Alila Villas Soori: Black Beauty

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I take time to stare at my feet and the black sand glitters in the morning sun like stars in the night sky. Fine as talcum powder, these are the remains of volcanic rocks from Mount Batukaru, Bali Island’s second highest peak, patiently pulverized by wave upon gentle wave of the Indian Ocean. Without this rich dark hue, the sparkling grains of quartz would not stand out. Looking around, I note that amidst the black stone walls, the lush verdant colors of foliage and flowers seem even more vivid. I enter the spa where—deprived of much of my sight by the muted candlelight that make black walls almost indistinguishable from the shadows—my other senses are heightened: the faintest sound of Balinese music tickling my ears, the calming fragrance of jasmine wafting in the air, the soothing touch of my masseuses’ fingers delving through my scalp. Only amidst such pervading blackness and quiet can colors, scents, sounds and sensations be truly appreciated and enjoyed.

This wisdom in the volcanic black sand and stone is the philosophy that guides the crafting of every luxury of Alila Villas Soori. Black is the new white. Luxury and exclusivity is now defined by absence as much as by abundance.

More than an aesthete’s choice, black is the natural color of Soori. Black are the quarried volcanic stones upon which its highly filigreed Hindu temples are built and its intricate statues of the monkey god Hanuman are carved with. But while traditional Balinese architecture of the rural village that hems the resort is decorated with florid baroque designs, the internationally renowned Singapore-based SCDA architects’ designs for Alila Villas Soori offers a modernist take on these native building materials. At Alila Villas Soori, the architecture is the attraction. Stark, linear, and minimalist, it—like the black sands, the volcanic stones and the quiet tranquility—allow the vibrancy and warmth of each person to stand out. And the brightest color comes from the warmth and authenticity of the people who make it so hospitable.

Alila Villas Soori is not for everyone. And that is its very attraction. It is not for louts looking for cheap beers and the boisterous camaraderie at a honky tonk bar. It is not for people who want to be seen on the scene or for those looking for a smorgasbord of discount choices and possible casual hookups. It is for those who have already found their company and want a discreet getaway secluded from prying eyes. For those who already have everything in life, Alila Villas Soori is a logical choice.

Space as luxury

I wake up to the heavenly feel of soft cotton sheets. From my spacious and modern study, I view the majestic beach panorama that backdrops my room’s personal infinity pool. And all this is accessible with my patio sliding doors. Space is the ultimate luxury and Alila Villas Soori provides it in all aspects with utter lavishness.

Besides the one-bedroom villas, there are eight three bedroom villas, and the grand ten-bedroom Residence. A modern beach mansion no less, the Residence is a resort within a resort that comes with a personal butler, chef, and masseuse as well as private spa and gym. With its expanse, The Residence simply takes one’s breath away.

Art and culture

Located at Banjar Dukuh, Desa Kelating, Kerambitan, Tabanan at the Southwestern shore of the island of Bali, Alila Villas Soori is just 20 minutes away from the sea side island temple of Tanah Lot, a prime cultural attraction in Bali; half an hour from Abiantuwung Village and its famous traditional Balinese dance school; and just over an hour’s drive away from Ngurah Rai International Airport. But as conveniently near as Alila Villas Soori may be, it is its seeming remoteness that is its prime attraction. What awaits next door to Alila Villas Soori is authentic Balinese village life.

I was able to witness vignettes of Balinese craftsmanship and culture of the Kerambitan and Tabanan regency. Amid the verdant rice paddies made fertile by the volcanic earth and village houses that dot the road are a multitude of Hindu temples: minute temples atop pillars in the middle of rice fields, ornate family temples at yard of homes homes, and grand temples of fine filigree at royal courts. Just a few minutes drive from the Villas are potters, tile makers and ceramic sculptors where visitors can witness the fine craftsmanship that goes into each. I also witnessed a local blacksmith forge the very chisels used to quarry and carve the black volcanic rocks from which the temples, houses and the resort itself were made.

Soulful Soori

For its part, the resort is not lacking in cultural attractions. Alila Villas Soori boasts of a quarterly artist residency program and an exhibit space entitled The Reading Room that displays the artworks borne of their experience at the resort and its surrounding communities. I had the good fortune to witness the artwork of Bori Benko. She draws glimpses of Europe such as Roman aqueducts and Venus de Milo using local traditional Balinese dyes on textile, hence her artworks evoke the local seaside environment even as they portray Benko’s European heritage. The exhibit, entitled, “Lineage – to Hang and to Wear,” also features shawls and other clothing art wrought of cotton dyed with the same traditional Balinese dyes.

General Manager Marco Groten also reveals that besides horseback riding at the beach and Segway tours of the village, the resort will soon offer stargazing experience with an astronomer to curate the experience of seeing the starts through their telescopes.

