When Holly and Greg Abrams of Orange Valley, Ohio planned their September, 1996
wedding, Greg arranged a surprise honeymoon and told his fiancée to pack for
the tropics. However, it was not until the day of the marriage that he revealed that
they were going to Bali. The night after checking in at the Four Seasons they joined
the Captain's Table, along with other guests, to feast on Rijsttafel, a Dutch-inspired
Indonesian banquet, in the resort's Taman Wantilan Restaurant.
Although the Abramses had just arrived, they concurred with San Franciscans Mike
and Jane Bohlig, travelers who had been to many little-known and exotic corners of
the globe, and their other dining companions that the island and the hotel, despite
the distance, had been a superb choice. Conversation centered around how much, albeit
its relatively small size, there is to see and do in Bali.
Kooje Van Loon of Amsterdam commented on the uniqueness of the resort, noting
that not only is the architecture Indonesian— many vacation compounds also mirror
their surroundings — but that the Four Seasons is infused with local culture. "I've
heard," she said (could she have been thinking of the newlyweds?) "that
some guests hardly leave their villas, but even if they rarely do, I think that they
will, nevertheless, have had a consummate Balinese experience."
|Village Chiefs, Four Seasons
A sense of place and of people has been created here. In the resort activity book
General Manger Neil Jacobs describes the fabric of Indonesian heritage in a welcoming
note to guests by mentioning that "many of the wonders of Bali's ancient and
fascinating rituals continue to take precedence in the daily activities of the community."
Jacobs adds, "The Hindu-Balinese way of life is governed by divinely inspired
philosophies." Hotel employees are encouraged to integrate those practices into
The G.M. refers to Bali as "this magical Island of the Gods." Resort,
location and folkways are inseparable, ranging from the presence of religious symbolism,
such as 500 shrines and temples, to the celebration of festivals and ceremonies.
One thousand on premises offerings (gifts to the gods) are made every day—house crews
prepare three at each villa before they ever begin to make up the rooms.
The resort's layout is based on the traditional organization of a Balinese village
with a courtyard, square and lanes. Within those villages, of which there are seven,
are 20 to 25 individual units. Every compound is headed by a chief who oversees his
own group of workers and guests.
Each of 147 villas has a gate and garden and is enclosed by a three-sided high
wall for maximum privacy. The fourth and open side faces Jimbaran Bay and contains
a plunge pool, guarded by a dragon sculpture fountain, a living/dining room and a
terrace. Brass-handled and painted carved wood doors open onto an enclosed sleeping/bathing
area, revealing a king-sized canopied bed, draped with sheer curtains. The room is
separated from the balcony by sliding doors that can be parted for a view of the
sea. An oval tub is deeper and larger than those found in most hotels and a separate
shower stands beyond a marble divider. An outdoor bamboo pipe shower provides the
ultimate in sensuous bathing.
Utilizing indigenous materials like local stone, marble, teak and bamboo, regional
craftsmen built the sumptuous accommodations. Roofs are thatched and sloping. Native
products found in the rooms are woven baskets, wooden bowls and ikat and batik fabrics
for robes, directory covers, slippers, backpacks and pillow coverings.
Since everything is designed to de-stress, even the doorbell hums softly when
someone buzzes. A kul kul (cowbell), with its pleasant wooden sound, summons
guests to parties and celebratory functions. A kul kul also hangs above every
villa door to defuse the light bulb hidden within so that soft shadows illuminate
the way at night.
The arc-shaped resort is built on the sloping side of a hill rising from the edge
of the beach and there are several ways to explore it. You can take a buggy (really
a golf cart) and ask to be driven around the grounds, passing the pool with the infinity
edge, waterfall, covered bridge, tile-roofed village headquarters, Boutique, Gallery,
village temple and Spa. Or you might buy "The Garden Book," an illustrated
primer that describes in photographs and text the landscaping of the resort's main
areas, and use it as a guide for a walking tour.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Denpasar 80361 Bali, Indonesia.
