Bali and Sumba: the Indonesian Islands that Turn Heads

Bali and Sumba: the Indonesian Islands that Turn Heads

Absolutely explores cultural hubs and the world’s best hotel on this beguiling string of islands

Words Hannah Hopkins

They say “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Well the same could be said for Indonesia – a beguiling string of volcanic islands home to resplendent beaches, Komodo dragons and jungles sheltering elephants, orangutans and tigers. It has copious amounts to offer travellers and with thousands of islands, reveals itself to you more and more each trip.


Having visited on a gap year I was thrilled to be returning to the country as a proper grownup, this time visiting Seminyak on Bali. We stayed at The Oberoi, a beachfront sanctuary boasting world-renowned Oberoi service and some of the best sea views in Bali.

An enormous swimming pool filled with stone turtle fountains takes centre stage in the grounds, surrounded by tasselled parasols that overlook a stretch of beach. You can peer at the crashing waves and the distant tourist touts from the extreme comfort of a sunbed pre-dressed with towels and equipped with sun cream, cold water and frangipani scented facial mist. Heaven. Further back from the sea and dotted throughout beautifully tended gardens are traditional thatched-roof lanais and private villas.


We opted for a luxury villa with a secluded courtyard garden, rock pond and raised dining pavilion, but the cheaper Lanai rooms are just as impressive. Inside you’ll find marble floors, enormous king-sized beds with hand-carved wooden headboards, four types of pillow, thick curtains to keep out the light and excellent air conditioning. A lovely bathroom contains more fluffy towels than you could ever need, plus two sinks and sumptuous bath scrubs, soaps and moisturisers. Throughout the rooms are well-thought-out details such as anti-mosquito spray, a day bag for the beach and both indoor and outdoor slippers.


Dinner is a relaxed affair at the romantically-lit Kura Kura restaurant, named after the turtles that nest on the nearby sands. Expect European and Indonesian delicacies, with innovative dishes like seared Pacific scallops, Indonesian satay, udang goreng tiger prawns and Rijsttafel, a sumptuous legacy of Bali’s Dutch colonial tradition. Breakfast is served in the delightful, open-air Frangipane café where there is a huge range of options including duck or chicken eggs, pork or beef sausages and dozens of juices.

Things to do

Should you wish to leave the complex, Seminyak’s market, health cafes and boutiques are well worth a visit, as is Ubud, roughly a two-hour drive. Based in the uplands of Bali, the area is known as a center for traditional crafts and dance and is dotted with Hindu temples and shrines, surrounded by paddy fields. Also famed for its food scene, we stop off at Casa Luna restaurant for a traditional Balinese cookery class. Headed up by chef Janet De Neefe and her friendly staff, we discover the herbs, spices and techniques of Balinese cooking as well as the ceremonial and cultural significance of food. Preparing a lavish feast as a group, we create chicken curry, wok-fried eggplant, coconut and anchovy sambal, bean-coconut salad and moreish sago pudding. Suitably stuffed, we return satiated and sleepy to The Oberoi.


The next day, we hop on a quick private flight to Sumba – an island largely untouched by tourism. Despite being twice the size of Bali, Sumba’s population barely reaches a six of Bali’s population. Nihiwatu – voted the world’s best hotel 2016 by Travel + Leisure magazine – is our destination. Once the preserve of savvy surfers, its unspoilt beaches attracted Claude and Petra Graves in 1988 as they searched for the perfect wave. They fell in love with the place and named it Nihiwatu, meaning “mortar stone”. By 2012, stories of the unregulated freedom and beauty of the resort reached American entrepreneur Christopher Burch, who came on board to expand the resort. An exotic combination of remote location and understated hedonism, it now attracts the global jet set and fashion elite.


Each of the 28 exquisite villas are designed to incorporate the surrounding nature, whether it’s swaying palms, colourful bougainvillea or dazzling ocean. We stay in one of Burch’s very own villas – perched upon a terrace with a spacious outdoor veranda, a private pool and our very own butler on speed dial. Interiors are open-plan, reflecting simple Indonesian architecture and using local materials like Alang Alang, teak and rattan.

Activities and Amenities

Exceptional villas aside, this hidden gem is for travellers in search of activity-driven experiences and unregulated freedom. There are countless things to do, from surfing, fishing and horse-riding to sunrise yoga, tours of the on-site chocolate factory and escorted trips to nearby villages. We try out the Spa Safari – a 90-minute trek through rice fields to Nihi Oka – a show-stopping area high on the cliffs. Greeted with fresh coconuts, you enjoy breakfast and lunch on a tree platform and then head to a private bale for unlimited spa treatments.


Back at the resort there’s plenty more to entertain. The dreamy Boathouse bar, right on the edge of the waves, is the perfect surfer’s paradise and offers spectacular sunsets. Ombak restaurant overlooking the ocean is ideal for intimate dinners as well as convivial feasts organised by the hotel like weekly BBQs and White Parties. The resort’s social and eco-credentials are top notch. Food miles are kept to a minimum: vegetables come of the resort’s own organic market garden; meat from its chicken farm; fish from the sea.End your evening with a private outdoor cinema experience under the stars, but don’t forget to set your alarm for at least one early morning – you wouldn’t want to miss the chance to release baby turtle hatchlings into the ocean.

They say Nihiwatu is on “the edge of wildness” and with good reason. Offering authentic Indonesian experiences and surroundings in five-star luxury, it has to be one of the most beautiful and pristine resorts on this planet.

Eight nights in Indonesia with Abercrombie & Kent costs from £2,795 per person. This price includes Garuda Airlines international and domestic flights, a half day gastronomic journey of Indonesian cuisine, three nights at the Nihiwatu in a One Bedroom Villa on full board basis and three nights at the Oberoi Bali in a Luxury Lanai Room Garden View on breakfast basis. Please call Abercrombie & Kent on 01242 547 895 or enquire online at

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