There is a perfect marriage which makes Canggu irresistible – a sort of yin-yang combination of Tulum’s yoga and green-juice bars, the arty aesthetic and galleries of Paraty, Costa Rica’s surf scene and the party friskiness of Mykonos. How has a sleepy village with a few homestays, some warungs (Indonesian roadside cafés) and a handful of hideaway hotels such as the Tugu morphed into Bali’s version of Brooklyn-on-Sea? The coastal community 10km north of Kuta hums with smart new villas, city-slick restaurants and delicious little shops that seem to have sprung up overnight.
Of course the island itself has been a honeypot for generations. In the 1970s, hippies and adventurers came for the legendary waves, the lush, iridescent-green landscape and friendly, laid-back locals. Since then, it has weathered terrorist attacks and economic downturns, and yet ‘Where is Bali?’ was still the most Googled travel question last year. So it was only a matter of time before Canggu was discovered. Neighbouring Seminyak can be hectic and crowded. Also close by, Uluwatu, set high on the cliffs, has walls of waves pro-surfers go wild for. Sanur has long been a favourite for grey nomads and Ubud, a 90-minute drive inland, is the island’s New Age capital. But Canggu has edge.
The big early adopter was Australian fashion designer Dare Jennings (behind the surfwear label Mambo) who in 2006 set up Deus Ex Machina, a motorcycle company and clothing brand. His store is also an artists’ studio, restaurant and workshop. It paved the way. There’s now street art in Canggu that wouldn’t be out of place in Berlin or Valparaiso, sharply designed vinyasa studios, a thriving coffee scene that takes its cues from Portland, Oregon, skate parks and reliable surf breaks that suit both intermediate and beginner surfers. Each café along the road to the beach looks snappier than the last, hammering home the current go-to aesthetic of polished concrete, hanging ferns and lots of macramé, plus excellent baristas, in-house coffee blends, top-quality cold-press espressos and, crucially for the tribes of travelling hot-deskers who gather here, super-fast Wi-Fi. There’s the excellent Crate Café and the Recovery Room, and one of my favourites, Montagu. Just like Little Flinders down the road, which is named after a Melbourne laneway, this café could easily be found in a cool Australian neighbourhood – or any of the global cities such as London or San Francisco where freelancers with furrowed brows sit in front of lit-up MacBooks. It’s only the heat and the scent of frangipani that give the game away.
BALI’S HOTTEST HOTEL: THE SLOW
Brazilian yogi Jade Moyano on falling for The Slow, the super-coveted hotel that put Canggu on the map
Gazing at The Slow from afar, I see tropical brutalism, straight lines, traces of the jungle. Driving past on my scooter always makes me turn around to have a second look. There is something new to take in every time, a compelling reason to stop. The Slow redefines the classic hotel experience. A stay doesn’t have to require sleep, the bedroom doesn’t have to have four walls, your bathrobe can become a sarong, gardens can become inverted, partitions are perforated. I am constantly awake and aware here, on the lookout for the next surprise.
The project represents the coming of age of its founders, George and Cisco Gorrow, pioneers of Australian design who have galloped through peaking creative industries to finally wind down in Bali. Walls are covered with ethereal photography and art; their personal collection, showcasing more than 90 pieces by both established and up-and-coming artists from around the globe, includes works by Woody Gooch, Mark Gonzales, Chris Searl and Mad Saki. Next door is the monochromatic store Non-Type, George’s menswear line with Gareth Moody of the Australian label Ksubi.
The hotel is where the most artistically and aesthetically inclined people on Bali gather, those who happily wait months for a chance to stay in one of the 12 retro-modernist suites. Artisan-produced furniture and crafts and natural textures blend with industrial elements and custom pieces by the owners’ friends. The soundtrack is curated by LA-based Reverberation Radio. I fell in love with the music as soon as I walked through the door. The weekly podcast serves up a heart-warming selection of lost-gem tracks from psychedelic rock to vintage bossa nova. The concept of The Slow encourages guests to expand their understanding of music, art and culture. It is the coolest place to stay in Bali right now.
CANGGU’S COOLEST CAFES
Asia-based Lost Guides writer Anna Chittenden calls Bali her second home. She has the scoop on Canggu’s café scene
In this corner of Bali, it’s all about breakfast. The high-octane, clean-living culture means everyone is up at the crack of dawn, and the first meal of the day is the most important. The food is as healthy as can be: chia, spirulina, almonds and coconuts, turmeric lattes and buckwheat pancakes headline every menu.
Shady Shack, founded by free-spirited Aussie Gypsy (who also runs the popular Betelnut restaurant), is the prettiest whitewashed wooden café, serving up vegetarian dishes. I love the Chickbeans – eggs with braised chickpeas and mashed avocado – followed by a bright purple Berry Bliss smoothie. Surfers flock to Nalu Bowls, just inland from the black volcanic sands of Echo Beach, for vegan-friendly snacks. Nalu, which means wave in Hawaiian, churns out coconut shells filled with blended local fruit; each bowl is named after the owner’s favourite waves from around the world. I always have the Uluwatu (Bali’s famous Bukit surf spot), which is made from dragon fruit, banana, mango and raspberry. Digital nomads can spend the rest of the day at the adjoining co-working space Dojo Bali.
