I have just been left shell-shocked by my stay at the Soori Bali. It has literally blown my mind away.
It has taken me months to digest the gravity of my visit; to actually find the time and breath to etch out my thoughts into carefully construed words.
What I will say is this: when I left the Soori Bali, I carried with me an a sense of enlightenment. I felt uplifted. Emotionally purified and purged.
If it were truly possible, I had just been blessed with more love than in almost any stay….anywhere.
The travel gods had smiled on me. I had been anointed. I had become a better person.
Until this very moment, I had shied away from reviewing the Soori Bali. I didn’t feel as if I was ready to give it every experiential inflection, a moment of justice in the open pulpit of review. In my expert world, details matter. You have to get them right. You don’t need to wear lingerie and have melt-downs over vanity lines getting more like troughs. You just call a spade a spade based on reality, not “fluffdom”.
My dilemma was poignant: how can you possibly assemble and morph so many thoughts into such a short piece?
Well this is how.
FROM SEMINYAK TO UBUD TO SOORI
From the party pizazz and shining lights of Seminyak, to the monkey forests of Ubud, I had experienced much over the last few days. As I descended from the volcanic mountains towards Tanalot and through the rice paddy fields surrounding the Soori Bali, I had time to reflect on this intense journey. I had just visited nine hotels, staying in three, before being disgorged at the plinth of the cobbled Soori reception area.
I had gone through an emotional roller coaster with every ride. Each hotel property a challenge to my own sense of purpose, as both a writer and travel expert.
I rarely “just stay” in a hotel when I review it. I venture far and wide, to immerse myself in the food, the culture, the people. This is often a spiritual journey too, one that allows me to give context to a hotel and “frame” it in its local environment. To complete the picture, one might say.
As I whizzed through local villages to the Soori Bali, I was gripped by this uneasy feeling of regret. What on earth had I done? Where was I going?
I felt like I was heading to nowhere.
Even my seasoned and brilliant driver, Putu, was reverting to peevish quips and grouchy calls, as we crabbed through winding streets that looked all the same with ruffled, giant banners to me. Yet unruffled and diligent as always, he delivered me to the property without even a whinge or gripe.
A solitary security guard smiled a greeting at us. After a quick clip-board check, we were ushered forward to cross this rickety wooden bridge that clattered and clacked loudly. I felt normal and ever-present.
Either side of the arch, stood these giant, carved, black stone columns entwined with gold and white chequered fabric. A customary, family temple was set to the side, adorned with a gold and white umbrella. A slightly taller golden flag fluttered in the soft breeze. And then we shook down the long driveway some 500 metres long, before winding up at the circular cobbled courtyard and reception area.
I was beginning to smart more. Why, oh why, had I booked a place that was so far away and remote? I had gone from buzz and energy of Seminyak, to the jungle hillsides of Ubud and now this: total removal and total solitude.
I must have looked a somewhat anxious and squalid wreck, as I exited the car. I still had no idea where I was, or what I was in for. I never research a place before I go there because I don’t want my thoughts to be tainted or affected by the babble of mediocre spew that others contrive.
THE RECEPTION AREA
Anyone that has been to Bali knows this sensation well. When you exit from an air-conditioned car, there are mini nanoseconds before you suddenly feel the pin pricks of sweat trickle down your neck. An envelope of humidity throttles you with slow malaise, until you reach the point of drenched, no return . I really did feel grimy and mucky and this didn’t help. But the mark of excellence is when hotel staff sense your distress and rise to the occasion and need. In this instance it was a cold towel, with the soothing scent of lemon grass, my arch angel for the moment.
The check-in process was effortless. I never left my seat. I had all the time in the world to absorb my new surroundings, unrushed and at peace. The staff brought everything to me, including a complimentary drink that bristled with soothing relief.
The Soori Bali reception area is a huge al fresco space. It is a world of contrast from the brilliant light outside, to the darker, muted wooden tones of shelter inside. Yet it is also an area of balance. The striking horizontal lines of the slatted wooden screens are counterpointed by vertical poles and low planted gardens. It is a testament to nature and life, with water ever present. The reflecting pool open to the elements and heaven above with one’s eyes being drawn to the frangipani trees on the central island. There is a careful respect between the gentle, living green tones of nature and the hardness of stone and concrete. You barely notice the subliminal affect it has on you. The rolling and soft crashing sounds of the ocean afar adding mystery to the mood, whilst local musicians beckon you with a haunting and spiritual piping Rindik Bamboo Music.
