Off the beaten track in Bali

With most Australian travellers heading to the famous beachside resorts in the south or making a ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ to Ubud, you’d think that was all there is to island. If you’re not in Bali to party, there’s so much more to do and see.

Here are 5 top tips for a relaxed tropical holiday in Bali, off the beaten track.

1. Tirtagangga & Karangasem, East Bali

Mount Agung is for more than climbing. At the base the mountain sits the serene villages of Tirtagangga (the home of the famous water palace) and neighbouring Karangasem. Small bed and breakfasts offer a quiet alternative for those who wish to avoid the crowds. A pre-breakfast walk in the paddy fields gives a glimpse of traditional village life and time for contemplation. This is the old, slow-paced Bali, away from the shopping malls, glitzy restaurants and beaches but still close enough for day trips to sample the other delights if you choose.

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2. White Sand Beach, East Bali

On the coast between Candidasa and Karangasem is a hidden beach. Road access is a little rough and it’s best reached by hiring a driver. The East is not fabled for it’s beaches let alone sandy ones, so it’s an unexpected gem. It’s far enough off the main road to have no electricity, precluding any resorts for now. Small warungs dot the beach and for the price of a meal or a drink you can use a sun lounger and umbrella for as long as you like.

copyright Gill Stannard

3. Lovina, North Bali

Sometimes referred to as ‘Mini Kuta’, Lovina is thankfully more sedate and less populated than it’s southern cousin. While it has a beach and the type culture that goes with it, my favourite find was the Warung Bambu restaurant and cooking school in near by Pemaron. Classes begin with a market visit to buy ingredients which is half the fun and ends with feasting on the fruits of your labour. We managed to have a lesson for two, at no extra cost, with a menu catering to our dietary preferences. If cooking’s not your thing, the restaurant is one of the best in the area and often books out at night.

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4. Munduk, North Bali

The Dutch colonials favoured this northern hinterland when the equatorial climate got too much. Munduk is a lush cornucopia, growing coffee, cacao, cloves and other tropical delights. Get a local guide to take you for a walk around the plantations. The terrain can be steep and despite the elevation you’ll work up a sweat but it’s well worth it, with waterfalls to help you cool down. The township itself is quiet and tourist facilities are limited, which is just how I like it.

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5. Seririt, North Bali

Right in the centre of the north coast, Seririt provides more upmarket and quieter options than Lovina’s more backpacker-ish feel.  For now the area is off the main tourist radar, so it’s a delightful place to spend a week beside the pool, with a range of good quality resorts  that make a great alternative to the madness of Ubud. There are also some black sand beaches and a host of options including snorkelling, diving and dolphin trips for the active or a soak at the local hot springs.

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While Australians tend to congregate in the beachside party towns of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, European tourists tend to flock to East and North Bali. So, even if these locations seem unfamiliar, don’t be surprised if accommodation is tight during the northern summer holiday months of July and August. 

Have you got a favourite hideaway in Bali?

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The Hermitage, St Petersberg

Love art? Like art, even a bit? Then the Hermitage has to be one of the places to see before you die.

Anything to do with travelling in Russia will necessitate a fair degree of patience. There are queues everywhere and that’s not just at the museum but the traffic jams en route. If you’re visiting the Hermitage independently do yourself a favour and buy tickets online to avoid at least one of the queues.

Once inside, the four buildings open to the public showcasing the phenomenal collection can be confusing. It’s worth doing a little research in advance to familiarise yourself with the layout and locations of your must-see art works.

Many tours (and they are numerous) don’t get beyond the first floor. If Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Rubens are you’re thing, expect long queues of tourists one by one experiencing the masterpiece though their viewfinder. Amazing how few actually take in the art with a naked eye. It’s all point and shoot and onto the next one. But the walls of the same rooms are covered in Old Masters, step away from the groups and you’ll be surprised what the guides miss. A Caravaggio or two, for example.

5 tips for surviving the Hermitage

1. Look up. The building itself is a living artwork.

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The Raphael Loggias are breathtaking. I could have spent all day just looking at the ceiling.

2. Start at the top. The second floor houses the 19th and 20th century Western European Art collection. The masses are often too exhausted to make it up the stairs to experience these delights. Picasso, Matisse and Renoir hang out up there with Gauguin and Cezanne. There’s also Monet, Van Gough and Kadinsky.

3. Look out.

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Get some perspective. Take a moment to gaze out the windows. Just don’t stand on the seat to take the picture!

4. Pace yourself. Even the most hardened art lovers find it hard to take it all in for more than 3 hours at a time. If possible, stagger your visit over a couple of days or if that’s not possible, read up in advance and make a plan of attack.

5. Visit in winter. Those serious about art brave the snow, don their furs and visit St Petersburg in winter to avoid the queues. This way you can view your favouite works without the distraction of the picture snapping tourists.