Ondy Sweeting blisses out at Balquisse …
FOLLOW the signs for Balquisse Heritage Hotel through the dusty car park and be prepared to have your inner design fiend fly to the heavens that mesh Morocco and the Island of the Gods.
Just a few moments walk away from the beautiful serenity of Jimbaran Bay and set on a large swathe of tropical gardens and elegant lawns, this is a unique place to run away from the big smoke of Seminyak for a weekend of clean sea and fresh air.
When it comes to beauty, Balquisse is the real deal. Guests are free to choose which room they want to stay in and that might be a little trickier than thought possible with each room as one of a kind.
Antique furniture from throughout the Indonesian archipelago is coupled with many lengths of silk organza from Rajasthan covering windows and offering privacy, while ubiquitous Moroccan lights with panels of glass and beaten copper create a seductive mood.
Each room is dark with muted colours on the walls that reach to vaulted timber ceilings. Sleeping platforms are raised and painted while the floors are tiled. The cool charm of the Medina transposed to a tropical den.
Belgian-born owner and interior decorator Zohra Boukhari – whose DNA is Moroccan – has implemented her signature style in every nook and cranny. This could be the freestanding copper bathtub, canopied four-poster beds with a strong French influence or delightful antique clocks from the 1950s. The antique theme is held in place with every Western comfort from ceiling fans and air-conditioning to endless steaming hot water, satellite TV and wifi. The 1890-style artesian telephones work.
Balquisse Heritage Hotel is a place that you may not want to leave in a hurry. Snoop around to enjoy the other rooms that are not occupied and revel in the reflected glory of exquisite taste. Tiny details such as single marigold blooms dangling across the bedroom doorway suspended from delicate bamboo ribbon are a special design element that makes the hotel so unforgettable.
The original building was constructed in the 1960s and has been renovated, restored and added to. Tile roofs sit besides traditional alang-alang roofing and the result is a flow that feels like your room has its own beautifully tiled pool. Two pools – separated by a stone fence and jungle hedge – ensure that every room is near a refreshing swim. Hang around the pool for long enough in the morning and staff will arrive offering lime infused cold water, while in the afternoon the complimentary offering is mint tea and cake. It is too gorgeous to pass up.
Within the grounds of Balquisse is a traditional Balinese long house that is used as a central communal sitting room and is decked with huge cosy day beds, large comfortable antique club chairs and classic dining tables and chairs, perfect for a late night whiskey and a game of cards.
The restaurant, Asam Garam, is also an open space that offers delightful Indonesian dishes from a simple chicken soup through to a complex rijsttafel of a dozen or more dishes from Bali and further afield. Breakfast here is an impressive feast of good health that includes fresh fruit, yoghurt, crepes, eggs, croissants and breads. The preserves are made from scratch in the hotel kitchen. The papaya jam is fragrant with oriental spices including cinnamon and clove.
Balquisse Heritage Hotel has the alluring Henna Spa tucked away at the back of the grounds where six suites remain true to the entrancing Moorish deign. Therapies include authentic local massages and royal treatments from the old Javanese court including the languid lulur that includes a body scrub, massage, flower bath and yoghurt rub.
Beside this delightful boutique hotel is Villa Shaba, which is the crowning glory of the Balquisse accommodations. Exquisitely laid out like a Marrakech riad with a central courtyard with bubbling water features, flanked by sumptuous sleeping areas with private living rooms and superb finishes that are reminiscent of paintings by French Orientalist Jéan-Léon Gerôme.
A long lap pool with decks is off the gourmet kitchen and there is a drawing room, library and the most extraordinary bathrooms you are ever likely to experience.
The only missing element at the boutique hotel and Villa Shaba is the steamy tiles of a traditional hammam and attendant workers who lull guests into blissful repose with quiet and ethereal Arabic songs while gently washing your hair.