Mar 5, 2020
“You see that first pool at the bottom of the staircase? And the five waterslides next to it? Behind that, the third pool is actually the giant aquarium they built Koral restaurant in.” I was balancing precariously on the edge of my own glass-walled plunge pool on the balcony of my 10th-floor suite trying to explain to my friends where on this massive estate on Bali’s Nusa Dua seaside we were going to have dinner.
Counting pools is the handiest metric at the new Apurva Kempinski (kempinski.com; doubles from Rp3,353,000) because the place overflows with them. On the other side of Koral—a fine-diner submerged in an aquarium where we ate blue crab with green apple and oohed every time a shark swam by—is a fourth pool, the main resort pool with shady cul-de-sacs, half-submerged loungers and 60 meters of wide-open waters offering something for every level of sun worship (or worry). There are two gardened-off lagoon pools hugging the fronts of the two hotel buildings that run parallel down the resort’s borderlines, and in the main resort edifice that looks straight out of ancient Egypt are 146 private plunges jutting out from each of the Cliff suites—all of whose residents, along with those in the Ocean Front pool suites, also have access to the two balconied Club Lounge pools, one with a tension-melting aquatherapy circuit. Forty-three pool villas just opened. Even to get to the gorgeous spa whose rooms feature Jacuzzis on seaview decks, you need to skip across the stones of an indoor pond.
You’d be forgiven for worrying that it all sounds dangerously close to Atlantis in Asia; I did too before I got there. Real facts: a 475- room beast does not conjure images of intimate service and exclusive luxury. But visiting the cozy village that is Apurva Kempinski taught me to check my large-hotel skepticism at the three-story-high hand-carved wooden door.
The geybok, to be more accurate—twelve- by-eight-meter teak partitions that bowl you over on arrival and that despite their Arabian Nights air derive from the Majaphit Empire. This was the last and greatest Hindu-Buddhist kingdom ruling Indonesia, and from 1293 through 1527 it oversaw a boom of arts, design, architecture and culture that reverberates in the country today—and dominates the aesthetic of the hotel. The lobby, a joint labor of love by artisans from all over the archipelago, is inspired by a pendopo, a royal reception hall, and the geybok in it form four grand seating areas that not only instantly instilled in me a sense of humility but also create discrete spaces so you feel that within this Brobdingnagian palace you can still find privacy.
It might seem counterintuitive that the huge scale of the place helps to humanize it, but credit the meticulously researched design by interiors specialist Rudy Dodo from Trivium Design Group and architect Budiman Hendropurnomo of Denton Corker Marshall, both native Indonesian sons known for deep-diving into local traditions but keeping the vibe modern. Much of the hotel is open-air, meaning a fluid interplay between architecture and interior design, and, if I can tarry a smidge longer on the lobby, you’re not going to be able to stop gawking up. It feels like a cathedral. No, actually, with the hole in the zenith seeming to invite ancient sun worship, it’s more like the Pantheon or, closer to home, a Cham temple.
Or… even closer to home, Bali’s Pura Besakih water temple flows into the backstory in the form of the 250-step centerpiece staircase it inspired that descends from the top down through the layercake of pool suites, a terraced pyramid that recalls the subak paddy irrigation system. Is it any wonder that the overarching theme of this place is running water?
One day, I rose with the sun to awaken my chakras. I met Oka, the yoga and meditation teacher, on a beachside lawn, where he did some numerology to figure out that I’m dominated by my ninth chakra, which hovers atop your crown. People led by the ninth chakra have, among the attributes Oka listed that apply to me, active imaginations and a special talent for wasting money. It wasn’t the most anti-anxiety thought with which to ease me into guided meditation, but with his soothing voice mixed with the waves, my intentions and I eventually got semi-comatose.
Next, I had an appointment with two priests up the beach. A three-minute drive from Apurva Kempinski brought me to Pura Geger Dalem Pemutih, but rather than head to its cliffside man-made temple, we walked down a small littered path to a hidden grotto in the sand that had been turned into a shrine: golden parasols, black-and-white and red buntings, a statue of Ganesh. Here, fresh mountain water flows down through the rocks and empties into the ocean. As I waited for the smiling, silver-goateed priests to prepare my blessing, I stood in the brackish water at the mouth of the stream and watched surfers paddle or, if they were lucky, motorboat out to popular offshore breaks, Temple Lefts (for beginners), Elevators and Keyholes. My melukat, or purification, ceremony included several face-splashes with the blessed water of a young coconut. It stung my eyes a bit, but that could have equally been the past trauma they said they were releasing.
Another occasion, I found myself swimming in a different tonic, jamu, a medicinal drink made with various herbs. Back in the day, every village had jamu ladies hawking their homemade jamu recipes out of a bucket. “In my hometown in east Java, they still walk around with jamu on their backs,” Apurva Kempinski’s jamu sommelier, Sovia, said before we shot five varieties. The temula wak, made with aromatic ginger, tasted like Tiger Balm. I wasn’t sure I need that much salve on my insides; luckily the beras kencur, with white rice and palm syrup was not only more agreeable but has the added side effect of not making you want to eat. Vacation-diet win—especially here.
Because the property is so vast and Nusa Dua so relatively sleepy, Kempinski is wisely shooting for hub status. They’ve launched a “Brunchcation” package that lets non-guests use its pool facilities all day Sunday if they book the multi-chocolate-fountained brunch in glass-house Pala Restaurant, which centers the resort. Reef Beach Club has (of course) its own pool, open to anyone who wants to order off its comfort-food menu or drink at its lively bar. For me, though, the pinnacle of inclusivity is the “kids’ pool,” with five waterslides and a splash zone. Pre-disappointed by the memory of other resorts, where this type of fun is walled off to those of us past middle school, I timidly asked a pool boy if I could climb the slide and he said, “Of course, madame.” I slid over the speedbumps and down the loop- de-loops, crashing into the shallows a dozen times, and then he handed me a coconut ice- cream cone. One more delicious anointment.