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Outstanding view at the Hoshinoya in Ubud

Balinese choices

VOLANTE Stanley Moss heads to Bali for seven weeks, and immerses himself into the local culture. In part two of our series, he looks at five must-stay properties

Photographed by Paula Sweet
From issue 40 of Lucire

 

 

 

Bambu Indah, Ubud: Taking afternoon tea. The bridal house. The main pool. Inside the River Pools restaurant.

 


Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.

Part 1: introduction to Bali

 

Where to stay

Bambu Indah in Ubud
There’s no place else on earth quite like Bambu Indah, a boutique eco-themed sanctuary overlooking rice paddies, sited atop a rushing river gorge. Originally composed of reassembled Javanese wedding dwellings used as guest houses for the estate of jewellery designer John Hardy, the vintage wood units offer dreamlike accommodation and modern comforts. All-natural types will love the outdoor bathrooms, the worn wood floors, the stream-fed pools and the traditional feeling. If you seek sparkling new geometric precision, carpeted hallways, commodified service and the gentle murmur of air conditioning, the Oberoi is a better choice. Hardy has created a special high-consciousness experience, with heroic bamboo pavilions, excellent organic kitchen and a setting where you are greeted by the amiable laughter of staff who function much like a family. The eclectic guest mix might consist of a crew in residence for a Japanese magazine shoot, a senior couple on an adventure trek or a family of New Agers interested in visiting the internationally known Green School or a tour of Hardy’s jewellery workshop. Definitely a place to get out of the rat race, where rustic paths connect the lodgings and nary a high-heel, fashionista or selfie can be found. The hotel doesn’t advertise, driven by word of mouth, and a reputation for compassionate and bespoke experiences. Incomparable moments include lemon tumeric ginger tea and a different sweet served complimentary every afternoon on your own private veranda, or private yoga in the cinematic pavilion. We can’t say enough good things about this remarkable little oasis of geckos, kindred spirits and brilliant minds. But this is not a resort for everyone, only the open-minded, which we believe to be a very good thing.

 

Hoshinoya in Ubud

Three spirits are at work at this remarkable new property, open only since 2017. The first is that of Yoshiharu Hoshino, the group CEO, whose vision is to bring Japanese style, order and sensibilities to the chain’s locations, mainly found in Japan. In this, the only location in Bali, you get the signal clearly on arrival, with a synchronized bow as your vehicle comes to a halt at the front gate in a sanctuary of privacy far from the main road. The second spirit, that of architect Rie Azuma, an omnipresent and a benevolent spirit who has lent to the 30-suite property a zen ambience in classical style, capitalizes on the setting and the presence of water everywhere.

Three canals surround 30 villas, each with a children’s pool. Three grades of lodging furnished in minimalist style emphasize local woods, carving and construction, with many wraparound windows. The geometric arrangement of amenities in a wood drawer reminded us of a garden in Kyoto, the low platform bed the stage of a kabuki theatre.

While the multi-level property has many steps, wayfinding is easy to understand, discreetly marked, and a wealth of architectural details delight the eye. A cluster of gazebos overlook the canyon, ideal for lounging, tea, breakfast or drinks among the treetops.

Hoshinoya Bali is set on a subak, a UNESCO world heritage site, and holy water tumbles into its channels from a spring. A jungled river flows below, the ambient noise of cascading waterfall a constant reminder. The third spirit is that of Chef Junichi Sakamaki, who has brought a glorious range of fusion menu possibilities to the table. You’re advised to savour the Contemporary Balinese tasting menu—every course outstanding, especially the unexpected steamed egg custard with coconut and the wagyu beef with three kinds of Balinese sauce. Every meal a delight, and do not miss the Japanese and Indonesian style breakfasts. Ask for Table 13, ideally placed for light and view, that is if you haven’t opted for private dining. The restaurant is reserved exclusively for guests, or those they have invited. A deep and reverential bow to Chef Sakamaki for his masterful work. The spa experience begins with a ride down a private funicular car modestly referred to as an elevator. A range of treatments can be had in spaces which open directly to the great outdoors. The three earthly spirits of Hoshinoya working in concert have created a unique hotel experience where it is possible to escape from every outside distraction. You are politely reminded that drones are forbidden, that monkeys can visit in the morning. This isn’t a property suited to large meetings, though a small conference room wired for digital can accommodate up to 20. Hoshinoya Bali is more for a romantic luxury occasion, honeymoon or family getaway. International guests to this destination will discover the highest standards of design, service and cuisine at a healthy and far remove from the usual luxury tourist experience.

 

Taman Sari Villas in Seminyak

If you find yourself in Seminyak, it’s probably because of its convenient location on the south shore, certainly not for its reputation as Party Central. Two perpendicular main streets are lined with souvenir and vacation-wear stores and open-front bars with live bands doing cover versions of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, complete with dancers. What makes these outstanding villas special is that they provide a level of comfort, quiet and isolation on their own private lane in the centre of town, seemingly far from the maddening crowd. You could easily find comparable lodgings in Beverly Hills, the Sydney water­front, or Nice.

The villas occupy two adjoining secure compounds which can be interconnected, a brief walk from the frenetic town centre and supercharged beachfront. Each villa has its own heated pool and plantings, and both are tastefully furnished modern-minimalist, decorated contemporary Balinese, with full kitchens. A team of very amenable ladies keeps the property humming, and can help you with any arrangements from meal service to dinner reservations to drivers to in-house treatments. Breakfast included. The Taman Sari villas would make an excellent base of operations for local day trips, and serve as an unexpected and peaceful hideaway in the midst of a throbbing, energetic community.