Tel. (62-361) 701010. Central reservations 800-332-3442. Rates start at $425.
Daily and weekly sporting and cultural events are listed on the roster of things
to do at the Four Seasons. Sports include tennis and tennis clinics, bicycling, supervised
dive trips, beach walks, yoga, aerobics, weight training and the use of equipment
at the water pavilion, such as a catamaran, canoes, windsurfers, surfboards and boogie
boards. Golfers can tee off at the nearby Bali Golf & Country Club, to and from
which regular shuttle service is available.
Cultural highlights feature dance performances and the observation of dance instruction,
massage classes and garden and temple tours.
At the Spa, Balinese practices are also an integral part of the program. Beauty
treatments apply the products and techniques that island women have enjoyed for generations.
The Lular Royal, a Javanese ritual that was designed as a wedding preparation, lasts
almost two hours and is the one that gets the most kudos. Beginning with a coconut
oil Balinese massage in the privacy of one's own villa, it continues with a scrub
that blends turmeric and other spices with sweet and sandal woods. The body is then
coated with yogurt. After a quick shower the procedure ends with a long soak in a
petal-filled, warm water tub and a jamu herbal drink for detoxification.
Bali Golf & Country Club, 18-hole championship course, Nusa Dua Beach.
Great cuisines generally depend on four elements: fine ingredients (the island's
land is rich), trade with other peoples, a highly evolved civilization and a refined
palace life. Executive Chef Kenji Satz notes that Indonesia lacked one of these components.
It did not have a court cuisine. Therefore, he developed his own version of how Balinese
food should be prepared. He calls his menus "sassy food" because they combine
"excellent flavor, festive appearance and nice height in presentation for maximum
impact." His food is not as hot as some other Asian cuisines and curry, ginger,
peanuts and grated coconuts are his cooking staples.
The three places to eat are all open to the breezes and the bay. The Pool Terrace
Cafe, the most casual of all the restaurants, along with Pantai Jimbaran
(or PJ's) serves Indonesian and American fare. Pastas, pizzas, main dish salads,
fresh fish and other internationally inspired foods also come out of the kitchen.
Taman Wantilan Restaurant offers mostly Indonesian dishes although variations
of satays, seasoned rice, noodles and vegetables, which are mainstays of the local
diet, can be found in all of the dining spots. Black rice pudding is a breakfast
favorite, but with its rich sweetness it seems much like a dessert.
For a taste of a dozen and a half Indonesian specialties, sign up for one of the
aforementioned thrice weekly Rijsttafels. The peanut crackers and fried tempe
are the most addictive items on the buffet. Ask to join one of the group tables;
it's a good way to meet other guests.
The Four Seasons is located at the southern tip of Bali and every excursion taken
from there will be on roads so colorful, so packed with people and activity that
the ride to the destination is as pleasurable as the outing. On this most crowded
agricultural space, there is, instead of misery, a mood of mirth and piety. Women
with baskets on their heads smile as they tread down the roads in the many lively
small towns. People in native dress, carrying large instruments, are on their way
to temples to take part in festivals. Families preparing for cremations consider
them celebratory occasions since, "Heaven is just another Bali." The houses,
temples and other structures are no taller than three stories for by law they can
not be built higher than a coconut tree. Striking architectural elements are red
bricks, tile roofs and carvings.
White water rafting on the Telaga Waja River, in the region of Karangasem in East
Bali, is, perhaps, the apex of any junket on the island. Bali Safari Rafting
calls for participants at their hotels and drives them into the interior. Since the
trip in the van is as equally exciting as the one on the water, it's like getting
two tours for the price of one.
