Our honeymoon was a bit of a bust. It wasn't helped by the fact that we were both very ill. I have a hazy memory of throwing up in the garbage bin at Sydney customs and hearing a little boy say "Mummy is that lady ok?" and her answering "I think she's a little bit sick, move along now and stop staring". We had caught a stomach bug on the eve of our honeymoon and we had to postpone it by two days. Qantas were lovely about it and rescheduled us without penalty but the resort wasn't as charming and charged us full freight. Luckily we had travel insurance and that covered it-moral of the story: always get travel insurance!
We've always wanted to "right" our honeymoon which was a bit of a dismal failure. We spent much of it being ill and bored out of our brain as we were on an island that only had a limited amount of activities. When Villa Sungai was offered to us as a four day holiday we leapt at it. Well only the feeble minded wouldn't quite frankly. It is a private villa with a 24 hour butler, driver and staff where every whim is catered to and is a destination for honeymooners-or redoing honeymooners like us.
We arrive at Sydney airport where we check in. I'm flying Star Class (the business class) with Jetstar and I'm curious to see what it is like. With Star Class flights, you are offered Qantas lounge access which I take up and avail myself of the Neil Perry plate of goodies which has salamis, prosciutto, olives, manchego cheese and a tiny sliver of quince paste. The lovely, crunchy Spanish almonds are also a favourite.
Lindt chocolate, soy chips (or fruit and nut mix) champagne, water are offered. The seats are comfortable leather and wide with electronic recline, back comfort, leg rest and extension with a footrest although they don't fully recline. A soft black blanket is given along with socks, earplugs, eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste and noise canceling headphones which I'm convinced helps with jetlag.
Our meals arrive and inhale my usual virgin mary. I choose the beef korma which comes with some rice and spiced yogurt pumpkin. I like the pumpkin and rice and the korma isn't bad although it is a little on the tough side. The flight attendant Lauren is very friendly and tells me that they are upgrading the meals soon and introducing proper crockery over the next few months.
I'm busy watching a movie when dessert comes (Inception, which I found confusing as I kept nodding off to sleep and waking up at odd times!) and the dessert trolley offers either a choice of cheese and fresh fruit or chocolate cake which is moist and very sweet which I have with a chamomile tea. The last stop is a mini bottle of Baileys with a glass and ice as a nightcap. Lauren is lovely and she takes care of us very well ensuring that we have enough hydration and food during the flight. Before we know it, we've arrived in Bali!
_ _We arrive at Denpasar airport at around 10pm Bali time which is 1am Sydney time. I've been to Bali about four times always staying at Nusa Dua or Sanur and it has been five years since our last visit. There's our airport butler Made (pronounced mah-day) waiting for us holding our name plaque and we are whisked past the queues and straight into an air conditioned car and given a cold wet towel and water. I remember reading a chapter in Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw where he describes a time with a socialite heiress and the drugs and lunacy. This must be what it's like living as a socialite (minus the drugs and lunacy of course).
Our schedule here at Villa Sungai is filled with breakfast (at our leisure), lunch (at our leisure) and dinner (at our leisure) with a signature massage on some days or a gentle suggestion to visit some areas of Bali like Seminyak or Ubud-all after 2pm. Yep I'm pretty sure this is how socialites do it.
We take the 45 minute drive to Cepaka. Villa Sungai isn't set in the hub of Bali or on a beach. It is actually set in a small village of 1,500. Formerly a sandstone quarry it is the brainchild of Pamela Hayes, an Australian woman who fell in love with Bali and built her business in a local community hiring local staff. Indeed Made (the villa manager) grew up in Cepaka and he heads a seamless team of eleven including four chefs that take care of all the little things. They ensure that mosquito coils are lit so that you aren't bothered by pests, and clean our pool every morning while we sleep and while we are breakfasting they clean our room so that we emerge to a spotless villa.
We drive through some rough roads and are then greeted by white arches and the aroma of frangipani and gardenias. There is Villa Sungai which is a 3 bedroom villa and there is Sungai Gold which is a one bedroom villa where we will be staying. Our bags are taken care of and placed in the dressing room. The villa is decorated in chic neutral tones and cream terrazo and there are thatched rooves in traditional Balinese style with European fittings and toiletries.
