Villa on View.
Your weekly up-close view of those wow factor extras that make our villas outstanding. After all, attention to detail always makes a difference.
The first time I visited Sri Lanka there was a war on. Twenty-plus years, 40-plus visits and a beach house later, how things have changed! In 1997, tourists were restricted to the southwest corner of the island – from Bentota through Galle round to Yala National Park. Now the whole of this aptly named “island of serendipity”, is open for business, and what a delight it is to explore.
“Journeys are long although the distances are short,” was the mantra of my loyal driver, Lucky, back then. And he wasn’t wrong.
To get to Colombo from the UNESCO-listed Fort at Galle (only 125km) you had to endure a 4 to 5-hour journey of hair-raising overtaking along an inadequate coast road. Traffic would grind to a halt on the approaches to Colombo, and crossing the capital to reach the airport was a war of attrition.
Now, a sparkling dual carriageway whisks you from the airport to downtown Colombo in 30 minutes and Galle can be reached in just over the hour. The delightful south-coast bays of Weligama, Dikwella, Matara and Mirissa (of whale-watching fame) are in easy reach. The Cultural Triangle, with its ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, and the historic centres of Dambulla and Sigiriya, are also much more accessible.
The hill stations of Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Horton Plains are still not easy to reach by road, although the train is a popular, more relaxing alternative. But once there, the stunning tea plantations and panoramic trekking country make for a magical setting. Sit back in a planter’s chair, sip a G&T and enjoy the colonial splendour.
Pasikudah, Trincomalee and the Jaffna Peninsula were pretty much off limits to all but the brave and/or foolhardy until 2009, so visiting the stunning beaches of the east coast was nearly impossible. Gravel tracks, frequent check points, mine sappers and curfews made travel long and arduous – our worst east-to-west-coast road trip took staggering 17 hours at the height of the conflict. Today, seeing 300 wild elephants watering at dusk in Minneriya National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list, as should the spice gardens around Kandy and the crystal clear waters of Nilaveli Beach running up to Pigeon Island.
Wilupattu National Park was closed during the war to prevent Tamil insurgents reaching Colombo and Bandaranaike International Airport.
Our island destinations boast a diverse and thriving restaurant, bar and beach club scene with a multitude of options for wining, dining and drinking in that tropical vibe – from a day bed! With so many new and exciting venues appearing almost weekly, it can be challenging for holidaymakers to choose where to go and when to book. Let your Elite Havens Concierge do the leg work for you. In addition to offering suggestions like where to hit the dance floor, special spots for romantic dinners or even somewhere to sip cocktails as the sun sets, we can secure restaurant reservations, book tickets to premier events and guarantee gold star treatment at some of the island’s most exclusive venues. Just let us know the time, place and number of guests and we’ll handle the rest.
Baba Beach Club – Natai Beach
Baba Beach Club is set on Natai Beach with 200 metres of blissful beach frontage. The decor draws inspiration from the iconic Sino-Portuguese architecture of Phuket Old Town, combined with the vivid colour palette of Shanghai Tang to create an innovative “Sino Portuguese Tang” vibe. Baba Beach Club has a huge pool with a swim-up bar and although the club is part of a villa resort it is open to everyone.
Top Tip: The quality of the sound system and the local and international DJ’s make this a go to venue for music lovers.
Café Del Mar – Kamala beach
When it comes to destination weddings, it doesn’t get much dreamier than Bali. Where else delivers a marriage of stunning setting, exotic décor, highly experienced event planners and spectacular destination-in-themselves villas? And all this without shattering the piggy bank?
As you relax into your vacation and settle into the laid-back island vibe, you’re subject to some special Bali magic. If you or a family member are celebrating an engagement, or are in the early stages of planning a wedding, it’s only natural to daydream of saying “I do” here on the Island of the Gods.
Just imagine –exchange vows on a cliff-top looking over the shimmering sea, with the sound of the surf crashing below. Declare your love on the beach, sand between your toes, as waves lap the shore and the setting sun flames the sky. Or seek the seclusion of a rural oasis and celebrate your union on the rim of a mountain ravine, surrounded by rice terraces.
Imagine the details – delicately woven palm-frond decorations and penjor flags framing the ceremonial space; three-tiered temple parasols and tropical blooms; flaming bamboo torches and candles amidst a garden of colossal foliage; the hypnotic sound of Gamelan music; a lattice of party lights strung like pearls illuminating the darkening sky. And within that enchanting setting, imagine a paparazzi whirl of cameras recording those first moments together as husband and wife.