The thrill of rafting (level four) competes with the pull of the scenes along
the river— the steep and lush incline that banks the Telega Waja; the terraced rice
fields and the irrigation; the laughing children waving to every raft; and the natives
bathing, washing clothes and hacking bamboo. The two-hour, 14-kilometer stretch in
the river is crowded with boulders, requiring concentrated paddling. A few natural
Disneyesque touches add to the paddlers' exhilaration. Midway during the journey,
the raft goes under a long waterfall and near the end, it tumbles down a dam backward
at a 45-degree angle.
The WakaLouka Land Cruise transports visitors on the Tabanan-Denpasar Highway,
as well as on less traveled and bumpy dirt roads, to the rain forest deep in the
heart of the land. Lasting eight hours, it features an ever-changing tableau of wonders,
such as tropical vegetation, ravines and bamboo fields, and an itinerary designed
to show the yet unspoiled parts of Bali. The midpoint break is at WakaLouka Camp
where lunch, accompanied by music played on reed instruments, is served in the open-air
Zatiluwih Village Restaurant. Along the way there are spans of roads in uninhabited
areas that are bursting with rainbow arrays of flowers. In some hamlets, red and
gold homes are clustered together and in one stretch of streets called "temple
row," small teakwood temples are sold.
Should any of the group say "photo op," the driver will pull over for
picture taking at temples and other sites. Scheduled pauses along the way include
visits to a small plantation where cloves, coconut, ginger, snake fruit and
other produce are grown and to a hot mineral spring where water buffalo dwell.
WakaLouka Sail and several other cruising companies offer trips to Nusa
Lembongan, a small island across the Badung Strait. You can snorkel, swim,
tour the coral reefs by glass-bottomed boat, stroll the quaint village, visit the
caves and inspect a seaweed-making factory.
|Dancer walking down to beach, Four Seasons
Another suggested outing is a trip to Ubud, the art center of Bali and
a place that has always been the favorite village of artists. Opened in 1996, the
Agung Rai Museum of Art houses an impressive collection of local work. The
building is designed to exhibit it in spacious, well lit and appropriate surroundings.
ARMA also functions as a hub for the creative arts and features performances, classes
and workshops. The complex's Kokokan restaurant serves very good Thai food.
However, you might, instead, like to try Cafe Lotus on Main Road because of
its unusual lily pond.
Sunsets are spectacular in Bali and two locations from which to observe them are
the grounds of the Subak Tabola Inn and the Uluwata Temple. Go to the
inn in late afternoon, stay for a typical dinner and observe the peaceful ambiance
from high up in the hills. A picture of life after dark can be seen during the drive
back, when people are out and about and many small family shops stay open to sell
sundries and drinks.
The Uluwatu Temple, near Jimbaran Bay, is one of the most important temples in
Bali. Set on a sheer cliff high above the ocean, the view makes visitors linger before
turning their attention to the carvings and to the playful resident monkeys.
Kuta, the second largest city, is also close to the Four Seasons and is
popular for shopping, restaurants and night life. It is easily reached by a regularly
scheduled hotel shuttle bus.
Bali Safari Rafting, Jl. Hayam Wuruk 88A. Tel. (0361) 221315. The fee includes transportation,
lunch, snacks, showers, towels, insurance, river ride and equipment.
WakaLouka Land Cruise, Jl. Imam Bonjol 335X. Tel. (0361) 426071.
WakaLouka Sail, Benoa Harbor. Tel. (62)(361)723629 or 722077.
Agung Rai Museum of Art, Ubud, Gianyar 80571. Tel. (0361) 74228.
Kokokan, Puri Indah Garden, Jalan Penegosekan, Ubud. Tel. 96495.
Cafe Lotus, Main Road, Ubud. Tel. 975660.
Subak Tabola Inn, Desa Sidemen, Karagasem. P. O. Box 119, Klungkung. Tel. (0366)
Pura (temple) Uluwatu, East Coast of Bali's southern peninsula, the Bukit.
The Boutique at the Four Seasons has a carefully edited assortment of merchandise.
