Descending into the darkened lobby of the Hotel Tugu Bali, the sounds of traditional Balinese gongs floating in the air, we are welcomed by the most unlikely of figures: a giant, two-storey wooden statue of a beaked eagle, wings outstretched.
As our eyes focus, we quickly realise that the dramatic work – a rendering of the Hindu divinity Garuda – is merely the centrepiece of a hotel devoted to paying homage to Balinese art and sculpture. Neatly crafted teak furniture, a staple of Bali, hints at the quality of the decor in this small, quiet property: scattered everywhere are wooden display cases full of artifacts, each selected from the personal art collection of Tugu’s owner Anhar Setjadibrata.
Threaded with winding stone pathways, the hotel gardens lead from one arty nook to the next, a library packed with antiques opening up into a candle-lit shrine full of statuettes, followed by an ornate dining room lined with black-and-white photographs of ancient Bali. Taking an exploratory tour of the grounds, discovering one exhibit after another, we can’t help but wonder: have we accidentally stumbled into a quirky museum?
We get our answer as soon as we reach our Dedari Suite, nestled behind a wooden door at the end of one of the pathways. Far from feeling like part of an untouchable display, the room, painted bright green with a jungle-enclosed plunge pool outside, inspires us to kick off our shoes and fling ourselves down on the massive canopy bed, which is enveloped in white flowing curtains. ‘Can we bottle this moment?’ my new husband asks, a refrain I would hear several times on our honeymoon over the next few days.
Unexpectedly, our bathing area – because it is not, in truth, anything as mundane as a bathroom – provides several such memorable tableaux. Built partly outdoors, a stone bath tub sits next to large wooden windows that swing open over the private courtyard. A day-bed, thoughtfully arranged next to the bath, along with incense and candles, gives us a perfect excuse to spend hours lying about in plush towels. The hotel’s shampoo, conditioner, bath foam and gels, set out in small, black ceramic pots, add another earthy touch.
‘Ask and ye shall receive,’ has clearly been conveyed to the Tugu’s staff as the hotel’s credo. Request an 11am couple’s massage at 10.30am, and you will not only get one, but you will also be fetched from your room at precisely that hour and led to an outdoor canopy, the sound of crashing waves in the background.
Ask about a dinner reservation in a nearby town – the fashionable Ku De Ta in Seminyak, in our case, a 20-minute drive to the south – and you will get in at your desired time and have a car waiting to take you. The hotel offers a long list of other activities, including a cooking class that starts with a dawn trip to the food market. And it was clear from our passing inquiries that more or less any request, be it about sightseeing or laundry, would be met with an enthusiastic offer, by at least three staff members, to satisfy our desires.
Two soundtracks play on a continuous loop throughout the Tugu: traditional Balinese music; and running water, pouring from fountains in the cold-water swimming pools. After a long day dodging motorbikes on the streets outside, the quiet spa noises were soothing, virtually rocking us to sleep just after dinner each night.
Still, this hotel may not be for everyone. It is slightly more rustic than advertised, in keeping with the surfer sensibility that dominates the Canggu beach area on the south-western shore of Bali. Getting to the beachfront itself requires a short walk across a field; once there, guests are encouraged to recline on a four-poster wooden bed that has been tucked into the sand, or on a handful of lounge chairs.
Some of the best features of Tugu, however, are not within the property walls but just beyond. An easy stroll down the shore leads to an enclave known as Echo Beach, a wonderfully rugged surf spot with low-key bars, restaurants and an inexpensive (but divine) nail salon and massage parlour. Closer to the hotel, just a few steps from the entrance, sits a delightful organic restaurant named Om. Open-air, with bamboo furniture and thatched roofing – and, of course, free WiFi – Om offers a view of the ocean that is, unfortunately, harder to come by at Tugu itself. And the food is a nice respite from some of the heavier Indonesian fare at the hotel.
But what Tugu lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in attentiveness. Our first encounter with the hotel's spectacular service had been at Denpasar airport, where, emerging in a jet-lagged daze, we were greeted by a grinning man who ferried us past the long queue for Customs and into a waiting SUV. From that moment forward, every member of staff recognised us on sight. Curious about the origin of a particular statue? Someone will write out an explanation for you. Want to watch a movie? The staff will offer you a library of hundreds of international and Indonesian DVDs.
Feel like sitting in the lobby, gazing up at a winged Hindu divinity, drinking tea? No problem, and would you like us to light some candles for you as well? Because that, really, is the point of this place: to sit and do nothing and let the Balinese spirit sink in.
Anonymously reviewed by Anne Kornblut (Political reporter)