However, the opening of a new international airport in Lombok together with a handful of quality hotels is beginning to change all that. It is still surprising though that tourism has taken quite so long to gain a foothold on this island paradise.
There are white sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, a raft of islets off the south west coast where the snorkelling and diving is out of the world, endless surfing breaks to keep boarders of all abilities happy and quiet roads traversing beautiful countryside...all dominated by the majestic sweep of Rinjani Volcano that can be tackled on a three day trek.
Surely all this must have some appeal to the traveller?!
One of these new hotels, Sempiak Villas, is located on Lombok's south coast, just 30 minutes from the new airport. There are just three beautifully furnished villas, each with kitchenettes and spacious balconies overlooking the 3km crescent of Selong Belanak beach.
Next to the largest of the three villas (Okep) is an infinity pool, sundeck and eating area, and there is also the excellent Laut Biru Café on the way to the beach that serves lunches to villa guests and day trippers alike. This was my base for a few days while I explored the island's arid south coast that is punctuated by stunning bays of white sand and turquoise water, occasionally getting stuck in chaotic and colourful roadside markets but with time enough to test my surfing skills at Gerupuk where there are excellent breaks for both the intermediate and novice boarder.
Tired but content, having caught the occasional wave, I returned to Sempiak for sunset drinks and dinner on the beach. The Milky Way even had the good grace to put on a fantastic display.
After the remoteness of Selong Belanak, it was a pleasant change to have a little more 'civilisation' at Senggigi, a small tourist town on the island's west coast. I stayed just north of Senggigi at the lovely resort of Jeeva Klui, where my beachfront villa with its verandah and large day bed was the perfect spot for watching the sun set over Mount Agung on Bali - an awe-inspiring spectacle to which I was treated every evening.
Days were spent exploring yet more beautiful, palm-fringed beaches that dot the coastline to the north of Senggigi, notably Sire Beach where you will find the luxurious but very characterful Tugu Hotel (I can highly recommend it!) before returning to Jeeva Klui in time for the sunset and dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in Senggigi. Square was my particular favourite, and a meal there followed by a Bintang beer and live music at Happy Café was about as good as it gets if you enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I also found time to make the long but very picturesque road journey to Gili Nanggu, one of the south-westerly Gili islands where hard and soft corals are all in excellent condition and make for fabulous snorkelling.
So fabulous indeed that I am already planning my return trip!
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