When size matters

A behemoth of five-star opulence threatens to overwhelm visitors with everything you could want from a south-east Asia holiday, writes Saturday Traveller editor Sarah Maguire.

Sitting down to an elaborate afternoon tea in the lobby of The Mulia hotel, it is the view rather than the petit fours that has our attention. The outlook towards the Indian Ocean is nothing short of monumental. 

Lining the swimming pool are rows of towering statues depicting Balinese women holding platters on their heads. It is like an Atlantis that hasn't sunk yet, so grand is the vision. We have only just arrived at Nusa Dua's sprawling new megaresort, Bali's biggest, and we are agog.

There is no blending in to the landscape for the vast and ambitious Mulia, set on 30 hectares that used to belong to fishing families before they sold it to the Jakarta-based developers. It comprises The Mulia, an exclusive 111-suite hotel, the 526-room Mulia Resort next door, where we are staying; and further back from the ocean, the 108 stand-alone Mulia Villas, aimed at families.

There is a ballroom and conference facilities to fit 5000 people. Wandering around the resort, through an army of workers who are vacuuming, cleaning windows, mopping marble floors, and just standing by to enquire, as you pass by, if you are OK, you come across bars, wedding chapels, pools, a kids' club, colonnaded walkways, restaurants, lounges, artworks, sculptures, a gym, and seemingly random spaces so cavernous it's hard to imagine them full of people.

When we arrive it is raining and the effect of the grey weather is to make the resort look almost institutional; it could be a hospital, while the villas are reminiscent of a suburban sprawl. I suspect that I will not be a fan of Mulia and that many other Australians won't be either; it's just too big; too impersonal; too ostentatious.

And then, the sun comes out, and it's like a penny dropping. As staff fold and slide away the walls, it is as if the building disappears and Mulia comes into its own. The blue of the sky, the sea and the pools outside merge with the blue in the rugs, chairs and flower arrangements inside, while the marble floors are the colour of sand, meant also to mimic the beach beyond.

Ultimately, the in-your-face feel of it all is not so far removed from the blinged-up mega cruise liners that are like mini-cities in themselves, and which Australians are travelling on in growing numbers. So Mulia might be a drawcard after all.

Before this foray into Bali, the Mulia Group had only one hotel, in Jakarta, largely for business travellers. Otherwise, Mulia builds office blocks and shopping malls, and manufactures ceramics, marble and glass.

Since it opened earlier this year, the Nusa Dua resort has attracted mainly Asian guests, from Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, but it has the rest of the travelling world in its sights, including Australia.

One night, before a degustation dinner at the resort's excellent Soleil Mediterranean and pan-Asian restaurant (bookings for its popular Sunday brunch are required two weeks ahead), we have drinks at the Sky Bar, a decadent, daybed-scattered outdoor lounge of the kind that Bali does so well. We hear chanting and abandon our canapes of arancini, croquettes and asparagus wrapped in bacon to see where it is coming from: a group of kecak dancers is weaving through the resort, performing the Ramayana - a Hindu legend in which the god Ramayana's wife is kidnapped and a monkey army is sent to rescue her.

It reminds you where you are, as does getting up at dawn to watch fishermen at work on the beach out front, wading with their nets through shallows that hours later will be full of guests from the resorts along the Nusa Dua coast.

There are also centuries-old Hindu temples, on an adjacent headland and almost hidden within the resort itself. The families who once owned the land still visit the temples twice a month for lunar ceremonies.

The cultural touches are welcome ones because Mulia is so big, you might not leave the resort if your stay in Bali is a short one. I forego even a visit to the nearby Nusa Dua markets. Instead, I want to lie on a sunbed in (yes, in) the resort pool and read a book, get hot, swim and repeat, ad nauseum, for an entire afternoon.

The pool has its own acreage and is flanked by more Atlantis-scale statues; there is a swim-up bar staffed by men in fedoras.

This is glorious, five-star, fly-and-flop nirvana, no matter how overwhelming the scale of it might be.

Trip notes

WHAT The Mulia, Mulia Resort and  Villas.

WHERE Nusa Dua, Bali, +62 361 302 7777, themulia.com.

HOW MUCH The Mulia suites from $US750 ($812), Mulia Resort (rooms and suites) from $US380 and Mulia Villas from $US980.

TOP MARKS Soleil restaurant and the spa, both of which are top notch and, along with the pool, the best excuses not to leave Mulia.

BLACK MARK My keycard fails repeatedly to open the door, especially annoying as reception is a long, long walk away. 

DON’T MISS The Cafe restaurant. It’s buffet-style dining, but it is of the quality kind and a true smorgasbord of cuisines. 

MORE INFORMATION indonesia.travel.

The writer travelled as a guest of Mulia Resort and Villas.