LUXURY RESORTS: The Oberoi Bali
Style: Temple chic
Scene: Balinese charm meets five star service
Seen in the Lobby: Straw hats and designer sarongs
On the busy streets of Seminyak new boutiques and cool bars spring up faster than you can say 'gamelan'. As for hotels, Bali now has a whole lego box of modernist cubes and glass-fronted wonders hugging the coast from Kuta to Candi Dasa.
But Bali has never been just about the new. Its culture and its traditions are what makes this Hindu jewel in the Indian ocean so unique. Let's be clear, I love a good nouveau nightspot and the innovative architecture and funky vibe of the street scene are what make Seminyak such fun. However for me, The Oberoi Bali is what makes it special.
The Oberoi was one of the first five star resorts on the island when it opened way back in 1978. And it is still arguably one of the best, despite all those flashy minimalist upstarts and private villas where once there were rice paddies.
There is a strange magic that happens at The Oberoi Bali, it may be a stroll from Seminyak's nightlife but the minute pass through its gates you breath in the real Bali; The island of temples and traditions, of flower offerings and delicate dances. There are old traditional temples dotted around its grounds, where the Balinese come to pay homage but with its dark stone walls and thatched roofs the whole resorts looks a little a temple to me.
Hindu statues swathed in yellow greets us on arrival, baobab trees with tangles of silvery roots lean against walls like wise old men and fountains plash water into lily ponds. My villa is a temple of calm too; furnished with teak and Balinese artifacts. The bathroom is glass-walled and my sunken bath looks out on to a private courtyard.
TLTB readers will love the Pool Villas with their private swimming pools and walled gardens.
One morning I wander around the lush gardens, designed by Made Wijaya and now even more splendid in their maturity. Bright bougainvillea is a batik pattern of orange and pink against traditional grey coral-stone walls, frangipani trees drop blossom into shady pools and little banana leaf offerings dot the temples. Staff drift by looking graceful and poised in their purple sarongs, oh that we designer-clad guest could be as naturally elegant.
Bali is all about the family and community and The Oberoi Bali is a community in a real sense, one which guests are invited to share. ". Some of the staff have worked here since the resort opened and now their children and grandchildren do too. The debonair GM John Halpin (who was its opening GM too and has recently been coxed back to the Oberoi fold) once told the inimitable Biki Oberoi, "your name may be on the door, but it is really their hotel". They greet us each morning at breakfast with proprietary smiles as bright as their crisp white jackets. None is wider than the smile from the wonderfully named 'Glory face' who has been offering his grin to guests since the very beginning. His eyes crease up with joy when GM John introduces him.
Coming back to the hotel John feels that Seminak's serene queen mother has worn well, "without a hint of botox" although there has been a refresh or two over the years.
If you can stand to leave the hotel's embracing arms the concierge can ensure that you explore all the culture the island has to offer. Excursions include the chance to witness a Hindu temple ceremony or drive through the spectacular scenery of Mt Batur to its crater lake at Kintamani or visit the artistic town of Ubud. We visit at Balinese new year and the streets are festooned with impossibly high banana leaf decorations, woven as intricately as Uluwatu lace which curl over the road like an avenue of slender trees. Our Oberoi guide takes us to the Tirta Empul water temple in Tampaksiring where families are out in force to celebrate the birth of the year. They cleanse themselves in the temple pools before entering the inner sanctum; their coloured sarongs float like petals on the water. There are few other tourists so we feel as if The Oberoi has found us something special.
One evening we sit and watch young dancers and their teacher perform in the hotel grounds. Their fingers make delicate 'bird of paradise' shapes in the air, popping their heads from side to side with a rhythm a even a hip-hop artist would envy. As the sun begins to set the sound of the gamelan floats out across the beach where local kids in baseball caps are playing a game of soccer on the sand. It is the perfect mix of tradition and modern. Rather like The Oberoi Bali.
The Luxury Travel Bible would also recommend a visit to the resort's sister property in Lombok . Amid curling jungle and deserted beaches The Oberoi Lombok remains the only truly five star choice on this undeveloped island.
Ultimate Luxury: The 400 square-metre Royal Villa with unobstructed views of the Indian Ocean. The private compound is secluded behind high stone walls with its own private swimming pool.
Junior Luxies: Very welcome, the Balinese love children and children love The Oberoi.
Dress code: Designer sarongs, cool linen.
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Resorts Link: www.oberoihotels.com
Hilary Doling 29/4/14
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