 

The Damai in Lovina

This small-brand boutique hotel on the north shore near Singaraja is an opportunity to experience first-hand vanishing local culture, in the neighbourhood of an old Bali mountain community. The property, nestled in the hills no more than five minutes from downtown Lovina, was built by the same people who constructed the Four Seasons hotels. At 21 years old, it is both seasoned and in excellent repair, albeit with a few authentic cracks in the hand-sculpted paving stones. Pool view villas overlook the Bali Sea, and villagers, farmers and mountain people wander up and down the gently slanting lanes in an area whose history is generally forgotten. Here reside vestiges of the old ways, tiny settlements, omnipresent temples, local ceremonies and the sounds of gamelans echoing across the canyon.

The Damai is the kind of place where guests escape the hustle-bustle, slow down, enjoy the small things, and engage the local spirits. You might meet the local pandit’s wife at daybreak distributing offerings around the villas. But the island is changing, evolving, and down at the shore development is overtaking infrastructure. In the next 15 years it may all be gone, so go now. This is a quiet, polite, beautiful property, with a lot of steps, where the silence is broken only by the swishing sound of a gardener sweeping paths. Electric carts noiselessly shuttle you to the distant villas, crossing a wooded gorge over a covered bridge. Two Seaview villas boast private infinity pools, wood plank floors, classical furniture, high ceilings, theatrical masks in glass-fronted vitrines and geckos and lizards at no extra cost. The Damai’s organic gardens are artfully placed among the paths, and all seafood, chicken and pork is sourced from the local village. There are daily street food and entree specials available, and a drink-of-the-day on offer. Many guests—who range from honeymooners to retirees—never leave the property, and choose to spend their time poolside, or dropping in to the excellent Ayurvedic-inspired spa. There’s fast internet invisibly present throughout, so you won’t feel digitally isolated. This fine small hotel personalizes the visit from the first, inquiring gently about allergies and preferences upon check-in. Staffed entirely by local folks, the property supports a local village and community centre. It’s the memorable details that matter, like the bamboo straw in your drink made by family of a staff member, or the invitation your most accommodating masseuse unexpectedly extends to witness an unforgettable night dance at her own temple.

 

Hotel Tugu in Canggu

This historic architectural treasure completed in 1997 deserves to be a protected property. Government of Indonesia, are you listening? More like a Hollywood set than a hotel, Tugu (it means monument in Balinese) is one of those ultra-romantic places where every corner delivers a major photo opportunity.

Mr Anhar Setjadibrata, who still owns the business, bought the land when it was set among rice paddies in Canggu in 1990. Today development has surrounded the 21-suite oceanfront property, home to the finest surfing beaches in Bali. Hotel Tugu tries to stay as close to tradition as possible, and displays examples from the owner’s vast collection of antiques and collectibles housed in environments constructed of authentic materials assembled with old techniques. Tradition is everywhere, rendered in rare woods, native grasses, coloured glass, ceramics and shaped metal. Even though you’d never know from the street, the heroic reception area occupies a vast interior space inspired by traditional Indonesian public halls. We can’t decide which we like better, the super-cool public spaces with koi ponds everywhere, or the five grades of lodgings, rich in variety. The Puri Le Mayeur Villa, a pavilion surrounded by water, is Tugu’s top suite set in the middle of a lotus garden. It boasts its own living room which allows open air dining. Recently upgraded and soundproofed, the pavilion contains artefacts, memorabilia, photos and actual drawings and paintings by a renowned Belgian painter who lived in Bali from 1930 to 1958, married a famous Balinese dancer and was close to Sukarno.

The other high-end suite isn’t merely a suite, it’s more like a house honouring another artist. The Walter Spies Suite has its own private gate, entry garden, covered porch, sitting room, and private tiled outdoor plunge pool. A treasure trove of memorabilia and ephemera, it contains vintage furniture, and a headboard made from the front door of Spies’ house. Junior suites at Tugu feature private walled pools, but the real surprise is to be found one level upstairs in the Rejang suites, with their vintage baths, wood panelling and spiral staircases.

This extremely fun hotel has some alluring dining concepts and options. First there is breakfast offered ‘any time anywhere.’ You can’t get cooler than that. Then there is Canggu’s best sushi restaurant, housed in a restored Chinese temple built in 1706, found in Java and reassembled just off the reception area. The hotel offers dining anywhere you want it—we had a candlelight Indonesian supper served in a small pavilion set over the water in the middle of the lotus garden. Tugu loves social dining experiences, open to both guests and visitors. Global gypsies will love the upstairs bar, an irreverent space with high chairs and ocean views à la the Ace Hotel chain. Adventure-seekers will enjoy specially choreographed romantic dining on a big mattress set on the beach. This is a property for the young at heart. Then there’s the spa, with its four crazy décors, definitely cinematic, theatrical. We tried the Mantra treatment, where your therapist sings and chants during the massage, and completes the visit with a blessing and a smoke-filled prayer ritual. Look around the hotel’s gardens and rooms and you’ll see an eclectic mix of Europeans, honeymooners, businesspeople, retired folks and serious surfers who arrive with their boards. Sometimes small groups and weddings take over the property, so plan ahead. Couples, on average, stay five nights, wading into the temperate sea, or Canggu’s over-the-top nightlife. On Thursday evenings, Balinese dancers perform in the main pavilion. •

 

Pool suite door to the garden; the room itself; and, of course, the pool

An in-room canag

Taking tea by the lotus pond at Le Mayar villa

The exclusivity of the Walter Spies suite

 

 

 

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