Busy, buzzy and boasting chichi shops, world-class restaurants and funky Euro-style bars – that’s Seminyak, Bali’s capital of cool. As much as Mr Smith and I love the decadence that comes wrapped in layers of tropical sultriness, we also thrive on peace and calm. Enter the Amala, tucked a few lanes back from the area’s premier fashion strip. Surrounded by tranquil ponds and stands of bamboo, its ambience instantly stills the frenzied beating of my store-loving heart.
A full-blooming frangipani perfumes the air of our Spa Villa, which has, as its centrepiece, a courtyard plunge pool with Jacuzzi jets. The pool deck seamlessly flows into the living room on one side and an outdoor bathing area on another. Here, a shelf near the enormous tub is lined with luxurious handmade soaps, bath soaks and scrubs produced in the Amala’s spa and scented with wild herbs, citrus and ginger. My favourite welcome gift, however, is a jar of freshly baked shortbreads, chocolate-chip cookies, sesame crisps and cinnamon swirls.
As my hand delves into the cookie jar for the fourth – OK, maybe the fifth – time, I remind Mr Smith that we need to keep our energy levels elevated for an afternoon of shopping. He accepts an offer of a cinnamon swirl as we head towards the door. There’s no doubt about it, Seminyak is a danger to most credit limits. Handcrafted jewellery, handbags, elegant footwear and high-end fashion labels are interspersed with street stalls selling everything from knock-off designer sunglasses and novelty lighters to Bintang singlets, the uniform of bogan Aussie tourists.
In no time we discover Mr Smith has natural bargaining skills and he’s negotiating deals that would make a used-car salesman blush. I, on the other hand, have no such talent. If the first price ain’t right, I quickly head for the door. Somewhat mercifully, the shopkeepers mistake my reluctance to haggle for that well-practised bargaining technique of feigning disinterest. Soon they’re chasing me down the street and dramatically dropping their ‘best price’, by which point I’m too embarrassed not to buy. The ‘turn and walk’, as we dub my move, is quickly incorporated into a formidable double act on Seminyak’s shopping strip.
Three fake Rolexes and a Gucci handbag later, we decide to head to the beach for retail respite. Big mistake. Our feet have barely touched sand when we’re accosted by a string of barefooted hawkers all desperate to hock their wares London geezer-style. A briefcase full of sunglasses, offensive bumper stickers and a bizarre collection of hats are all coolly deflected with a shake of the head.
‘Hey mister, you wanna buy some Raybans? Mrs, can I braid your hair? Massage? Mushrooms that will fly you to the moon?’
‘What?’ I stop dead in my tracks and turn to look at Mr Smith: ‘Did you hear that?’ His half smile of consideration tells me he did, and clearly. ‘No, thanks,’ I reply, giving Mr Smith a meaningful look.
The verbal assault continues but we walk on staunchly until finally we give in to a man who introduces himself as Ketut. As if by magic, Ketut pulls two icy Bintangs from a bucket and presents a couple of sun-bleached plastic chairs. It’s the best offer we’ve had all afternoon and we obediently take our places in time to watch the sun set.
The Amala’s overpowering sense of Zen has clearly taken effect when, the following morning, we wake early, bursting with energy. We head back to the beach, determined to beat the crowds. This time our strategy pays off. The sand is virtually devoid of life and rows of vacant deckchairs stretch out before us. The clear blue water is like a bath – you could swim for hours and never get cold. After what seems like an age, I turn back to face the shore. The sun is bright and I squint in the glare, eyes straining to pinpoint what was, moments before, a lone umbrella on the shore. Now there’s a throng of blue and white stripes lined up just beyond the water’s edge. But what really makes me gasp is the sight of four enormous German shepherds catching waves in front of me. ‘Did we really say no to those mushrooms?’ asks a grinning Mr Smith who’s paddled out to meet me. ‘Those dogs can really surf!’ Clearly, he’s impressed.
After the plank-riding pooches, I’m in need of some respite and we return to the Amala to road-test one of the spa treatments. Faced with innumerable options, we take the easy way out and choose the signature 120-minute Amala Healing Ritual, a series of scrubs, foot rubs and massages with essential oils finished off with a soak in a flower-filled bath. Two hours later, Mr Smith and I are capable of nothing more than lying in the sun by our private pool.
Hours later, still delightfully discombobulated, it’s time to eat. On closer inspection, the Amala’s Bamboo Restaurant feels a little too public for a romantic rendezvous and we decide to eat in the privacy of our villa. In moments the sun-deck is bathed in candlelight and a dining table appears by the pool. Handmade gnocchi, organic chicken and freshly caught fish are followed by delicious desserts washed down with one of the best lattés in Bali.
In ancient Sanskrit, the word amala means pure and unspoiled. I’m sure we’ll leave the Amala the next day feeling pure, but for the past 48 hours we’ve been thoroughly spoiled.