Despite its beautiful setting and remote location, Bali has come to be slightly associated with the Ozzie packed, nightlife focused stretches of beach like Seminyak and Kuta. But for those looking for more undisturbed tropical seclusion, the answer simply lies in heading in the opposite direction; an hour’s drive down to the undisturbed South Western coast, home to the super slick and strikingly designed Alila Villas Soori.
My previous Bali sojourn five years earlier had kept me confined to the well trodden beaches of Jimbaran which was fun and a great sociable trip, but this time I was keen to make my own impressions in the sand. Thus, grappling with worries of pigeon holing ourselves as the middle aged (which we’re not, I hasten to add – despite my love of early nights and knitting…) couple missing out on all the fun, we decided to be brave and head South West.
Unlike the approach to many beach hotels, our high tech car complete with snacks, neck pillows and revitalising face spray didn’t pass a single tourist shop or restaurant when winding its way down to Alila Soori. Instead we drove through untouched villages surrounded by family owned rice fields. Our aspiration of seclusion had been met but worries of self-enforced premature aging still dominated. We should have taken the car’s interior as a sign but stepping into Alila Villa Soori’s striking reception eradicated all our worries and made us feel like the uber-hip, trendy young things that we pretend to be. The architects here have opted for a more modern, dare I say it, city style approach to hotel build which won’t match everyone’s ideal of a beach retreat. The colour scheme is predominantly dark greys and blacks which are boldly painted onto concrete walls and ceilings carefully aligned to create juxtaposing angles, sharp edges and mesmerising spaces. Balinese wood is also integrated in the form of astounding wall art and imposing archways. The look, rather than feeling minimalist, spartan and somewhat uncomfortable is made to feel indulgently inviting and snug by the insertion of incredibly atmospheric mood lighting, hundreds of flickering candles and deep sofas with soft creams, greys and giant cushions. From the reception to the restaurants and the pool to the rooms, the modern approach to design is a constant at the heart of the hotel creating a funky and stylish vibe.
Our feelings of trendy youthfulness continued as we were shown to our ocean pool villa. We were lucky enough to be in one of the fifteen top floor villas with an infinity pool overlooking the sea and perfect seclusion. Ground floor beach villas are less appealing as they are extremely open to peeking Toms walking along the shore. Our pool was nothing like the misrepresented plunge pools some hotels deceptively over promise on, it was a pool large enough to do mini laps and beautiful enough to keep us room bound for our whole stay. It was neighboured by our incredible covered cabana with giant sofa and yet more mood lighting and candles meaning that not only did we stay there all day, literally lounging around, but spent many evening hours reading and sipping cocktails to flickering candlelight. The bedroom, with its giant comfy bed looked onto the lounge with apple TV preloaded with our favourite film choices. But the biggest wow factor came from the floor to ceiling doors that slid open to give direct access to the pool. A discrete side section of the pool led straight back to the sprawling bathroom. We fell in love with the “his and hers” vanity sinks with affiliated his versus hers toiletries. The two person bath competed heavily in our washing rituals against the outdoor rain shower at the back of the villa. I felt cool by association just staying there.
We did, at points, manage to muster the energy to explore beyond our four achingly cool walls. Set slightly back from the beach and connecting onto the white Reading Room, Cotta served up an innovative tapas style breakfast but also a more traditional lunch and dinner. Chef Ashton’s food was impeccable and he seamlessly combined Indonesian staples with some Western favourites. We were a little dubious to dine at Ombak due to its lack of Indonesian offerings but were drawn in by its mesmerising setting. Encircled by tall lanterns it protrudes out at the edge of the resort. It was deliciously atmospheric and evocatively overlooked the subtly flood lit beach which allowed us to indulge on a divine 5 course tasting menu whilst witnessing the waves crash down. The beach itself was unforgettable; sparkling black volcanic sand perfectly fitting with the hotel’s colour scheme. Unfortunately, the crashing waves make it somewhat redundant in terms of sunbathing but perfect for sunset walks as the bats emerged hauntingly from the caves at the end of the bay.
Alila Villas Soori has at the heart of its 44 villa resort a desire to allow guests to experience their version of the true Bali. Over half the staff are from the local area, eight rooms overlook the paddy fields to the rear of the property giving a more agricultural feel to your stay (complete with private pool, of course) and finally, “journeys” are offered to allow you to immerse yourself in the culture whether it be coffee tasting, rice tours or exploring the natural beauty of the island. We chose the culinary journey which involved a morning trip to the local market with two chefs followed by our own personal outdoor cooking lesson overlooking the beach. With the chef’s expert help we whipped up our own lunch of chicken satay, prawn laksa, chicken curry and my favourite, nasi goreng. Should a cooking lesson seem too strenuous for you, fear not, the cavernous spa delivered the most relaxing massage I have had in a long while in a fittingly black painted spa room. Whilst the husband wanted to further explore the local area on the Segways that are available to hire, I cajoled him into opting for bicycles instead and we spent our final morning pedalling around watching the locals tend to their rice fields as the sun rose.
Bewilderingly, Alila Villas Soori managed to perfectly meet our complicated aims of relaxation, seclusion but without feeling like aging bores. It is understatedly trendy whilst still delivering on isolated immersion in Balinese beach life.