Sunny Sanur

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by Taufik Darusman

A vibrant village in the 1970s, Sanur in southern Bali retreated to the background as the island’s upscale Nusa Dua, cozy Legian, artistic Ubud and elegant Seminyak took center stage. It has, however, in recent times reclaimed its rightful place among its peers on the back of its intrinsic time-honored allure.

Sanur is not exactly Bali’s best-kept secret. After all, it was precisely the village’s exotic appeal that attracted tourists the world over to the island and sparked its tourism growth in the early 1970s. The island is now a perennial winner of major travel magazines’ much-coveted ‘the world’s most favorite resort’ title.

Rock stars Mick Jagger and David Bowie always make it their point to spend time in Sanur to re-charge their batteries after doing exhausting concerts in Australia. Celebrities such as Sarah Ferguson and Sophia Loren have put Sanur in their list of must-visit places (maybe now no longer, but certainly during their happier days).

And when years ago Dewi Soekarno, to the delight of incorrigible voyeurs, decided to bare her natural assets — albeit somewhat depreciated — in a coffee-table book, it was said that she would settle for no less than Sanur as the site for the steamy photo session.

“Sanur stands out among other areas in Bali for its wide appeal that caters to a wide spectrum of visitors,” said Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, the chairman of the Denpasar-based Bali Tourism Board (BTB) and owner of the Segara Village cottages, told this magazine recently.

He added: “Here you’ll find sandy beaches, spectacular sunrises, a golf course, a shopping center, art galleries, a five-star hotel and beachfront villas. The culinary scene is also picking up pace, with new eateries opening at a steady rhythm.

“No village in Bali can boast such a wide range of facilities, including international schools due to its sizable foreign community. At present, we’re in the opening of spas mode.

In many ways, with its irresistible drawing power of sun, sand, spa and (a little bit of discrete) sex, Sanur defines Bali. But there is more to Sanur than that.

The aura of old money and new money is in the air, an interesting combination that takes shape in Jalan Danau Tamblingan, a tree-lined street dotted with villa hotels, chic boutiques, fine-dining restaurants and art galleries, many of which owned by foreigners with locals as their fronts.

On Saturday evenings, the place to be for good, reasonably-priced food and good, reasonably-performed music is Cafe Batujimbar on that very same street.

Says BTB’s Wijaya: “Our promotional drive also focuses on the so-called ‘silver market’, baby-boomers who have retired and have discretionary income and free time to spend outside their countries. So far we have been able to attract large numbers of retirees from Holland, who come here to stay for up to six months as they enjoy special rates.

But no matter where they come from and spend their time in Sanur, they all share a common desire to visit the Le Mayeur Museum, the former house-studio of the famous Belgian impressionist painter of aristocratic stock who came to Bali in 1932 and stayed there for almost three decades.