Bali: a dream destination for many, filled with beautiful beaches, incredible diving spots, and destinations that seem primed for Instagram photos. But it’s also an extremely friendly and spiritual place. Luke Abrahams checked into Bulgari Resort Bali to experience one of Bali’s best retreats, discover the art of relaxation, and encounter knockout experiences, expertly tailored by the Italian house of Bulgari.
It’s early morning on the beach and the waves are crashing in. I am sat next to a priest who chants to the gods as the harmonious smell of burning incense rises into the heavens. This is my purifying ceremony, or Melukat as the Balinese call it. For the best part of 45 minutes my mind is in a daze. It almost seems as though a switch has been flicked as my thoughts plunge into a grand, dark abyss of nothingness. It’s eerily quiet in my head for once, and it’s total bliss.
For thousands across the globe, any mention of Bali conjures up thoughts of paradise. I for one (post meditative state) found it in a near instant. This little Indonesian island is so much more than just a place: it’s a state of mind, an aspiration, a love letter to Mother Earth.
Almost everything here has spiritual meaning; the island’s rich, extremely diverse culture is a testament to that fact. From the countless floral offerings to the jovial processions, beautifully colourful ceremonies, otherworldly temples (there’s estimated to be at least 10,000 of them here), and dramatic volcanoes, Bali is a place that stays with you from the moment you step back on the plane bound for home.
Of course, there are amazing beaches, fantastic diving spots, and some pretty darn good Instagram opps, but it’s the Balinese themselves that made my two-day jaunt here oh so worth it. Beyond all the smiles and bowed heads, the people in this part of the world are genuinely warm, genuinely friendly and genuinely generous – a rare feat in the modern west, and more than enough reason to visit if just for the sight of a friendly face.
Bulgari Resort Bali is all very high-brow – a Milano fashion set meets the Garden of Eden (via the jungle) vibe, if you will – at this luxe, cliff-side bamboo fortress from the House of Bulgari.
The marriage of cool, ultra-blingy European design and its tropical setting is a triumph. The isolated, wildly rugged locale paired with Bulgari’s minimalist statement style works, and works very well.
Your first glance will quite literally leave you somewhat speechless, somewhat puzzled: the resort’s 59 villas, suites and mansions (five of the latter, to be precise) boastfully stand tall on a very regal, 160-metre-high cliff near Uluwatu, one of Bali’s most sacred temples. Everything you look at – from the classy boutique to the winding plant and floral flecked pathways, to the library, to even the obelisks – are the definition of dressy, head-to-toe island chic. It’s bejewelled perfection.
Check-in is all very formal (mint, basil and honey welcome drink included), yet ludicrously friendly. There’s a genuine warmth from the resort’s hosts and butlers that puts the grand dames of the old world to shame: you are made to feel welcome and wanted at all times and it never feels forced.
Among all the thatched roofs, the open public spaces effortlessly incorporate the buzzy design elements of the day, celebrating Balinese antiques, artworks and local handiworks, while still staying true to the playful Italian flair of the brand.
Walk further in to find the infinity pool – the hotel’s ‘must Instagram’ spot, my butler gleefully declares – a dreamy place full of lazy-hazy, summer ready cabanas, smiling pool boys, and a stonkingly glorious panoramic views of the Indian ocean and Bulgari’s private beach below.
Speaking of the beach: it’s worth the somewhat perilous – yet very fun and photogenic – tram ride down from the dizzying heights of the resort’s summit. Coral strewn and home to talc-white sands that stretch for miles, it’s worth chilling here for a couple of hours with a good book pre sundowner at the beach cocktail bar.
Hewn from local hand-cut volcanic stone, bangkiray wood, and topped off with traditional bamboo roofs, the suites (ours was an Ocean pad) here are eyebrow rousingly seductive. Storied, high quality antiques wow alongside tables stacked with Bulgari coffee table books and totems that tell the tales of local souls up and down the island.
The bathrooms – larger than your average city apartment – are magnificent demi-temples floored in the slickest, smoothest black basalt crowned with a ridiculously roomy tub (Bulgari toiletries included), large enough for three. There’s also a huge double vanity, and if you’re feeling frisky enough, an outdoor shower.
