Ondy Sweeting visits a Bali classic. Photos: Lucky 8.
Five-star hotels come and go, but the grand old hotels of the world remain in a timeless bubble as untouchable and unchanged as granny’s diamond earrings.
Historic hotels always have the same six things in common: the best address in town, jaw dropping dining, ‘you will not believe who has stayed here’ kudos, secret gardens, incredible views and great original art on the walls.
The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali has earned her stripes as Bali’s own Grande Dame.
As the original resort in the once-rural Seminyak, the property is by far the largest frontage on the beach. Beyond the beautiful stone walls (cloaked in brightly coloured tropical flowers) is a paradise of pleasure, from the culinary genius of chef Enrico Wahl through to the visual delights of Balinese-style design.
Renowned Australian architect Peter Muller developed and worked on the famous resort from 1977 to 2001. He also birthed the stunning sister Oberoi Hotel in Lombok, which followed the Bali model with open-walled pavilions and traditional alang-alang roofs that remain in evidence today across nearly two hectares of heavenly tropical gardens.
Such was this acclaimed architect’s magical insight and practical interpretation into local culture that he was commissioned to create Oberoi hotels in Goa, India, and Luxor, Egypt. His extraordinary work in Bali was also the subject of the academic thesis Discriminating Eyes in Bali, Indonesia by Vanessa R. Preisler, University of Oregon, U.S.A.
Stepping into The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali is like stepping back into a time time when space was as generous as the hospitality.
It is old school at its very best, from water lily-laden ponds filled with cruising carp to hand-carved stone statuary – every corner of this delightful destination is a beauty trap. The glorious swimming pool is flanked by gardens and the sea. When it is free of swimmers the still water sublimely reflects the ocean and sky.
Princess Grace and Salvador Dali where among those who owned villas in the compound while Mick Jagger, Julia Roberts, David Bowie and Gianni Versace were among the celebrity guests.
The accommodation at The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali is in 74 villas – which take up just 20 per cent of the entire grounds – and includes one-bedroom villas with a pool and sea views to garden rooms with a private terrace. Bathrooms are enormous and each one has an interior garden plus a sunken bath and separate shower. Toiletries are by the village-based, profit-sharing organic skin company Sensatia Botanicals. The interiors are a flashback to the old Bali of legend and feel a little like you have fallen into a painting of the bird-filled jungles that grace the walls of the rooms.
Each room is positioned on a stone pave pathway that winds throughout the gardens and will lead you to the excellent spa – which is a must for a quiet afternoon – the tennis court, beach or one of the dining areas.
The Kura Kura restaurant showcases Chef Enrico’s abundant culinary talent. This is world-class fine dining where the tiniest detail is thought out to perfection from lush Indian curries to astonishing molecular cuisine. The international repertoire on the menu may well be unmatched in Bali, pairing slivers of home-pickled beetroot with micro greens, or spears of rare white asparagus when in season. Goats cheese is reinvented to resemble a quail’s egg, the degustation menu is out of this world . . . or simply enjoy Bali’s best Caesar salad.
With 40 years’ experience serving an elite clientele, the staff at the Oberoi are well versed in delivering seamless attention, worthy of each of the property’s five stars. Many of the team started their careers in hospitality at the hotel decades ago. Staff retention is very high.
By the pool, sun beds are made up to order, sun glasses are polished and cleaned of the salty mist from the ocean just metres away. Chilled infused water is delivered regularly to avoid dehydration in the hot sun.
Among the charming daily activities is afternoon tea and cultural performances in the poolside amphitheatre. Local delicacies are served on bespoke china painted with images unique to Bali – women in traditional clothing, religious artefacts, images of temples and even Bintang beer and Bali dogs.
The resort is a short stroll away from one of Bali’s important water temples in Petitenget. Seemingly every morning the sound of delicate music floats on the breeze from a nearby pura to mark each of a vast number important religious days on the Balinese religious calendar.
The beauty of Muller’s original plan is the seamless integration of local culture into a refined holiday retreat staffed with hundreds of committed professionals working to create a blissful experience. It is a truly magical feat.
As part of Bali’s historic fabric, The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali holds a unique position among resorts on the island as the mother of luxury hotels on the Island of the Gods. Long may it continue.