Beat a quiet retreat
Bali's split personality has just become more pronounced. There's Kuta, with its sea of Bintang beer singlets and cornrow braids adorning the heads of children and the elderly alike. Just a few kilometres away, but a world apart, is Seminyak. Over the past 10 years, the area has transformed into a more upscale option for Bali travellers with reliable seafront restaurants (La Lucciola), bars drawing world-class DJs (Ku De Ta) and quietly chic hotels (The Legian, The Oberoi).
Now, Seminyak is going through another upgrade, nudging along even more of the ubiquitous cows that graze on the island's patchy plots of dwindling vacant land. The shopping hub along Jalan Laksmana is creeping further into Jalan Petitenget, where smart homeware and custom jewellery stores frame the path to Starwood's new property, the W Retreat & Spa. Open only a few months, the W crams a lot into a relatively tight space.
The W Hotels brand dances to its own well-defined tune, typified by cool beats from the decks at its urban properties in hotspots like Manhattan and Miami. The W in Bali has all the touches expected from the brand - DJs flown in from Europe, tech-savvy facilities, attentive staff in the Bliss-stocked spa - but there's a few more unexpected additions.
There's plenty of scope for the average single hipster drawn to a W, but the Bali property is also family-friendly. The dramatic lagoon-like network of pools has a combination of deeper spots to plunge as well as wide shallow ledges for younger kids - it's a smart use of space, as the adjoining beach is often quite choppy. Pristine white cabanas offer a place to cosy up with a book (or Kindle) or a board game. Parents can order crisp French fries and frozen margaritas from the all-day poolside menu while watching the kids go wild in the nearby giant sandpit.
At night, the W is dramatically lit with fire pits, torches and ambient lighting. The concrete-and-glass WooBar has an outdoor upper deck for dancing and there are several restaurants. At Starfish Bloo, which is predominantly a fusion take on Asian staples like sashimi, tables are cradled in massive cages inspired by the lobster traps of Jimbaran fishermen. The more casual Fire restaurant has an open kitchen and a dramatic glass chandelier. Traditional dishes like beef rendang are missing the depth of flavour found in stand-alone restaurants so stick to the hearty burgers and wood-fired pizzas. For groups, the private dining room is hidden behind glass under a cascading wall of water near the pool.
In the rooms, the dining service is prompt and friendly. During our stay, most orders arrived in 15 minutes, regardless of the time of day. From the king sized bed (with 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets), watch the large Samsung flat-screen television mounted on the wall or use the Bose stereo or fast Wi-fi connection. The bathrooms are the star attraction, with a free-standing terrazzo bathtub under a skylight that moonlights as a window to the stars. True to W style, there's a generous range of Bliss products (the sharp tang of the lemon and sage soap is particularly good after a hot day at the beach).
The resort has enough nooks and crannies to keep restless travellers close to home. The airy lounge lobby is welcoming enough to spend a few hours, particularly around afternoon teatime when the Alice in Wonderland-style oversized cakes come out to play. But Seminyak is also an easy launch pad for day trips to the pristine white-sand beaches of Jimbaran Bay and the lush hills and sweeping rice fields of Ubud are about an hour away (depending upon the island's notorious traffic).
Back at the W, a rival to Ku De Ta has opened next door, marking the beginning of a shift in Seminyak's epicentre. Potato Head Beach Club, a restaurant, bar and boutique, is an impressive mix of curved concrete and glass and, strangely, salvaged teak shutters on the exterior. Inside, an incongruous mix of vintage modernist pieces and patio furniture overlook a pool and the crashing surf. It's all over the place, yet it works - a lot like Bali, really.
W Retreat & Spa Bali - Seminyak
Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Rates: US$350 per night for a garden-view room, US$1,950 for a three-bedroom villa, US$4,050 for the two-level Extreme WOW Suite.
How to get there: Fly direct from Hong Kong to Bali in 4 1/2 hours. W Retreat & Spa is about 15 kilometres from Denpasar Airport. Transfers available.