A stylish new resort along the famed Kuta Beach marks the transformation of a much-loved landmark.
KUTAâ€™S maddening traffic jams, which usually begin at the airport, often mark an unlikely start to a visitorâ€™s holiday at the idyllic tropical paradise that is Bali.
But itâ€™s to be expected, as Kuta is one of the earliest areas of Bali to draw tourists and is one of the original â€œ3Kâ€™s of the backpackersâ€? trail, along with Kathmandu and Bangkokâ€™s Khao San Road.
My taxi swerves and jostles its way through narrow lanes packed with pedestrians and vehicles, before turning a corner into Jalan Pantai Kuta. Although itâ€™s early morning, surfers are already riding the waves as Kuta is a renowned surfing paradise.
And, itâ€™s directly across the beach that the brand new Sheraton Bali Kuta has opened as the first five-star resort in the area.
Sprawled across prime ocean-front land, the hotel is touted to mark the transformation of Kuta from a backpackersâ€™ paradise into a more upmarket destination on par with the Sanur or Seminyak areas where well-heeled tourists congregate.
Two traditional Balinese dancers welcome me at the entrance, making a pretty photo op against a sculpted bronze waterfall illuminated with silver lotuses. Elevators lead me to the lobby upstairs, where an unexpected view of the ocean directly across the hotel appears.
The expansive, naturally ventilated space is completely column-free, offering a panoramic view of Kuta Beach just beyond the swimming pool below. As contemporary as the Sheraton is, its architecture and interior design is inspired by Balinese culture.
Mounted on the ceiling is a beautifully decorated replica of a jukung boat, a customary fishing boat used in Bali, while decorative wall-sconces are made from laser-cut stainless steel with traditional Balinese geringsing pattern.
After a typically warm welcome by the Balinese staff, I head for my deluxe guest room, one of 203 spread around the resortâ€™s low-lying blocks. In line with the contemporary style of this Sheraton property, my room is minimalist with Balinese design inspiration.
Decked out in a neutral palette, the room is spacious and uncluttered, and thoughtfully designed without any fussy dÃ©cor. A small balcony accessible via a sliding glass door is positioned diagonally so that it overlooks green lawns with views of the beach just across the road.
The elegant design is accentuated by a lovely mother-of-pearl shell that reflects the ocean, which is seen in the coffee table and bathroom wall. A freestanding bathtub, rainforest showers and exquisite Statuario Italian marble over the vanity offer just the right amount of luxury. Each room features a plush signature Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed that makes for wonderful slumber.
I head for a late breakfast at Feast, the hotelâ€™s all-day dining outlet. Located on the ground level, it can be accessed from the street. Vivid magenta tones add a vibrant energy to the place, which I find to be very cheerful after a slumber.
Many guests gush over the extensive breakfast buffet here, and itâ€™s easy to see why as itâ€™s truly a feast. Open kitchens dish up freshly cooked eggs, noodles, pancakes and waffles. I love the free flow of freshly-squeezed-to-order fruit and vegetable juices and Balinese or Italian gourmet coffees.
Homemade yogurts, Western continental fare, Asian specialities and an assortment of just-baked breads and pastries make every breakfast special.
It isnâ€™t often I dig into scoops of ice creams for breakfast paired with crispy Churros, but itâ€™s impossible not to be tempted at a restaurant named Feast.
In the afternoon, I explore the adjoining Beachwalk, a brilliant new concept of an open-air mall that was designed by EnviroTec, a Jakarta-based architectural firm that also worked on the Sheraton, as both properties belong to the same company.
Soft veils of green vines hang from each circular level that was inspired by Baliâ€™s picturesque padi fields. The restaurants are contained in little pods encircled by water and plants, while the over 200 retail outlets offer a mix of local and imported brands.
While the Sheraton Bali Kuta will no doubt attract many business travellers due to its facilities and ample meeting rooms, it is also a very family-friendly hotel. Its family programme ensures that little guests are welcomed with their own drinking bottles which allow them a free-flow of soft drinks, juices or milk.
They also enjoy a Kids Eat Free package, while just next door at Beachwalk is the Miniapolis water park and Cheeky Monkey Playground.
Evenings are best reserved for the hotel, as this is where we enjoy some truly spectacular sunset views over Kuta Beach from the buildingâ€™s elevated position. I spend the first evening catching it from the wind-swept open rooftop deck of Bene, which is the hotelâ€™s casual Italian trattoria which offers mesmerising views of the beautiful Balinese Straits.
This is a much-in-demand space for hosting private functions or sunset cocktails, ideal for the hotelâ€™s business travel segment.
A table at Beneâ€™s is just as magical, as the floor-to-ceiling glass walls are specifically designed for the views over wine and some tasty wood-fired pizzas or some more elegant fare. But for me, a quiet spot off the pool deck is the best place to enjoy the blazing palette of dusk.
Sunsets tend to stir a certain sort of melancholy in me. It makes me reflect how the day has gone by and the possibilities that come with tomorrow. The Sheraton Bali Kuta indeed offers a welcome respite from Kutaâ€™s crazily crowded haunts of rowdy bars and nightclubs.
Time will soon tell if it marks the start of a renewal for Kuta.