Sep 5, 2022
SOMETIMES I CAN BE LIKE a kid in a toy store over some of the most trivial things. As the limo was driving me to Raffles Bali, I was a little distracted by more treats and amenities than I knew I needed, like a leather-bound flask and shot glasses for refreshments, handmade sweets wrapped in banana leaves, nuts (“We have a cashew tree on the grounds, but not enough to serve our guests,” said my chatty driver, “yet”), magazines and a power bank for charging up after a long flight, I almost didn’t notice that we’d pulled up to the gates of the property.
When we drove into Raffles Bali, I was struck by how far the entrance is from the lobby–1.5 kilometers! That’s the first time the sheer scale of the resort hit me. Built over 23 hectares (making it the largest property anywhere in the world under the legendary Raffles brand) there are just 32 villas, which is the smallest number of keys for any Raffles. You do the math. That means that the resort, and by extension its guests, have a lot of room to play with. The owners also have plans for a 100-hectare golf course just over a hill, ensuring that the natural view from the resort will remain undisturbed.
Once I settled in, it was time to go exploring. Dika Nanta, the resort’s Botanical Guru, took me on a tour of one of the property’s most distinctive features: its sprawling lush grounds. The young man wears his title of guru well–he’s a walking, talking encyclopedia with a passion for plants and Balinese culture.
As we scoot around in a buggy on the resort’s hilly paths, he reels off factoids in his soothing but authoritative Balinese burr pointing out the direction in which the fronds of the travelers palm, adopted as the symbol of the hotel, grow (they grow on a north-south axis to catch the most sunlight); a bodhi tree (under one of which Buddha is said to have found enlightenment); the naupaka flower that looks like its missing half its petals because, legend says, of a lovers’ spat; and moringa, he grew up eating not because it’s a trendy superfood but because it grows wild here. We stop at a souring tamarind tree and I get to return the favor by sharing that not just the pulp of the fruit but the young leaves are also a popular addition to soups in the northeast of Thailand.
Back in my villa, it was time for strong black Javanese tea scented with jasmine flowers and leaves and jamu, healthy and herbaceous infusions and decoctions that are made up fresh daily. New snacks and fruit platters appeared every night with some of my favorites like huge juicy rambutan and tart crisp snake fruit.
The all-seaview, all-private-pool villas have comfortable interiors, decked out with dark wood floors, rattan furniture and traditional batik fabrics. Outdoors, the spacious garden areas are a constant temptation to lounge about. My infinity pool looked over the Indian Ocean by day and the lights of Jimbaran by night. Nerdy plane-spotters (we all know at least one) will also enjoy the uninterrupted views of the runway of Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport in the distance. I spent more than one afternoon with a book in the shade of the pool-side gazebo, which was also a great place to curl up with an after-dinner drink and gaze at the stars.
I started each day with a one-on-one yoga session. Why am I an early (OK, earlier) riser when I’m traveling yet I find it so hard to drag myself to the gym when I’m home? That’s a rhetorical question, but morning yoga here delivers an energizing, rewarding experience.
After yoga, it was a short walk from the outdoor studio to rewards of a tastier nature. Breakfast at Rumari offers panoramic sea views with some of the best croissants this side of Paris. Even if you’re an eggs Benedict (which, incidentally, are excellent here) sort of person, don’t miss Rumari’s renditions of humble Balinese dishes like tipat blayag, rice cakes served with braised pork and condiments.
Each Raffles has its own take on the classic Singapore Sling, a nod to the drink created in the original Singapore hotel in 1915. Here the Bali Sling makes good use of Balinese arak, a fermented spirit that gives the drink a kick, as well as jackfruit and butterfly pea flower.
By night, Rumari comes alive with chef Gaetan Biesuz’s modern take on Indonesian food like his babi guling. Not just your ordinary roadside roast pork popular around the island, this sophisticated version is made from free-range pork from the Bali Heritage Pig Farm, where only small numbers of local black pigs are raised in optimum conditions. Chef G., as he is known, serves it as a trio of a pork chop, a fork-tender piece of belly and a spiced sausage, all on the same plate.
If you can’t tear yourself away from the public pool, you can also enjoy the international menu at Loloan. Or explore the nooks and crannies of the expansive estate with a barbecue on a hillside or even retreat into the resort’s secret cave with more atmosphere than you could shake a Flintstone-sized club at.
Raffles Bali is 20 minutes from Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar; Ocean Pool Villas from Rp14.2 million.
All photos courtesy of Raffles Bali.