The island of Lombok might be busy establishing itself as a standalone international destination, but that doesn’t seem to disrupt its increasing popularity as a side trip from Bali. It is rarely the first pick on the offshore list; the closer Lembongan and Gili Islands offer all the trademarks of a tropical postcard, and their small land size offer trips of ease.
So why even consider taking the boat that little bit further – bypassing lively beach bars, glamorous accommodation, and manta ray dive sites – only to find yourself navigating the complexities of a sprawling, largely undeveloped island? To delve into untapped territories. To witness the occasional reminder of a long forgotten history. To peel back layers of a dynamic religious influence. And to find a perfect state of equanimity. That’s why.
THE AWE OF AN ART HOTEL Lombok’s Hotel Tugu sits an hour north of the Teluk Kode boat dock. It is one in a collective of four independently owned art hotels founded by Anhar Setjadibrata, the holder of the country’s largest collection of Indonesian fine art and cultural antiquities. Here in the hotel’s tranquil arms of luxury, a rare opportunity presents itself to uncover realms of history and culture without leaving the comfort of your accommodation. In one small pocket of North West Lombok, the depths of Lombok can be uncovered.
Revered as a union of religion, Tugu Lombok reflects the labyrinth of diverse religious villages on the island, spanning Buddhism, Muslim, and Chinese Peranakan. Shrouded in chapters of ancient Hindu manuscripts of the Mahabharata, homage is paid to a time long before invasion, famine and riots hit Lombok, when Hinduism reined supreme. Even the hotel’s spa sings to the tune of Borobudur, a Buddhist temple in Central Java. We’re told of this religious harmony by our contented driver just moments before we enter the Tugu grounds.
PRIVACY IS A PINNACLE Inside the gates, a colossal masterpiece of deep scarlets and olive greens sits over a sprawling, perfectly manicured garden. Carved pillars stretch towards the 15-metre high thatched roof and an oversized lap pool create a grandeur feeling not frequently offered in the world of boutique.
After inhaling the magnificence of the lobby and dining area we’re escorted past the hotel’s private beach to our residence, the Puri Dadap Merah. This particular bedroom suite features a private massage room, a private rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean, and a private plunge pool – needless to say, privacy is a pinnacle.
Honouring the architecture of Aksobya, an ancient temple visited by Javanese kings, the room is a museum of precious antiques set amongst walls printed with green leaves and a ceiling draped in silks. The level of eccentricity and exoticism seems unmatchable; yet somehow another 18 equally remarkable rooms exist.
We spend our days kayaking, collecting shells and euphorically musing over life whilst half submerged in iridescent water. The notion of time disappears and any veils of stress we arrived with are lifted. We’re drunk on the fortune of our flawless beach holiday. Finally, after what seems like an eternity but was probably mere days, we hear the call of the outside world and a trip to Mataram City is arranged.
MEANDERING IN SEARCH OF MOSQUES Rumour has it there are over 600,000 mosques sprinkled across the 17,000 plus islands that make up the archipelago of Indonesia. Unlike the predominately Hindu Bali where mosques are an infrequent sight, Lombok hosts many of these impressive Islamic structures, even being coined The Land of A Thousand Mosques. Visiting at least one whilst on the island seemed only good manners.
Mataram, Lombok’s capital city, is currently acquiring an enormous Islamic Centre. It appears mysteriously on approach of the city like Aladdin’s castle, dripping in gold and intricate tiles and surround by empty fields. With no other visitors insight, we take in its regal beauty without distraction, ambling up half constructed stairs and spinning under the building’s main dome while it bounces around the echoes of our enthusiasm.
Despite the marginal difference in the overall population density of Bali and Lombok, the population of Mataram is just 420,000 - precisely half that of Bali’s capital, Denpasar. Foreign tourists are few, and there is little to do aside from scrutinise the price tag of electrical goods at the Mataram Mall.
Still nauseated by the journey into town we head back to Tugu, attempting to justify the two-hour round-trip by the beauty of the Islamic Centre mosque. None of us care to discuss the activities we inexplicably traded off. Had we listened to the Tugu staff we would have been busy shucking pearls from gold-lipped oysters, bathing in waterfalls at the foot of Mount Rinjani or learning the traditional art of the Djamoe herbal elixir. Apparently some lessons need to be learnt the hard way.
