Tugu Hotel, Canggu, Bali
An hour from Denpasar airport, 30 minutes on from Seminyak on Bali's southern beach strip, the enclave of Canggu has its own laidback vibe, but an increasingly busy one, with The New York Times recently nominating it as the new hip spot in Bali. Once a budget surf destination, now organic and vegan restaurants abound, along with yoga retreats and upmarket beach clubs.
Tugu means monument in Indonesian, and a monument the hotel is – to the art, food and culture of the archipelago, to a love of history and a love of romance. It is a living gallery of the dreams of Anhar Setjadibrata, who as a 25-year-old medical student took up a job as a drug company rep, visiting tiny villages across Java. He saw precious, ancient artefacts being discarded and began to rescue them, becoming an avid collector with a collection that grew larger than his house could hold. The solution? A museum hotel in his hometown of Malang, then followed Tugu in Canggu.
Entry is through a huge open foyer, supported by towering teak beams. Indonesia's mythical national emblem, the Garuda eagle, five metres high, carved from the trunk of giant tree, greets you. History is around every corner of Tugu's winding stone paths, crossing streams and lily filled ponds, through verdant palms and flowering frangipanis. There is a pavilion dedicated to two Balinese Royal families who resisted Dutch colonisation in the world early 1900s, marching towards troops protected only by spells and traditional daggers – every man, woman and child died. In one glass case sits a near priceless old cup, the Cupu Manik, a 16th-century stone bowl, from which priests sprinkled holy water to cure disease.
Each is unique, furnished with ancient artworks and large four poster beds. Downstairs suites have private pools, upstairs ones large, sunken, circular pressed metal baths. All reek of history; the Walter Spies pavilion, dedicated to the legendary German artist and poet, transports you to Java's art deco era, and is decorated with his personal belongings.
Tugu's myriad menus present a gastronomic history lesson, in keeping with Setjadibrata's dream of preserving all elements of Indonesian culture. You can dine on traditional Javanese village fare or experience an extensive Balinese royal feast in a dizzying array of locations. The Ji restaurant is a cultural fusion, modern Japanese served underneath a 17th-century Chinese temple, salvaged from Java, transported and its huge wooden beams reassembled inside Tugu. Every afternoon high tea is prepared, free to all guests, a wide selection of sweets and delicacies served alongside traditional teas.
Canggu is centred around its famous, and increasingly crowded, surf breaks – the relatively gentle peaks of Batu Bolong and the sharper, shifting barrels off Echo Beach, overlooked by a host of small restaurants and bars. Old Mans at Batu Bolong has become a sprawling open-air institution with cheap and cheerful drinks and food and a lively bar packed with tourists and expats come sunset.
There are Australian-style deconstructed cafes such as Crate – great coffee and an amazing array of new age fruit drinks – and bohemian restaurants such as Gypsy. Just down the road is the headquarters and showroom of Deus Ex Machina, a shrine to any male mid-life crisis with retooled vintage motorbikes, classic single-fin surfboards and an ever expanding array of clothes. Tugu offers a range of cultural tours exploring traditional Balinese life, but you could be forgiven for staying put and soaking up the history within Tugu's grounds.
An entrancing trip back in time. It is impossible to resist Tugu's seductive charms.
The love story between Belgian painter, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpes and the traditional dancer Ni Polok, who became his model then his wife, is intertwined with the hotel. Pictures of the statuesque beauty are ringed by sarongs she once wore and the honeymoon suite, which floats above a lotus pond, is dedicated to their grand romance.
As development in Canggu accelerates, the outside world threatens to intrude on this once isolated oasis.
The suites start from $450. See tuguhotels.com.
Mark Forbes stayed as a guest of Tugu.