Paradise is a sanctuary of six islands, three lagoons and 13 beaches. It also helps when a French GM and an Italian executive chef double as St Peter. Paradise must also, biblically, have snakes. So, arriving at spanking-new and far-flung Bawah, I announce I intend to see a python. This is the least one can expect at Indonesia’s most exclusive retreat. It can, after all, cost around $2,000 to spend a night here. Reservations Manager John Petch protests, “We are a safe island!” This is an excellent thing to tell the timorous, but not the temerarious. I am swiftly reassured that a python was ensconced outside John’s villa recently. I’m hopeful.
My villa’s amenities include a net-swaddled four-poster bed, a copper tub and a monumental lilac crab. Photogenic but camera-shy, she hoists herself as if on stilettos and slinks away like a supermodel. The villas are modish in that eco-elegant, unfussed way. Having taken six years to craft, the resort and its villas are all handmade. (We love handmade!)
Meals are served at the Treetop Restaurant, which has spectacular prospects and romantic terrace tables. But unless you’re supping with VS Naipaul, join the communal table where Chef Bernardi is innovative with his Indonesian-Italian creations, and where GM Tom Blanchère and his wife, spa manageress Adeline, host you until you wish to be entertained. This could well be midnight. A word of caution, though. If you intend expeditionary activities the next morning, a late night could prove injudicious.
Bawah is supposedly a “time machine” and it certainly helps me recall my childhood. Circuiting the island is like some Enid Blyton adventure—we hike uphill, down to Coconut Beach and then we’re wading through waters with coral shards that stingrays shimmer past, scouring mangroves to spot mud-skippers or scampering up rocks where grand monitor lizards patter away. We emerge where baby sharks whorl.
Tom can take you snorkelling or diving, but I instead take Tom on a boat safari, discovering lagoons and beaches, including a sexy James Bond nook on a mangrove-flanked stretch where we see indolent rudimentary creatures and swift lustrous fish effloresce thrillingly under sun-struck turquoise translucence. By evening, splendid white birds speckle trees and immense fruit bats swoop past. After a day’s speed-boating, you need the spa. Then you book Theo for the best massages Bawah has to offer.
Bawah is an education. It’s also an invitation to escape time. Your departure after four nights might leave you dismayed, unless bespoke tour operator and aviation specialists Remote Lands (www.remotelands.com/ultraluxe) are flying you back privately, stylishly. When parting, I admonish senior host Eko, “You didn’t show me a python.” He says, “Next time we’ll put a GPS on one so it’s ready to track for you.”
Its 35 suites can accommodate max 70 guests. Doubles start from $1,960/Rs1,25,000. Min booking 3 nights. (bawahisland.com)
Its fame precedes Obama’s renowned recent sojourn. Up a green-drenched hill and you’re at a villa where the previous occupant’s dirty dishes greet you outside. This is discouraging. But through the door and you’re on a pooled terrace. The villas themselves are made of sable wood and are intimate, gorgeous. Bathrooms with jungle-facing outdoor showers make you want to live in them. You suddenly hurtle down a flight of stairs to Ayung Terrace. You land sprawled, striated with bruises, looking like a zebra in the Serengeti rather than a guest at an ultra-luxe resort in Bali. Strangely, the restaurant staff offer you a menu, not a medic. This seems extraordinary because at any other Four Seasons, you sneeze and they’ll call an ambulance. The only excuse for bringing you a menu is that it’s perfect, courtesy of young Indonesian chef Cassim. Perhaps they knot you up only to better unwind you over the Muladhara Chakra ceremony at Bali’s most beauteous spa. It is set on ponds where giant lotuses rise majestically in an embrace of jungle (to be explored on a rafting mission). Service oddities notwithstanding, you want to go back. Immediately!