The reception area is a feature in itself and almost removed from the rest of the Soori Bali resort. It towers above the villas and concedes little to their whereabouts or the immensity of the property. It betrayed little of the experience I was about to enjoy, or the world I would fall in love with.
OCEAN POOL VILLA 203
As I was led down from the reception area, and steep stairs to the left, it began to dawn on me just how vast and truly private the Soori Bali really was. I felt like I was in my own kingdom. Palm trees and walls and bamboo clusters towered above me. I followed the stone paving as it weaved and snaked between low-lying vegetation and sporadic, carefully planted frangipani trees. Someone very clever had thought of every nuance of planting and vegetation.
Soon, I stood before the entrance to my own Ocean Pool Villa marked 203. It was a simple yet huge and open, dark wooden archway. But this was still not the end of my journey. It was a beckoning, a beginning, a welcome gateway to a private complex. I had yet to climb the remaining steps and open the giant doors into my new world.
THE GRAND REVEAL – A STUNNING VILLA
Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you part open the doors and step into what I can only describe, as the most gorgeous ocean view garden courtyard. It is like watching the grand reveal on a TV decorating show, when the judges see a finished room for the first time.
Your eyes are literally drawn to the crystal blue infinity pool and then the breaking waves beyond. You just want to yell out, “Mine…all mine!” But you can’t, without causing childish alarm, because the neighbours and concerned staff would probably dagger you with querulous looks.
“No, I’m not on drugs,” you want to say and you grin within. “I’m just immensely happy!”
The funny thing is that you haven’t even stepped into your room yet.
STEPPING INTO MY SOORI VILLA
Wait until you actually open the doors to your living space and are greeted by this amazing, modern, four poster bed. Like the garden, the ocean view is never compromised. You can lie back on the bed and from the pillows, gaze across your feet towards the pool, through the slide doors and beyond.
To your left and right is a small living area. A giant plasma screen is concealed within the wall. A couch to the other side. If the moment grabs you, yes, you can even step off the end of the bed, through the opening and into the pool. I did. Often!
The sheer volume of space is captivating. I have never been in such a stunning environment where light and air swirls around you in such a comforting manner. Even the textures and smooth surfaces blend and fuse with each other despite being so divergent in colour. Dark, almost black woods and furnishings are harmonious with neutral floor tiles and brighter wall colours and linens. Almost nothing seems to dominate or distract you from the overall feel of the room or design. It is truly a living space that works as a whole and not governed by an individual statement.
Luxury is not an exaggeration when you stay at the Soori Bali. I can’t remember the last time I had a choice of a sunken bath tub in my bedroom, or another interior shower, as well as my favourite, the outdoor shower. There is something infinitely sexy about washing outside where no wandering eyes can find you.
The sunken bathtub is massive. I lit the candle one night and just laid back listening to the diminutive and barely audible music and the crushing sound of waves outside. I was lost in the space and at peace within.
What I truly loved about my Ocean Pool Villa was the use of local colours and materials. They dictated the mood and ambiance of my space, where walls were clad in paras kelating, a cool grey sandstone taken from the banks of a local river. Yet outside, the black-sand beach is prevalent, until you realise how this too has been infused into the resort interiors using the local volcanic stone called batu candi.
The interior bathroom offers “his” and “her” washbasins with giant mirrors that straddle the walkway to the outside shower. There is a huge amount of storage and hanging space, plus a digital safe for keeping valuables. This is the ultimate bathroom design.
Rarely do I like to be in a bathroom for more than functional purposes, but here at the Soori Bali, it became a part of my experience and stay, for which my reward was total enjoyment.
OTHER ROOM AMENITIES
Like most hotels in Bali, you have a well-stocked mini bar with the usual culprits of Bintang beer and Heineken, white wine and champagne, Coke and Sprite. You even have the choice of still and sparking water.
