Under the Skin at Alila Manggis

Like its namesake fruit, the mangosteen, Manggis on the east coast of Bali isn’t quite as accessible as better-known Bali destinations. However, it rewards you with a memorable taste of the ‘Island of the Gods’ that is well worth the extra effort.

About a two-and-a-half hour drive from the airport delivers you to the unspoiled eastern coastline of Bali in the shadow of active volcano Mount Agung, Bali’s highest and most sacred peak. Far removed from the party palaces and tourist traps, the locals here still follow their traditional lifestyle of rice farming, fishing, salt making and weaving.

Eager to explore the ‘real Bali’, we signed up on our first morning for a guided hike through the surrounding countryside. Pack a pair of sturdy shoes if you wish to embark on some of the more challenging ‘Alila Journeys’ offered, such as a four-hour trek to the summit of Mount Agung. If you’re like me and your resort luggage typically includes a less-than-hardy selection of strappy heels and flip flops, you can still enjoy a superb hike of the rice terraces and ancient villages a short drive from the resort.

Our hike took us along a hillside ridge following an ancient irrigation channel. The entire way we were afforded magnificent views of glittering rice terraces punctuated by palm fronds and thatched huts stepping down the verdant valley to the plain below. Beyond that, we glimpsed the sparkle of deep blue ocean and simmering silhouette of Mount Agung.

Along the way our guide, who grew up in these very hills, pointed out native pandan, cassava, tamarind and mangosteen plants. He explained how locals used macadamia and indigo to dye their exquisite ikat textiles. We drank young coconuts and snacked on tiny sugar bananas and snakefruit during a rest stop at a local home.

We eventually wound our way down toward the village, passing hill communities selling their handicrafts by the side of the road. If you’re in the market for Balinese weaving or wood carving, this is a great place to pick up anything from hair accessories to huge baskets.

The hike ended in ancient Tenganan – one of east Bali’s oldest and most unique villages. The fortress village dates back to the 11th century. Its identical terracotta houses are decorated with ornate stone carvings and wildly blooming bougainvillea. To this day, villagers follow ancient Bali Aga rituals, such as inter-village marriage and gladiator battles. They are also skilled in the intricate art of ‘double ikat’ weaving and you can purchase colourful cloths and traditional masks at the local workshops.

We arrived back at the resort just in time for afternoon tea – which promptly became my favourite time of day at Alila Manggis. Strong local coffee, sweet herbal tea and traditional ‘jajan’ snacks are served each afternoon in the resort grounds. Guests laze around the diamond-shaped pool or play badminton as late afternoon sunlight through the palms cast dramatic shadows across the blissful scene. Afterwards, sunset yoga in the seaside sala is the perfect way to achieve an even higher state of nirvana.

Those with a romantic streak should book a private seaside dinner for two served by personal butlers in the flickering glow of fire torches. Even regular dinner at Seasalt Restaurant is a treat. Chef Nyoman Santika, a native of east Bali, is well known across the island and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Balinese meal.

By night, the meditative pounding of the ocean breakers echoes loudly across the coconut grove. I was lulled into the deepest sleep I’d had in ages, firmly under the mangosteen spell.

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