Visualising the romance of the occasion comes easy in this culturally rich landscape. After all, since Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall tied their knot in Bali nearly three decades ago, many celebrities have followed suit. But what about the practicalities of a destination wedding, perhaps the other side of the world from your home?
The good news is that you get more bang for your buck in Bali; so you can save if you want or splurge. Happily, this applies whether you wish to stage a low-key wedding for close friends, or the most elaborate bells-and-whistles event for hundreds. If that’s not reason enough, think about the venue – perhaps a bride’s most important decision, after the dress of course. Here Bali comes up trumps, with a stellar cast of destination villa venues in jaw-dropping settings and an insane choice of accommodation for wedding guests.
Rara Suprastini has been in the events and weddings business for over a decade. As Elite Havens’ Head of Events Indonesia, she oversees villa arrangements and other details for important occasions. Dealing with clients directly, she knows in-depth what they want and need. We sat down with her to find out what its like organising and managing multiple assignments. (She makes it looks easy!)
Elite Havens: Hi, Rara. Can you tell us a little bit about your role?
Rara Suprastini: My team and I take care of booking events. More often than not, these are weddings, but we also do quite a lot of retreats and a few birthdays. We are here to help wedding couples or any guest looking for a special celebration in Bali.
EH: Say, for example, a couple is looking for a villa for their upcoming wedding. Should they come to you, because it’s a special event?
RS: Yes. That’s right.
EH: And then you will help them choose the villa? Set up the event?
RS: Absolutely. I was a wedding organizer here in Bali, before I started working with Elite Havens. So I know what brides are looking for. First things first – a fabulous venue. A bride usually knows exactly what she wants, ‘I want a beautiful villa on the cliffside. I want the sunset as the backdrop.’ They already have a dream, a perfect wedding that perhaps they’ve been thinking about since they were kids. The ideal venue is the first thing on their checklist. And of course, the venue affects the budget as well. We try to lead them to the villa most suited to what they have always imagined.
EH: Do they visit the villa?
RS: Usually, yes. After seeing the villa in person, they are usually a hundred percent sure that it’s the villa they’re looking for. We are quite different from other villa companies – we take our time with this. Our approach is more hands-on and personal, because we assist them in their search for the ideal luxury villa.
EH: What’s the next step?
RS: One thing we always propose to our clients, is to connect with a reliable wedding coordinator.
Wherever your villa is in Bali, do make sure you head for the hills and spend at least a day exploring Ubud. This once-sleepy village has grown into a bustling hub of activity since Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love film phenomenon almost a decade ago. Don’t wait for the annual Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Food Festival and Ubud Writers Festival; you’ll reap rewards with every visit to the island’s acclaimed cultural, creative and spiritual heart. Just ask your villa manager or concierge to organise a car and driver for the day, and then leave bright and early to give yourself as much time as possible to explore at leisure. Here we share a few ideas for your itinerary.
Make your first stop the famed Monkey Forest on the southern edge of Ubud – home to hundreds of long-tailed Macaque monkeys who are as comfortable with selfies as they are cunning/cheeky with stealing bananas (which you can buy at the entrance). It’s a magical place to visit before the crowds descend, as you can soak up the mystical atmosphere of the 14th Century Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal, one of three temples within the sanctuary.
From here, it’s a 15-minute stroll up Jalan Monkey Forest to Ubud Art Market – a popular stop for those seeking souvenirs. Small shops line this road, and if you’re feeling peckish, stop at Three Monkeys Café for a late breakfast overlooking a rare central-Ubud rice field – or make a beeline for Jalan Goutama for a huge choice of warungs and world cuisine.
Wander through the market marvelling at the kitsch, collectible and covetable, jostling with the tour group crowds and enjoying the Balinese stallholders banter. (While there, why not pick up a sarong and sash so you can be appropriately attired to allow temple visits during your trip – though you’ll be able to hire these at many of the more popular temples around the island). Then head across the street to the ornate Ubud Royal Palace; the front section is open to the public free of charge, and the traditional ankul ankul gate provides a splendid backdrop for family photos. Even more photogenic is the water garden of Pura Taman Saraswati with its carpet of lotus flowers.