The team of eleven staff cater to your every whim at anytime as the villa is staffed 24 hours a day. The rates, and they are very reasonable given the standard of accommodation ($550US a night for 2 people-we paid about that for our honeymoon and it wasn't anywhere near as good as this) include breakfast, a team of four chefs to cook whatever you would like (you just pay for the raw ingredients), a chauffeured vehicle available at all times, laundry and pressing, twice daily room servicing, an experienced tour guide for up to eight hours a day and a concierge service.
We get a tour by Made who shows us helpful things like how to turn off the lights in the room (arrgh this always confounds me and is made worse when I'm tired). There is a beautiful infinity pool and it and the villa is bordered by trees. All rooms have large covetable mirrors and this was a deliberate choice by Pamela as she did not want to impose her choice of art works on guests (they also do daily maintenance with paint so that no guests see other guests scuff marks!). There are two dining areas including a breakfast pavilion and a formal dinner pavilion where places have been set for the two of us for a late supper.
There is also a huge open space double day bed. Our room is gorgeous, with a netted canopy bed, a huge dressing room, BOSE sound system, and an outdoor bathroom with a bath filled with frangipanes, a his and hers monsoon shower and Acqua Di parma toiletries. The wall on the bathroom is a striking moss covered hewn rock with orchids growing from it. It takes a lot to impress Mr NQN, he's a fusspot, but he's in love.
Made senses how tired we are-by now it's 2am Sydney time and ensures that our supper is made quickly. We start with a welcome drink which is lovely and refreshing with beautiful Asian flavours like palm sugar, kaffir lime leaf, lime juice and lemongrass mixed with vodka and soda water and quenches our thirst. We are served delectable cheese biscuits to go with these.
Our first course in our supper is the mango and prosciutto skewers. Generously portioned with six skewers the sweet mango is a perfect foil for the salty, silky prosciutto.
Our second course is a very generous portion of grilled lamb cutlets. Made had asked if we had eaten during our drive to the Villa and when I answered that I had but Mr NQN hadn't he ensured without asking that he had four enormous lamb cutlets to himself. The lamb is gorgeous-not in the slightest bit muttony (my issue with lamb a lot of the time) and is char grilled to perfection still pink in the centre. It is served with a simple creamy yogurt cucumber and mint salad and rolled flat bread similar to chapati.
Satisfying stuffed, we go onto our dessert, a petite cup of milk chocolate ganache liqueur pudding which is soft and moreish and just the right size.
"If you don't mind, if you have room may I bring something else out?" Made asks us. "Sure" we answer and he brings out a plate of six chocolate samosas. They're wrapped in a thin spring roll type of pastry and filled with a Toblerone filling. They're piping hot but oh so good.
We roll into bed and sleep like babies.
The next morning there is the sound of roosters crowing and village animals making their gentle orchestra of noise. It's quite different from your usual resort and we both feel like we've slept well despite only have four hours of sleep. To summon breakfast, we ring the doorbell at the front of the villa and Wayan appears. I ask for a pot of Earl Grey tea and we make arrangements for breakfast. If diners want to eat at the villa, all they have to do is pay for the market cost of the ingredients and the chef will prepare them. The range of food is good and is a combination of Balinese, south-east asian and Australian food.
Waking up at the villa it has been raining the night before and we see that our outdoor bath has filled with rainwater. The river on which the villa sits on the side of is milky with the rains and there is clucking from village chickens across the river. We sit down to our breakfast of champions.
We start with a fruit salad which has pineapple, papaya, watermelon and banana and slices of lime. This is paired with a banana shake which is sweet with honey and fresh banana as well as pineapple and creamy coconut milk.
Banana pancakes are famous in Bali and these thin, eggy crepes are spread with some mashed banana and then paired with a serve of the most divine palm sugar caramel. Honestly I could have eaten the stuff with a spoon. I admit I even licked the little bowl. Must.get. hold. of. recipe.
Last of all, there is a mushroom, spinach and reggiano sauteed with garlic and perfectly seasoned. I can appreciate how hard it is to get reggiano here and how expensive it would be. The wholemeal bread is a little thick and unbuttered and I'm full so I leave this behind.
And the task for today? To have lunch and then a signature massage. Yes I know, if I weren't myself, I'd be very envious! Mr NQN reads on the day bed while I curl up with the laptop and then take a skinny dip and we listen to the occasional sound of the animals punctuating the sublime silence.
