The property has varied wellness and spa options (including a three-stage detoxifying treatment involving a clay wrap). But really, just being in this place is enough to soothe my now-blessed soul.
When you think of Raffles, it’s the Singapore grande dame you conjure up, but there are now 15 properties worldwide. Bali has taken what is best about the Raffles name – the style, panache and ultra luxury – and combined it with the Indonesian island’s qualities of peace and beauty that make it a mecca for travellers the world over.
Unfortunately, many of those travellers – social media influencers and wellness entrepreneurs in particular – have stayed put, and their culturally insensitive behaviour is upsetting locals. Most luxury resorts on the island – Raffles included – remain bubbles of blissful isolation from such real-world issues, however.
Winning touches at Raffles include a bracelet gift of the red, black and white thread worn by many Balinese. The accompanying note suggests a guiding trio of healthy minds, thoughtful words and good deeds. Of course, it’s easy to think altruistic thoughts while lazing in a luxury property, but it’s nice to at least imagine the good vibes will remain once normal life resumes – if you remember to be reminded, that is, by your bracelet.
The spacious, thoughtfully finished villas have a private pool and shaded outdoor lounge to while away an afternoon. The Japanese owner’s preferences are reflected in top-of-the-line toilets with warmed seats and an impressive line-up of features. And you have to wonder why it has taken the human race this long to develop the perfect bath pillow – but here it is with a counterbalance, a rod that hangs over the outside of the bath; no slippage and no ugly suction cups.
And I have to mention the food. From my first breakfast of lobster omelette, every meal is a treat, intricately designed and delicious, with a focus on local fruit, vegetables and seafood.
Back to the business of why I am here. How much de-stressing can be packed into a weekend? A massage in the open-air Sanctuary is a wonderful experience. While my muscles are expertly kneaded, I count five different bird songs, which means there were probably at least 10. If I did it again, I would decline coconut oil for the scalp massage. It made me feel like a lamington.
I meet local reiki and chakra healers and there is a lot of laying-on of hands, waving of dowsing rods, and clanging of bowls. I nod off a bit in these sessions; I’m not sure if I’ve been healed or straightened, but I do feel deliciously relaxed.
After gazing at my palm, chakra practitioner Ida provides a quick list of my personal pros and cons. These seem surprisingly accurate – and then I realise they are also rather flattering; she may have used some before on other guests. Her diagnosis of a problem with my left leg is spot on, though.
I’m in a sufficiently blissed state to shell out for a chakra medallion with a personal four-number code etched on the back. “Just like you use your PIN to use the ATM, you can chant this number whenever you want to achieve,” Ida tells me. If nothing else, it might distract me from the zillion things determined to load me up with negative energy when the professionals are no longer there to shoo them away.
In this resort, you are totally cocooned. I ask a friend to join me for lunch, and he has to pass through three checkpoints before arriving at the open-air lobby. The hurly-burly of Bali, the motorbikes and tourist tat, could be on another planet. And yet, there are Balinese touches everywhere on the property. It’s hard to think of a better way to experience the island.
Singapore is only a 2½-hour flight away, but the contrast is surreal. The original Raffles Hotel occupies an entire city block, a low-rise hotel in a sea of skyscrapers and malls. The three-storey main building is as elegant as American actress Ava Gardner, a one-time guest along with Conrad Black, Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward, all of whom have a suite named in their honour.
After a strange pandemic in which some stranded families called the place home for months, the 1899 main building is back and ready to show off. A two-year restoration that finished shortly before COVID-19 struck preserved the structure while embedding modern comforts like Wi-Fi, sophisticated lighting and sound-proofing.
The 115 all-suites hotel remains a big drawcard for Australians, many of whom choose to visit because their parents did so a generation before. The staff are a stand-out at every turn, from efficient check-in to restaurants where personalities are allowed to shine.
You can’t argue with the Raffles Hotel take on what it describes as “luxury wellness”. There’s yoga beside the splendid rooftop pool, and organised activities such as a guided walk through Singapore’s justly famed and UNESCO-listed Botanic Gardens. Our two-hour stroll ended with a quick meditation session in a colonial-era bandstand.
My stay included a trip to The Intan, an in-house museum dedicated to old Singapore and its Peranakan culture, a mix of Chinese and Malay. The visit included a mesmerising demonstration of Himalayan singing bowls. It was an odd juxtaposition that somehow worked.
As with Raffles Bali, this is wonderful place to just hang around on site for a couple of days. A corridor of framed photos shows past guests ranging from David Bowie to Queen Elizabeth II, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Just wandering the grounds is a lovely way to savour the hotel.
And when you’re ready, the new, spacious on-site spa provides a signature facial that really does make you look better. I couldn’t hear any birds during the 90-minute massage, but the technique couldn’t be faulted. By the end I am melting into the table.
Dining options include a choice of tasting menus – from France, chef Anne-Sophie Pic keeps a watchful eye on the Singapore outpost of her La Dame de Pic. This is a restaurant confident enough to allow a sommelier to add a local beer to paired-wine progression. It’s a nod to Singapore’s famous hawker centres, where beer is generally the only alcohol consumed with meals. Having the guy who helps make the beer pour it in a Michelin-starred restaurant in a hotel that’s also an official national monument is a noteworthy experience.
Breakfast in the Tiffin room is much the same experience as it has been through the decades (though I’m sure the coffee has improved). The high-ceilinged space opens out to a courtyard complete with fountain that, like the palm court, has featured in countless wedding photos.
The hotel hopes the new options hatched under the wellness elements will attract both first-time and returning guests. It definitely works as an add-on to the traditional stopover for Australians bound for or returning from Europe.
After all, who doesn’t want to live in a Somerset Maugham novel (but with much better food) for a while?
The writer was a guest of Raffles Bali and Raffles Singapore.
Need to know
- Rates | Raffles Bali villas start from $US1300 ($1926) a night; Raffles Singapore suites start from $US1000 a night.
- Wellness | Raffles Retreat Bali from $US4933 ($7372) for two people for a three-night stay. Treatments include the 90-minute 7-Chakra Balancing from IDR3,000,000 ($300), and the 90-minute signature massage from IDR 2,500,000. Raffles Retreat Singapore prices from $S5655 ($6353) for two people for a three-night stay. The 90-minute signature gemstone massage is $S390 ($582).
- Getting there | If you want to double-indulge as L&L did, it’s a 2½ hour flight from Singapore to Denpasar. Air Asia and Jetstar run several flights a day.