‘I’ve never seen a less intimidating security guard,’ says Mrs Smith, nodding towards the uniformed man at the entrance to Kayumanis Jimbaran. As he lifts the barrier his round face beams with a radiant smile, ushering us in with a warmth that we’re already accustomed to from the people of Bali.
We pass two gigantic clay pots cascading water and arrive in the huge, open garden, filled with swaying coconut palms. Although mere metres from bustling Jimbaran beach, this space offers complete sanctuary. Stepping across lily pads we reach reception, where we’re greeted by the petite concierge and offered an iced drink.
‘Let me show you where you’re staying,’ says our personable host. We follow as she glides down a footpath, pointing out the communal dining area, bar and spa. ‘We have 19 estates in total.’ I look at Mrs Smith – individual estates?
Tantalisingly, one of the gates opens a crack, revealing a vast private pool. Now we’ve seen that, anything less will be met with a pinch of disappointment. Finally, we stop at a broad teak gate and our host fiddles with a set of keys. Come on! I almost roar with childish impatience. The doors swing back and we spy an expansive plot of manicured land fluttering with birds dipping their beaks into frangipani, and a swimming pool as oceanic as the one we had glimpsed. Phew!
Lending a Balinese soundtrack is a slate water feature, tipping a tinkling stream into the pool. The timber terrace of our One-bedroom Private Estate leads into an impressive living area with a vaulted ceiling, segregated into a lounge, study and slick kitchen space. Being a caffeine fiend, I’m reassured to spot a gleaming De’Longhi espresso machine – and a copy of The New York Times international edition is a nice touch. The bedroom and open-air bathroom are in a separate building; never mind swinging a cat, you could raise a pack of tigers in this place.
After a shower we’re ready to explore. We turn down the free bikes and meander on foot to the beach. As the sun dips, silhouetted fishermen drag their full nets to shore. In the evening the bay comes alive, buzzing with informal shoreside restaurants offering the day’s catch. The seafood is sold by weight, so you just pick your bright-eyed fish from the selection laid out on beds of ice. As darkness descends, oil lamps studding the sand illuminate our late-night stroll.
At the end of the night we visit the Rock Bar, a 15-minute drive away in the hotel’s complimentary limousine service. Described as ‘the place to be seen’ by our concierge, this glamorous bar is set deep into the side of a rock face overlooking the crashing Indian Ocean. As you approach by cable car, the crescent-shaped drinks counter glitters like a diamond-encrusted ring. The prices are as breathtaking as the location.
Slightly heavy headed the next morning, we stroll down to the hotel’s Tapis Restaurant, a thatched pavilion where meals are served day-long. Mrs Smith has a more exotic palate first thing and opts for the truffle eggs with a traditional Balinese breakfast of spicy nasi tepeng. I go for the delicious sweet cinnamon pancakes with fresh fruit and yoghurt. Our waiter reminds us to return in the evening for a free cocktail in the stylish bar alcove. ‘You have to try the Hazelnut Martini, he suggests. I look at Mrs Smith. Hair of the dog?
Some home-baked cookies are waiting for us when we return to our lodgings, as is an envelope containing an invitation for an on-the-house massage. Mrs Smith is thrilled. Most people would be thrilled. I am not thrilled. Since a hair-whitening ayurvedic massage in Goa – an experience that involved being smothered in my own body weight of scalding hot oil and left me with back pain for a fortnight – I have had a phobia of being massaged, a fear that has become an issue on more than one holiday. Mrs Smith gently encourages me – ‘We are going to have massages together before we go out tonight – so man up!’ – but I can feel sweat beading on my upper lip, although the air-conditioning is an Icelandic 12 degrees.
Later in the day, we find two masseuses patiently waiting for us. They are armed with an array of oils and fluffy white towels… instruments of torture. We are instructed to lie down on the loungers on the decking. The innocuous sunbeds now look to me like a pair of dentist chairs. Prostrate, with eyes clamped shut in preparation for the worst, I feel two sets of tiny digits bury themselves deep into the tissue of my back. But they are not met with searing pain; instead, there is a professional dexterity that replaces my anxiety with exquisite relaxation. The stresses of daily life that had calcified into lozenges of knotted muscle dissolve like Alka-Seltzer. Plink-plonk. I blink myself back to the present. ‘How do you feel?’ asks Mrs Smith anxiously. ‘I… am… converted,’ I dribble back. The problem is that I want more. For the next three days I work my way through the comprehensive list of spa treatments, including the heavenly chocolate wrap. Mrs Smith has created a monster, albeit a blissed-out one.
At the end of our stay we are sad to leave Kayumanis Jimbaran. I will remember it for the solitude it offers. The self-sufficient estates provide refuge from the sardine can of urban life. As we drive away, I flick through my travel guide and find a chapter on Bali’s first Western settlers; in February 1597, days after landing, commodore Cornelis de Houtman, accompanied by three sailors, decided never to return to their native land and made the small island their home. To sever all ties with your life is a big decision but, after a visit to Kayumanis Jimbaran, I wonder whether it would be a hard one.