Before we know it, it is lunchtime and our table is set without us even seeing them come in! Mr NQN has a glass of 2007 Yarra Burn Sauvignon Blanc Semillon wine and I've ordered salad for us for lunch as I know that we'll be eating well.
We start off with a gorgeous crab and pomelo salad which hits all of the sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavours of Thai food. The crab is plentiful and the fish sauce and coriander adds a lot of aroma to the dish and the pomelo flesh is like a less bitter grapefruit although there is a tiny amount of bitterness to it. It is so fresh and right for the hot weather that we gobble it down in no time.
This dish was originally supposed to have green papaya in it but I suppose that's the thing of ordering a dish that they have to buy that morning-you never know what will be good at the market! This dish gives us a lovely deep, warm fiery chilli hit which we adore and there is ginger, peanuts and garlic in the warm cooked prawns.
Made stops by to say hello and ask if us there is anything that we need and I ask him if mangosteens are available and he puts them down on the "to order" list.
The mango slushie has jackfruit and pieces of strawberry in a refreshing gin laced iced slushie.
I take a bite of the tempura battered banana fritters. The bananas are a little floury but I enjoy another serve of the delicious palm sugar caramel.
Our last platter is of fruit-I know Mr NQN loves his fruit and I love tropical fruit as its sweeter. On our platter is jackfruit, mango, snakefruit as well as Indonesian passionfruit! The Indonesian passionfruit is vastly different from the passionfruit that we are used to. The seeds are very, very mild tasting with none of the tartness of a regular passion fruit. The snakefruit is slightly sweet and woody with a similar texture to a non juicy nashi pear. The jackfruit has a little of the durian flavour.
It's time for our couples massage which is of course what gets me really excited and doing Rocky laps around the villa. We hear a waft of music and they have set up the massage beds side to side and Mr NQN and I lie down and partake of a traditional Balinese massage. This involves pressing against the flesh with fingers lightly using aromatherapy oils.
They use a rolling and kneading action using the whole body of the masseur who at times will get up on the bed to use their weight and they do a lot of rolling and kneading using their forearms. One and a half hours later we float away and have a delicious pineapple, ginger and mint juice.
I'd like to tell you that the next few hours were terribly productive but that would be a complete lie. We spent it watching DVDs (from their collection, current films or listening to the prestocked iPod and lying around the daybed. Before we know it, it's dinner time!
I'd like to tell you that I got dressed up for dinner at the Villa but I wore a bikini and a sarong to dinner. And that's why it's fabulous to have dinner at your own villa! We start off with some lamb mince spring rolls flavoured with finely diced onion and vegetables and a crispy deep fried spring roll pastry. It's paired with a strong hoi sin sauce but I prefer these by themselves.
We both adore the seared scallop salad which has succulent scallops, a curry coconut sauce and flavoured with lemongrass, kaffir lime and coriander, chilli and crispy shallots. They're very moreish and if a waiter had these at a cocktail party I'd ask them to park the plate of them in front of me.
The gado gado salad has blanched snake beans, tomato slices, egg and lettuce and the key ingredient the peanut sauce is creamy and runny enough to distribute but never watery and packed with flavour.
Now I've had some reservations about Balinese chicken. It's often cooked quite dry so we often choose seafood while here in Bali. But Pamela asks the chefs to only use chicken thigh and buy the best chicken. As a result the chicken is very tender and juicy and the green and red chilli and lime dressing is divine and goes right through the char grilled chicken.
This is an enormous serve with a mound of lightly gingery sweet potato mash with a little texture to it. The fillet of barramundi is firm but not dry and it is covered in a moreish kaffir lime coconut cream sauce which is very delectable-I only wish there was more for the sweet potato mash!
Our dessert is the lemongrass and palm sugar panna cotta which has a nice flavour but perhaps too much gelatine as it's quite firm. The chilli caramel has a warmth but not a great deal of heat which is just right for the dessert.
We finish off with petit fours of lemon curd tartlets which have a buttery base and a sweet, not too tart, voluptous lemon curd and retire to our cool room where a bookmark has thoughtfully been left on our pillow and a fragrant bath of frangipanes awaits us.
So tell me Dear Reader do you like holidays where you relax by a pool or active ones?
Cepaka, Bali, Indonesia