Above us are the long dangling tendrils of tropical hard wood trees, whilst all around are palms, exotic plants and flowering orchids – we are passing through this mysterious space in the comfort of a sleek black Mercedes limosine; we’re entering the St. Regis Bali, through its extraordinary ‘Rain Forest Gate. The thick canopy of exotic plants bids you welcome to a special world.
Lying between Java in the west and Lombok in the east, Bali has long been a favourite for those seeking an upscale retreat.
Aman Resorts, The Four Seasons and the like created fantasy resorts here in the late 80s and 90s that were to become the blue print for exclusive hotel retreats across the world.
The last time I was here was about ten years ago when Ritz Carlton opened it’s flagship propety near Jimbaran (it’s now a locally operated resort, Ayana but still on the Condé Nast Traveller Hot List).
This was my first time staying in a Balinese style villa and I was totally seduced by the magic of the architecture, the detailing and the sense of exclusivity!
This time we’ve been lucky enough to experience a couple of properties in the newly developed Nusa Dua area; a purpose built elite enclave of upscale resorts on the southern tip of the island; it was nothing but forest the last time I was here.
When you’re looking to unwind, disconnect and be pampered sometimes there is nothing better than a resort, and here they do it better than anyone.
The St. Regis is probably amongst the most stunningly designed retreats I’ve visited.
The entire estate has been landscaped to create a sub tropical paradise with manicured gardens, swimmable lagoons and peaceful gazebos and cabanas, that slope down to the beach and the Indian Ocean.
The guest suites and pool villas are amazing – superbly designed and furnished. The quality and attention to detail is inspirational – makes you want to try and somehow mimic the style at home.
Rich hardwoods mix with silks, chenille, velvets and linens in olive greens, burnt orange and browns – giving a relaxed yet elegant and sophisticated look to each guest space – and all this is supported by the 24 hour St. Regis Butler service!
A Balinese Wedding headpiece decorates a wall, whilst on another is the type of wide screen TV everyone wants at home.
The hotel’s marketing department showed us the Strand Residences – its group of beach front homes available for guests – with all the services of the 5 star St. Regis hotel.
These stunning homes and the resort is designed by a prominent architect from Jakarta.
Gourmet and more
One evening we sampled the signature ‘Seafood chilled and grilled’ menu at the KuyaPuti restaurant. The venue has a timeless elegance to it with a superb combination of Balinese arts and crafts with the simplicity of East Coast American architecture – sounds strange but it works! As you walk up to the restaurant, you pass huge chandeliers made from wafer thin shells, that tinkle in the breeze.
The evening started with cocktails in the bar before what was to be one of the best meals I’ve had.
The food was outstanding; I’ve never eaten oysters that tasted so fresh and delicate and the lobster and squid were sumptuous served with a selection of dips and sauces.
The Wine Spectator has recognised the restaurant two years running for having ‘one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world’.
It was a pleasure to talk with the restaurant manager and resident German Sommelier, Harold Wiesman – he even writes his own poetry which sometimes he shares with guests!
Yet eating doesn’t always have to be an occasion. The St. Regis Gourmand deli offers European style snack, in house prepared chocolates and patisserie and with each tea or coffee, a jar full of home made cookies – a dangerous temptation.But for some real class, there is afternoon tea in the The King Cole Bar that continues the legacy of the Astors and the St. Regis flagship property in New York,
The St. Regis Spa is world-class too; a carefully designed space using the theme of the moon and butterflies, inspiration from a well known Asian poem – another Balinese temple but this time dedicated to pampering.
Reflecting the original meaning of spa, an hour’s relaxation is offered in the skin rejuvenating salt water circuit, providing massaging jets to different parts of your body as you move from sector to sector
A Balinese massage here is a decidedly upscale experience and I was reluctant for it to end!
Lounging at The Laguna
We also enjoyed a few days at Starwood’s sister property The Laguna, A Luxury Collection Resort.
One of 75 luxury properties in the world, this hotel and spa is meeting the growing demand for luxury travel from Indonesian High Society, and the wealthy Asian and Russian markets with its superb private villas. Like the suites, they benefit from 24 hour butler service and a private setting in amongst lagoons and gardens.
The hotel has a wonderful open air beachside bar, playing chill out tunes, and stylish designed and lit. The candle lit terrace spills out down to the beach, with lanterns hanging from the trees creating a seductive, magical ambiance.
We were treated to some delicious cocktails, slowly getting intoxicated as the warm, humid evening progressed.
Every Luxury Collection property has its own signature cocktail, created my acclaimed mixologist Greg Seider. Having tried the ‘The Raymi’ at the Tambo del Inka in Peru, at The Laguna we tried its Bali version of ‘The Last Cocktail’ , a refreshing drink of bubbles, juniper berries, with a dusting of cloves on the surface. But this isn’t the place for getting too drunk. Bali has high import tariffs on alcohol, so even a glass of a modest, non vintage Australian White wine could set you back 25 euros! A typical bottle of wine is 70 euros.
On resort wine lists it’s not uncommon to see wine list prices running to 25 million rupiah for vintage European wines (into the thousands of euros! Popular with wealthy Asian visitors).
It’s clear that many European hotels have some work ahead to compete with the quality of these types of resorts. Firstly the welcoming staff set the tone, whilst the quality of accommodation and service deliver real value for money.
Bali may have suffered some of the effects of commercialisation, with the poorly controlled development of areas such as Kuta, but fundamentally it remains one of the world’s great resort destinations – and the laid back, island pace comes as a welcome break from the urban energy of Taipei and Bangkok