Back at Tugu, the sins of our ignorance are long forgotten over cacao scrubs and cocktails in our suite’s deep copper bathtub. Just as the sun’s setting, we head to one of the bamboo day beds that sit nesting on Sire Beach, just a few footsteps from our bedroom suite. As darkness falls an Indonesian feast is delivered, which we chow down by the light of the moon and an encircling of tea-light candles.
We leave Tugu well rested and reenergized to explore the diversity of the islands beyond Bali. Our driver weaves back down the bucolic coastline fringed by towering palm trees that defy all laws of gravity. He offers to stop so we can take a few photos but we decline. Satisfied and content, we know that no manner of photography skills will do this trip justice.
GETTING TO HOTEL TUGU LOMBOK FROM BALI Direct flights between Denpasar and Mataram operate daily through Wings Air and Garuda Indonesia and take just under two hours. Boats from Padangbai to Bangsal operate right through the day and will cost you approximately 1 million IDR return.
STAYING AT HOTEL TUGU LOMBOK For more information on staying at Tugu you can e-mail email@example.com. Rooms start from as little as $230 USD per night. Jl. Pantai Sire, Desa Sigar Penjalin, Kecamatan Tanjung, Lombok Utara. T: +62 37 061 20111 W: www.tuguhotels.com/hotels/lombok
WHEN TO GO Escape Bali’s wet season and take a trip between October and April. Although the climate of Bali and Lombok are quite similar, the seasonal down pour in Lombok is usually far less and the humidity is more manageable.
With one hand holding my phone to my ear and the other on the steering wheel, I attempt to reverse our loaned Fiat Panda up a narrow dirt path in the dark of the night. Our petrol light is flashing, our baby is howling, and the whereabouts of our Yoga retreat is puzzle we cannot crack. On the end of the line is Diana, her calming voice getting put to the test hours before our first scheduled meditation session.
Slowly, surely, patiently, she plays life line through the airwaves as we squeal past a black cat and flick obtrusive tree branches out of our windows. Back on tarmacked terrain we find our one foolish wrong turn and slip easily into the arms of Quinta da Rosa, our nest for the next 6-nights.
A hot soup sits simmering on the stove and a mound of salad, raspberry water and vegan bliss balls are laid out on the table. The eight other retreat guests sleep soundly as we nourish up and slink through the house, purring over what might await us when the daylight pours in.
By the next night our worldly stresses and fretful travel have slipped deep under the earth, buried and forgotten. We’ve been lulled by the Portuguese air - thick, warm, and filled with the scent of wild lavender growing by the Quinta’s pool – and our first bout of Yoga and surfing.
Diana’s retreats in the sunny Algarve nod to a travel style that’s appeal is growing immensely in the wake of busy, stressful lives. The chance to slow down, unwind and reconnect to our bodies has become more tempting than a week of piña coladas, club sandwiches and French fries. Retreat holidays offer a genuine rejuvenation, something that’s often hoped for but rarely found in the worn-out boozy beach flop.
Our intimate retreat group finds indulgence in early morning sips of turmeric faux coffee and hefty serves of quinoa porridge with fresh berries. Together we span many age brackets and both genders, and though it seems there are people who have travelled together, it’s impossible to know exactly where the group lines sit and who arrived solo.
During mealtimes Diana talks earnestly about her dedication to her Yoga practise, confessing it moves in waves and took more than a few years to establish itself. In the Yoga Shala there is room to play and freedom to giggle if the situation calls for it. They are the kind of classes you feel comfortable sneaking into a few minutes late; warm, sincere and free from rigidity.
Each day feels like 3 days rolled into one, with hours on the beach interrupted only by a fresh lunch delivery from the casa’s kitchen, overflowing with nuts and grains and fresh produce. Despite the daily surf lessons and the 2 yoga classes per day, the vegetarian meals provide amble fuel, and our bodies feel more awakened than tired.
With most of us having the freedom to holiday for just a few precious weeks per, picking the right type of break has become all too critical. The Algarve Yoga retreats strike a carefully constructed balance of movement and rest, nourishment and indulgence. The satisfied smiles wiped over our faces on the final night hinted that this wouldn’t be the last time any of us take such a holiday.
