana in a corner of the grounds to a shaded rooftop area with incredible ocean views. A la carte breakfast of mostly Western dishes is served at Di Mare, a restaurant perched 85 metres above the ocean.

Chilling out is our top priority on this holiday. So rather than hiring motorbikes and tearing around the countryside, we head to Nammos, Karma Kandara's beach club, accessible via an inclinator. A thatch-roofed bar and restaurant area opens to a wide stretch of sand dotted with sun lounges.

From Nammos, you can't see any of the other resorts on this stretch of coastline. It feel deliciously secluded. Waiters deliver cocktails and beers and, come lunchtime, a Mediterranean-inspired menu features wood-fired pizzas and locally caught seafood.

Flippers and goggles can be borrowed at no charge. There are fish and areas of coral to see, but it's not the world's greatest snorkelling.

The isolation is a big part of Karma Kandara's charm.

On the downside, it means limited choice when it comes to dining.

Di Mare's lunch and dinner menus are also Mediterranean-style, with dishes including citrus-cured salmon and Jimbaran Bay red snapper escabeche with preserved lemon, cured tomatoes and basil coulis. The prices are comparable with high-end restaurants in Seminyak. Most of our meals are fine but not quite up to the standard of other places we sample, notably the impressive modern Indonesian fare of Warung at Alila Villas Uluwatu (alilahotels.com/uluwatu) nearby.

And a warning for wine drinkers: a whopping tax makes vino a luxury in Bali. We splash out on a few bottles but in the main stick to beer or cocktails. The resort also imposes an 11 per cent tax and 10 per cent service charge on most things.

For littlies, there's a kids' club. Long stays might induce fits of boredom, depending on the child. Karma Jimbaran, not far away, is more family-friendly.

And for grown-ups? A schedule of activities, including yoga and water sports, changes daily.

Thrill-seekers hungry for an adrenalin rush every day might find the resort less than ideal. But if you're happy to marinate in the sun and surf for days on end with no concerns greater than what to eat next, it's just the ticket.

 

Trip notes

Where Karma Kandara Resort, Jalan Villa Kandara, Banjar Wijaya Kusuma, Ungasan, Bali, Indonesia, karmakandara.com.

How much Villas from $650 a night; grand cliff-top residence from $5000 a night. Deals often available during quieter periods.

Top marks What must surely rate as one of the most picturesque day spas in the world, perched in a cluster of shacks hugging the cliff-top. Who needs whale music when you can open the windows and hear the sound of the surf below? Top-notch facials and massages, too.

Black mark Some of our instructions to staff were lost in translation, resulting in incorrect dishes and bookings.

Don't miss A session in the glass-walled infra-red sauna, followed by a soak in the cliff-top Himalayan crystal salt pool. Make a booking at sunset for uninterrupted indulgence.

 

The writer was a guest of Karma Kandara Resort.

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