Smart villas for silly people?
The Smart Money Heads South
In days of yore, Bali’s southern peninsula, known as the bukit, was a penal colony, with breathtaking views and beaches. Few Balinese wanted to live in the dry towns there; the villagers were rough and water was a problem.
For most expatriates, it was the use of ‘Bukit stone’ for the courtyard walls of the iconic Bali Oberoi (by übermensch architect Peter Muller in 1973) that was their first taste of the peninsula; outside of their occasional excursions to Uluwatu Temple.
With the construction of the first hotels on the bukit in the early 1980s―the Nusa Dua Beach, The Grand Hyatt and The Hilton, all in the Nusa Dua Tourist Development Zone―the southern-most reaches of the bukit became popular, if not exactly fashionable. These new hotels were sparkling but commercially so; purpose-built for the mass tourist trade. The more discerning tourists still went to hotels and home stays near less-gated and more cultured communities.
In the late 1980s, the bukit’s famous surfing beaches, all with dramatic spectacular locations―Dreamland at Pecatu and Labuan Said near Uluwatu the most famous―were adopted by the young crowd. Bamboo shacks and magic omelettes mushroomed along these ravishing shores.
By the1990s, the quaint little harbour village of Tanjung at the South-eastern most tip of the peninsula―a village famous for its 17 th century Chinese temple and sleepy atmosphere―was deemed ripe for developers to move in. Among the tightly-packed coastal concrete sprawl that ensued a few nice hotels emerged - the Novotel (by regional designers/stars Lek Bunnag and Bill Bensley), the Conrad (WATG) and the Amanusa (Kerry Hill and Associates) ―among the more praise-worthy.
But even the tourist traps had enough ‘Balinese charm’ to keep the punters happy.
In the mid 1990s, the real estate invasion of the bukit started; Hong Kong, Jakartan and Surabayan Chinese felt comfortable in the barren non-denominational surrounds. In fact, since 1991 when Grounds Kent Architects built a stunning all-villa resort on the northernmost shore of the peninsula for the Four Seasons group, the highlands of the bukit had become a development option.
The view to Jimbaran Bay from the Four Seasons Resort
The Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran waterfall (by this writer) |
The wedding chapel at Tirtha Uluwatu.
View to Dreamland surfing beach from a dream home near Labuan Said
‘Ocean views’ became a ‘must have’ for Balinese dream-home builders. Balinese property portfolios became desirable among Yuppies and ‘Puppies’ (Punjabi Yuppies, the most virulent and strident of the Yuppie developer diaspora).
No one considered the effect of all this development on the unique culture of the bukit Balinese; and, to be fair, the villagers just stood by as their peninsula went into freehold free fall. The locals garnered whatever profits they could; mostly to help prop up the ever-increasing demands of their ceremonies, temple-building and palace refurbishments. The one protest by the peanut farmers of Pecatu was quashed when Tommy Soeharto arrived in a Rolls Royce with a phalanx of lawyers.
Many former fisher folk now own sizeable chunks of valuable sea-view real estate, thanks to the boom.
With the opening of the über -glamorous Bulgari in 2006, the peninsula’s southwest became chic (this coastal strip was formerly the area for more commercial hotels, such as the Nikko Bali and the Bali Cliff).
Who would ever have thought that the bukit and the venerable jewellery house of Bulgari would ever be joined in holy matrimony? For the resort, the famous design team of Antonio Citterio and Partners from Milano created a sumptuous village-scape and drop-dead gorgeous interiors, which attracted a steady stream of super-rich Russians and Arabs.
“New money in the old Bali,” was how one observer described the success of the bukit Bulgari. Sustainable-luxury-seekers flocked to the cliffs of the peninsula like lemmings.
The main restaurant deck at the Bulgari (photo:Rio helmi)
In 2007, real estate guru Nils Wetterlind announced that “the smart money was moving south.”
The wedding market has flocked to the bukit too―those cliff tops, those sunsets―followed by many of the island’s top architects. When Grounds Kent Architects built the Tirta Uluwatu wedding complex with a modern A-frame chapel floating on a large pond it became an industry icon. The fashionistas loved the big view coupled with the sleek modern architectural lines.
The latest trend, championed by Malaysian architect Cheong Yew Kuan of Begawan Giri (now Como Shambhala) fame, is for traditional Javanese pendopo pavilions, boxed in with lots of glass, sitting in rather tense gardens replete with the standard Bulgari black ‘tank-trap’ stairs and petrified forests of frangipani.
One ground cover pervades.
Staff wear black.
Guests wear white.
• • •
“The bukit is a stupid place for smart villas,” one pundit commented recently, after viewing a full page ad in The Bali Times; the ad featured a row of microwave oven-like terrace houses―all slam-dunked on a once gorgeous cliff. On the flat roofs, rows of Buddha statues (in square ponds) act as lightning rods.
It must be said that the bukit villa boom has not managed to attract many responsible architects, or good designers for that matter: most of the New Age Bali-besotted build formulaic ultra-minimalist, split-level dream homes with a token smattering of Balineseness.
Will the bukit boom continue once the traffic has backed up and the water run out? One must ask.
• • •
Joan Morney with her book ‘Paradise Found –
Journeys through Noble Gardens of Asia’
|H.R.H. Princess Alexandria (left) and H.H. Princess Soraya
|(from left to right) Dr. Nordin Bin Mohd Som, Mz. Brigitte van Bruegel, and Akhmad Yani
Today I am at the state apartments of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London, for the launch of a book called ‘Paradise Found – Journeys through Noble Gardens of Asia.’ HRH Princess Alexandra is to launch the book, which was produced, in aid of the Chelsea Pensioners Appeal Fund, by Malaysians Joan Morney and H. H. Princess Soraya of Negeri Sembilan.
