Eat, Stay, Write: Bali for Fodors.com

New entries are dribbling online for the expanded Fodors.com guide to Bali that I worked on earlier this year. It’s always a delight to visit Bali, and this trip I went to the north coast for the first time in more than a decade. As with so much else on this rightly popular and renowned island, a lot had changed but the essential character that makes Bali so alluring hasn’t.

I stayed at the Lovina Beach Hotel, which turned 60 this year. Lovina has basically been built around the hotel. The Lovina Beach is definitely old school, but the rooms are fresh, the pool is appealing, everyone’s friendly, and it’s dirt cheap for what you get. At the other end of the scale, I ate a memorable dinner under the stars at Damai, “peace” in Bahasa Indonesia, a boutique resort in the hills above Lovina with views all the way to Java. Plush Puri Bagus Lovina is the winning choice if you want your luxury retreat and manicured lawns on the beach.

Just up the road from Damai, Surya and Fritz Barme showcase the spectacular view at their Ponjok Indah (Beautiful Corner) restaurant by appointment and treat you to sumptuous European food with a German accent. If you’re lucky, this Balinese-German couple may let you sample the wines they make from local fruits. Call them from Lovina on 0362 41571 for your appointment.

Kopi Shyup (+6285737179056), which didn’t make the cut for Fodors.com, is a comfortable coffee shop affiliated with a coffee and clove plantation located between Lovina and scenic Munduk on the road to Banyuatis village in the heart of Bali’s coffee country. It’s worth getting lost to stop by and have a walk around their mini-plantation and kitchen garden.

Further south, I added another restaurant from a best in Asia list. Although French food isn’t my thing, it’s easy to understand the appeal of Metis in Seminyak, with its elegant open air dining room overlooking vast lotus ponds.

Ma Joly on the beach south of Kuta stands out for high level cuisine in an extraordinarily relaxed atmosphere that keeps it from getting fussy or pretentious. If the white sand isn’t soothing enough, Ma Joly’s tropical sangria can help get you in the mood.

Hands down, the best meal I had was at Bridges in Ubud with founder Claude Chouinard. Bridges combines an original international menu with a classic Bali setting, perched on a lush hillside above a river. But every place I stayed, ate and explored was terrific, otherwise I wouldn’t have listed it.

I’ll be heading back to Bali next week for the tenth edition of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. (Watch this space for mews and views.) The only thing I don’t look forward to is the traffic. But even driving there can have its moments.

One compensation is the decoration on trucks. While not as elaborate as jeepneys in the Philippines, some fantasy landscapes or dream girls on the side panels are pretty spectacular. Some times it’s just the mud flaps.

Early in the trip, not far from Sanur, I saw a mud flap labeled “Dr Bombay.” That’s Bali, perfectly bewitching. Just don’t take any wooden Darrens.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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