Lovina: the real Bali

by everythingtravel

A trip to Lovina is a treat for the senses. In this unspoilt part of Bali, you'll find lush paddy fields and traditional ox carts as well as comfortable hideaway hotels and great places to eat

Lovina Beach encapsulates everything you may have heard about Bali. Far from the madding crowd in Kuta, and over the rolling hills of central Bali, is a hideaway that manages to be quiet and relaxing. It is called under the umbrella name 'Lovina' because the hotel-owners thought the tourists would get confused with all the different villages. Its compact size and laidback attitude means it's a good place to unwind whilst using it as a base for day trips. It's also authentic Bali. A walk outside the hotel will bring you into contact with the local way of life - rice planters on lush paddies using ox carts.

A recommendation from a travel agent back home led us to the mid range Rambutan Beach Cottages in popular Kalibukbuk, and it was immediately obvious we'd made the right choice. It's in a good position, just off the busy main street along a road lined with restaurants and handicraft shops, and a two-minute walk to the beach. Spread over an acre of lush coconut palms, it has 30 rooms and three luxury cottages. Our double-room accommodation was superb, as were the facilities. An ornately carved exterior led into a traditional Balinese-styled room complete with outside shower and a balcony to enjoy the sunset. The only thing to watch out for was the ever-present mosquitos - but luckily all the rooms are mosquito-proofed, making for a sound night's sleep. In fact, so comfortable are the rooms here that we met an Austrian man who suffered from insomnia back home and within two nights he was cured.

What we didn't expect was a beautifully landscaped garden restaurant, overlooking the swimming pool. The food and drink here is of a high standard. Try one of the smoothies - lush, tropical fruit carefully blended with ice and topped with lavish decoration. The Balinese certainly know a thing or two when it comes to presentation. The food served is a combination of both Balinese and Western, owing to the fact that the owner (Australian) runs it with his Balinese wife, which certainly makes any negotiations easy. One dish worth sampling is Betut whole duck served with Balinese sauce - simply delicious, as are the club sandwiches. In fact, so good is the food here that you don't really need to go anywhere else.

However, wandering down the road, we found another nice restaurant: the Sea Food Cafe. Things seem to happen almost by accident here. As we sat in our rattan chairs overlooking the ocean, our friendly waiter told us the fish had just arrived. We turned around to see what he was talking about, and in strolled the fishermen to hand-deliver their catch. Incidentally, the fishermen are nearly always Javanese - the superstitious Balinese believe that serpents and evil spirits live in the sea and will not go near it.

Other pleasant places to eat include Kakatua Bar and Restaurant, with its exotic ambiance. This seems to be the most popular place and the seafood here is excellent - try the seafood basket. This cafe also has some of the old favourites, like sirloin steak, if you are hankering for back home. It is worth pointing out that a lot of the hotels also have restaurants; a good tip is to walk along the volcanic sands of the beach, as many hotel restaurants overlook the sea.

A reverence for nature and spirituality permeates Lovina, from the ubiquitous wooden dolphin handicrafts to the dolphin statue in the town, and no stay here is complete without a early morning sunrise trip. There is a certain inevitability about going to see the dolphins, as the dolphin trip sellers are nothing if not persistent. However, the trip is worthwhile and especially so when combined with a snorkeling trip. The coral reef keeps the surf at bay, making for ideal snorkelling conditions, with an abundance of exotic fish to observe. We conveniently booked our trip through the hotel.

It is also worth mentioning the numerous religious festivals that occur throughout the year, owing to a multitude of gods in the Hindu faith. Hindus believe spirits are all around and to maintain the balance they need to be worshipped. Avoid Nyepi day if at all possible, as the island simply shuts down. However, we were privileged to witness the Galungan festival where barong dancers prance from temple to temple and events culminate in a hog roast and a cacophony of noise.

We hired a car and driver to take us around the local vicinity. On hand are local temples, the Banjar Hot Springs, the magnificent Gitgit waterfalls and the inspiring rice paddy fields. The Balinese seem to have an absurd faith in superstition rather than driving ability. Our driver's car was kitted out like a shrine and it was hard to know if divine intervention was at work to get us back to the hotel. It is for this reason that we didn't hire a motorbike, although we frequently passed  motorbikes where the whole family, including the chicken, was on board. Hiring a car is an option: there is a selection of companies to choose from on Jalan Mawar, or you can enquire within the hotel.

A short walk away from the hotel is Jalan Binaria, where you can find a selection of bars clustered together. We went to Zigiz Bar, where they do a mean cocktail as well as provide live music. The place starts filling up around 10pm, so get down there late if only to witness the motorbikes roaring past. Most of the passengers don't wear helmets - this typically sums up the Balinese attitude of 'live for today'. We certainly savoured the moment.