Nature lovers, serenity seekers, golfers and explorers of ‘the real’ Bali, will love Tabanan. In this Indonesian regency, founded in the 14th century and covering almost 850sqm of south-west Bali, stretching from the sparkling black sands and craggy cliffs of the coast, to the soaring heights of Bali’s tropical hinterland, there is much to explore. Balinese Hindu culture remains strong in this peaceful part of the island, where small villages are bound by customs and colourful religious rituals. Early mornings see fishermen heading out to sea in their colourful wooden jukung (fishing boats), while farmers in bamboo hats plough their rice fields. Tabanan is also the setting for some of Bali’s most beautiful temples, and home to a world-renowned golf course.

Tabanan is known as Bali’s rice bowl, and you don’t need to look far to find picturesque rice fields, whether sloping gently down to the sea or clinging to steep terraces as the land rises sharply toward the majestic volcanoes of central Bali. The famed rice fields of Jatiluwih are a protected UNESCO world heritage site located in Bali’s lush foothills. Sign up for a tour and explore this scenic region by bicycle, foot or land cruiser.

Rice fields of Jatiluwih

If you are seeking a soothing vista of emerald green, check into Kaba Kaba Estate which is gloriously located close to the coast, amidst a seemingly endless sea of rice fields. This palatial eight-bedroomed villa is a treasure trove of antiques and makes a truly luxurious hideaway.

Nearby, two other luxury Tabanan villas are close enough to visit Canggu and Seminyak for a meal or shopping spree, yet rural enough for that away-from-it-all experience: the delightfully peaceful six-bedroomed Maya Retreat is set amidst enchanting gardens on the banks of the Penet river and makes a magical holiday base. While five-bedroomed Arsana Estate has sleek modern buildings sprawled over two beautiful hectares of terraced hillside and boasts a home theatre and games room.

One of Bali’s best-known and most-photographed attractions is Tanah Lot, a mystical sea temple that clings to a craggy island just metres from the shore. Sunsets here are magnificent, but often rather crowded. Staying in a nearby villa means you can wander down for an equally stunning sunrise and avoid the crowds. Just up the road from the temple, the Greg Norman designed Nirwana Bali Golf Course is considered the best 18-hole course in Indonesia. Tucked between rice fields, coconut groves and the Indian Ocean, it grants stunning views of Tanah Lot from the seventh hole and is one of the world’s most unique golfing experiences.

Tanah Lot Temple / Photo credit: Nick Fewings

The serene Nyanyi Riverside Villas are only four kilometres from Tanah Lot and the Nirwana Bali Golf Course. This exclusive two-villa estate, comprising five-bedroomed Villa Atacaya and four-bedroomed Villa Iskandar, this romantic estate clings to the banks of the jungle-fringed Tukad Yeh Sungi River. With a total of nine bedrooms and a dedicated event space, Nyanyi Riverside Villas is an ideal choice for those who wish to celebrate their wedding in Bali.

Just north of Tanah Lot, secluded Kelating Beach has a wide stretch of black sand sweeping around to a picturesque headland. Conditions for beachcombing are perfect and you will probably have the bay all to yourselves. Tucked into a coconut grove, just metres from the sand sits the stylish, nine-bedroom Villa Kailasha which makes an idyllic beachside escape. Staying at this tranquil respite will make you feel like you’re staying in your very own private boutique hotel. Seclusion is guaranteed, with bedrooms spread across various pavilions. 

Following the road along the coast brings you to Luhur Srijong Temple. The big cave underneath the temple is home to thousands of bats who swarm out as if on cue at sunset each night in a dazzling spectacle. The quiet village of Balian is just a little further on. In this pretty spot, popular with surfers and expats who have escaped the hustle and bustle of the south, you will find a few warungs (local eating houses) and a smattering of cafés and restaurants.

Heading inland you’ll pass miles and miles of steeply terraced rice fields. On a small winding road just north of Tabanan city, the village of Penatahan has steaming hot springs nestled into the tropical rainforest. Keep following the road and you will come to beautiful Batukaru Temple set on a plateau in the rainforest in the shade of extinct volcano Mount Batukaru. Hikers can trek to its summit, but it’s advisable to hire a guide. Another evocative temple in these parts is Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, which seemingly floats above the waters of the lake.

Tabanan gives you the chance to escape the crowds and discover a different side of Bali, one filled with mighty flowing rivers, verdant rainforest, scenic rice fields and towering volcanoes.