Rebecca Anne Milford travels to the Canggu coast in Bali and discovers a haven of Indonesian culture in an enchanting retreat like no other.
Tugu at Sunset
The best time to arrive at Tugu Bali is just as the sun is dipping behind the sea out on the bay, stretching long fingers of golden light through a burst of foliage and the open-side of the entrance hall, to filter through swathes of royal red that hang from the ceiling. The grand lobby – inspired by a ceremonial house in a Balinese village – is thrown into sharp shadows as twilight approaches. Leering Boma carvings are made even more spectral with clever up-lighting; the statue of Garuda in all his bird-God glory crouches on the central dais; and the ruby glow of lamps form comforting islands of benches and low couches. There is the smell of incense and polished wood and something deeper – a kind of other-wordly history that emanates from every object. It is the most atmospheric place I have ever stayed.
It is going to be difficult to write this review, as I am not sure how to exactly convey just how stunning and awe-inspiring Tugu Bali really is. It transcends words – a place steeped in so much history, and built of so fervent a passion, that a visit is necessary to truly appreciate its wonder. But I can try to at least describe some of the beauty that a guest is presented with.
Sanctuary of History, Oasis of Calm
Tugu hotels were born out of a deep adoration for the romantic history of ancient Indonesia – a golden era of ancient kingdoms, exotic cultures, and dazzling pieces of art and craftsmanship. The story goes that the owner of Tugu, then a young boy studying for a medical degree in the 1960s, was appalled at the pieces of Balinese culture – antiques, treasures and curios – that were being discarded as garbage. It was then he resolved to spend his life curating and preserving as many of these artefacts as was possible while being a lawyer . Fast forward over half a century, and now he is the biggest antique collector and most renowned historian in the country. His four hotels and five restaurants are homes to one of the largest art and antique collections in South East Asia, and strive to preserve this culture, breathing new life into the captivating tales of old. They are not merely places to showcase his treasures, but also an opportunity to transport visitors to the seductive, enthralling eras of the past – and standing in that entrance hall, or wandering in the lush garden, you really do feel the ghosts of ancient warriors, and yearn after ethereal tales of kings, princesses, and more romantic times.
The result of this deep-seated love of fine antiques and history are a collection of hotels and restaurants like none other, rich with pieces of jaw-dropping wonder. From the huge timber carving of Garuda that was rescued from the dirt, to the ancient Chinese temple that was moved, piece by piece across the ocean, and is now resplendent with glowing red lanterns and a huge banquet table (Kate Moss has partied here, FYI).
The Grounds and the Bedrooms
Staying at Tugu Bali really is like stepping back into a different era – one of tropical outposts and that strange, delicious feeling that the time of gods and worship is still present.
The grounds are like being transported to the pages of a Balinese fairy tale – mythical beasts and carvings of gods lurk in the grounds, there are tables for sitting at your leisure, and suddenly a path turns and opens upon a lily pond complete with rickety bridge.
This adoration of Balinese culture is equally evident in the rooms – a wander around is an exercise is attention to detail. From the bright art hanging on the wall, the creaky brass sink fittings, the carved cow heads on the towel rack and the polished, claw-footed bench that is an aid to clamber into the high four-poster, we were immediately spellbound.
Staying in a raised Rejang ocean view suite, reached via a curving spiral staircase outside, offers a view across the bay. That means we had an immediate panorama of the lush gardens, and then a glimpse of the glowing lanterns that are strung gaily across the private beach garden. A choppy sea nudged the sky in the distance, surfers bobbing like little seals.
The most alluring thing for me was the covered veranda, evocative of the 1920s and providing a little table looking across this scene. My partner was enamoured by the private spa room, complete with huge sunken tub. It is the kind of place you feel yourself exhale, put down your bags, and resolve to never leave.
Eat, Drink, Spa
It is also worth noting that we experienced some of the best food in the whole of Bali while staying at Tugu. The dishes arrive on banana leaves in hand-made bowls, fresh and intriguing, and can be enjoyed anywhere in the grounds. The Nase Kare Ayam is delicious – a yellow curry that is steeped in flavours of lemongras, coconut and basil – and satay skewers are equally superb. Their 101 Dining Temptations menu is an absolute tome that offers whatever culinary experience you could desire – from a seductive aphrodisiac supper under the stars, to a theatrical ‘Forbidden Feast’ menu, where the meal is about so much more than the food – ritual, setting, tradition and history.
The breakfast (above) is also a revelation – I feasted on a traditional Balinese breakfast of Nasi Goreng Matahari Terbit – a mixture of fried rice served with sunny-side up egg, chicken, vegetables, tofu, beansprouts & soybean cake. My dining partner had an absolutely sumptuous Croque Monsieur, for those wanting something a little less exotic first thing in the morning.
As for cocktails – our welcome drink was a Basil and Ginger Margarita, enjoyed on one of the day-beds looking out across the bay as the sun sunk lower in a blaze of crimson, and tea lights flickered in the growing darkness like a tiny galaxy. Other notable tipples were the Jade Bliss – a delicate mixture of vodka, green tea, Kaffir leaves and lime – and Enter the Dragon, which arrived as deeply purple as royal cloth, a slice of dragon fruit embellishing the rim.
The spa options are also wonderfully unique and authentic, based on the wellbeing secrets of the East- they often incorporate rituals and blessings as well as the usual pampering treatments. We loved the idea of the Gemulai Penari – a signature treatment characterised by a water ritual and massage methodology based on traditional Balinese dancing. Prepare to be completely relaxed and rejuvenated like never before. Surfers Paradise
The Tugu Bali is located at Canggu Beach – on the South West coast of Bali and about 45 minutes from Ngurah Rai airport. It is a little hippy community, containing a cluster of health food cafes, artisan coffee shops and shops selling surfing paraphernalia. There is a lovely, chummy, relaxed feel to the place, where laughter abounds and there is a feeling of appreciation for a calmer pace of life. The bay is a mecca for surfers, and we saw them from dawn until dusk, all lined up on the crest of a wave like resting soldiers waiting for the next battle. It makes the area the ideal place to come for those that want a bit of both – activity and pure relaxation.
Entering Tugu Hotel is like immersing yourself in a slice of mythical, forgotten Bali that you didn’t ever think could be captured again. It throws up so many feelings – awe, adoration, and a nostalgia for a place you didn’t even realise you missed. Somehow you feel you’ve found your spiritual home, while at the same time having the sensation of being transported somewhere completely mystical. A wander round the grounds at dusk will elicits gasps of delight, or spend an early morning sitting at the table on the lily-pond. One of our chief pleasures was waking early, and taking Balinese coffee in the stillness of morning, surrounded by the sound of chattering birds, the distant crash of waves and the throaty gurgle of frogs. Days can be spent on the beach, in the surf, or chilling by the hotel pool – a serene oasis surrounded by lush foliage.
Overall, there is a feeling that this place is completely authentic – there is no hint of kitsch, or that some cliche is being created. As we sat on the final evening, resting on our veranda looking across a flame-orange sky, we were filled with a serenity and sadness – melancholy that we had to leave, but also deeply happy to have found this, a new special place. And I imagine many before, and many more after us, will feel the same.
Tugu also have hotels in Lombok, Malang and Blitar. Visit theirwebsite here, or follow them@tuguhotels