Globe trotting

A Balinese hotel true to its heritage

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Serenity and true Balinese culture are woven into the fabric of Belmond’s Jimbaran Puri hotel.

Thirty-six years ago Bali was still an unknown to most high-end travellers. Remote and exotic, the palm-fringed Indonesian atoll offered few luxury hotels and limited infrastructure. At that time in 1981, I. Gusti Ketut Putra, a tenacious local who had worked his way up through the ranks of a five-star hotel, quit his job to set up on his own. He created the first beachfront resort in Jimbaran, a calm, golden crescent that forms the neck of the Uluwatu ‘bobble’ under the main island.

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What started with 11 simple bungalows in a fisherman’s enclave, eventually grew to 41; the hotel became known for its sandy shallow beachfront, as well as the serenity informed through its Balinese architecture. It is also fortuitously located for weekend travellers, only a 15-minute transfer from from the Ngurah Rai International Airport.

In 2006 it caught the attention of hotel operator Orient Express, now known as Belmond, which acquired and rebranded it Jimbaran Puri Bali. Belmond added another 23 cottages and brought the standards up to a slick international five star. But its sensibilities and soul remain little altered, a hidden gem with a dedication to true Balinese Hindu, Buddhist and Animist styles.

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The villas, designed by a French architect in collaboration with a local Balinese firm, are simply rendered in local stone and dark teak with the typical alang-alang thatched roof used for centuries. Step inside the gate of your cottage and you will be greeted with a guardian god cut in stone, a traditional dvarapala warrior armed with a gada to see off unwelcome intruders. Just as in traditional homes, the doors are designed low, I am told, to remind a guest to show respect with a bow to his hosts. The canopy of a frangipani tree shades a lush lawn, scattering its pure white blooms across the grass, while the fountains in the private pool gurgle cheerfully. At the centre of the resort gardens is a terracotta gate once found only in Balinese temples and palaces. This one was built by the original owner, who, according to the staff, is a descendant from Balinese royalty. All is presided over by a brace of stern stone turtles in the lily-pad-covered pond at the entrance.

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This is a place designed with total relaxation in mind. Popular with honeymooners and couples, most guests are European or Australian. Options for activities are gentle — a morning yoga class under the palm trees, a well-appointed spa, and a scenic sunset boat cruise around the dramatic cliffs of Uluwatu.

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In the morning, make your way to breakfast across a small bridge over a lotus pond, and meet statues of deities dressed in the ubiquitous black-and-white chequered poleng sarong. Breakfast is spectacular; pillowy pain au chocolats, a rainbow of tropical fruits, perfectly poached eggs and the fluffiest banana pancakes you will find, accompanied only by the hiss and sigh of the waves just a few feet from your table.

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By Tara Loader Wilkinson. Originally published in Billionaire.