Find out more about the incredible surf, yoga & detox retreats offered by Algarve Yoga on their website.
It’s almost impossible to fathom the life a Spell piece leads before it is finally slipped on by its fortunate owner. Before being delicately wrapped. Before being officiated with a tag. Before being draped onto a hanger for viewing by hungry eyes. Truly understanding its former life would require a wondrous journey; through clouds, across seas, and along many unfamiliar roads. In early February we took such a journey into the exotic depths of rural India. Here we were welcomed behind the scenes of Spell and the Gypsy Collective and introduced to some of the many people being positively impacted by our voracious love of this beautiful bohemian brand.
We were guided out of New Delhi when the sun was low and the air was fresh. When he silhouette of young boys playing cricket on dewy grass could be seen through the morning fog. The car horns were beginning their daily crescendo, the chai was being boiled. All the Indian hallmarks were delivering as promised. Though we drove for some five hours, not a moment of boredom struck. Past fields of mustard seeds and mango trees we clambered along, sharing the national highway with bull-powered carts, rickshaws, reversing trucks, wild pigs, men selling fresh guava, kids riding bicycles and goats taking their owners for a walk.
A dusty town with curious eyes awaited our arrival. This is where stamping and chiselling and polishing gives birth to the intricate steal caps on our pretty Spell boots. A lot was going on in the workspace, with men busy crafting photo frames, jewellery and other bits and bobs designed for far away lands. Though this artisan work is the skill of masters passed down through generations, its value has not always been appreciated. Before Spell’s NGO comrades commenced work with the group in 2012, the pay was slim and the conditions were dire. Nowadays they receive fair pay and the hazardous conditions of their joint living and working space have been tended to with care. An underground tunnel system even ensures that filed particles of dust are suctioned away from workers, leaving clear air for the families that call this space home.
By linking with impossibly dedicated NGO’s on the ground in India, Spell has been able to offer empowerment and advancement in various forms. Our days in India blurred as we whipped across state borders witnessing scene after scene of grateful employees and artisan handicrafts in the making. Even the simple Spell cotton tags and shopping bags have created numerous opportunities. We visited each stage of these items in the making from the stitching to the block printing, wide-eyed as stories unfolded of prior unemployment and entire families benefiting from a bit of needle and thread.
Back home there is new meaning to the Spell pieces hanging in our wardrobe. We know their past lives, their history, the days they lived before. There’s a sweeter feeling replacing what was once a guilty pleasure.
You don’t become the golden child of the Mediterranean and the Pearl of the Adriatic for nothing. Dubrovnik is at once alive with energy and still with calm. Historical mysteries and ancient wonders meet with cultured nightlife and sophisticated city dwellers, in a captivating blend of everything that is quintessentially wonderful about Europe. This grand city, famed for its stonewall fortresses and idyllic beaches, sits on the narrow tip of southern Croatia and spills itself into the Adriatic Sea; begging those with a hankering for pebbled coastlines.
So impressive is the historical setting of Dubrovnik that it has even played host to filming of the mythical Games of Thrones series, and the entire city has been honored onto UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
If you find yourself sitting at the Sunset Lounge of Hotel Dubrovnik Palace – overlooking the Elafiti Isles while sipping fig fused brandy and swaying to the swanky rhythm of a Grand Piano – you may want to take a moment to consider the grandeur of modern decadence in Dubrovnik. You need only wind back the clock to the nineties and the city was being bombed in an attempted seize by Serbian-Montenegrin forces amidst a horrific war – the rapid recovery is almost unfathomable.
To the surprise of many, Dubrovnik is not the capital city of Croatia, but it sure seems the capital of culture, tourism and multifaceted appeal. If you haven’t yet paid this city a visit, then there’s no time quite like the present.
How to get there
During the summer months, flying to Dubrovnik is relatively simple. International flights run frequently from most major airports across Europe and will cost you about the same price as a solid Friday night in London on the booze.
These flights are seasonal, however, so things could get trickier if (for some strange reason) you are planning your trip during the winter months.
