A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Alila Villas, Ubud

Just look at that infinity pool nested right on top of Ayud river Gorge.
Jungle luxury awaits!
When I think about the Alila Villas in Ubud, all I need to do is close my eyes and see all shades of green! 

The jungle retreat is spread out in structures that fit right in with the natural surroundings.
Take a step past the main lobby and you will spot the magnificent infinity pool down the steep steps designed after the stacked rice fields, in the surrounding area. 

Arriving here from Seminyak
was a little shock to our system, especially to our heads; have you ever experienced absolute silence to the point where your ears start buzzing - if not, then something is wrong with me!

That's exactly what happened, as soon as we arrived at the Alila. (check availability)
Crystal clear silence broken by the occasional bird or frog sound! If you want to clear your mind, there is no better place!

Right then, we did look at each other for a moment thinking... did we intend to be that isolated?

But during check-in, we received an invitation to pre-dinner drinks from the hotel management, so we got to mingle with other guests in the hotel art gallery on our first night.

Ubud centre is fifteen minutes away, the hotel shuttle runs four times a day, for free; plus a local taxi ride will cost you 70,000 rupiah (£3.50). So don't panic!
The hotel also organises special events for dinner; on our first night we sampled a spice market setting, with live barbecued prawns, suckling pig which is a local delicacy and traditional Balinese dancing.

There was a massive wooden box on the bed waiting for us, as we arrived that late afternoon: it was filled with two bottles of home-made brews and a packet of buttery cookies.
We lit a candle and a mosquito repellent, filled our glasses with the strong cinnamon alcoholic brew and sat outside ... green everywhere!

The gorge in front of our room was buzzing with animal sounds and on the right, deep in the horizon you could see the mountains in a bluish aura with in a light purple light surrounding them.
This was different to anywhere we'd been to before! 

Time to get ready for dinner: then you get to discover that the shower and bath are both outside! Drop a bamboo blind and you're in business.
When I showed the pictures to my friends I joked that before you "ooh and aah" take a minute to think that you are showering out in the open, alongside lizards and toads! (I didn't actually see any around our shower)
One of them - one of my friends I mean, not the lizards - promptly reminded me that I used to be a Girl-guide and I'm supposed to love and care for all animals out there... that cut me short! 

Breakfast was the best part of the day! Oh wait maybe afternoon tea by the pool is the best...oh nevermind...
Sitting outside, at the restaurant balcony, seemingly flowing over the gorge, amongst the clouds was the perfect way to start the day! Breakfast was all a-la-carte but it didn't disappoint! Everything seemed so clean and natural, croissants and eggs Benedict, smoothies and crepes with bananas hmmm...

The Spa is Alila's pride and joy.
You'll find it right on top of a small hill in the middle of the resort. Steps carved on the side of a hill give the impression that you are ascending on to a special place...architecturally the whole place is so well-thought and planned out!
Try the Balinese-style massage, it's got this constant flow of movements, rather than mere pressure; very light and relaxing...
Lounging around the pool mid-afternoon was extraordinary. Oh, the colours!  
Clouds constantly changing shapes and colours turning from white to silver and threatening grey, the light forever changing the shades on the trees and the pool water... jungle heaven! x 

Desa Melinggih Kelod, Payangan, Gianyar, Bali 80572, Indonesia
Phone:  +62 361 975963

Bali Temples: Pura Tanah Lot

All of the pictures of Tanah Lot remind me of Kung Fu Panda for some reason. This lonely tree on a rock, in the middle of the sea...has a certain resemblance... 

A wonderful place, if you discard the crowds! We drove up to Tanah Lot after visiting Pura Geger temple; two utterly different experiences.
This little rock with the monastic structure on top is absolutely sombre and romantic, in front of the setting sun.
However! In order to get to it, you have to navigate through a small city of shops that are there just for the tourists!
And once you get to the seaside you cannot get on the actual rock and climb up to the temple, unfortunately. We were told that certain tourists weren't showing the appropriate respect to the religious site hence they closed it for everybody, so frustrating!

On the way in we were sprinting to get to the seaside in desperation. Traffic around the site is horrendous because everybody flocks here for the sunset, so we were late - what a surprise!

On the way back we peaked at the shops. You can buy everything you can imagine, from wooden statues to shell-ornaments and from Kopi Luwak (Cat-poo coffee) to Ralph Lauren clothes; 
there's an actual Ralphie shop within the historic site!
They expect you to bargain, just like in India, but they are not interested if you start comparing prices and push it too much, they are quite proud like that. 

