For honeymooners seeking an exotic, multilayered and romantic experience, the siren call of Bali is nearly irresistible. This lush, volcanic island is a unique pearl in the strand of islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago. Much like the colorful, intricate Hindu offerings laid out every day as symbols of thanks and appeasement to the gods, Bali is a gift for lovestruck visitors, bestowing lifelong memories.
My first port of call is the Bulgari Resort on the southern tip of the Bukit Peninsula. Situated near the sacred temple of Uluwatu, the property exudes an almost mystical aura of its own. The freestanding villas, designed by Italian architect Antonio Citterio, are terraced down a steep hillside in such a way that each has complete privacy—from mine I can see only rooftops, lush greenery and a vast sweep of Indian Ocean. The resort's aesthetic blends elegant European modernism and rich Balinese traditionalism: Handcarved volcanic stone, tropical woods and thatched-ceiling bales (open-sided rectangular pavilions) complement the lavishly appointed marble bathrooms and fine linens.
While my luxurious villa has everything reclusive castaways could desire, the inducements outside are manifold. The spa is a draw, with its antique Javanese carved-wood entrance hall. The excellent restaurant Sangkar (named for its beautiful lanterns, modeled after the cages villagers use to display their prized chickens) showcases authentic Indonesian dishes and is the perfect spot to watch the ever-changing oceanscape. The pièce de résistance, though, is the resort's private beach, reached via a glass inclinator (an elevator that moves diagonally). It's so rare to find such a deserted, pristine stretch of sand and deep green water that it seems only fitting to stay a while and give thanks.
Bulgari Resort, villas from $1,450, bulgarihotels.com.
I head next to the highland village of Ubud. This area has always been a magnet for artists, poets and romantics. I check into Uma Ubud, a boutique hotel that's low on flash but big on serenity. Suites are set in gardens and are outfitted in a palette of cream and white, with local touches such as intricately carved wooden door frames and embroidered and beaded silk runners. The Zen continues at the restaurant, Kemiri, a bale seemingly floating in a serene pond filled with carp. Illuminated by burning candles at night, it's like a secret garden where couples can gaze into each other's eyes in between perusing the menu, which runs the gamut from subtle to fiery.
From Uma it's a short walk to the village of Ubud, although the hotel also organizes shuttles several times daily to town and the nearby monkey forest. The narrow streets are lined with artisans displaying goods, from vibrant silk scarves to carved wooden animals, silver jewelry and paintings. It's all good fun, and the vendors love to chat and bargain. On my last day in Ubud, I opt for an early-morning walk through the rice paddies with one of the hotel's informative guides. The walk, while a trifle muddy, offers an invaluable insight into the agrarian life in Bali, largely unchanged over the centuries. Farmers still work the waterlogged rice paddies by hand (although occasionally oxen, or in the rare instance, mechanical harvesters, are brought in to lend a hand) and let their prized ducksloose into the neat rows to feed. As the sun climbs, the terraced rice fields are turned a dazzling jade green, and I'm touched once again by the complex and unexpected range of beauties to be found on this island.
Uma Ubud, rooms from $245, uma.como.bz/ubud.
My final stop is back on the coast, at the famed Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay. One of the first all-villa resorts in the world, it continues to set the standard. On arrival I'm met by two lovely young Balinese girls in brightly colored silk costumes. They smile, bow with the traditional gesture of hands in prayer pointed toward the heart, and hand me a banana leaf "vase" filled with fresh flowers. It's a rehearsed moment, but the warmth and the simple beauty is genuine, something I'm told always strikes first-time visitors to Bali.
My villa is spacious, and the decor is elegant, complete with plunge pool, outdoor pavilion with daybed and a bathtub filled with frangipani blossoms. Every villa faces the majestic arc of Jimbaran Bay, where traditional wooden fishing boats in sorbet colors greet each dawn and dusk. Having experienced several amazing meals in Bali—from five-course gourmet feasts to simple grilled fish dinners on the sand at the candlelit beach restaurants that dot the waterfront—I make it my mission to re-create the taste sensations at home by enrolling in a Four Seasons cooking class, where students can learn to make dishes such as Balinese spiced snapper in banana leaf.
Afterward, I chat with a honeymooning couple from San Francisco, who, after just three days here, are beaming with a sort of otherworldly glow. I'm not surprised by their expressions; I'm pretty sure I look the same. When Bali weaves its timeless spell, resistance is useless.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, villas from $630, fourseasons.com/jimbaranbay.