Bali is eight degrees south of the equator, so it has a relatively consistent 30°C tropical, hot and humid climate, so you can pack your SPF and kaftans and travel to Bali at pretty much any time of the year. The rainy season, officially October to March, is still just as gorgeously sunny – you just have to find a great bar (and there are many!) to sip and sit out the heavy, but brief, tropical rain.
I always start my trips in the south, home to the island’s best beaches and the thumping heart of Bali. In the 1960s, hippies would flock to the coconut groves of Kuta beach for the amazing surf and endless summers. Despite the thickets of luxury resorts and private villas racing to pop up over recent decades, Bali’s regulations that no building can exceed the height of a coconut tree has thankfully saved the south of the island from becoming an Asian Miami. Kuta itself reminds of the tacky and gaudy debauchery of Cancun, so I head straight to Seminyak to spend my first few days on a sun lounger on the beach.
My favourite first pit-stop is poolside at Potato Head. An impressive amphitheater built from brushed concrete and reclaimed wood, Potato Head has unbelievable views, an infinity pool with a swim up bar, refreshing cocktails, multiple delicious restaurants, chilled music and service that makes you feel like a sun-kissed queen. Super popular (and for good reason), try to book your day bed in advance or get there early at 9.30am – else, suffer the wait list! Famed for its chilled-out beats and front-row sunset seats, Ku De Ta is another upmarket oasis by day, that during the weekends turns into an uber-chic beach party at night. Their gin and pineapple juice tempered with Italian bitters and tonic is the ultimate antidote to the scorching heat or glam up and splash out at Mejekawi, Ku Da Ta’s fine- dining-without-the-fuss restaurant on the upper deck. Its five-course tasting menu is heaven and the views are spectacular. Mrs Sippy cranks the day time drinking and vibing up a notch.
Oozing a Miami cum Mediterranean style, this Instagram Nirvana has the largest salt water pool in Bali complete with a 5 metre dive tower, daybeds, cabanas, gardens and shady palm trees, backed up by excellent house music. The hip day club is actually kid friendly and their outdoor wood oven pizzas are perfection. Book a sun lounger for Sunday to take advantage of their Sippy Sunday’s 2 for 1 cocktails (the Froze is fabulous). Sometimes the best way to recover is to refuel!
Above all else, Motel Mexicola is my escapist happy place and has been a major source of design inspiration. For starters, the venue is pure eye candy – think electric 1950s Acapulco interiors on acid, spiced with Latin magic and laced with several lashings of Mezcal. Renowned Veracruzano “Jarocho” chef, Steven Skelly, serves up the best Mexican street food on the island and the margaritas are to die for, but this isn’t why you came here. You are here because after the plates are cleared and the DJ has cranked up those soul- lifting old school 90s/pop/dance/RnB classics the waiters are pouring tequila down your throat and you are dancing on top of your table under a giant neon cross and the balmy night sky. Make sure to book your table in advance (this Seminyak gem has quickly become THE hot spot in town) and get ready to seriously let your hair down!
In Bali, villas make total sense: the staff, the privacy, the value for money. If I am in Seminyak with friends, I always try to book The Niconico Mansion. Designed and executed by the Creative Director of the Niconico Mare Swimwear Company, the six bed villa is a stylised traditional Bali villa that is exploding in modern art and sculptures with a fabulous jungle garden and pool. Discreetly tucked away and private, yet in the centre of Seminyak it is ideally located for large groups and families. If I am travelling on my own, or with my wife, I like to stay at the Elysian, a discreet, all-villa hotel, two streets from the beach.
If you are looking for a decent bottle of wine (this can be hard to find on the island), next door to Motel Mexicola is VIN+, a vast bamboo structure which contains a bar, restaurant and shop that stocks more than 18,000 bottles of wine from around the world, as well as spirits and a surprisingly good selection of sake. If you email them with your order before you fly to Bali, they will organise the delivery with your villa, so you are stocked on arrival!
Thanks to the Australian influence on the island, the local coffee culture is epic with homemade nut milks offered at nearly every cafe, alongside other drinks such as invigorating detox booster shots. I always head to Baby Rev’s, or Baby Revolver as it is more commonly known, which is an intimate hole-in-the-wall in Badung with only eight seats. Their coffee is like rocket fuel and the interior is styled like a cozy cabin, with dark wood-paneled walls and Navajo-patterned cushions.
Breakfast on the island is just as good with most dishes on the menus using local, organic produce sourced from the volcanic soil of Bali. Worth waiting in the queues for are Sea Circus and Sister fields, an all-day breakfast cafe that feels like it’s been plucked straight out off the shores of Sydney. I absolutely love the solid Suar wood boards, plates and bowls that everything is served in – so much so, that I added a kitchen collection to House of Henderson so that this rustic and organic aesthetic could be recreated at home! Everything tastes so much better when it looks good right? `
If you are looking to do something a bit more vertical and active, release your inner Gidget at Surf Goddess Retreats. They cater to all levels from beginner to professional for women only, as well as offer cycling and trekking. Great for kids is the Bali Equestrian Centre, in addition to pony or horse sessions, there’s a supervised pool and play area, with a spot for you to sip Chardonnay nearby.
The next stop is Canggu, where beach- shack cafe culture meets understated glamour with a surf vibe and the shopping is on point. 30 minutes from Seminyak, you can day trip it if you haven’t got the luxury of being able to stay a few nights. If you are staying over, book into The Slow, a 12-room boutique bolthole that is achingly cool. A dreamy medley of art, music, and interior design, the hotel off-sets solid concrete with tropical teak wood and minimalist modern furniture, with sensational art work. The Balinese restaurant downstairs is worth checking out and the caramelized half chicken with Sichuan salt and fermented chili mayo is a must. If you are looking for a villa, check out Villa Arjuna (you can find it on Airbnb!). Hidden off busy Jalan Pantai Berawa, the villa is designed with quality family time and natural living in mind. In the open-air centre courtyard, the rattan swing from InteriorTonic is on my next shopping trip wish list.
