Secret Hotels of Bali
The island is home to some of the world's most famous resorts: Aman this, Four Seasons that. When it comes down to friendliness, however, they can't compare with these seven intimate gems.
Ulun Ubud Resort & Spa
In an open-air workshop just to the west of Ubud, Bali's cultural capital, a young woodcarver is contemplating his latest work--a goddess slowly emerging from a twisted tree trunk. Satisfied at last, he marks the wood and begins carving again. The craftsman's boss is Gus Tu, son of a noted local woodcarver and owner of the Ulun Ubud, which sits next to the workshop. The artistic heritage is obvious as you meander down the paths and steep steps linking the hotel's 22 thatched cottages: Each nook and cranny holds a statue or a carving--a Hindu warrior here, a head of the Buddha there, and everywhere countless carved frogs, fish, shrimp, and crabs. The rooms are simple but comfortable, with bathrooms that could do with a little updating and wide balconies that overlook a lush river valley. The hotel has a reasonable restaurant serving Balinese and Western dishes, and there's a free shuttle if you're inclined to sample some of Ubud's many restaurants. If you take breakfast on your balcony, you may hear the distant chink-chink-chink of iron on stone. Look down toward the river and you'll see that along its banks, local craftspeople are cutting stone to make new carvings, some of which may well show up on the hotel's rambling grounds. 011-62/361-975-024, ulunubud.com, from $75 year-round, breakfast included.
Nirvana Pension & Gallery
I Nyoman Suradnya is a little worried about tourism in Bali: "The relation between Balinese and tourists is too much business," says the artist. At their homestay in Ubud, Suradnya and his wife, Ni Wayan Rai Rupini, who owns several jewelry and crafts shops, are trying to turn tourists into guests. In their family compound, which Suradnya designed, it's hard to say where the home ends and the hotel begins--reflecting, in good part, Suradnya's belief in maintaining the three harmonies essential for a human: harmony with one's god, harmony with other humans, and harmony with the natural world. The rooms blend seamlessly with a stone shrine and Suradnya's open-sided studio, and plants, trees, and songbirds pepper the grounds. There are just four rooms in the homestay ("I want to leave time for my art," explains Suradnya) in two small pavilions. Each room has attractive wood carvings painted in bold reds, greens, and golds; its own bathroom; and a balcony or terrace. For many guests, though, the real attraction is Suradnya. While he's a gifted painter, he specializes in teaching batik, a traditional Indonesian method of patterning fabric using wax and dyes. Suradnya describes the careful processes involved as "meditation in action"--a way to focus on what you're doing in the here and now. As he speaks, his adorable granddaughter jumps up behind him and rings a bell. "We ring that bell to call people to lunch," he says with a grin. "It's how we invite them to come back to the present." 011-62/361-975-415, nirvanaku.com, from $22 year-round.
Puri Lumbung Cottages
The village of Munduk is a world away from the beaches that draw most tourists to Bali. Life moves at a different pace: Farmers lay out cloves and cocoa beans along the road to dry in the sun, village dogs meander about, and the sound of chanting drifts in on the evening breeze. To introduce visitors to his world, I Nyoman Bagiarta set up the Puri Lumbung Cottages in a garden bursting with guava, lime, papaya, pineapple, and other tropical fruits. In 12 of the 17 cottages, the top floor was converted from an old lumbung--a rice granary of wood and bamboo, with a thatched roof (Bagiarta has substituted shingles). Inside, there's room for a bed, and not much more. But there's also a balcony, and a bathroom on the lower floor, so the cottages don't feel cramped. The hotel doesn't have a pool, but there's plenty to do, including trekking, participating in music and dance classes, and taking part in a reforestation project. In the evening, you can dine in the hotel's restaurant, which serves good food, including timbungan be siap (a chicken soup with cassava leaves and shallots), and offers great views of the surrounding hills. Bagiarta, though, wants to do more than just host visitors. He believes his hotel can also help his community by bringing in jobs and acting as a template for other hotels owned and run by Balinese. He's succeeded: Already the hotel has inspired a number of locals to open their own homestays. "If people copy, OK," he says with a smile. 011-62/362-92-810, purilumbung.com, from $75.