You have to find your perfect spot amongst hundreds of people, on a cliff across the temple, to watch the sunset in the magnificent Bali Sea.
There are lots of little restaurants there, so we grabbed a front row table, popped a straw in an orange Fanta bottle and waited. Whole families sit around, i-devices in hand, to document the event.
It reminded me of Santorini, when the sun sets, everybody goes quite and the sun dips into the ocean.
After the commotion of finding a good spot there comes a moment when everybody settles down and it goes quite, nature takes over with a show of colours and the clouds make their guest appearance.
Don't leave your spot before you catch the absolute last glimpses of twilight;
after the sun has set, there is this deep - orange and purple colour in the sky for a couple of moments;
a mystical aura covers the place as the tourists walk away and you are left there in absolute peace!

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone Cream

Why does this feel "right" to make around Easter, I don't know! It must be the bunny connection...
I'm not usually fond of carrot cakes because they tend to be dry; this one is soft and packs a crunch because of the chopped pecans. And then off course, there is Mascarpone, sweet, fluffy cream involved...

For the cake:
200gr ground carrots 
3/4 Cup of caster sugar 
2 large eggs
250ml Olive oil
1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice (or whack some cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg with the pestle and mortar) 
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans or hazelnuts
1 lemon, just the zest
3 tablespoons sultanas

Mascarpone Cream:
250gr Mascarpone 
250ml Double Cream
3 tablespoons icing sugar

Start with washing, peeling and grating the carrots.
Butter two cake tins and line them with baking paper. Put the oven on to 180C.
In a bowl whisk together the sugar and eggs and drizzle in the olive oil slowly.
Combine the flour with the mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda and add it to the sugar and eggs mixture.
Use the whisk to get use of big flour lumps and then carry on with a spatula until you have a smooth batter.
Add in the chopped pecans, sultanas, lemon jest and grated carrots. Keep folding the ingredients into the mixture until they are all distributed evenly.
Bake for 35- 40 minutes in 180C. Use a toothpick to check if the middle is cooked throughout.
Take the cakes out of the oven and let them cool down while you prepare the filling.

Whisk together the mascarpone, double cream and icing sugar until you have a uniformly smooth cream.
Lay the first sponge on a serving platter, cover with half of the mascarpone cream, layer the second cake on top of the first and cover generously with the rest of the cream.
If the individual cakes are quite plump, you can always slice them along in halves and have four cake layers instead of two. Use less of the cream on each layer and rest assured that it makes quite an impression when you cut it through!

Seminyak After Dark - Three Spots {Not To Be Missed}

Seminyak really reminded me of the Med in the summer, i.e.: loved it! 

Boutiques, cafés and restaurants stay open until late in the evening and cater for all tastes and budgets.

Muppets take over the roads and traffic is horrendous throughout day…and night.
Taxi rides cost a minimum of 30,000 rupiah (£1.50) but if you manage to flag them down out and about, local trips start from as low as 12,000 rupiah (£0.60). It's not that you worry about the pennies but you get wonderfully caught up in local life...

Really chic and cool restaurants and clubs to choose from; dress up (or down) and you’ll fit right in; either way be comfortable and relaxed!

One. Ku De Ta
All of our friends who live in Singapore recommended Ku De Ta in Seminyak.  
So, first night on the island out come the summer dresses {to show off the newly tanned shoulders} and off we went. 

A whimsical entrance: wooden lit baskets hanging from a big Banyan tree, sounds of bubbling water from the little fountain in the courtyard and steps leading up to the open Balinese lounge.
Now, a confession: we found that overall, cocktails here in Bali aren’t too strong or too sweet. So, ask for more syrup or an extra shot if you wish, they are happy to oblige. 

Food is as good as it gets. It was probably one of the most expensive dinners we had in Bali, £40 per person for a starter, a main and two cocktails each. 
Don't think that this is your typical stuffy place though, we found it almost a bit mysterious, all dim lit and open plan, flowing from inside to the garden and back.
The evening we got to Ku De Ta it was drizzling with rain and while we sat inside, both sides of the long restaurant were completely open and you could feel the breeze along with the sounds of the ocean in the background. 

Cocktails and smiles...we are in Bali - cool, collected and quiet excitement scream

One of the starters was a Balinese salad with soft shell crab, what a treat!
We really filled up on soft shell crab during this trip, it’s widely available and quite reasonably priced; make sure you enjoy it if you have a taste for it.

