When Swiss-born Roger Haumueller and his tour operator partners opened Space at Bali villas in Seminyak last year, they weren't sure where most of their guests would hail from.
It's easy to see the appeal; Space at Bali is a well-named concept, with six 600sq m two-bedroom villas in a garden compound wedged off Jalan Drupadi, one of the arteries that feeds into Seminyak's popular Jalan Laksmana (better known as Jalan Oberoi) and to the lively shopping parades of Jalan Raya Seminyak and Jalan Legian.
Each thatched villa has a pair of mirror-image double bedrooms with french doors on to the flowering garden, tons of storage space, flat-screen televisions and semi-outdoor bathrooms, which makes bath-taking a treat as geckoes chirrup from the walls and heliconias, palms and banana trees stand an arm's length from the tub.
There are single couches that easily convert to children's beds and, when several villas are rented together, monumental Javanese wooden gates can be left open so families and friends can use the interconnected spaces. The lovely green-tiled pool within each villa's high walls is bigger than the villa average (about 12m long, to my eye) and surrounded by trimmed lawn and tropical bushes in which tiny finches dart about. There's a thatched poolside bale with day bed and cargo of cushions and, in the main villa building, a rather odd upstairs lounging area and a much more practical downstairs living room with dining table, sofas and a kitchen hidden behind a circular wall with Moroccan-style latticed windows.
Morocco, you ask? And a kitchen? There's no holiday in cooking and Space at Bali provides each villa with a butler who prepares and serves breakfast to order, plus any meals you'd like to have "at home". The lovely Dewi is my butler for three days and the North African latticed nooks enable her to look through from the kitchen and tell when guests are ready to eat or the table needs clearing. So that part of the Moroccan theme works, but the hanging metal lights, keyhole-shaped doors and low cushioned seats are less successful, simply because we are not in Marrakech and Balinese design surely is more appropriate. But this is a niggling point given that every other element has been so well considered and the comfort factor at Space at Bali is very high indeed.
This is, in fact, the perfect base camp from which to explore the lower west coast of the island, the tourist strip that stretches north of Ngurah Rai airport through Kuta and Legian to fashionable Seminyak. Space at Bali offers tours further north and inland, too, to the rock temple of Tanah Lot or up to Ubud for river excursions, art galleries and more shopping. Guests can hire a villa car or van and driver and every outing, from a lift to the shops to a full-day tour, feels like a privileged affair orchestrated by the affable manager of the villas, Wayan Tana, who oversees 28 staff.
Get in the groove: In the past couple of years there has been an explosion of chi-chi restaurants in and around Seminyak with martini lists that outshine the best bars in London or New York, expensive fitouts, moody lighting and clever menus that rove from Thai curries and sashimi to chilli-hot seafood pasta, risotto and local specialties. Ku De Ta continues to hold the crown with its unbeatable seafront locale, garden loungers and food from Australian executive chef Phillip Davenport. It feels like being at the centre of the Asian style universe; there are Japanese tourists in cool cotton yukata gowns, pretty young things from Hong Kong and Singapore in the latest big heels and beach tops, handsome chaps of the kind who look perfectly at ease wearing sunglasses at 10pm and, dear readers, the PLUs. People like us, that is.
I am in an Indian shirt, white pants and thongs because that's as formal as I can bear to be after three days in a swimsuit at Space at Bali. Maybe it's the distraction of Ku De Ta-branded lounge music CDs playing in the hot night and the oh-so dim lighting, but I fit right in, a kind of middle-aged shadow. A plate of delicate oysters from Washington state, a crab linguini, an earl grey martini, back to my make-believe Marrakech for a swim and a sleep. Bali bliss.
Food, wine and funk: While Ku De Ta is a must, it does have strong competition from two new nearby restaurants that open out to planted rice fields. Facing each other on Jalan Petitenget, at Kerobokan at the northern end of Seminyak, the rivalry factor feels almost in-built. Sardine, in an impressive bamboo pavilion, has a more consciously art-directed feel but Metis, owned by the people who ran Kafe Warisan for years, has the better food, an unexpected foie gras menu augmenting the international a la carte, and the bonus of regular deejay evenings and jazz soirees. Both open for lunch and dinner but it's at night that the garden lighting and cocktail vibe elevate the atmosphere; all the tables at Metis have views but Sardine has a front seating area with no ricefield vista so it's worth requesting a terrace table when you book.
Little spas proliferate where for about $8 you put your feet in a tank and Turkish garra rufa (or doctor fish) nibble at your toes and heels and vacuum up the dead cells (not for the ticklish); given the excellent exchange rate of the Australian dollar against the rupiah, massages and hand and feet treatments are cheap. Even using the in-house spa service at Space at Bali is inexpensive, with pedicures and manicures, administered by the pool in the relative cool of late afternoon, at about $15 each or one-hour massages for about $25.