Seventy five percent of the items on its shelves are exclusive to the shop. Among
the beautifully crafted goods are authentic Indonesian antiques, clothing, baskets,
silver and gold jewelry, handbags, shoes, hats, accessories and decorative pieces
for the home. John Hardy, an artisan known for his silver objects, sells his work
If ikat, the traditional Balinese fabric, captures your fancy, the place to see
it being made is at the Pelangi factory in Sideman, where every part of the
process is demonstrated for visitors. High quality shirts, table runners, sarongs,
belts and cloth can be purchased in the showroom.
Galleria Nusa Dua, located close to Jimbaran Bay, has two shuttle services,
one maintained by the Duty Free Shopping store in the mall, and the other by the
Four Seasons. Uniquely Balinese shops fill the complex. Among them are Keris,
a handicraft center, and Uluwatu, purveyors of mostly white embroidered and
lace clothing, table linens and pillow slips.
The towns of Ubud and Kuta are also good places to shop. Boutiques
in Ubud deal largely in collectibles, carvings, artwork, batik and ikat, silver and
crafts. In Kuta the stores sell mostly fashion and accessories.
Markets offer a chance to observe the locals buying and selling. Ask the
concierge for a list of them. And don't forget that many of the stores, particularly
the ones with no tags on the merchandise, do not have set prices so bargain, bargain
and bargain some more.
Pelangi, Sidemen, Karagasem. Tel. (0366)23012.
Galleria Nusa Dua. Tel. 62-(0)361-771662/3.
Duty Free Shopping. Tel. 62-(0)361-772165/6 or 772202/3/4/5 for the shuttle bus.
It is not possible to fly directly to Bali because of the long distance from
the United States. Flights arriving at and leaving from Ngurah Rai International
Airport connect with several major Asian cities. We flew Malaysia Airlines
with a stopover in Kuala Lumpur. The airline has a good reputation for service,
food, passenger satisfaction, space and comfort level. Malaysia Airlines flies
from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur five times a week. The National Transportation
Safety Board reports that there have been no accidents involving the airline
from 1985 on, the years for which it has records in its database. Tel. 800-552-9264.
The gamelan orchestra looses a rippling patter of stony chimes. Kendang drums swell. The masked and costumed figure steps out stiffly, all angly elbows, turned-out thighs, sinewy, insinuating fingers and creaky movements. He cocks his head like a curiously startled bird. The world-weary mien and unruly white hair on the wide-eyed mask inform that the character being depicted is the king's old counselor. With poise and balance, using stop-start staccato steps, he spins out a magical tale dramatizing the advance of years.
Dusk descends over the group gathered at Four Seasons Resort, Bali at Sayan where the village's 40-member Banjar musicians and dancers perform the Topeng and other numbers on Tuesdays at 6:00. The wondrous Topeng, meaning pressed against the face as with a mask, tells the story of ancestors who descend from heaven to inhabit the masks and is a stylized blending of history, myth and magical faith. In a way it serves as a metaphor for the island. Beneath the shroud of Bali's luxuriant tropic beauty lies a living culture as mysterious as any in the world and an exquisite, refined people of utterly irresistible charm.
The Balinese greeting, hands clasped together as in prayer and head slightly bowed, conveys the politeness in this society. Bali is one of the most populated islands on earth, but unlike Manhattan, for example, the habits of grace and consideration, the intervals for pausing for prayer, an inner stillness and gaiety seem to provide a space of comfort between people. The acceptance of a benign world order in which one's place is ordained may have something to do with the elegance and stability with which the Balinese exist. There is a richness to their life and landscape that makes words, for those of us who treasure them, inadequate.
