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The island of Bali has long been a must-see for tourists and travellers because of its spiritual and sacred spaces, its almost mystical landscapes and its unique Hindu culture in the largely Muslim country of Indonesia. While development threatens to swamp some of the island’s built-up places, the magical and the mundane manage to flourish side-by-side, drawing new visitors to the enchanted isle year after year.

What is it known for?
Bali’s statues, shrines and simple pleasures have been attracting travellers since the Dutch opened the island to tourism in 1914. First it was wealthy Westerners who could afford the time and passage to this remote spot in the Indian Ocean. Then in the 1960s and ‘70s, surfers, mainly from Australia, came to ride the classic waves. Now luxury hotels and golf courses have colonized the south shore, and it can take two hours to get from one end of Kuta, the major beach resort area near the capital Denpasar, to the other, a distance of only about 7km. But what has not changed is the special quality of the Balinese culture. “The Balinese people are, in general, really wonderful,” said Corey O’Malley, an Australian who has lived in the remote central highlands for about six years. “The rich, vibrant and ever-present culture of the Balinese and the lushness of the island beyond the traffic zones are an aesthetic feast.”

Tourism, which took a serious blow after the terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005, has rebounded strongly, getting a boost recently from the island’s strong association with the best-selling book and hit movie Eat Pray Love, which inspired a wealth of finding-yourself travel offers from tour companies and hotels, ranging from massages and meditation on the beach to yoga and ritual prayers at mountain temples. Bali had more than 2.7 million foreign visitors in 2011, the majority of which were from Australia, followed by Japan and China. But while the beach resorts in Kuta, Seminyak and Jimbaran are hot tourism destinations, the sea is not integral to island life. It is the land, the rice paddies and the mountainous interior where the cultural heart of Bali can be found. For example, the town of Ubud, located in the foothills, is known as the island’s epicentre for local arts, dance, music and opera.

Where do you want to live?
Bali’s south coast is the most popular and most built-up region, including the beach towns centred around the capital Denpasar. “Seminyak has proved incredibly popular in the last couple of years,” explained James Cook, a marketing director with Savills Singapore, an international real estate agency. “It is full of lively beach bars, restaurants, boutiques and shops. It’s chaotic and great fun.” Owners here pay a premium to be near the clubs and restaurants, and to have close access to the airport and beaches. Across town, centrally located Sanur, Bali’s oldest beach resort area, is having a resurgence, with many new hotels under construction. “Sanur was forgotten as the focus moved to the resort areas of Jimbaran and Nusa Dua, but it has a gentle elegance of its own,” Cook said. 

Up the coast from Seminyak is the quieter area of Canggu, not far from the Tanah Lot Temple, one of the most sacred sites in Bali. It is popular with ex-pats, many of whom own villas near the black-sand beaches. “Some of the old Bali hands and expatriates, as well as the well-heeled have moved farther north up the coast,” Cook said. “There are some beautiful villas with magnificent views of the sea and the rice paddy fields.”

Some prospective residents are drawn to villas in Ubud, for the town’s more cultural and artsy vibe. “It all depends on personal choice and what you are looking for in your ideal home in Bali,” Cook added.

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