Doubles start from $600/ Rs38,200. It has 48 villas and 18 suites. (www.fourseasons.com)
Bali’s most-hyped new resort is Japanese-owned, but it echoes the island’s age-old UNESCO-stamped water temple network. Around a maze of waterways, 30 superb villas in three varieties spout out of exuberant foliage. You don’t have a private pool. Instead, you have a unique semi-private pool. You can slip out of your villa, into the meandering waterways and swim around the resort. Try booking the jungle-facing Villa Jalak. There are only five, so grab them quick. Eminently Japanese, with low beds, they’re almost entirely glass-encased. A pool-boy watches you do yoga on your private terrace whilst villas with glass facades offer your neighbour live theatre. This is perhaps why honeymooners opt for the more discreet Villa Soka. An exciting outdoor elevator submerges you in a jungle spa suite for three-hour-long holistic treatments. At the river-girth restaurant, hung over jungles, young Japanese chef Makoto Miyamaguchi serves Balinese food that Japanese technique sharpens.
Doubles at the 30-villa property start from $700/Rs44,600. (hoshinoya.com)
The architecture here is both colossal and cool. But the perennial Ferrari in the porch isn’t a part of the fixtures, nor are the F1 drivers who are parked around a sensational infinity pool that races away into the horizon. Alila’s iconic and latticed Sunset Cabana, which lurches vertiginously over blue glades, transfixes you. Until comely young operations manager Janine asks, “You must be hungry?” And you’re escorted through pool-contouring trim verandas to The Warung where an Indonesian banquet is unleashed. Your villa’s vastitude obligingly accommodates gluttonous excesses. Echeloned up a hill, villas with private pools and latticed cabanas, looking down on the ocean below, are more aesthetically inclined than practical. They are clearly meant for romance, for nothing conceals the outdoors shower and whoever is in it from anyone in the bathroom or the bedroom. But here you won’t say, “Two’s company, three is a crowd” for your private butler Mira makes for a charming companion, especially if you’re travelling with Mum. Press “O” and Mira manifests so instantaneously that you rather suspect she must be lurking in the groomed bushes outside your villa. She can bandage Mum’s leg, she can escort you on an “Alila Experience” to the 11th-century Uluwatu Temple, and she can even ferret out an out-of-season mangosteen. Only, she can’t accompany you to your massage at the spa. At Quila, Spanish executive chef Marc Panades genuflects before you only to heighten the accomplishments of a 10-course sensory odyssey with imperatively good mocktails. Be this more technical ingenuity and culinary theatricality than palatability wake to gorgeous homemade granola at Cire. Oh, and if you spot something out-blazing the sunrise, it’s probably Cameron Diaz’s hair.
It has 65 villas, and doubles start from $756/Rs48,150. (alilahotels.com/uluwatu)
The glamour quotient here is stratospheric, so if you aren’t a Size 6 (UK), don’t go. Slinky lasses stationed ubiquitously you think are oversized barbie dolls. Sadly, they move and breathe. “Damn, wish I had that figure!” But you won’t after Bali’s most buxom Sunday brunches at Boneka, including pre-brunch cocktails at the King Cole bar. Over sunset, watch the thunderous “Fire Dance.” Then amble to swish Kayuputi—the place to be seen, usually in a dress tagged $1,000. The food is better presented than cooked, but you won’t notice after a few glasses of quirky German sommelier Harald Weismann’s wines or prosecco that he pairs with pasta, with versatility, literally, for our sommelier composes verse. He’s quite the Goethe of the Grape.
Suites start at $540/Rs34,400 and villas at $1,000/Rs63,856. (www.stregisbali.com)
Fashioned after traditional Balinese homes, the villas come here with marvellous stone-framed carved wooden doors near which what stand sentinel are monstrous stone-sculpted Balinese dvarapalas or door guards. From the pooled private terraces or from the contemporary interiors of your glass-encased villa, the sun emblazons at dawn. When you eat breakfast at Taman Wantilan, you find that the tables edge sea-hemmed gardens that seem to have grown wild with a vibrant exuberance of flowers which arty curved branches enticingly hold. Flourishes of colourful birds flit across trees, chasing each other. Unless, of course, they are engaged in delicate embrace. Unlike other Balinese resorts, there is none of that curated, plastic leafage here. After a bounteous breakfast, lunch here is ambitious. So you are advised to head to a spa instead on bay-view pavilions before supping excellent modern Asian-inspired cuisine and edgy cocktails at beachfront Sundara. Supping solo? Portions could be individualised for one, whilst the view keeps you company.
