After all my friends (and seemingly the whole world) have been bouncing back and forth to Bali, getting smugger and smugger on a spiritual diet of yoga, meditation and raw food, it‘s finally my turn to hit the island. I'm armed with cynicism, though: the whole Eat, Pray, Love movement seems too perfect for me.
Landing at Denpasar airport, the sweet smell of cloves hits my senses. I love clove cigarettes. They’re the only cigarettes I can smoke (when I smoke). I'm met by a driver, and whisked right through it all: traffic, McDonald’s and KFC, bustling shopping areas... I‘m glad when we leave this behind and continue to the village of Umalas in the south-west of Bali. On an unimposing road, the driver suddenly turns off to the left. A big metal gate opens up: Villa Mathis.
The friendly French manager welcomes me, and I’m eager to see everything. But he slows me down, asking me how my flight was and offering me a welcome cocktail. We sit down and talk. He slows me down and it’s only now that I really realise I’m in Bali. As I continue to calm down, we walk through the grounds.
No one would ever expect the Eden of palm trees, banana plants and countless other flora behind the hotel‘s walls. There are five different villas, each with its own pool and private surroundings. The villas are all connected; you can have dinner in another villa’s garden, should you tire of your own (unlikely).
At the very end of the gardens, verging to several rice fields, we arrive at my new home, La Villa des Rizières. First impressions: traditional Balinese architecture, lots of wood and an open-plan bathroom. A handwritten letter and tropical flowers lie on the bed. I decide to dive in the pool before my friend Daniel arrives at the villa. He's flown all the way from Frankfurt so that we can explore Bali together; I should at least freshen up.
Very excitedly, I show Daniel around the compound and our villa. It’s just too perfect; as romantic as it gets. And we both start laughing, knowing that we should have brought our girlfriends. I start planning my duty-free 'apology'.
We can have dinner anywhere in the grounds, but we can't decide, so we just pick a place beside the pool in our garden. When we come outside, the skies are already dark and inky and it’s perfectly quiet, apart from the chirrup of insects. As soon as we see the perfectly decorated dinner table under the tree, illuminated by candles, we look at each other, shaking our heads. It’s unreal; too good to be true. And still we’re without our girlfriends. Bromance it is.
We spend our mornings swimming in the big pool, right next to the Nuits Baroques restaurant and lounge area, whose style is (guess what) European baroque, mixed with traditional Indonesian materials. We chit-chat with the staff, who are eager to look after us, offering us exquisite dishes, fresh fruits and cocktails of our choice.
It’s the perfect hide-out. We lie in the sun, reading our books and dozing off. Only once in a while do we see other guests (mainly blissed-out couples) strolling around the tropical gardens.
One day, we organise a trip to Sanur, which is a little town south-east of Bali, said to be less commercial. Of course, there are tourists, but it feels very local and we have the chance to experience real Balinese life: markets with beautiful handcrafted objects, little warungs with traditional home-made food and beaches where locals and their families share sand with tourists.
It’s loud, it’s hectic, it’s unorganised; we’re happy to escape back to our perfect world at Villa Mathis. The days go by too fast and, just as we’re getting used to the flamboyant lifestyle and flawless service, it’s time to return to real life. One thing’s for sure, we’ll return: we'll lose our girlfriends if we don't.