On a visit to Bali, the art of the island was top of our list of things to experience, with its culinary delights a close second. Our quest began in Sanur, a quieter place that we found very much to our liking. Its celebrated art museum, tasteful resorts and restaurants are set back in lush gardens overlooking the beaches and calm waters inside the reef.
On arrival at Denpasar airport, we happily embraced the evening's tropical warmth. Quickly shuttled to our resort, we were soon asleep to the murmur of surf on the outer reef. Birdsong, rippling wavelets and a crimson sunrise awoke us. We lingered through breakfast in the tropical garden.
The historic Le Mayeur Museum was a short, palm-shaded walk along the Sanur beach boardwalk from our resort. The museum is a trove of Balinese art treasures. Adrien Le Mayeur captured the simplicity and innocence of a bygone era in his vibrant paintings - 80 are on display. In 1932 he married a beautiful Balinese dancer, Ni Polok, who was often the model for his paintings. They lived the idyllic lifestyle in Sanur until Le Mayeur's death in 1958.
Back on the boardwalk, the aroma of lunch from beachfront braziers hung in the air. A winning smile lured us into a warung, a small family-owned cafe, where we ate Bali satay lilit or fish on a stick while watching fishermen skilfully cast their nets across the lagoon. The warungs of Bali are an institution. Inexpensive, they offer their variations of Balinese recipes in relaxed, pleasant environments. The next day, we hired a limo and driver and headed north, up through the rice paddies to the hillside artists' community of Ubud. This centre of Balinese art and culture is also a popular tourist centre with a busy market, enticing commercial art galleries, countless cafes and restaurants, and some up-market villa accommodation.
Ubud's Museum Puri Lukisan is a remarkable complex built in the form of a temple surrounded by terraced gardens, pools and fountains. The three-gallery museum was founded in 1956 by a Balinese prince and Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet. The museum preserves traditional Balinese art and the more modern paintings of Balinese community life by local artists. The art covers the period 1930-70 and includes works by expats Bonnet and the German, Walter Spies. Of note is I Ketut Budiana's surreal masterpiece Kalarau, or The Demon Who Swallows the Moon Goddess. The museum setting is serene and the open bale is an ideal spot for a light lunch.
Nearby Antonio Blanco Museum is a bizarre palatial building and gallery. A mixture of Balinese and Spanish architecture, it was home to Blanco, his Balinese wife and their four children. The Spanish artist's eccentricity evokes comparison to Salvador Dali. Blanco was captivated by the female form and many of his paintings are of nude females. His studio was left as it was on his death in 1999. It seemed that he might walk in at any moment, take up his brush and resume painting.
Founded by Suteja Neka in 1982, the pavilions of the Neka Art Museum of Ubud are set in another exquisite garden. Each absorbing gallery presents contrasting styles of contemporary Balinese art and historic photos by Balinese artists and expats who lived and painted in the region.
In Sanur that evening, we relaxed over dinner at the Hyatt's Cupak Bistro with tender grilled pork with Balinese spices and rice, then lemon granitas for dessert. In the garden, an older musician and his young student played melodic harmonies on a bamboo gamelan.
Beautifully tended gardens surround Bali's galleries, public buildings and resorts. For nearly 40 years, the glorious 14.5ha garden at the Bali Hyatt has delighted its guests. Designed by Australian Kerry Hill, exotic trees, bougainvillea, flowering shrubs, a lotus pond and the spectrum of tropical plants has matured to full grandeur.
As first-time visitors to Bali, my wife and I spent a few days in Sanur followed by a spell across the island in Seminyak on the west coast. In search of dinner on our first evening in Seminyak, we observed a Balinese girl turning butterflied chicken over a brazier outside a small tree-shrouded bungalow. Inside we found a homey little restaurant with an assortment of tables, chairs and colourful tablecloths. This was Warung Eny's. We watched Eny, her husband and three children chop, spice and cook a variety of dishes including our excellent grilled shredded chicken with lemongrass. We topped up with mango sticky rice pudding with cream coconut sauce - and all for just $10.
The following day, we hired another limo and driver and navigated from our resort, the Centra Taum Seminyak, through the busy Denpasar traffic to the peaceful garden setting of the Bali Art Centre. Encircled by coconut trees and themed as a Balinese royal palace, its art museum overlooks a stream and ornamental pool. We were engrossed by the traditional paintings, sculptures, wood carvings and jewellery for a couple of hours. Built in 1931, the complex includes a separate 5000-seat, open-air auditorium for Balinese festivals and concerts.
In the centre of Denpasar, the striking Jagatnata (Hindu) Temple and Bali Museum overlooking the Puputan Square are worth a visit. The museum exhibits include bronze Hindu and Buddha statues, theatrical masks, musical instruments and modern Karangasem paintings.
On Seminyak's lively main street Jalan Seminyak, the Cafe Bali is a 1930s themed time warp complete with tiffany lampshades and slowly circling fans. That evening, seated on the airy veranda, we shared spicy fish in banana leaf with three rices, Indian chicken creamy curry with chapattis, and a dessert of divine, melt-in- your-mouth, chocolate profiteroles.
On our last evening - and out of curiosity - we joined the youthful throng at sunset on the grass of Ku De Ta for the Cocktails of the Month. This magnificent restaurant and garden bar overlooks the Indian Ocean.Cocktails sampled, we then taxied around to the Potato Head Beach Club. We worked our way through an enormous plate of eight different kinds of Potato Head tapas. On the way back to our hotel we succumbed to strawberry fantasy with meringues, cream and pistachio ice-cream at The Gourmet Cafe on Jalan Petitenget - a warung - where else?
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