Doubles start from $750/Rs47,800, and it has 147 pool villas. (www.fourseasons.com)
In the remote ravishment of West Bali National Park, the only place on the isle with deer, is Plataran Menjangan. A five-hour scenic drive past UNESCO sites or coffee and clove plantations, takes you to about the only eco-luxury resort in the vicinity. Through the jungle and you’re on a terrace over a beguiling seascape. Time on your mobile straddles Bali-time and Java-time as you behold the Java and Menjangan Island that lie beyond you and the mangrove-frilled waters below. GM Gusti Cayaningrat, perhaps the savviest man in Bali, forsook a glamorous resort that revealed he’d never be GM because only expats could climb to that position at Bali’s luxury resorts. He’s now engineering a destination out of this distant idyll. He’ll dispatch you on morning jungle treks that lead you to a pristine setting—think immaculate blue waters, an enthrallment of mangroves, an orchestra of birds and a cornucopia for breakfast mounted like Nero’s feast.
Doubles at this 17-villa property start from $346/Rs22,000. (www.plataran.com)
The startlingly unspectacular lobby, forlorn atop a hill, is cunning. You wonder what it and you are doing at Bali’s priciest address. Soon after, though, a buggy winds you down tree-lavished ways to a cliff-edge pool where the more exalted specimens of humanity luxuriate. Some of them are haloed in celebrity, but you would never suspect this, obscured as they are by monumental Bulgari shades. Then, you comprehend why lesser mortals ask in jaw-dropping awe, “You stayed at the Bulgari?” The sultry pooled Ocean View Villas with Bulgari toiletries and the glades of horizon come at a price that helps you exclude what PR manager Ricky Utomo calls a “Chinese circus,” the unseemly assailment at other resorts. Instead, you sip unconscionably crafty cocktails at the suave poolside Il Bar. At Il Risotrante, Chef Luca Fantin, with his 3-Michelin-starred pedigree, effects contemporary five Italian courses—ineffably fine, indelibly memorable. (Alright, that fab wine confounds memory). One should lunch at La Spiaggia. The spartan shack levitates high over sharp blue waters and the resort’s brazen-white private beach. Come afternoon, surrender to the spa but don’t miss the sunset for even the imperious Bulgari can’t hold the sun. At the Bulgari, you’re expected to do little other than laze about the pool, preferably draped in a Bulgari necklace you have just bought from the resort’s boutique.
Doubles for one-room Ocean View Villa start from $960/Rs61,200. (www.bulgarihotels.com)
A vintage Mercedes saunters up outside the airport for you. The welcome comprises an exquisite elixir whose composition is top secret and home-made local sweetmeats borne delightfully on a three-tiered platter. The colonial mansion, a history-imbued live-in museum, exudes the genteelness of another era. Presiding over Indonesia’s culture capital Yogyakarta, this is from where you explore fabled UNESCO sites such as the Borobudur and Prambanan. You should then experience culinary culture with Chef Gatot Santoso’s “Chef’s Table”: a five-course traditional Yogyakarta meal where five chefs present five dishes, and each is served with a story. The Chef’s office hosts the degustation. Restaurant dining is more pleasant, unless of course you require that addictive Es Dawat Banyumas dessert conveyed from the kitchen again and again.
Doubles start from $290/Rs18,500. The 143-room property has 18 suites. (thephoenixyogya.com)
Devanshi Mody read Physics, French and Philosophy at Oxford and erred across continents until her parents wearied of funding her errant ways so she stumbled fortuitously into travel writing. Little is known of her because like the "Mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria she thinks, "One must ever be a mystery to others and to oneself."