At Alila Manggis the whole is an excellent sum of its parts, writes David A. Carol.
THERE are many parts to Alila’s Manggis resort, which is quite fitting because its name means ‘mangosteen’ in Balinese. Nestled between Bali’s most sacred mountain and the sea, the resort oozes relaxation yet offers an overwhelming array of uniquely local activities and experiences.
When guests first check-in, they glimpse the inverted underwater pyramid that forms the resort’s focal point. Shallow around the edges, it’s always cool in the swimming pool’s deep middle. From 3pm, horizontal guests can be seen savouring complimentary afternoon tea and snacks under the swaying coconut palms.
Surrounding the pool, many of the resort’s 55 rooms boast private terraces, with views stretching out across a coconut grove to the black sand beach and azure waters.
\Alila Manggis is a luxurious base from which to venture out and explore one of Bali’s least-discovered areas. The concierge offers a list of authentic local experiences that would take you weeks to complete. You can meet a holy man, take an eight-hour sunrise mountain trek and even spend a day with a Balinese priest. If you like more adrenalin with your activities then white water rafting might be more your thing. Guests travel 14 kilometres along the Telaga Waja while descending 200 metres down a mountain.
The waters around Manggis are home to seven dive sites, including a Japanese patrol boat from World War II. Death-defying divers can even look for sharks to swim with at Gili Mimpang, a group of four small islands between Gili Tepekong and Bali’s mainland. Looking back to shore, the majestic Mount Agung dominates the skyline.
If booked a day in advance, early-risers can join local fishermen in a traditional Balinese fishing boat. The Nusa Penida Strait teems with small tuna fish, red snapper, jackfish and mahi-mahi. After a successful trip, guests can choose to have the kitchen prepare their catch of their day, or learn to cook it themselves in a Balinese seafood cooking class.
Inspired by the nearby salt pans in Goa Lawah, Seasalt Restaurant is contained within a traditional Balinese pavilion on a lotus pond. The signature traditional dish, megibung, is an excellent way to sample several flavours of East Balinese cuisine. There’s a laser-sharp focus on locally-sourced ingredients, and it’s possible to take a guided tour of the organic garden so that the disarmingly cheerful chef can design a special menu based on your favourite fruits and vegetables.
Alila Manggis’ policy of hiring the majority of its staff from the local regency has led to some notable success stories. Many years ago, one of the chefs began working as a gardener at the resort before it had even opened its doors. Having worked his way up to the top of the kitchen, he now also runs a popular cooking school for guests with classes of two to 16 people. There are special classes for culinary kids, who might also enjoy taking lessons on traditional kite-making and bird-watching.
The resort’s spa is housed in two outdoor bales facing the sea. Guests can hear the soothing sounds of the waves on the shore while being pampered in a range of relaxing and rejuvenating treatments. In one, hour-long option, frozen water is guided over the guest’s body in order to increase blood circulation. The spa uses organic ingredients in its spa products, some of which are available as Alila Living products that guests can take home with them. Sourced from villages in East Bali, the spa’s virgin coconut oil is shredded, then cold-pressed to make coconut milk, fermented, then separated and filtered.
On the 28th of every month, the resort collaborates with a local dive centre to ensure removal of underwater debris. Together, they collect plastic bags and bottles and record their findings as part of a larger effort to improve the region’s local marine life.
A new bar and lounge area is planned for 2015 that will make full use of Alila Manggis’s breath-taking seascape. Looking out towards Padang Bai, ferries can be seen on the horizon transporting eager backpackers to the Gili islands. From inside the pristine landscaped gardens of Alila Manggis, it’s remarkably easy to feel sorry for them.