I had an abstract version of roast pork, along with crackling and potato puree. The pork loin was really soft and succulent, the crackling crispy and the puree…well a nice alternative to lumpy mash that we normally get in UK. Great combo not only of flavours but of different textures too. 
Music gave the place a loungey (but not sleepy) vibe, with a good tempo and upbeat feel...
Two. The Sardine
I was excited about this one. 
It’s not located right on the beach but hidden away behind a wall in one of the quitter roads around Seminyak. The wooden door, right on the busy street, doesn’t prepare you for the buzzing venue you are about to enter.

First the main structure hits you with its tall Balinese straw roof and the two eyes behind the main bar looking straight at you. Then you turn around and see a massive red face on the wall, serving as water fountain, similar to the ones you see in front of houses to ward off evil spirits. 

And finally, we couldn’t hold back a smile, when our hostess took us all the way down the end of the main restaurant to the open space of the private rice paddy, where you can enjoy your pre-dinner drink. Wow! Now I know how kids feel when they first arrive at a playground! A rice paddy... but we are not in Ubud yet! Well, hidden around Seminyak are small rice paddies and this one worked as the romantic backdrop for this superb restaurant. 

Frozen Arak and a view of the rice paddy

I tried the local Arak frozen with lemongrass. Nice but not too strong and melting very quickly because of the immense heat. So, drinking it was more of a race against the heat ...excuses, I just needed a second cocktail pronto! Ask for mosquito repellent spray, if you don’t carry around your own. Since you are sitting next to stagnant water, it’s only expected that you’ll be bitten a bit, bear with it, it’s all worth it. 

This is one of the best fish restaurants in Seminyak, reasonably priced, £30 per person for a seafood starter, fish main and a couple of cocktails. Try local fish like Mahi Mahi or Himachi, light and flaky, served with delicate salads with asian hints of lemongrass, chilli and green papaya. 

Three. Potato Head
LA? Miami? This cannot be Indonesia…what a unique, colourful venture. 
Every corner was excreting artistic wittiness, all wrapped up in a 50’s retro vibe. 

The green emerald pool is the main focus with the two restaurants and bars wrapped up in a semi-moon shape, around it. 

We had dinner at the Indonesian restaurant "Lilin" because unfortunately, the French fine cuisine one closes by 10 o'clock and you have to have a booking in advance.  Lilin is set up like a college mess. Long communal tables - with a view of the pool nevertheless -  low shades for lighting resembling library tables but constant buzz from the beach universe!  
You get four tapas-style starters for £15. The combo we went for was: duck in red curry - rich and velvety, white snapper fillets - light and flavoursome, mango salad - the other thing I loved in Bali apart from soft shell crab, refreshing, zingy and delicate! 

When we were coming back from Tanah Lot our driver suggested we try a local dish called Ayam Betutu, chicken with spices in other words. Well...it came, still cooking over hot coal! Points for "sizzling" presentation! 

Emerald waters and chilled music...
We finished dinner around twelve-ish and the night was just starting...the loungers around the pool were buzzing, not a single spot to be found!
Lovely energy, relaxed people chatting and lounging...yeap this is what it's all about!


Rhinefield House, New Forest

If you are looking for a special Spring escape from London, the New Forest is always a brilliant choice. It's only an hour and a half drive away for you to get to this magical kingdom of wild horses, lush forests and...seaside! It doesn't get better than that.
My boyfriend (at the time, he is my husband now) and I, have always been very keen to explore the English countryside and a couple of years ago we came across the "Handpicked" chain of boutique hotels that specialise in period properties and converted manor houses. Young and foolish at the time, we promised ourselves that we would visit each and every one of the properties eventually. Bearing in mind that some of them are pricier than others, we have managed to stay in four so far.

Rhinefield House is one of the Handpicked hotels and is lodged right in the heart of the New Forest. The house is impressive but the gardens take your breath away.

Our room was in the new extension, a corner suite with wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling windows that make you see green, literally; no, not with envy! you feel you are in a treehouse, a very comfortable and high-tech treehouse!

There is an outdoors pool, which is all you need on sunny days. There is a Spa too for the rainy days, but it's on the smaller side. If you visit you don't want to be stuck indoors, bring your wellies along and hike around the forest or take a picnic basket and head to the beach. The coastline is superb and when the tide is out, it feels like you can walk all the way to the Isle of White.

If you want to pop out for dinner, try the Pig in Brockenhurst but make sure you get there early enough to catch the sun setting amongst the trees, while you sit on the massive swing in the garden. x
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