At Ombak Restaurant, executive chef Dwayne Cheer presents a menu that reflects Soori’s refreshingly radical aesthetic. Indulgence comes not from large servings, but from a masterfully orchestrated symphony of flavors that vary from light fare such as rock melon tartar with waffles to hearty dishes such as minute steak, fried quails egg and onion jam. Most impressive was his Bebek Goreng (fried duck with vegetables and rice) and Kambing Medura (grilled lamb skewers in spicy peanut sauce). Cheer explains that Bali possesses a unique breed of duck, the bebek betutu, that is lean because it is grown free range at rice paddies but is tender because it is flightless and not too athletic.

In the evening, the Spa Alila pampers me with their signature Hair Stimulation Massage. I am given a choice of scented oils and led to a room barely lit. Soft Balinese music plays and I surrender to the kneading hands of my masseuse. I close my eyes, let the darkness blanket my world, and I feel every caress and touch even more. Soothing and comforting the massage lulls me into relaxation even as it invigorates my scalp and cleanses my pores. I wish I could tell more in detail of how fantastic this massage is, but sleep soon overcomes me and in my brief dream I begin to see stars in the blackness.

Surfer Chef – Executive Chef Dwayne Cheer

Alila Villa Soori’s executive chef is exactly where he wants to be: working at the kitchen of one of the world’s most exclusive resorts and a few steps away from the sea. Chef Dwayne Cheer’s love for surfing not only brought him to Bali but also led him to cooking.

“I started cooking in New Zealand a few years ago. The reason why I started to learn how to cook is I wanted to earn money so I could by a surfboard. I started working at the fish and chips shop down the road from my place and it all began from there,” he confesses. He went on to work in Australia as well as at The Greenhouse, a Michelin Star restaurant in London. “But I decided to get out of London. No surfing there. I went to Dubai after London, and there was no surfing there either,” he recalls.

Here at Bali, Cheer enjoys tropical weather and warm seas ideal for surfing. He confesses, “For sure, part of the reason I’m working here is for the surfing.” He adds, “My daughter also didn’t like it in New Zealand. She was scared of so much grass. She was born in Dubai and was accustomed to the desert sand.”

Another reason Cheer prefers to work and live in Bali is his family. “I get to see the family a little bit more than I did elsewhere,” he enthuses.

Cooking fantastic food, surfing in balmy weather and spending time with his family, Executive Chef Dwayne Cheer has found his home in Alila Villas Soori.

Artist in residence – Bori Benko

Born in Bucharest, Romania and having grown up in Budapest, Hungary where she studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, artist Bori Benko has called Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, home for the past few years. She has exhibited her works in Hungary, Romania, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Brazil. At Alila Villas Soori, she has mounted her exhibit entitled “Lineage – to Hang and to Wear” at its Reading Room art space.

Her artworks, consisting of shawls and drawings on raw cotton dyed with traditional Balinese materials, evoke the seaside with their earthy yet watered down hues. “This is all about natural dyes. I learned from traditional artisans from Java and Sumba the old techniques of making colors from plants. All are indigenous to Indonesia,” she explains. She derives her colors from the jalawe fruit to create ochre red and fermented indigo leaves to create blue, as well as minerals and metals such as alum and iron as color alterers.

Her artworks combine linear drawings with splashes of color. “I use symbols for nature, beauty and femininity and interweaved them, like the weave and the weft of the fabric. I explore the tension between the intentional and the accidental,” she reveals.

Head of the family – General Manager Marco Groten

Marco Groten knows well why his guests fall in love with Bali. The general manager of Alila Villas Soori shares their passion. It’s all about family: “I started my career off in 1996 when I graduated from the University of Holland and arrived in Indonesia for a job. It was at university that I thought of going to Southeast Asia. I’ve worked in the Maldives, Thailand, Vietnam, before going back to Indonesia. I wanted to go back to Bali because it’s a great lifestyle and the balance between work and private life is actually very good. My kids go to school here so it’s something that just worked out. I’ve learned the language. My kids are half Indonesian.”

Groten has been with Alila Villas Soori since its inception, “I had an opportunity to start this great project with the developer and with the support of Alila. I came here about for and a half years ago when there was really nothing.” Nonetheless, he notes, “While in the western world you look only at numbers, while here in Southeast Asia you have people who are great at hospitality. You don’t need to train them the basics.”

Groten notes three things that distinguishes Alila Villas Soori from other resorts:

“First is design. The resorts really blend with the environment. If you stand on the peninsula, you will hardly see a resort. We want to be part of the landscape without being obtrusive or opulent. The twelve shades of gray that we use blends with the natural stone.”

“Second is environmental. We don’t brag about our green policies but it is part of our DNA. There’s also the social part; more than 55 percent of our staff are from the village next door. We’ve extended training to them. We’ve hired fishermen, farmers, and housewives that didn’t have any experience just to get them into the equation and it has worked out really well. We are also supporting a school and an orphanage here because we are here for the long term.”

“Number three is personalization. For example is how we approach what people call excursions. If you want to take a journey all about rice, how it is grown and how it integrates into Balinese culture and religion, and you are in the middle of a rice field plowing with a buffalo and you enjoy that, we let you enjoy it for another hour. These journeys are well researched. We consult anthropologists because we want to make sure you get the right information.”

He enthuses, “We want to give guests completely different experiences that they can never have at home. We want to give them that experience that inspires.”

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