Looking for sun, surf and sand, minus all the extras? This lush, island paradise is home to some of life’s simplest pleasures, as Tatyana Leonov discovers.
The best getaways are the ones that leave you feeling rejuvenated, invigorated and wanting to come back. It could be a stay at an isolated beachside shack, a splendid estate located on a cliff top overlooking mist-topped mountains, or a suave hotel that consistently makes ‘top 10’ lists around the world. Or it could be Lombok...
Give it a few more years and the whole world will know about Lombok. Bali’s little sister is all grown up and people are taking note. There is a smattering of resorts, ranging from ultra-luxe villas to rundown beach huts and everything in between. And the diversity of fresh food on offer is amazing. Is there anything better than fresh-caught fish capped with a handful of herbs plucked straight from the garden? Or Indonesian favourite nasi goreng (fried rice) topped with a freshly laid free-range egg?
The activities on offer are plentiful too. There’s no yoga on surfboards, cross-fit in jungles or green juice stalls where the ‘vitamin selection’ would make Willy Wonka proud. In Lombok you swim in coral-strewn coves, trek through lush forests and around expansive rice fields, indulge in local spa treatments while listening to birds twittering, and dance like no one is watching. No, really.
It’s a well-known fact that dancing is good for you and its benefits go above and beyond just physical health. Studies indicate that dancing improves brain function, reduces depression, assists with good posture and the list goes on. And in Lombok, dancing changes people’s lives.
Located a few minutes from the most developed tourist area in Lombok, Senggigi, you’ll find Puri Mas Boutique Resort & Spa (purimas-lombok.com). The two-complex resort (Puri Mas Beach Resort is located in the fishing village of Mangsit Bay, while the tropical garden Puri Mas Spa Resort is two kilometres away in Kerandangan village) features all the niceties that come with luxury living – beautiful villas (some with private plunge pools), attentive staff members, delicious meals served under a blanket of stars on clear, balmy nights and the best spa on the island. The resort is also recognised nationally for its dance program thanks to owner Marcel de Rijk.
Originally from the Netherlands, de Rijk was born into a dance-loving family. As an adult he gained world champion ballroom dancer status, taught dance, presented dance shows on television, and lived and breathed dance. He moved to Lombok in 1987 and that’s where the story was supposed to end. However, the government changed the rules and de Rijk had to build a hotel to be able to remain living in Lombok. He erected a few villas initially, then more were built, and eventually there was a full-standing resort. Fast-forward to 2015 and Puri Mas is one of the oldest and most legendary resorts in Lombok.
Keen to not only promote dance, but to also cultivate a welcoming community atmosphere on the island, de Rijk decided to make dance accessible to Lombok youth and today teaches school children to dance free of charge. The Puri Mas ‘Friends of Dance’ social dance project encourages youngsters to develop friendships, learn to respect each other’s religions and social backgrounds – and learn to ballroom and Latin dance of course.
Every Tuesday night, de Rijk’s students travel from all over the island to Puri Mas Beach Resort to perform. Tiny children move their hips to salsa music; teenagers perform complex ballroom dance routines and the performance ends with a traditional stick dance executed to the thumping beat of a gamelan drum.
At the end of the show guests are encouraged to have a boogie and it’s during moments like this one that most visitors acquire that distinctive holiday glow. Most sustain that special glow with a visit to the Puri Mas spa, located among tranquil tropical garden surrounds and a small wildlife park (de Rijk is an avid animal and bird lover and the park is home to a number of local rescued animals, birds and reptiles). The Puri Mas spa was voted the best spa for couples by Condé Nast Johansens for 2015 – although singles claim it’s amazing too.
Not far from the beautiful Pura Lingsar temple grounds (considered to be the island’s holiest site and well worth a visit), there’s another dream resort nestled in lush rice fields and sporting magnificent views of Rinjani Mountain. Villa Sayang (villasayang-lombok.com), managed by charismatic Rosa Stuart, attracts many repeat customers thanks to its chilled-out vibe and stunning surrounds. It’s easy to while away days pottering about the property, feasting on food cooked predominantly using homegrown ingredients and booking in the occasional (or not-so- occasional) pamper session at the spa. Stuart also conducts cooking classes and makes a mean chicken curry. And although you learn to cook using local ingredients, she provides recipes with Western replacements so guests can recreate a little part of Lombok at home.
The coastline of Kuta beckons long-haired surfers with its conveyer belt of dreamy swells and hollow waves. Steering their motorbikes with one hand and holding their surfboards with the other, the ardent wave-riders cruise from beach to beach in search of the ultimate breaks. There are surfing schools and camps too, so beginners need not fret. Accommodation spans backpacker- style thatch lodgings, homestays such as Mimpi Manis (mimpimanis.com) or the well-appointed Hotel Novotel Lombok Resort and Villas (novotel.com). Although Novotel is a global brand, the bungalow-style lodgings have been sympathetically designed to melt into the surroundings.
Eager divers should head to boutique dive resort Cocotinos Sekotong (cocotinos-sekotong.com), located in the sleepy fishing village of Kima Bajo. Here one can escape the daily grind with serene conditions both above and below. Spend all day underwater drifting with colourful darting fish, then find a secluded beach and soak up the sunset with no one else around. Life in Lombok really is bliss.
The Gili Trio
You could spend weeks on mainland Lombok and still need more time. There are, however, many smaller islands off mainland Lombok that are worth a visit and most resorts will organise excursions. Just off the northwest coast, the famous trio – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – are by far the most visited. All three are fringed by coconut palms and have the white-sand beaches every postcard photographer is searching for. Interestingly there are no cars; instead people get around by foot, bike or horse and carriage (yes, really). Roosters and cows roam the fields, the snorkelling and diving is spectacular and life here really does feel like a dream.
Each of the islands has a different personality. The party crowd frequents Gili Trawangan and there are plenty of bars and hip late- night hangout spots that fill up with backpackers from around the globe. You’ll find some parties in Gili Air, but also areas that are party free, where barefoot honeymooners stroll along the beaches. Gili Meno, just two kilometres long and the smallest of the three, has remained largely immune to the party scene and resorts have only starting popping up here in the last few years. Mahamaya Boutique Resort Gili Meno (mahamaya.co) is the bee’s knees and most guests end up overstaying their booking. It’s an ideal spot to sojourn if you want peace and quiet with a dash of merrymaking as it’s only a short boat ride to party island Gili Trawangan.