JUMEIRAH BALI, ULUWATU BALI, INDONESIA
Renowned for a distinctive east meets west design approach, Jean Michel Gathy collaborates with Grounds Kent Architects to bring Majapahit tradition together with colonial Indonesian-Dutch heritage for five-star resort, Jumeirah Bali. SPACE checks in to the Dubai-based luxury hospitality group’s Indonesian debut.
Words by Jess Miles
Images courtesy of Jumeirah Bali
Gently cascading down from Uluwatu’s sun-soaked clifftops to meet the white sands of Dreamland Beach below, is Indonesia’s one and only Jumeirah Group property. Unlike Bali’s typical tourist trail, the resort’s secluded location harks back to days gone by, echoing the island’s tranquil spirit and original allure. Envisioned by Denniston’s founder and principal designer, Jean Michel Gathy, and Grounds Kent Architects’ Martin Grounds, the 123 villa haven melds Indonesia’s Hindu-Javenese heritage of the lost Majapahit Empire with contemporary opulence. Unwavering to time and trends beyond the resort grounds, find yourself here if you want the luxury of stillness, and an escape from the island’s touristic cliches.
Arrival at Jumeirah Bali is an interesting one. On one hand, turning off from the bustle of the main road, it’s a pleasant surprise to be met with an enchantingly ornate stone split gateway, flanking the entrance of what seems to be a private road down to the hotel. A remarkable example of traditional Majapahit architectural design, the gateway is full of symbolism as well as beauty. Commonly known as ‘candi bentar’, the stone structures are considered as sacred portals that connect the physical world and the spiritual realm. Typically built as a formal entrance to a pura (temple) or puri (palace), the gateways tell of what’s to come whilst making sense of the Hindu-Javanese water palace attributed design.
On the other hand, as you whisk and wind your way down the perfectly manicured yet empty road beyond the awe of the candi bentar, it’s not all roses. Creeping into line of sight, frameworks of unfinished and abandoned new builds disguised by overgrowth, are a sharp reminder of the hospitality developments that didn’t make it through the other side of the pandemic. Opening its doors at the end of April last year, Jumeirah Bali’s timing was perhaps more fortunate than its neighbours, coinciding with the start of the first high season since the pandemic, as well as the full lifting of tourist restrictions in Indonesia just two months before.
Leaving any baggage at the door – both literally and metaphorically – you’re greeted by the signature warmth of Balinese hospitality in a serene setting. Clean and elegant, most public spaces are open and airy underneath Javanese pendopo-esque pavilions set on pillars and floor tiles of crisp white stone, creating an undeniable sense of space. Feeling touched only by the warm sea breeze and the babble of coy carp that inhabit the many surrounding fountains and water features, the innate design works with and around the layered landscape as is flows down toward the Indian Ocean. Though the carefully curated details may go amiss to the naked eye, the seamless environment serves as a testament to both Gathy and Grounds’ design expertise. Each well versed in luxury hospitality design as the visionaries (independently) behind an endless list of world class hotels – including the much-admired Aman New York realised by Gathy, which also opened last year – it’s no surprise that no detail is left unattended to here at Jumeirah Bali. Aesthetically and intuitively, the design is flawless.
At the highest point of the property, the main building hosts to the reception, lobby lounge, and the 1,705 square metre spa facilities. A key focal point, the rather grand imperial staircase leads you down to the lower level. Here, wooden pitched roofs are swapped for decadent European style groin vaulting in white stone. Protected by the shade of the arches, this is where most of the complimentary daily cultural experiences happen; indulge in yoga and sound therapies, sample traditional Balinese practices such as lontar engraving, or experience an authentic Balinese temple ceremony with a Balinese priest at the resort’s ancestral pura. Onwards, the central water fountain guides you further down to tiered rows of villas nestled between lush tropical gardens set along cobbled walkways. As you weave your way toward the beachfront, expect to stop and smell the hibiscus, or admire the Majapahit sculptures and stone wall carvings that surprise around many a corner.