Malaysians are essentially monarchists with big hearts, and it is wonderful that they have somewhere to go, such as Chelsea, to be charitable.
Stranger and Mrs Oberoi (Mirza)
Tipu Sultan's standard.
I rub shoulders with Mirza Oberoi (responsible, in no small part, for the magnificence of the Udaivillas and Jaivilas Oberoi hotels), Christina Ong (the genius behind Ubud’s Uma hotel) and darling Dr. Tan Wee Kiat, formerly head of Parks and Recreation in Singapore. It was Dr. Tan who nominated Villa Bebek for this book; over my protestations. (“Nothing noble about an irreverent Australian backyard garden,” I complained).
Brigitte van Bruegel, partner of A.A.G. Dharma Widoere Djelantik of Karangasem is here too, representing the Tirta Gangga Gardens in East Bali’ which are also featured in the book (Prince Widoere could not attend the launch).
Walking around the amazing panelled rooms, I see famous portraits of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of the Royal Hospital and of Charles II, his patron.
In a small room, I discover a collection of beautiful ceremonial flag staffs with decorative brass tips. These once belonged to the famed South Indian Ruler Tipu Sultan, the scourge of the British forces in Mysore and Mangalore during the 18 th century and would be of immense historical value to any Indian museum; they are rather forgotten here.
Only last year Dr. Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant boss of Kingfisher Airlines managed to secure the return, from the kindly Victoria and Albert Museum, of Tipu Sultan’s legendary sword.
I shall tip him off about these spoils of war!
31 st May 2008: To Villa Kahyangan, next to the Bulgari for a High Society wedding
I first met John Phillip Foxhunter Ellis on line. He was a young turk, ethnophile and goodie-goodie―fresh and enthusiastic―doing important work for an N.G.O. on Turtle Island and he wanted to buy one of my Poleng magazines. No-one under 50 had ever wanted to buy a Poleng, so we became fast friends.
In 2003, ‘J.P.’ (as he is known to his friends) met Agatha Simanjuntak, a bright young public relations expert working for John Hardy Jewellery.
At that time I was sure that his fervour for eco-conservation would win out over her passion for publicity and that he would drag his Batak princess to Turtle Island where they could correct coral reefs together.
It was not to be so: J.P. was soon pressed into service by the essentially matriarchal John Hardy Society (a raw food off-shoot of the John Birch Society) to work as a motivational speaker.
The wedding procession
Today they are to be married and we are bidden to this elite property to witness the vows, on top of a cliff, to the sound of Batak (North Sumatran) hymnsters.
A good slice of Jakarta and international society are there - former national ministers Arifin Siregar and Radius Prawiro; Yudha Kartohadiprojo, Agatha’s former boss from the Femina Magazine Group; artists Pintor and Astari Sirait, plus a good turnout of international guests led by Baron Basil von Zitzewitz, all the way from Tripoli.
I arrive at my first big fat Batak Bukit wedding to a spot of bother however: I have a bit of trouble at the luxury villa’s entrance. Greeting us at the front door are a brace of Australian wedding planners in flip flops (matching) and satin baby-doll moo-moo, courtesy of Exotic Real Estate’s events division.
The bride, Agatha Simanjuntak, and her brother |
The bride and groom at the Villa Khayangan wedding |
John P. Ellis and his younger brother James Ellis.
Beyond this delectable reception committee I glimpse, all neatly framed by the reception’s joglo door frame, a pyramid of white towels placed at the edge of an infinity pool.
My valve slams shut (I was abused in a gay sauna as a teenager you see) and my legs will not move. It is only with the arrival of John and Cynthia Hardy with their gorgeous daughters that I can ease past this psychological ‘road bump’.
Beyond the pool, amongst the ancient frangipani stumps and homogenous ground cover, a garden party is in full swing.
The Indian Ocean glistens beyond.
I am introduced to J.P.’s brother and sister, both of whom have been active in fieldwork in Indonesia over the past year.
We all gather in the garden on Love Point where an outdoor chapel has been set up.
The wedding planners buzz about, wired for sound, Boobies flapping, to the consternation of the fierce-looking Batak aunties stitched into rather stiff pastille-hued brocade bodices.
As the sun begins to set, Agatha appears at J.P.’s side. Her ivory silk Oscar de la Renta reflects the sun’s orange rays; J.P. beams with delight.
The hunter has his fox.
After a moving service―the Bataks are fire-brand orators―we all move to a dining terrace. Here Bali’s finest caterers (Bali Catering) provide wave after wave of exquisite food. A spirited Batak band plays at the terrace’s edge (the Bataks are the Welsh of Indonesia in the singing department).
I am overjoyed for the lovely new couple, and seriously impressed by the style and cuisine miracle that makes up a big wedding on the bukit these days!
Entrepreneur-philanthropist John Hardy (left) with the Stranger, clutching a Lake Toba Batak purse. |
The Strangergot shocked after seeing the groom
For some reason, my design office can’t manage to finish garden jobs in Malaysia―the Tenkus and Datuks fly off to Harrods at the drop of a hat, and are very hard to please―so I am surprised that the garden community there seems to hold my office’s garden in such high esteem.
Almost daily now we get Malaysian tourists coming in, screaming on their mobile phones (“I said shark’s fin soup BEFORE the abalone omelette, moron!”) and admiring the gardens.
I hide behind my computer, unless, of course, they want to buy a book.