Carolyn McKay kicks-off her shoes in a divine Balinese clifftop vacation hideaway that strikes the perfect balance between functionality and luxury.
One of the 13,677 islands that make up the nation of Indonesia, Bali is known worldwide for the range and diversity of its stunning scenery, from sandy beaches to coral gardens, rice terraces to active volcanoes and free-flowing waterfalls to peaceful lakes. Complete with a lush tropical climate, rich and varied culture and a strong spirituality stemming from its Hindu population, it is unsurprising that Bali is known to many as the “Island of the Gods”.
Renowned for its warm welcomes and graceful hospitality (not to mention its party atmosphere), hordes of globetrotters have been travelling to Bali for decades, all searching for their own form of paradise. Consequently, there is no shortage of exclusive resorts, five-star hotels and fancy villas on the Indonesian island, catering to every price point. But, for the more discerning traveller seeking the luxury of peace and tranquillity, Banyan Tree Ungasan may well be the ultimate Balinese sanctuary.
Heading south in air-conditioned comfort after departing Bali’s main airport, the craziness that defines Bali’s traffic soon gives way to narrow winding lanes and large stretches of forest punctuated with tantalising glimpses of the Indian Ocean.
40-minutes’ drive from the airport, the hilly limestone region of Uluwatu, on the south-western tip of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula, is famous for its pristine hidden beaches, dramatic rocky landscapes, high-end cliff-top resorts and world-class surf breaks. Happily, the area is also still comparatively less developed than the rest of the island. It is here that Banyan Tree Ungasan is located, and stepping into the all-villa resort is seemingly a world away from the rest of the island and its touristy crowds.
After being greeted by name and bestowed with a traditional blessing, guests are quickly whisked away – along pathways bedecked with frangipanis, bougainvillea and other verdant flora and fauna – to the sanctuary of their private holiday abodes. Check-in formalities are either completed swiftly without drama or in advance of arriving. With just 73 luxury villas spread over the undulating terrain of a sprawling 10-hectare site, buggies are de rigueur for getting around and hence on call 24/7.
Kicking-off one’s shoes in a plush private villa, complete with its own 10-metre infinity pool surrounded by lush, established vegetation affording its inhabitants complete privacy, it’s hard not to be completely overcome by my new clifftop vacation hideaway. Dream-like is most certainly one way to describe it. The perfect place to slip off the grid for a few days, I set about unpacking and settling-in, before sinking into a day bed perfectly positioned under a large Balinese bale to take full advantage of the panoramic views.
Barefoot luxury comes in many different forms – at Banyan Tree Ungasan one of the most obvious is space. At more than 400sqm, the resort’s entry-level one-bedroom pool villas are some of the largest in Bali. They offer the freedom to seriously spread out and pad about, relax in one of numerous cosy corners and really enjoy the space, while gently cooling sea breezes waft over you. And being able to step directly into a shimmering private pool, where the bedroom ends, is nothing short of an utter delight.
Built in a traditional Balinese architectural style with contemporary features and high-quality finishes, and furnished simply yet stylishly with careful attention to detail, the overall effect, throughout my villa, is one of restrained luxury. Walls of floor-to-ceiling sliding doors ensure that glass doesn’t interrupt the incredible Indian Ocean vistas visible from the living area, bedroom and bathroom. Meanwhile, the expansive use of natural materials and muted tones tenderly encourages relaxation, to a backdrop of nature’s soothing sounds.
The large, light-filled marble-lined bathroom includes a separate walk-in rain-shower, oversized deep-soaking bathtub from which one can gaze out in various directions, his and hers sinks, ample storage for even the most lavish traveller, plus an extensive range of amenities comprising local Indonesian products created especially for each gender’s unique needs.
A daily ”scent of the day” in the room’s oil burners, hand-stitched silk blankets on the beds, fresh picked orchids and ferns atop wooden end tables and pillow menus are just some of the many details which pepper every villa.
In line with Banyan Tree’s philosophy to help guests completely relax and rejuvenate, spa therapists and chefs happily come directly to your villa to perform a Balinese massage or prepare a dinner feast. So, you need never put on your shoes, or leave your cozy oasis, if you don’t want to.
After a good night’s sleep, there’s nothing quite like awaking to the sight of dawn breaking and the sun arising in front of your villa. Famed Uluwatu Temple, one of the six key spiritual pillars revered by the Balinese people, is but a short trip from the resort and another spectacular location from which to watch the sunrise.
For those wishing to dip their toes in the Indian Ocean, a footpath provides access to beautiful Melasti Beach, which is located below towering limestone cliffs and boasts some of the island’s most cerulean waters. Here, Banyan Tree staff are on hand to set-up sun loungers and provide cold refreshments to hotel guests.
For a truly indulgent afternoon, it’s worth the short trip to the resort’s onsite spa, which follows the same methods that were pioneered by the first ever Banyan Tree property in Phuket. Offering time-honoured treatments ranging from deep-tissue massages to relaxing aromatherapy, the spa exclusively uses products that reflect the resort’s passion for holistic and spiritual cleansing. An utterly divine treat for the senses, Banyan Tree’s signature Tropical Rainmist treatment takes place under a trickling rain shower, which allows the peaceful flow of water to relieve tension, while therapists use steam and honey milk to purify the skin before it’s boosted with extra moisture. After a treatment, relax with some fresh ginger tea and luxuriate in the breathtaking views, since there’s no need to return to the real world just yet!
With four onsite restaurants there’s plenty of choice if you fancy eating out of your villa, and Banyan Tree positively encourages its guests to eat exactly what they want when they want. From the casual Pool Bar (beside the resort’s jaw-dropping infinity pool) which is open all day serving light bites and tropical cocktails; to Ju-Ma-Na Restaurant & Bar where French cuisine with a Japanese twist is offered for lunch and dinner; and the resort’s bijou Tamarind restaurant which serves contemporary renditions of Indonesian cuisine for dinner only, there are sufficient onsite culinary options to satisfy even the most discerning gourmand. A decadent in-villa barbeque can even be arranged, in a variety of cuisines to suit pretty much any palate.
Despite the fact that occupancy was high during my stay at Banyan Tree Ungasan, there were many times when it honestly felt like I had the place to myself, such is the size of the property, the sophistication of its guests and the relatively low number of villas presided over by ever-gracious and professional staff providing attentive yet discreet service.
If you opt to stay at Banyan Tree Ungasan when you visit Bali, you would be forgiven for never leaving the resort during your Balinese sojourn. I barely ventured out of the villa during my 4-day stay. Striking the perfect balance between luxury and functionality, without being overtly flashy, makes Banyan Tree Ungasan unique in a 21st-century vacation world of decadent excess, and it’s the kind of unique one just cannot get enough of.