While it may seem a joy to get lost amongst the gardens, the lay of the land is quite expansive and getting stranded on the other side of the grounds without being able to tell each villa apart in midday Indonesian sun, is not fun for anyone. Luckily for all those who wander and do get lost, the hotel has an abundance of golf buggies to fetch and ferry you around, ready at the drop of a text. Far superior to any other phone or in room guest services that I have experienced, Jumeirah Bali has their very own ‘butler service’ via WhatsApp which is accessible by QR code on the back of your room key holder. From booking excursions or asking for more mosquito repellent, to hailing a buggy, the butler service has quick response time and is thankfully not an automated bot. Thoughtful and personal, I even received a message that asked if I wanted to move my dinner reservation to an earlier time, so we didn’t miss the sunset. Accepting happily, they also rescheduled the buggy to take us there before I’d even had a chance to think about it. Of course, the buggy and our (real life) butler turned up exactly on time, knew our names and what we had eaten for breakfast. It has to be said, the service at Jumeirah makes you want for nothing, and want for nothing less from every hotel you’ll stay at thereafter.
When you eventually make it oceanfront, three infinity pools float above a popular surf break, blending into the horizon. Along the same stretch there’s direct access to the beach, the Maja Sunset Lounge for easy going cocktails, and the most popular spot – all day dining restaurant, Segaran, serving an international breakfast and a delectable Southeast Asian lunch and dinner menu. For an elevated dining experience, the resort’s specialty restaurant, Akasa Gastro Grill, perches cliffside on the highest part of the grounds. Chef de Cuisine Joan Achour brings an adventurous Asian twist to flame grilled fare, feeling much in keeping with its surroundings; chilli red single Anthuriums dress tables, whilst sleek lounge seating frames flickering firepits. Against the backdrop of panoramic sunset views over the whole resort and beach below, the food tastes even more exceptional.
Within the villas, the sophistication continues. Entering through floral Patra carved swing doors in typical Indonesian style, you start in the living space which incorporates a pantry, working area, and a separate lavatory. Through sliding doors the bedroom with open plan bathroom, is entirely sumptuous – the freestanding bathtub with space enough for two, taking centre stage. Both rooms have airy pitched roofs in whitewashed wood and slate coloured beams. At night, they are beautifully lit. The neutral palette from the public spaces carries throughout, though subtle details in abundance are highlighted in a palette of soft greys and dusky blues. While the décor is of course sublime, it was the practicality of the space that set the design apart. Plug sockets and ports were all in the right places; lighting (designed by a local consultant, JRP Lighting) aircon and blind controls were entirely intuitive and uncomplicated; auto functions such as night lights or aircon on and off when exterior doors open or close after a certain time frame were seamless; and my favourite thing – all tech was cleverly disguised, inbuilt to furniture, and completely out of plain sight. Sanitary ware was sourced from Fantini Italy, Alape, Dornbracht, and Duravit – whose innovative smart toilet was also a crowd pleaser, being impressively user friendly and customisable by user.
Nearly all furniture is completely bespoke to Jumeirah Bali, custom designed and manufactured locally in Indonesia; intricate wall carvings recounting the tale of Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic from ancient India, were commissioned from Balinese artisans; hand-knotted rugs are also bespoke, from India and Nepal; softly patterned tiles that frame the different spaces were manufactured in Solo Indonesia. A considered curation of eclectic traditional motifs and narratives, the villas provide a meaningful design story to the layered history that’s shaped contemporary Bali.
Starting at 210 square metres, whether one or two bedroom, all villas offer the same decor and features including a private pool and outdoor living space. The only choice you’ll have to make is which view you prefer – ocean, sunset, or garden. Whilst the garden view does seem the least appealing option on paper, in reality it does not disappoint. Enclosed by indigenous flora and the remnants of classical Majapahit ruins, the reeded lily pond that appears as an extension to the infinity pool acts as a secluded sanctuary for local wildlife. Taking a morning dip whilst cranes drop in to do the same just a couple of metres away, is undeniably magical.