Found on a far-flung exotic island, amid megalithic tombs and windswept beaches, Cap Karoso is set to be one of the most captivating hotel openings when it opens at the end of this year.
Located on Sumba, in remote Indonesia, the new launch is a pioneering island getaway with meaningful community engagement and sustainability at its heart. Occupying the eponymous Karoso beach (one of the world’s most spectacular stretches of sand), in Indonesia’s pristine south-west Sumba, the eco-conscious haven will offer 47 rooms and 20 villas, which are also available for private buyers, and a three-hectare organic farm.
Founded by Fabrice and Evguenia Ivara, two globe-trotting, ethically-minded French adventurers, the couple say that they have “set out to protect Sumba’s natural treasures, and respectfully share them with like-minded explorers”. Here, exclusively for Forbes, the duo discuss the inspiration behind the launch.
Why did you fall in love with Sumba?
Eve: We were travelling quite a lot before coming to Sumba, and our trips to ‘remote’ destinations were always slightly marred with disappointment: the places were perhaps too built up and too busy – so different to what they used to be. It felt as if we were coming too late to see the initial beauty of them. Sumba was the opposite! It was pristine, sometimes rough, and wild. There was an incredible energy and alluring magnetism to the destination.
Fabrice: There was also something that we’d never encountered before, but that we’d both always wanted to experience: the sense of being a true explorer, far away from today’s world and today’s time.
Why open now?
Eve: It would be a lie to say that we wanted to open now – we started the project almost five years ago! But life – and a pandemic – meant that we are where we are now. We believe the timing has a silver lining, though. At the start of the project, in 2017, most of the people we were meeting – investors, suppliers and so on – just couldn’t understand why we wanted to build our project in Sumba. Too far, too complicated, they said and Bali [a 50-minute flight away] was always viewed as the best option. We never get this question anymore! I think that universally, the traveller’s mindset has shifted. People want the luxury of authenticity, wilderness and seclusion.
What can guests expect during a stay at Cap Karoso?
Fabrice: During the day, we are offering a true immersion into the island’s life – so you can visit local villages, discover some of the island’s natural treasures and visit craft ateliers. Then in the evening, it switches up a gear. We want guests to experience a lively and sophisticated vibe after sunset: a cocktail in hand by one of the world’s best mixologists, Nico de Soto, while listening to a leading DJ; a dinner by our acclaimed chef Antoine Levacon or experiencing one of our chefs in residency at our exclusive dinner-only Julang restaurant.
How important is it to work with the local community?
Eve: It was key for the project! One of the reasons we decided to open Cap Karoso was to create work opportunities for the local youth. In our area of the island there is almost no employment, and it was very common for people to leave Sumba to look for a job. Today, we have already recruited 30 Sumbanese and this figure will triple within 12 months. The link to community was also key on a cultural level. Being understood, being accepted, and ultimately being able to ensure our guests connect with the local Marapu culture, in a respectful and meaningful way, was hugely important to us.
Eve – with your background in ‘brand-building’ for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Dom Pérignon and Tag Heuer – how did you apply those skills to this project?
A project like ours relies first of all on the passion and enthusiasm of all people involved into it, from the artisans we work with to the designers; from the management team to all the different suppliers. And to create this passion, and the attachment to the project while the place doesn’t physically exist, we needed to have a common vision, a narrative which would inspire each of those people to go one step further in what they do. Creating this story and making it tangible is what the brand building is all about for me, and my background certainly helped this journey.
Fabrice, you were one of the first food bloggers in Paris, and your website Coup de Fourchette celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. With your interests in gastronomy, how can you make your culinary offering stand out?
I designed the food experience in Cap Karoso by asking myself what my best culinary moments would be. These included: amazing cocktails from a top-notch mixologist; sharing a delicious lobster tagliatelle dish with my wife; tasting tapas with an Indonesian twist… Everything has come from my love of sharing food experiences. Much of our menu is inspired by the moments and places I have experienced in Paris, Ibiza and the Basque country, for example. With these ideas in mind, I designed the kitchens, the restaurants, solved the logistic issues and recruited an amazing team to make this dream come true.
What is the one thing you are most proud of at Cap Karoso?
Fabrice: For me, it’s definitely our farm!
Eve: I would say the work we have done with artisans and artists to convey the unique aesthetics and spirit of Sumba in every detail of our interiors.
How will the guest experience stand apart from your competitors?
Eve: What we are building at Cap Karoso is not another ‘billionaire retreat’. We believe in the power of human connection over the same values, much more than in the exclusivity based solely on the price point. We want to build a place where guests connect with other guests over a meal at our communal table, or during a farming or craft workshop. I think the conversations and the sense of community that will come from that are probably the most unique feature of Cap Karoso experience.
Fabrice: Another thing to mention is what we call ‘freedom of exploration’. Very often in remote five-star resorts, guests lose the feeling of being explorers as they are so hand-held in each step of their way outside of the property. What we want to offer to our guests is the ability to live their own adventure. So they can explore by taking one of our electric cars or a bike, with an old school paper map (Google Maps doesn’t quite work outside of Cap Karoso!) and ride to a nearby village, explore the still crystalline lagoons, or stumble across a deserted and wild beach.
Tell us about the organic farm?
Fabrice: From the start of the project, I was quite clear on our ambition to have an exceptional F&B experience. Then the question of logistics was an issue immediately. If we wanted to offer fresh produce to our guests, it meant that we had to fly our salads and tomatoes etc. daily from Bali! This was inconceivable to us! We realised many ingredients we’d need were not available on the island, so creating our own farm became the obvious answer.
We started it in 2019 with a help of a French organic agriculturist. Everything had to be done from scratch – the parcel of land was rocky and dry, and it was hard to imagine that one day it would be the beating heart of the F&B offering. There’s still a lot to do, but we have started seeing huge bursts of life – vegetable, fruits, herbs and flowers. We also have chickens and ducks for eggs; we have pigs and buffaloes to produce natural fertilizer. Pigs can also eat part of the food waste, which will in term help our main restaurant to become waste-free. In around one year after the opening, the farm will allow us to be almost fully independent for all these products.
Eve: When our farmer started working in Sumba, he realized that there was not much agricultural knowledge in the community around us, though many adults identify as farmers. Their methods and thus their yield could be improved, and there’s a lot to do in terms of introducing organic alternatives to the common chemicals. This is why we decided to create a school for local farmers to learn about farming techniques and also landscaping – a skill very much in demand in all parts of Indonesia.
Why is the social aspect important at Cap Karoso?
Fabrice: The uniqueness of Sumba lies not so much in its nature – as beautiful as it is – but in its culture. It is what makes this island so captivating, so worth experiencing. Creating a hospitality project here means, first of all, taking care of what carries this culture – the local community. It is often tempting to say that in order to preserve a unique way of life like this one, it’s best to simply stay away and not intervene at all. But having spent quite a lot of time in Sumba, I don’t believe that it’s true.
The real reason the traditions can get lost here is not the encounter with tourists. It is the poverty and unemployment that push young people to leave their villages and their island, breaking the chain of transmission. This is why we believe that by working with locals – within our teams but also in the villages – giving them a chance to make their living, we will be contributing to preserving their traditions.