Though the rich textiles, sharp angles, and minute emphasis on all the shadows make the overall feel quite moody, the suite is bizarrely cosy throughout, especially when you cocoon yourself in the uber comfy king-size bed.
Outside, breezy large terraces have epic views of the Indian Ocean, plus a plunge pool makes those hotter days that little more bearable. Downside? All the villas are densely packed together and – despite all of the walled greenery, shrubs and exotic plants – this can make the feeling of seclusion and privacy a little bit scarce.
Il Ristorante is where it’s at. Luca Fantin’s signature restaurant serves up pretty, fuss-free Italian staples in a luscious, open-air dining room featuring black stone pillars, quintessentially European white linens and, of course, views over the ocean and dreamy reflection pool.
On the menu, expect all the classics, utilising the best local produce the hotel can get its hands on. Stand outs include: the scallop carpaccio with a citrus corn soup; the lobster with zucchini and fish crustacean sauce; and the spaghetti with sea urchin.
As with anything Italian, all the oil comes direct from the boot nation, and the wines (all 200 plus of them) are Europe-centric, so it’s well worth splashing the extra cash on the vintage labels, too. It’s all very date night, but thankfully on the unpretentious, relaxed side of the spectrum.
Almost directly opposite, there’s Sangkar, the more traditional foodie hotspot that focuses on spicy Indonesian flavours. Try the nasi goreng, a pretty medley of fried rice, a jumbo king prawn and wagyu beef satay. Breakfast is also served here (and round the clock for later arrivals, for that matter) from the crack of dawn, a mashup of English, Mediterranean and Japanese, from cold meats to hot rice dishes, all American pancakes, and truffle scrambled eggs (with champagne, obviously).
The best spot to book a table is out on the far corner table on the terrace, overlooking the deep blue sea and the neighbouring chill cliff-side bar. This is a great little hideout, perfect for spying the waves come sunset, with a signature Bulgari cocktail in hand.
The Spa is perhaps the most secluded serving of nirvana that Bulgari Resort Bali has to offer. There’s another outdoor pool here, plus a yoga pavilion that invites guests for early morning and afternoon sessions. Head further in and you’ll find a salon, a well-equipped fitness centre, and a soiree of open-air treatment rooms facing the coast. Treatment wise, there’s the usual suspects, but it’s worth indulging in a full body massage to loosen the knots before bedtime.
Perhaps the best thing about checking in at Bulgari Resort Bali is all of the deluxe experiences the concierge rustles up. A day tour to Ubud is well worth the early wakeup call – and the traffic. Tours include all the big sights: from the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary to the city’s fantastic selection of art museums and galleries; the bustling and very colourful market; the wonderfully intricate Saraswati Temple; Ubud’s Royal Palace; Goa Gajah (the city’s famed cave known for all its ancient carvings); and the waterfalls – Tegenungan, Kanto and Nungnung are musts.
Staying closer to home is also a bonus. Nearby, Uluwatu’s sacred temple has been enchanting visitors since it was built over 1100 years ago. Since then, it’s said it has protected Hindu islanders from evil spirits and, as a result, has become one of the island’s most important religious sanctuaries. Its location is the main draw for visitors: perched on the top of a craggy cliff, the views are truly sensational – as are the spellbinding sunsets.
The temple itself is off limits, but it can be admired from various jaw dropping viewpoints along the coast (just watch out for the very cheeky monkeys). The sunset kecak (dance) performed in the open theatre is very special and is regularly packed out, so it’s best to get there super early to perch yourself on the front row for the best seats.
Villas at Bulgari Resort Bali start from IDR 14,000,000 (approx. £775) per night. Bulgari Hotels has a sustainability strategy; in Bali, it has implemented the Balinese ‘Tri Hita Kirana’ philosophy which centres on the spiritual and social needs of its staff and guests, and the human relationship with nature. The resort also recycles, plants mangroves, and supports local bee activists. Read more here. bulgarihotels.com