If your journey to Dubrovnik begins in one of Croatia’s other major hubs, the bus system is inexpensive, easy and, like the flights, runs frequently during the popular summer season.
The epic nightlife
For the coolest clubbingexperience in Dubrovnik, it’s hard to look past Old Town’sCulture Club Revelin, home to MTV parties, half naked women swimming in giant martini glasses and a plethora of world renowned DJs on tour. Visiting Revelin is like being showered in a confetti storm of theatrical marvels and strobe light madness. Tall, romantic stone archways and ancient architecture juxtapose holographic displays and deep house music. It’s a sure-fire way to a fantastic night.
If you’re after a more intimate setting with the chance to dance in the spotlight of the moon and perhaps catch some live bands, the rooftop of Lazareti is where you need to be.
If you really want to expand your wings, other haunts worth investigating include East-West Beach Club, Latino Club Fuego, Troubadour Hard Jazz Café and Park Orsula. That should be enough to keep your evening hours busy.
The chance to rejuvenate
If you’re hot off the festival trail, fresh from a night ticking every club we mentioned above, or have just spent 10 days at sea indulging in one too many ice cold Ožujskos, a little spa indulgence might be just what the doctor ordered. After all, this is a holiday!
Dubrovnik has a perfect selection of traditional Eastern European spa treatments along with the less adventurous pamperings you probably know and love from back home.
The Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Dubrovnik Sun Gardens is a sure winner if you’re willing to drop a few quid. Their menu features the slightly daunting yet ultra cleansing hammam (similar to a Turkish bath), a thalassotherapy spa bath with 252 invigorating power jets, and an aromatherapy steam room.
Meanwhile, over at Rixos Libertas, an oasis of “relaxation and soothing self-discovery” awaits. Cleopatra bathrooms, sea view massage tables and indoor + outdoor swimming pools can be enjoyed with your simple mani pedi or a full facial. If you’re really feeling the pinch from your holiday highs, you may even want to jump aboard the Balneo Therapy train, a mineral rich water massage used to treat disease (or in this instance, your hangover).
If that round up doesn’t beckon your tired, rave-ruined bones, nothing will.
The delicious dining scene
If your dream holiday involves a whole lot of eating, drinking and a bit more eating, Dubrovnik will not disappoint. Croatian cuisine has a reputation for involving little more than hearty meat dishes, fish and bread. But being the cultural hub that it is, Dubrovnik stretches beyond the usual fare, with modern culinary delights making the most of the country’s fertile lands and easy access to all walks of salty sea critters.
The best way to take in the magnificence of Dubrovnik and its outer islands in one glorious swoop is on the Cable Car. Built 45 years ago atop the Srd Hill, the Cable Car offers those without fear of heights the chance to smoothly descent onto Dubrovnik whilst looking out over as much as 60 kilometers of island dotted sea.
If you’re keen to get the body on display and soak up some Mediterranean UV’s, violet beach umbrellas, blooming bougainvillea bushes and a straw hut cabana bar make Victoria’s Beaches the ultimate cove to waste a day in the sun. If you prefer your sunbed sessions to be sans salt and sand, many of the nearby hotels allow public access to their cliff side pools. Just remember to turn up early, as this is a very popular pastime.
Events and nearby ventures
Since you’re only a few hours drive away, you might as well venture upstream to the coastal town of Split. And why do we love Split? Two words: Yacht Week.
This seven day salute to sailing, sun, saltwater and sultry evenings guides the wild and free through Croatia’s most loved islands including Hvar, Vis, Korcula, Brac, Solta and Scedro. To put some context around the festivities, you’ll find the sentence: “The DJ stops when the last person leaves the dance floor” emblazoned on the Yacht Week website. That sounds like a challenge – one that we enthusiastically accept. Get involved in a week of yachting in Croatia during the months of June – September.
Du El Fest
Mark this one in your 2015 diary. Short for Dubrovnik Electronic (yay – portmanteaus!), Du El Festival takes over the city of Dubrovnik for four frenzied days of heart starting fun. This year’s highlights included DJ Benny Benassi, Syke’n Sugarstarr and Fedde Le Grand who sparked night one of the event with his global hit, “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit”.
And yes, we love this city.
This article was originally written for Together Travel.