Four Seasons Resort at Sayan, Bali
(credit: Edwin Fancher)
The religion, Agama Hindu Dhara, is Balinese Hinduism, a blend of Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese and ancient indigenous beliefs. Hinduism on Bali is a joyous manifestation that informs and shapes life. Deities and ancestors are worshipped. Evil spirits, witches and ghosts are placated. Starting at dawn and continuing throughout the day, leafs or plaited palm baskets laden with food and flowers (offerings) are presented to the Gods. More than 60 religious holidays appear on the calendar. About 20,000 temples adorn the island.
Nature, religion and art converge into a celebration of beauty that is part of everyday existence. Bali's arts are an extension of its faith and all Balinese, devout servants of the Gods, are artists and cultivate dance, painting, sculpture and music.
Some villages specialize in a particular form of creativity. Mas is
known for woodcarving, Batubalan for stone carving, Tohpati for
batik, Celuk for gold and silver jewelry, Batuan for painting,
Sukawati for basket weaving, Puaya for shadow puppets and masks
and Tenganan for double ikat fabric.
Artisans and craftsmen sell their goods at their workshops. Bargaining is obligatory. Americans sometimes squirm at the practice and prefer a commercial setting in which prices are fixed, but the Balinese have another take on the custom. They look at it as a way of interacting and getting to know one another.
Bali is a place that tugs at the soul. When I left the island after my first
visit a few years ago, I knew it would not be too long before I would come back,
not just to discover what had been left unseen, but to re-experience the rush
that comes from the familiar. Unlocking the main door to a villa that was identical
to the one in which I once stayed and being engulfed by the lush surroundings
rekindled lyrical images of the beach resort, Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay.
As the key turned, I felt that every moment of the exhausting journey halfway
around the world had been worth it. The hotel may only be 10 minutes from Denpassar,
the people-intensive capital, at the southern tip of Bali where the international
airport is located, but it is far off in a dreamworld of bales (thatched
roofed pavilions), outdoor showers that define tropical bathing, massive four-poster
beds with whirling fans above and private plunge pools that suggest reposing
au naturel in the turquoise water.
Since my last visit, new features had been added at Four Seasons. The smallish spa was replaced by a larger one with services meant to appeal to committed gym goers and sybaritic devotees of body treatments. Gardens, whirlpools, showers, dip pools with cascading fountains and courtyards that open to the sky are part of the facility. Individually tailored spa packages were introduced and alternative cuisine is available. Exercise classes take place each day.
The two-hour Lulur Jimbaran for couples combines massage, exfoliation, polish, yogurt splash, a soak in a tub strewn with pedals and an application of lotion. It is not just a taste of utopia, but a tonic for overcoming jet lag. I passed on the finish, a jamu or herbal drink, as I don't much care for the taste.
Belinda Shepherd, spa director, said that the oils, scrubs and lotions are madein Indonesia using native plants and products from the sea. When asked about the ubiquitous and peerless massage in Bali, she answered, "It comes from the heart. There is an attitude of caring among the people who have wonderful hands and have grown up using it within the family."
Mark Miron, executive chef, arrived a little more than a year ago and has made
some changes in the menus. To lend variety to the Balinese table, he prepares
Sumatran-style rijsttafel. In the main dining room, Taman Wantilan, at
dinnertime one can now order both classic fare and Indonesian specialties.
Using recipes from several parts of Asia, Miron opened a noodle house, Warung
Mie. Delicious noodle-based appetizers and entrees are served on mismatched
Chinese porcelain plates. To reach Warung Mie, we stepped on stones resting
in a water garden and entered a bale. The tiled-floor room, which has
the ambiance of a Beijing or Hong Kong restaurant a century ago, holds a communal
antique table, a long bar in front of an open kitchen and old photographs, posters
One morning each week, Miron invites guests to shop with him at the local market where he buys fish and produce. As he wanders among the vendors selling live chickens, duck eggs tinted with blue, snapper, squid, tuna, mackerel and some unfamiliar creatures from the sea, he talks about how to determine what is fresh. He names the exotic fruits--mangosteen, soursap, jackfruit, rambutan, apple custard, salak, sapodilla, passion fruit and Java plum--that taste as though they were harvested in Eden.
