With blood red sunsets, fire-wielding dancers and beaches to take your breath away, Bali is an island of dreams, says Katie Wright
The sun is setting over the clifftop Uluwatu Temple and a huge white monkey is taking aim at a ring of fire balls, kicking them one by one into the air as an increasingly alarmed audience looks on.
But they needn’t worry. There’s not a hint of animal cruelty here.
The mischievous primate is actually a human dancer playing the part of Hanoman, the magical monkey sent to rescue goddess Sita from the clutches of the evil Ravana, in a traditional Kecak Dance performance.
With a choir chanting rhythmically against the backdrop of a stunning sunset, it’s a breathtaking way to start my trip to Bali.
Known as the Island of the Gods, the Indonesian province famously practises Balinese Hinduism. But it’s not just religious beliefs that give this place such a heavenly status. Several luxurious resorts offer visitors an opportunity to worship the beautiful natural surroundings, making Bali a beach destination to rival the likes of the Maldives and the Seychelles.
I’m staying at The Mulia, an uber-luxe resort in Nusa Dua on the southern tip of the island, which was voted best beach resort in the world by glossy magazine Conde Nast Traveler USA last year. Rooms range from stunning suites with terraces and hot tubs, to secluded private villas with butler service, and I’m lucky enough to be staying in the latter.
The resort overlooks a picture-perfect private beach where the waves lap ever so gently on the white sand shore. The pools are equally picturesque, so I spend my first few days horizontal on a sun lounger and develop a mild addiction to coconut juice, supped from a freshly cut green fruit.
The property sprawls over a gently sloping hillside, with the villas, situated at the highest point, offering the most stunning views over neighbouring islands.
The resort opened just over two years ago, so the design and decor are modern but still beautifully reflect Indonesian heritage, with sloping roofs and heavy carved wooden doors.
Likewise, the serene spa features the latest treatment technology, but therapists are also trained in Balinese techniques, while the restaurant selection offers the best of Asian cuisine - there are standalone Japanese and Chinese restaurants - as well as flavours from further afield.
I’m delighted to discover a sushi buffet at almost every meal (yes, even breakfast) while the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, popular with non-residents too, is a global feast of epic proportions.
A lot of tourist attractions in Bali revolve around religion and, on the half-hour drive from Denpasar airport to The Mulia, I lose count of the number of temples we pass. But that’s not all Bali has to offer.
Ubud town is the cultural capital of the isle and is filled with beautiful galleries selling artworks depicting scenes from the island.
By midday, the temperature has topped 30 degrees, so I go in search of some food and lunch.
My local guide, Anto, drops me off at the side of a busy road and directs me along a quiet track between two rows of houses.
Within minutes, houses give way to palm trees and the sound of wind chimes signals I’m close to the famous Balinese rice paddies.
I arrive at the Sari Organik restaurant and flop down onto a big cushion at a low table looking out to the lush fields. One chilled, homemade lemongrass tea later and I’m feeling as relaxed and refreshed as the Burmese cat snoozing nearby.
I tuck into a delicious plate of Nasi Goreng, fried rice with salad and spicy vegetables, just as the heavens open. It may be monsoon season when I visit, but the daily (or mostly nightly) downpours thankfully never interfere with my activities.
At the bustling Ubud market I make a beeline for a sign that reads Balinese Massage, having heard the island’s full-body treatment is not to be missed.
It’s heavenly, and costs 60,000 rupiah (about £3). I decide that next time I visit Bali, I’m going to have one every day.
I float back to the bus in a blissed-out reverie and snooze for our 90-minute drive back to Nusa Dua.
However you play it, Bali offers a unique mix of lively towns, Hindu heritage and sunsets so serene they’ll relax even the most stressed out westerner.
Just as long as you steer clear of those flying balls of fire.
*Katie Wright was a guest of The Mulia & Mulia Villas (www.themulia.com) where rooms are available from £475 per room per night (two adults sharing), including breakfast and afternoon tea (taxes extra)
*Flights from London to Bali with Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com) start from £596 in economy and £2,357 in Business Class.