One day while in Bali, I had the occasion to visit three seriously chic, high-end resorts with my friend Kristin, a young Australian architect who happens to design resorts. Kristin’s mission was to take in the details – the aesthetic cues – the trends – the blend with the environment. The lines. The flow. Essentially, to discern what makes these places so fabulous from a form & functionality standpoint.
Me – well, I have a slightly different set of criteria when evaluating a place where I may hang my (sun) hat. It’s no secret I’m into ramshackle chic, which in my vernacular, refers to an effortless, slightly haphazard balance of comfort and coolness; an eclectic yet approachable style that doesn’t take itself too seriously. So. I’m going to look at the vibe. The style. The price (and value). The other guests. The pool. The bar. The view. And the precious factor – how serious does the resort (and worse, the guests) take itself. Ultimately for me, its about how I feel here. Would I want to stay here? Would I want to be friends with anyone who stayed here?
And so we set out that beautiful Thursday morning with our driver, Eddie, to see some seriously-chic resort cribs. We started with Alila Villas in Uluwatu, then hit Bulgari Hotels & Resort and finished up with the classic, Amanusa
Alila Villas – Uluwatu
Listed on Conde Nast’s 2010 Hot list, the 4-1-1 on Alila Villas Uluwatu reads like this,”If any further proof were needed that Bali is back on track as a destination with cool hotels, then Alila Villas Uluwatu is it.”
The Alila is all about clean lines. It is uber modern. A classic case of form meets function. Cement meets wood. Reclaimed wood, FYI. (The Alila group takes its environmentalism extremely seriously, and in 1997, received Green Globe Certification to prove it.) Water is a dominant theme, from the reflecting pond that greets you in the sleek open lobby and walks your eyes right out to the next major body of water – that incredible infinity edge pool cut right into the cliff – and beyond that to that other major body of water – The Indian Ocean.
The bar which juts over the cliff on some sort of cantilevered system, is an awesome structure that draws your attention immediately. Constructed with alternating boards of reclaimed wood supported by bamboo segment frames, it looks like a post-modern bird’s nest. The cushions and built-in sofas are sunken in and comfortable. This is the place to be for an end of day cocktail. The view is for days. The drinks are to die. Yup, I can see me here – its a little more serious than I normally would like – but I could work it out.
The villas all dot the hills, built in a similar, open style. Each villa on the hills faces the ocean, has its own salt-water pool and bird’s nest – a smaller version of the magnificent cantilevered bar, jutting over the soft sloping hill.
My take on Alila Villas, Uluwatu
Right off the bat…Alila Villas Uluwatu is slightly isolated. The road to get there felt as if it required a compass and professional tracker. Probably the point, but I remember thinking it would be kind of a pain to leave the resort – to actually go somewhere else – not that there was anything very close – and that didn’t appeal to me.
As you enter the lobby, you sense this is a place that takes itself very seriously. Which intimidates me – makes me whisper and say ridiculous things like, “I love the water – its so…fluid.” And I gush a lot.
We were shown a villa, lowest level of the hill. It was modern and beautiful, with its little saltwater pool, ginormous bathroom and beautifully-appointed bedroom. Everything is hidden to maintain those sleek lines and minimal feeling. It took me absolute ages to find the television – which I had to do. Just to know I could. And just beyond the saltwater pool, each villa has its own miniature version of the fabulous Bird’s Nest Bar -a little balé with cushions and pillows, and view of the sea (and of the Bird’s Nest in the villa next door – exhibitionists will love this feature!)
The main pool is pretty amazing, has to be said. The infinity edge is so sharp, it looks like it cuts into the steep cliff. You feel as if the swimmers are taking their lives in their hands. But one thing that caught my attention – and this speaks to the guest factor – was the Korean woman who brought her own huge inflatable killer whale water toy. So, here this woman – wearing some version of a modest maillot (I seem to recall a t-shirt and gym shorts), riding her Shamu across this elegant pool with its elegant guests, getting her whale-wrangling groove on. Distinctly odd, I thought, and totally incongruous to the surroundings. Maybe its a Korean thing. Who knows? Certainly amusing to watch. We did notice that with the exception of one couple, the rest of the guests that we saw were indeed, Korean – interested and cashed-up. No surprise they are an extremely important target market of the Alila and indeed, of many of the upper echelon resorts in Bali. And they can have Alila Villas, as at a nightly minimum of $775, its out of my league and definitely not my thing.
Kristin and I finished the tour with a long and lovely lunch and bottle of bubbly (as you do), sitting on the patio of one of the two restaurants, separated by the Bird’s Nest lounge – Asian cuisine to the right; Western cuisine to the left. We chose the left. Service – impeccable, beginning with the offering of an assortment of branded goodies – wipes, oils, aromatic mists (repellent, I think) presented on a lacquer tray.
Bottom line – Alila Villas is undoubtedly a beautifully-designed property. Their involvement in supporting sustainable, responsible tourism, is important and worthy of special consideration. But unfortunately, this did not tick all my boxes. Too serious. Too expensive. Too isolated. Too quiet. But great if you like water toys.
Part 11 – Bulgari Hotels & Resorts coming next.