Miron also oversees cooking classes that center on selections from the menus and traditional cooking methods. Using authentic Balinese utensils, sous-chefs teach individuals and groups.
Jimbaran Bay arranges sailing, tennis, instruction in massage, Indonesian martial arts and mixing tropical drinks, mountain bike trips, beach walks, beach volleyball, sunrise road runs and guided meditation for its guests.
Five years after the 147-suite Jimbaran Bay property began receiving guests,the
company unveiled another Balinese hideaway, Four Seasons at Sayan in
the jungle highlands on the sacred Ayung River. The number of villas was scaled
back to an intimate 46. Ocean and river packages are popular and a seamless
transition makes staying at both an attractive option. Staff will, upon request,
pack and unpack guests' bags. They photograph the toiletries on the vanity so
that the articles can be laid out the same way in the new quarters. Transfers
are also complimentary.
To reach Sayan we crossed a long tree top-level teak-covered foot bridge straddling a tributary of the Ayung 65 feet below. If I hadn't initially been seduced by the bridge, any one of the unfolding vistas and striking architectural details would have overwhelmed me. After making my way to the elliptical lotus pond that forms the roof of the main building, I descended the stairs to reach the reception area and a sweeping 180 degree view of the valley.
I was then escorted to my one-bedroom villa and entered it from the rooftop, complete with a lotus garden and wooden deck, by climbing down a circular stone stairway. The artfully decorated space below includes a terrace, pool, garden, bedroom, spacious bathing area, outdoor shower and living quarters. One of the striking details is the recessed ledges in the bedroom that hold softly illuminated collectibles.
I sat on the terrace and stared at the jungle and the exquisite geometric precision of rice paddies. The rain forest across the river forms a dense green curtain, and on the first afternoon, the sounds of a tropical downpour competed with the thunder of the rapids. The weather is as beautiful during a shower as it is in sunlight. At night a chorus of frogs, birds and grasshoppers harmonized with the rhythm of the Ayung.
The oval-shaped main dining room, Ayung Terrace, is as stunning as the
panorama of the fields and the river onto which the room opens. Also eye-catching
are the restaurant's silver and brass table accessories by John Hardy and a
group of vivid masks displayed on a circular table. Some of Hardy's pieces may
be purchased at the Sayan and Jimbaran Bay boutiques.
Using earth and botanical substances from the region, beauty therapies were developed especially for use at The Spa at Sayan. A spice bath, suci(based on Ayurveda), clay body masque, rice and spice scrub and an earth-elements holistic facial are a few of the restorative treatments that are offered.
Cooking class under the direction of Simon Purvis, the resort's chef, begins
with a drive to the Gianyar market. He often stops at a babi gulingwhere
guests can taste a not-to-be-missed island specialty, whole roasted suckling
pig. The instruction in the kitchen, preparing native recipes as well as learning
how to present them, is hands-on.
Other resort activities include yoga, water aerobics, garden tours, escorted museum visits, bike rides through the neighboring villages and rice fields and valley treks.
Sayan is near Ubud, the cultural and artistic core of the island. The fruits
of the painter's imagination, batik printer's eye, ikat weaver's hand, wood and
stone carver's dexterity and silver and goldsmith's skills are for sale in galleries
and shops here, as well as in the villages where they are produced.
|Bale Kambang (Floating pavilion), Klungkung, Bali (credit: Edwin Fancher)|
Close by are majestic temples to explore and colorful festivals to attend.
We hired a car and driver, and accompanied by a guide, we visited Pura Besakih,
the holiest temple, where we climbed the many levels of the complex to observe
the shrines, which number over 80, and Gunung Agung, the tallest and
most sacred volcano, "the navel of the world." On that same excursion we went
to Klungkung to see the Taman Gili (Royal Palace), where the overhead
artwork in the Bale Kambang (Floating Pavilion) depicts daily life, and
the Kertha Gosa (Hall of Justice), whose ceiling is intricately painted
to show justice and punishment.