A small wicker box hosts an array of Pringles, nuts and local snacks. And you even have a kettle with a choice of tea, plus a Nespresso machine for coffee. Soori also provides its own complimentary drinking water in the bathroom for brushing teeth, as well as for making coffee and tea.
DINING AT SOORI BALI
I love being in that situation when you don’t know what to do. You’ve arrived in a completely alien environment, with absolutely no “sense of place”. You have no idea where the heck you are, what is north of south, and certainly no concept of how to behave. You are like a mole, broaching the tufts and soil for his first peek and sniff.
I meandered from my villa early, around 5.30pm. I was exploring.
My sexy date was hungry – I jest: that was me. I was completely alone. And it was then that the immensity of the Soori started to set in.
Soori is vast. Huge. Everything is so clever and perfect. I felt like a Roman general pacing amidst a garden, shell-shocked yet ever-present. A conqueror that was sick and tired of the outside world. A man that was disposed to look at notes of beauty, not calamity. A being, a real person that needed a shower, a wash, a massage; someone, anyone that could uplift.
I remember a fleeting look at the library to my right and a feeling of awe and despondency. I was engaged by the light. I even waked into the room and touched the books with soft finger tips, like I was reading Braille.
I needed to move on. I was only staying for two nights. There was no real time to enjoy or revel.
My greatest surprise by far, after nine days on the road and so many experiences, was the food. I was absolutely not expecting such mouth-watering brilliance. Every meal was a voyage of virginal discovery that left me stunned and silent.
When art meets food and it tastes great, you know you have reached heaven’s door. I just happened to find the key and it was at Soori Bali .
I make no pretences that I have cooked professionally for over 250,000 people in the last 15 years. I have flipped that many burgers! Yet despite my self-deprecation, I do know a thing or two about food.
I hate charts and “Top 10” erroneous bollocks that most people fawn over but let me tell you this quickly.
In my opinion, Soori Bali is in the top two best hotels for food in Bali. I’m sitting on the fence here on purpose, because I have only been to Soori once and normally I visit a venue two or three times before making such sweeping statements.
Cotta is dark and moody and ethereal, a fusion of natural textures like wood and stone, offset by polished concrete and minimalist decoration. Four-top tables are draped with fresh white linen, adding brightness. Two polished wooden banquet tables lend colour and warmth to the setting. It is a comforting refuge from whence to ogle at the ocean beyond or the manicured lawns to the side. It is both romantic and inspiring.
Omabak is like an extension of Cotta, though concealed more to the right and around the corner. It has the modern bar vibe, the al-fresco feel, a closeness to the ocean and nature. Slated wood is ever-present, behind the bar with light showing through. Above is the more permanent roofing feature providing shelter when needed from the elements. Even the padded dining chairs are back with horizontal wooden slats.
Ombak was a wonderful place to be at sunset, especially when the cave bats make their escape in one nocturnal exodus. Hanging lanterns and table candles add to the softness of the ambience.
I can only describe all my meals at Ombak and Cotta as faultless, verging on perfection. I will leave you the readers to discover this for yourselves another day, rather than have me micro-analyse every nuance and leaf on my plate. Suffice it to say, I am still in awe of my experience there.
In my more informative student years, I spent three of my five years studying art history and architecture in one of the most famous schools in the world: Eton College. And let me tell you this: the architect behind Soori is brilliant.
What he has created is a never-ending narrative that assumes nothing, but blends almost everything into one amazing Balinese adventure. I may not be equal to his genius or vision, but I can appreciate his story in almost every minute detail. I noticed and absorbed every fleck of water on the plants, every rough-edged cobble stone, ever weave and turn and pollen grain. I understood the mission without needing a mud-map to guide me.
I have never had a working magic wand or a “big canvas” to work with. But I do revere Soori as this visionary, giant, living canvas that I have always wanted to paint on. The balance of air and light and water is so profound and evocative that I am really forced to compare Monet’s lily pond with Soori Bali. It is completely and utterly in a stand-out league of its own.
After reviewing 40 or so hotels in Bali over the last year, I cannot even contemplate giving Soori Bali anything less than a top award. I approached it with trepidation and dread, after so many reviews and experiences at other properties and now I am desperate to return. This has become, in my opinion, the bucket list hotel to visit in Bali. It is the ultimate escape.