The Pursuit of Timeless Balinese Beauty
2017 has been a year of travel for me. Greece, Estonia, Macedonia, Iceland, Finland, Thailand with a bunch of other travel plans in the pipeline. The more corners of the world I adventure to, the more hotel pillows I lay my head on, the more the idea of my perfect vacation is redefined.
If you like me, typically rely on Airbnb ratings and hotel booking websites to make the decisions for your lodging needs, you may have forgotten what charming boutique hotels have a leg up on: authentic service. I once judged five star luxury on the basis of the cleanliness of its wall-length mirrors and starched sheets, minutes it took for the concierge to bring me a bucket of ice or the odd request of chopsticks, and whether there were unnecessary light switches in the room (a universal remote control to adjust every measurable living condition in the room? It must be a uber-luxe hotel).
On a recent trip to Bali, I lay these deadpan requests to rest, resurrecting some classic conditions which involved more heart and soul. ‘Cultural. Ethereal. Timeless. Balinese. Home’ as described by Lucienne Anhar when asked to put into five words what Hotel TUGU Bali is about. To say the least, my stay was one that I am unlikely to forget in this lifetime.
Canggu remains one of the island’s most vibrant yet underrated destinations. In comparison to tourist heavyweights such as Kuta and Seminyak, the township seems largely remote and untouched by both blatant commercialisation and the outlandish hipster vibes that the journey of ‘finding yourself’ in Bali would instill. If you’re in search of picturesque beaches with good surfing opportunity, relics of Balinese culture and a quiet laidback air, Hotel TUGU Bali is the place to be.
Spawned from a man’s love for antique collection, Lucienne Anhar followed in her father’s (Anhar Setjadibrata—Indonesia’s renowned and biggest antique collector) footsteps and chose the path of hospitality as her bread and butter. Not so much a calling, her compliancy and inculcated interest in Indonesian culture and history led her to spearheading the TUGU collection of hotels and restaurants.
We approached the shady driveway after a good 45 minutes on the road, sights of manicured terraced rice padi and free-roaming buffalos along the way spurring our city-driven souls on, in search of tranquillity and a slower pace of life. We were greeted warmly by the staff who proceeded to bang the gong to signal our arrival.
You start what inevitably will be an indulgent few days with a welcome drink of oaky, crisp white wine in the finest glassware. Once your eyes adjust to the dimness of your cavernous surroundings, you gawk at the grandeur of the main foyer—tall pillars, ornate wood carvings flanked by leafy green peripherals add to the pageantry of the experience. The atmosphere is breezy and relaxed, the chiming of wooden charms and the splash of water instantly calming the senses.
Make sure to explore your surroundings—Hotel TUGU Bali providing bundles of surprises for first-time visitors. The layout of the Bale Puputan room alone sets it above most megalith hotel chains. Functioning as both a museum and an intimate dining venue, the room exudes lavishness with a massive marble dining table dating back to the 19th century and heavy wood chairs fit for royalty. Besides enjoying the owner’s eclectic world-class collection of museum-quality Indonesian antiquities, you can opt to indulge in an elaborate royal dining feast of the Balinese Kingdoms which will give you a rare insight into the forgotten art of Balinese fine dining.
Such is TUGU’s dedication to preserve Indonesian culture, an intimate interview with Lucienne herself later cementing these facts. You’ll bath in her conviction as though they were palpable, and from that came much enlightenment.
It became clear at the point, after a tour of the sprawling grounds by the amicable staff that the rest of the stay was going to be surreal. Emerging from the lush and green jungle, this spot is impossible to describe without the cliched ‘picture postcard stuff’. Our residence for two nights was the Rejang suite. Meander around the spiral staircase and wooden doors to a spacious Javanese themed cavern, boasting an antique timber interior, mahogany four-poster bed with handcrafted woodwork. Just when you think that’s the end of it, you spot the patio area (wait for it), wall-stretched wood panelled windows open up to breathtaking views of the rolling tide. Your gaze trails across solid marbled floors to a sunken copper bathtub with fields of fresh flowers afloat setting the romantic tone. You make a mental note to draw a bath later and proceed to tussle the fresh sheets with a quick backflip. It’s a holiday after all. Leave the curtains open at night and you’ll wake up to jaw-dropping backlit views of red cast skies above turquoise blue seas. A vision which will tempt you for a morning swim. Thankfully for us, a dip lies just a hop, skip and a tumble away from our pillow.
A night in Hotel TUGU Bali means getting to enjoy its complimentary high-tea featuring local delicacies and daily breakfast. And might we remind you, TUGU remain unpersuaded that meals should be confined to dining rooms, hence you can arrange for these to be dished out ANYWHERE throughout its residences: by the pool, in the grand Bale Paputan room, on the terrace, your wish is their command. We had ours on our own patio, taking a break from excitable squeaks and room exploration for a quick sugar boost.
High Tea encompassed a comprehensive coffee brew selection from various plantations throughout Indonesia including their family-owned Java blend. The universe surmising that this wasn’t enough, sent traditional steamed tapioca cakes and chempadak fritters, continental carrot cake and moist banana cake handsomely arranged on baroque platters. We were smitten.
Breakfast affords you an a la carte selection with continental items such as Croque Monsiuer, Three-egg Omelette, Pancakes and Farmers crepes or dishes with Indonesian flavours to boot such as Nasi Goreng in various forms geared for the curious traveler. It is all very good but what you want every time is the Eggs Benedict, hollandaise, luscious and mildly citrus to compliment the fulsomeness of the bright yellow liquid yolks.
All the luxuries at Hotel TUGU Bali would not have been complete without the impeccable personalised service and warm smiles that greet you once you set foot outside your door. Notes were left behind by the housekeeper brimming with well wishes for the day, mosquito nets elegantly drawn after dinner at Ji at the Terrace and a surprise farewell gift of coffee from the TUGU plantation handed to us as we bade a tearful goodbye.
In a place that’s dishevelled by commercialisation, Hotel TUGU Bali is a breath of fresh air. Here the wind whispers romantic tales of Balinese spirits, eternal love stories (some immortalised as photographs on the walls) and ancient kingdoms. I say forget the Bali depicted by Julia Robert in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. If you’re looking for Balinese luxuries with soul, Hotel TUGU Bali presents a kind of perfection that takes little persuasion for the mind to process.