Canggu is a clean-eating town which is the perfect gut-healing, soul-soothing remedy after the buzz and booze of Seminyak. Breakfast is a major game and I highly recommend the Two Trees Eatery and Crate Cafe. It’s hard to find a bad coffee amongst the plethora of cafés lining the roads and dotting the rice fields, but I recommend seeking out Ritual Coffee & Eatery for the ultimate perk-me-up. Shady Shack does a halloumi burger that is out-of-this- world good and for a sunset cocktail, get to La Brisa a little early to find the perfect beanbag on Echo Beach.
Other than recovering, Canggu is where I come to shop. The Jungle Trader is part hippie hangout and part tropical kitsch store, think brass pineapple- shaped bottle openers, cushions with palm-tree embroidery, and an abundance of beach bags and hats – all things you don’t really need but have to have. Ibiza-esque with its whitewashed, cement-floored and round-arched aesthetic, Cove Island Essentials is a fascinating spiritual goods store. I nip in here for crystal-infused body mists, marble incense holders and linen dresses. For kids, Yöli & Otis do the cutest kids dungaree dresses in natural materials and textiles coloured with plant dyes including turmeric, henna and indigo and organic-cotton baby slings. I love the tactile ceramic plates, cups and bowls in muted colours at Quince. Produced in a local craft studio, they are also used in the store’s café next door which overlooks Berawa Beach and serves the best courgette fritters on flaxseed toast and coconut pancakes with cinnamon butter. For all things interiors, Bungalow Living Bali nails the islands-living aesthetic and Bali villa look.
Lastly, I make my way to Ubud. Because Bali is a tropical island, there’s often a misperception that it’s all about the beaches, when the heart of the island is actually the most beautiful and the most relaxing. About an hours drive from Canggu, I love the changing volcanic landscape of thick jungle and brilliant flowers to hills that are etched with terraced rice fields. If you are heading straight to Ubud from the airport, the main road north of Denpasar is lined with villages specializing in various specialist artisanal crafts; Celuk is renowned for its silversmiths, Batuan for painters and dancers, Mas for its wood-carvers.
Hidden in the surrounding forests of Ubud are a collection of seriously sensational hotels and spas that are worth splashing out on; Como Uma, Alila, Tanah Gaja or Bambu Indah to name a few. Chapung Sebali is a personal favourite and where I always stay when I am in Ubud to meet with the incredible local artisans and craftsmen that co-create and produce the collections for House of Henderson.
Tucked away in the misty Campuhan Ridge, the hotel is immersed in nature and surrounded by vivid green rice terraces and lush rainforest. The villas and suites have high ceilings, lots of natural light and earthy interiors that nod to the owners Scandi influence, with breathtaking balcony views. I love to unwind with a game of pool at the Blind Pig Lounge or chill by the hotel infinity pool that looks straight out over the vast jungle. The Jungle Fish pool bar (which you can visit even if you are not a guest) has a surprisingly extensive and experimental drinks menu full of local ingredients like snakefruit-infused arak, kaffir lime, and chilli. I highly recommend ordering the tequila and turmeric based Kunyit Mama Rita and listen to the geckos croaking and the sounds of the Osh river running below as you sink into one of the hanging swings chairs, before you slink off for a hot-stone therapy treatment at the Chapung Spa… bliss.
The art capital of Bali, Ubud’s flower-strewn streets are dotted with banana-pancake cafés, small temples, wall-to-wall art galleries and knick knack shops. Despite all the commercialisation, Ubud has a genuinely arty spirit with a charming atmosphere and soothing pace. It is worth watching the traditional legong dances at the old palace, wandering around the home of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, the home Bali’s most celebrated artist, and visit the Puri Lukisan and Neka art museums. If you are not wearing any jewellery and aren’t afraid of monkeys putting their hands in your pockets, take a stroll through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Spiritually-significant, constructed around 3 Hindu temples dating back to the 14th century, this 31 acre section of jungle just outside of Ubud’s centre is home to over 1,000 free-roaming monkeys and is an utterly unique experience. Alchemy in Ubud is a tranquil mecca for wellness lovers and there is a reason for that – they have a strong cold-pressed juice game. I love the Hearty Heart, with beetroot, watermelon, tomato, carrot, and spinach, or the love-it-or- hate-it Cocobiotic, which is made with fermented coconut.
Ubud’s talented artists and craftsmen is why I started House of Henderson. Their passion and skill creates the most incredible hand-carved teak and suar wood furniture, statues, paintings and authentic Balinese homewares. You can find some absolute gems in Ubud Art Traditional Market and Sukawati Art Market, but for the bigger pieces I head 20 minutes north of Ubud to Jalan Raya Tegallalang to the local market and surrounding villages. En route, you pass through a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tegalalang Rice Terrace, which is one of Bali’s most photogenic and most-visited destinations. It isn’t difficult to find (or ask your driver to take you) to the famed “Love Bali” swing for an epic shot of you swinging over the jungle hills.
If you are up for a little bit of adventure, try mountain-biking, ATV-ing or white- water rafting along the Ayung River or take a hike to Kanto Lampo waterfall. Or for something a little more zen, get blessed at Tirta Empul Water Temple or try sound healing at the stunning Pyramids of Chi, they also offer Cacao ceremonies, yoga and tantra sessions.
Written by Kat Henderson