On another day we attended a cremation. Tourists are welcome at these intense and joyous events, which are witnessed by hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, and celebrated like a wake. The rituals last for many hours. The elation at funerals springs from the belief that the soul has been released to join the supreme God and that heaven is just another Bali.
The opportunities to sightsee and to participate in sports and outdoor activities are endless. One can hike, climb mountains, go on a camel or elephant safari, cruise, fish, sail, scuba dive, snorkel, jet or water-ski, paraglide, trek through a rice paddy, jungle or monkey forest, paddle a raft on the white water of the Ayung, walk through botanical gardens and bird and reptile sanctuaries, play golf, attend a cultural workshop or take an excursion to another island. A number of companies organize tours and private arrangements are easily made.
There are many resorts and boutique properties on the island that blend with the landscape surrounding them and whose architecture is original. Our visit to a few of them was a singular treat.
Almost a century has passed since Bali's long and fabled Age of Batak Kings
drew to a close, but the grandeur of the ancient Hindu court echoes in the landmark
Nusa Dua Beach Hotel. Fronted by a long stretch of ocean and set on a
large acreage of tropical parkland, some of the design elements--the candy
bentar (entryway) and bales bales, areas where the king communed
with his subjects--were copied from palaces.
Performances and themed dinners are held at Badaya Stage, a large open-air theater. On the concierge or club floors, called the Palace Wing, lanais are attached to the guest rooms. Butler service, breakfast, high tea and cocktails are complimentary. A sports center includes a gym, tennis and squash courts and a climbing wall.
||Pura Besakih, Bali (credit: Edwin Fancher)
Nusa Dua has one of the island's largest spas. The warm and smiling staff dispense a variety of facials, massages and traditional body treatments. The ultimate spa experience is a two and one-half hour delicious combination of scents and strokes, the Ritual, which begins with a sea salt and essential oilfoot rub and is followed by an application of oil to the scalp, a facial massage and a dried coconut scrub.
Raja's Table, the resort's top restaurant, serves commendable food,
especially fish and seafood. A blackened tuna appetizer was fresh, smartly seared
and blushingly pink. A main course of cod, fragrant with ginger and sour plum,
was brilliant. Raja's Table is one of two hotel dining rooms where we discovered
an unusual pricing system. The tab is determined by the number of courses. All
main dishes cost the same. One can select two courses or three and be charged
Adrian Zecha, founder of Amanresorts, is a hotelier whose vision is contrary to that of most innkeepers. He thinks small. His room tally in the decade plus that he has been putting up one-of-a-kind resorts, mostly in Asia, is less than 500. Zecha's objective is to create vacation spots that "respond in an effortless way to location and to the people and culture enriching them." By concentrating on "the way light falls on a table, water fills a pool or people fit a public space" he captured the sultry spell of the very land on which Amanusa and Amandari sit.
Amanusa, peaceful isle, commands a garden hillside overlooking the Indian Ocean and Amandari, peaceful spirits, perches on a mountain slope above the Ayung River gorge. A third Balinese property, Amankila, peaceful hill, which we did not visit, is next to the Lombok Strait.
One does not arrive at Amanusa, one experiences, reacts to and inhales
it. In the main structure the regal colonnaded entrance hall with its marble
floors has the feel of a Hindu temple, updated to the 20th century. Pots of
white tuberoses, the resort's signature blossom, perfume the air. The expanse
of water as seen from the terrace seems to reach to infinity on both the left
Suites hide behind mossy stone walls. All are richly furnished with terrazzo, marble, polished dark wood, rattan and textured fabrics. Each has a sunken indoor tub, which appears to float in a reflecting pool and some have glassed-in outdoor tubs that give the illusion of being set in a water garden.