It’s a bike ride through the paddy fields to Milk & Madu. Created by the same team behind the brilliant Watercress in Seminyak and Ubud, the Canggu outpost is buzzing at brunch when everyone orders the scrambled-egg burrito with corn salsa. They also make the creamiest superfood-filled raw desserts; the chocolate-marble cheesecake is incredible. The coffee comes from Bali’s own Revolver Espresso – arguably the best beans on the island. Down the road is hip new hangout Panama Kitchen, which has a pastel-blue Miami-Deco-style beach house and palm-lined pool. Come here in the evening for rounds of vivid-green vodka, kiwi and lime, or the signature Panama Beach Terror cocktail. For dinner, order the sticky pulled-pork burger or honey barbecue chicken wings.
The next morning, nurse your hangover at Café Organic, a quirky juice bar on Batu Bolong. Go for the Garden Gangstas with kale, spinach, cucumber and apple, plus shots of goji berries, ginseng or bee pollen to make you feel virtuous again. Or you can stretch out any tiredness in one of the area’s many brilliant yoga studios. I like Desa Seni, an eco-resort built out of antique wooden joglo houses. It has a great roll call of classes at the open-sided sala, as well as private sessions, meditation and pranayama breath work. Even more relaxing is the spa; stop in for traditional Balinese aura cleansing.
BALI’S BUZZIEST BEACH CLUB: THE LAWN
Travel journalist Lauren Holmes on the grooviest beach scene in Bali
‘”Suka duka” is an expression to learn when you come to Bali. It’s a concept central to the culture, signifying that life hangs in a balance between light and dark, highs and lows, good and evil. You’ll see chequered black-and-white cloth draped around temples and statues, a reminder that both must be embraced for life to flow. So when things start to feel a bit too insular in Ubud – a cauldron of healers and hippies, shamans and spirits – I head straight to Canggu for a wash of sea air and a buzz of energy.
I stop for a cinnamon bun at Made’s Banana Flour Company before settling down on one of the double day beds at The Lawn. Inspired by the break at Echo Beach, surfer Tai Graham set up a campervan here, on a sizeable scruff beside the ocean, selling popcorn and rum-laced fresh coconuts to his friends. Fast-forward a year and a barefoot beach club has blossomed across the rolling grass. Every day feels like the laziest of Sundays. In the thatch-roofed restaurant families graze on herby seafood tacos; couples snooze on sun beds and go for dips in the pool, and when the pro-tour rolls into town, you’re likely to spot Kelly Slater bobbing on the horizon. Tattooed mixologists muddle hibiscus Martinis to old-school hip-hop, and later a jazz band jams. Compared to the monster clubs of Bali’s southern shores, this is a much groovier way to spend your evening.’
CANGGU’S BEST SHOPS
Globetrotting fashion stylist Martha Ward hunts down the loveliest hidden shops
‘Everyone knows that Seminyak and Kuta are wall-to-wall with slick homeware stores, hand-loomed textiles and rails of silk dresses. In Canggu the focus tends to be more practical: lots of surf- and sportswear. But look closely and there are some brilliant finds. I love the dreamy aesthetic that runs through the Instagram account of clothing line Yoli & Otis, and it’s been replicated at its new island home. The space is minimal, with nothing but the odd basket and pot on the shelves, and a bonsai tree for good measure. The brand may have originally made its mark with children’s wear (its first product was a hit organic baby carrier), but the designs for women are great: cotton and linen overalls, vests, collarless shirts, wide-leg trousers – no details, no frills, no fuss.
Magpies will love Maison Blonde, a tiny shop stuffed with beautiful glass and brass boxes filled with handmade jewellery. The pieces are predominantly very fine gold, inspired by vintage treasures and childhood memories. At café and lifestyle store Quince, the father-mother-son team sell delicate ceramics and embroidered linens alongside flat whites. And at Bungalow Living there are geometric cushions and Berber blankets to take home. I stay at Red Door, the most gorgeous villa amid a canopy of coconut trees in quiet paddy fields.
WHAT’S NEW IN CANGGU
Founding editor of Mr and Mrs Smith Juliet Kinsman gives a heads-up on two new openings already making waves
Californians promising fresh, simple flavours is nothing new, but in Bali an imaginatively restored beach house with farm-fresh ingredients and open fires certainly is. I’m really excited about the arrival of Attarine Gardens and Grill in September 2017, the latest project from the Potato Head gang (Katamama Hotel, Potato Head Beach Club Seminyak, restaurants in Singapore and Hong Kong). When the first Attarine outpost opened in Jakarta last autumn, chef Jacob Burrell (just landed from the USA’s West Coast via David Kinch’s three-Michelin-starred Manresa and the Big Sur Bakery) lent a Spice Route lilt to the menu. But in his Canggu kitchen, Burrell is going back to basics, throwing in a lesson on permaculture on this stretch of sunset-facing sand. I tried his cooking at the preview pop-up, and the Mediterranean twist on local produce was delicious: aubergine stuffed with cashews and chillies, watermelon carpaccio, plus meat grilled on an open flame.
Also this autumn, the new COMO hotel, just along the coast from Old Man’s at Batu Bolong beach, should be ready for guests. It’s quite the departure from the group’s reserved inland properties, destination spa COMO Shambhala and COMO Uma Ubud. The Echo Beach hotel will be a more lively prospect. The modernist-style building is topped with 12 penthouse suites, each with its own extraordinary arch carved out of the roof, framing the private infinity pools in a crescent-shaped scoop. There will be the zen styling and high-gloss finish we know to expect from COMO, as well as living walls and a serious surf school. This is the first big-name hotel to arrive on this stretch of coast – it will be interesting to see how it changes the face of the place.
To book a trip to Bali, contact The Ultimate Travel Company Telephone: +44 20 3733 5356 Website: theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk
This feature was first published in Condé Nast Traveller July/August 2017