By the ocean becalmed

Water therapy ... the villa's infinity pool.
Water therapy ... the villa's infinity pool. 

 

At a Balinese spa retreat, Selma Milovanovic discovers soothing teas and other ancient essentials beyond the infinity pool.

Runi is kneading my knotted shoulders as I fall into a deep sleep. She has been doing it for half an hour now and, combined with the soft scent of wild lavender wafting from the oil burner in the corner, the Balinese massage is enough to make me give in to my drooping eyelids.

I'm not one for massages - cursed with sensitive skin, I often shun the essential oils and scrubs at spas for fear of an allergic reaction - but at the recently opened Banyan Tree Resort in Ungasan, Bali, there are no such problems.

As the gentle sound of a bell suddenly wakes me, I am embarrassed. I have slept through two-thirds of a 180-minute massage. I laugh at myself and Runi smiles. ''It's OK, madam, it means you are really relaxed,'' she says.

As I get up from the massage bed - float, really - Runi brings a plate of fruit and a steaming, fragrant honey-ginger tea. ''Relax time, madam,'' she says. It would be almost impossible to be any more relaxed after a stint at the spa but it offers a 30-minute ''calm time'' with every treatment.

If you are more adventurous - and your skin is sturdier than mine - they say the Javanese Lulur treatment is the best pampering session of them all. I haven't tried it but it's been used by wealthy Javanese brides since the 17th century. Here, you are massaged, rubbed with turmeric, splashed with yoghurt, conditioned with honey and avocado and given a floral bath.

As I say goodbye to Runi and start climbing up a small hill to my villa, a hotel staffer on a golf cart appears. ''Buggy, madam?'' he asks. I say I'll probably be fine to walk but he insists. After all, there is 80 per cent humidity and far be it from me to prevent a sure-fire transformation from a Javanese princess to a ball of sweat if I decline his offer. So I give in and am driven back to my 240-square-metre villa, where shortly afterwards, I plunge into an infinity pool that starts where the bedroom ends.

You could be forgiven for never leaving the resort on your Balinese holiday if you decide to stay at the Banyan Tree Ungasan. With rates starting at $502 a night for a one-bedroom pool villa, this place is a far cry from the fake designer bags and $2 dinners on the streets of Kuta. But the first-rate service and eco-friendly luxury make the experience worthwhile.

Started by the Singapore-based couple, Ho Kwon Ping and Claire Chiang, Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts recently added Ungasan to its list of mostly ocean-set properties. The all-pool villa resort, which opened late last year, will be finished in the third quarter of this year. So far, 40 of 73 villas are open.

The resort is luxurious but not overtly flashy. Local marble and timber are used throughout and half its staff come from the local village.

The infinity pools start at 10 metres in length and most overlook the Indian Ocean. A jet pool and Balinese bale chill-out area complete the outdoor space. Ocean swimming is not recommended due to strong currents and, with litter lining the local beach, there is no reason to leave the pool.

Each villa is surrounded by a landscaped garden that features a secluded outside shower, so that when exiting the pool, you don't traipse through the bedroom to get to the inside marble bathroom. That in itself is the size of a small apartment and equipped with two sinks, a bath, stereo and flat-screen TV.

Daily, a ''scent of the day'' is put in the room's oil burners and incense sticks lit. Every morning you get a small turn-down gift and, every evening, sweets and a vacuum flask of green tea await when you return from a night out.

Still, this is Indonesia, and luxurious villa or not, insects are rife. I am reminded of this as I reach for little parcels of banana cake in a wooden box that is part of the mini bar. A colony of ants has already attacked. The next day, I see a brand new box in its place - a maid has noticed the uninvited guests without my complaint - but by evening, new ants are purposefully marching towards their sugar-laden prey.

I abandon the mini bar and take a buggy ride to the Moroccan-inspired Ju-Ma-Na restaurant and bar. The eatery takes its name from the Arabic words for ''silver pearl'' and is all white marble and leather, with clean, modern lines and a central display kitchen. Here, your hands are washed in rose-petal water tableside, while a waiter offers to ''refresh'' your napkin before dessert.

At Ju-Ma-Na, the accent is on fresh local seafood, from an amuse-bouche such as lobster cappuccino - steaming and foamy, served with a ''sugar spoon'' of harissa - to a main such as herb-crusted tuna with semi-dried tomato tapenade, vermouth sauce and quail egg.

Indeed, I do not see a single hen egg during my stay in either of the two of three Banyan Tree restaurants open so far. Quail eggs feature prominently in Indonesian fare, such as gado gado, and many international dishes at the family-friendly Bambu restaurant. The resort's third restaurant, Tamarind, in the spa pavilion, will focus on organic food and herbal drinks.

Some come to Ungasan to surf, others to admire the crashing waves at sunset. My view of the latter is from Ju-Ma-Na's clifftop terrace, where one can enjoy cocktails or, for that something extra, ''molecular creations'' - extravagant concoctions resembling chemical experiments still in process. My travelling companion orders a Lava Lamp - champagne infused with strawberry and ginger ''caviar'' - but isn't impressed. I select a safe option - caprioska, the vodka-laden, bastardised version of caipirinha, while snacking on bar food such as foie gras and edible flowers.

It's a world away from the $5 plate of ''babi guling'' (suckling pig) at nearby Ubud - where the crackling is to die for, you sit on the floor and the unisex toilet has a busted lock - but it's worth it.

Selma Milovanovic travelled courtesy of Jetstar and Banyan Tree.

Jetstar flies non-stop from Melbourne and Sydney to Denpasar with fares starting from about $770 return, including tax. Australian passport holders can obtain a visa for $US25 ($27) upon arrival for a stay up to 30 days. There is a departure tax in Denpasar of 150,000 rupiah (about $20).

Banyan Tree Ungasan one-bedroom villas from $502 to $610, including buffet breakfast for two. Stays of three nights or more include a free 90-minute massage for one. See www.ungasanbaliresort.com.

 

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