The boutique is more like a gallery than a shop. Tenderly chosen merchandise--jewelry, clothing, accessories, paintings, sculpture and native handicrafts--are skillfully arranged and beautifully lighted.
Every 15 days at full and at dark moon a gamelan orchestra appears in
the courtyard facing the two-story glass and stone front wall of the Restaurant.
The design of the dramatic black and white Restaurant, serving Italian food,
might have been hatched in Milan. Another dining room, the Terrace, has
a Thai kitchen. The Restaurant's roster of dishes, ranging from homey to adventurous,
is scintillating. A chef from Italy, who planned the menu, visits from time
to time to see that things are going well. And, indeed, they are. Antipasti
was a mosaic of grilled vegetables, redolent of Tuscany's ambrosial olive oil.
Crab and ricotta ravioli with sage butter was deliriously tasty, the finest
rendition of these little stuffed pockets that ever appeared on our plates.
Mains of duck breast sided with polenta and snapper paired with garlicky mashed
potatoes were tremendously satisfying. The complex flavor of creamy hazelnut
semifredo crowning poached plums was dessert reverie. Dinner is priced according
to the number of courses (one to four) selected.
As evening settles on Amandari a gamelan orchestra sits cross
legged on the floor of the music pavilion in the center of the pool. Every sight
at Amandari begs for the camera's eye, but none as much as the image across
from the Restaurant where the reflections of the players and the thatched-roof
stage move lightly on the water. No wonder the dining room was full on the night
we ate there. The view alone would have been enough to draw a crowd. Happily,
the food held its own.
Amandari's Indonesian and Western cuisine was memorable. Grilled tuna and lemongrass salad on a bed of stir-fried fern tips showed off the bounty of the island's products as did lamb curry with dates and potatoes, prepared the Sumatran way. The mezze plate was a nod to Italian-style munchies and the Australian tenderloin, embellished with gutsy wild mushrooms, was a model for the best in beef.
Based on the layout of a Balinese village, there are no external stairs at Amandari. Stone paths curve up and down the hilly property. The lobby was copied from a wantilan or community meeting place. Villas were constructed by hand using local materials--teak and coconut timbers, alang alang grass thatching, bamboo and softly colored volcanic stone. Luxury here is both discreet and voluptuous. All suites enjoy sunken marble tubs in garden settings, private courtyards and sliding glass doors to fuse the indoors with the outside. Duplex suites have four-poster beds whose canopies are adorned with Kamasan paintings on the underside. Guest facilities include a library, tennis court and fitness complex with an exercise room and a sauna, steam room and spa.
To me Bali is an enchanted island, but unlike the followers of Agama Hindu Dhara, I am not convinced, despite the appeal of the belief, that the afterworld is an extension of their magical paradise. To those who share my doubts, I suggest that they not wait until they reach heaven, but that while still earthbound, they visit Bali, that golden corner of the globe.
Until my next trip, selamat tinggal.
Four Seasons Resort, Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Jimbaran, Denpassar 80361, Bali,
Indonesia. Tel. 800-332-3442, 62-361-701010. Rates start at $575. www.fourseasons.com
Four Seasons Resort, Bali at Sayan, Sayan, Ubud, Gianyar 80571, Bali, Indonesia.
Tel. 800-332-3442, 62-361-977577 Reservations 62-361-701010. Rates start at
Nusa Dua Beach Resort Hotel, PO Box 1028, Denpassar, Bali, Indonesia. Tel.
800-223-6802, 62-361-771210. Rates start at $230. www.bali-paradise.com/nusaduabeachhotel
Amanusa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. Tel. 62-036-772333. Reservations,800-447-7462,
62-361-771267. Rates start at $500. www.amanresorts.com
Amandari, Kedewatan, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Tel. 62-36- 975333. Reservations
800-447-7462, 62-361-771267. Rates start at $500. www.amanresorts.com