Checking In: Hoshinoya Bali

A half-hour’s drive from Ubud, this serene all-villa resort balances local Indonesian craftsmanship with a sleek Japanese style.

On the private deck of a Jalak villa at Hoshinoya Bali. (All photos courtesy of Hoshinoya Bali)

Sundown. The sound of flowing water accompanies me as I tread an illuminated wooden footpath through the gardens at Hoshinoya Bali. Stepping into the breezy restaurant, I hear the mating call of a tokay gecko and watch the skies darken over a tableau of giant tree ferns, soaring coconut palms, and jackfruit trees with mottled bark. It’s not my first time here — I came soon after the property opened in 2017 as the first international outpost of Japan’s century-old Hoshino Resorts (which has since expanded to Taiwan). What I recall most fondly from that brief sojourn was an elegant kaiseki dinner that united the culinary traditions of Bali and Nippon.

Created by executive chef Mitsuaki Senoo, the 10-course set dinner I’m about to enjoy takes a slightly different approach, combining Mediterranean and Japanese flavors with a light Balinese touch. Over the next two hours or so, a parade of small, artfully plated dishes arrives at the table: lime-and-ginger infused gazpacho, sautéed bigfin reef squid with basil sauce and finely diced shallot, then slow-cooked salmon and briny ikura on a refreshing cucumber paste. One course includes three kinds of sushi: snapper with tangy salt flakes, maguro, and salmon brushed with gochujang and sesame. The waitress eventually returns and lifts a smoking dome to reveal a tartare of locally caught tuna, before pouring a creamy mustard sauce onto the plate.

What follows next is the palate-cleansing shiraae of sapodilla and a nutty tofu-and-sesame paste. This serves as the prelude for a melt-in-the-mouth beef steak with mashed potato, curry powder, deep-fried burdock root, and crispy fried spinach leaves — not to mention dipping bowls of kecap manis (soy sauce laced with palm sugar), curry sauce, plus a punchy green-chili sambal. I barely have room for dessert, of which there are two. The first is a “coconut delight” with contrasting textures and temperatures, conceived as a modern bubur sumsum (dessert porridge) featuring jackfruit pieces and palm sugar syrup. Aside from the main pudding, the coconut is used in everything from the ice cream and the paper-thin tuile to a sugary, crispy crumble. Finally, the server presents a chilled coupe glass of Awayuki cheese mousse and finely cubed fruit, in a sauce of cranberry and mango juice mixed with cherry brandy, shaken tableside. I don’t know how I will manage breakfast the next morning.

Tasting menus at Hoshinoya Bali blend Balinese, Japanese, and French ways of cooking.

One of three canal-like pools running through the resort.

Inside the valley-facing bedroom of a Jalak villa.

But first, a solo swim at sunrise. All 30 villas here enjoy direct access to one of three canal-like pools inspired by Bali’s subak irrigation channels; the inviting waters branch off into semi-private nooks where you can float and frolic out of view of other guests, then recline inside a thatched bale with a daybed. When no one else is about, a flock of little birds with black-tipped gray wings and white bellies throw a miniature pool party, zooming through the air and making small splashes as they skim the surface. I observe the action from the living room of my Jalak villa, whose sliding screen doors open onto a wraparound deck. Inside, Zen-like minimalism meets Indonesian artistry: expect to see batik box lamps, high ceilings of woven rattan, futon-style platform beds, and a back-lit screen depicting a riot of foliage, birds, and flowers. These intricate reliefs are the work of artisans from Jepara, a coastal town in Central Java known for its woodworking.

Beyond the villas, Hoshinoya Bali’s lush grounds are a joy to wander: landscape architect Hiroki Hasegawa worked with, not against, the natural topography, planting native species and retaining an ancient subak channel. I savor quiet moments like standing on the terrace outside the Library — a cozy marble-floored reading room stocked with Bali- and travel-focused books — and listening to the morning birdsong. Through the trees, the Pakerisan River is clearly audible it gushes over a rocky bed toward the Indian Ocean. The most sought-after spot for lounging is Café Gazebo, whose stilted pavilions were built directly over the steep hillside. Most come with daybeds, and after checking in there’s no better place for a welcome bowl of matcha prepared by a member of staff, who froths the unsweetened drink using a traditional bamboo whisk. Between sips, I nibble at dorayaki while looking out over the forested valley.

Those not content with pure relaxation can join complimentary guest activities both within and outside the resort’s walls. Hoshinoya Bali runs two walking tours, one through the local banjar (neighborhood) that takes in five different temples and offers insights into Balinese culture. Another is a 45-minute morning stroll down village roads and pathways between nearby rice paddies. For the latter, a Singaporean couple and I are guided by Putu Semadi, who returned to his native Bali after working on cruise vessels around Europe and North America for five years. He greets a farmer leading a flock of ducks into the newly harvested fields, and points out yellow dwarf coconuts used for temple offerings. At every turn, the island’s natural bounty is plain to see: coffee bushes flourish by the roadside, as do trees bearing cacao pods, large green papayas, and bunches of bananas. The Singaporeans are especially impressed.

Enjoying a light breakfast on an oversize daybed in one of the pavilions at Café Gazebo.

Intricate screens made by woodcarvers from Jepara grace the main restaurant.

The resort’s ornately carved Balinese main gate.

Guests at Hoshinoya Bali are welcome to join batik-making classes.

I meet up again with Putu in an open-air pavilion for a hands-on lesson in making batik tulis. On the tabletop between us stand portable stoves weighed down with wax-filled copper pots. “The temperature has to be just right,” Putu explains. “Too hot and the wax will get very runny, too cold and it will quickly harden.” Then he demonstrates how to hold the pen-like canting upside down, scooping the molten wax into the instrument’s receptacle in one sweeping motion away from the center of the pot. I watch intently as Putu brushes it along the rim and daubs the underside of the canting on a spare cotton sheet to reduce the excess wax. The whole process takes patience; my lack of it results in overly thick lines and blotches that irreversibly taint the artwork. Still, it’s not bad for a first attempt. When I encounter the general manager Takaaki Yasuda a short while later, he tells me, “Many of our Indonesian guests have never tried making batik themselves until they stay here.”

I’m rewarded for my efforts with a mid-afternoon spa session. Dewi “Rita” Samarintan, a Balinese therapist who has been with the resort since the pre-opening, offers me jamu of turmeric, honey, and lemon. “We used to have many Japanese guests, but the pandemic changed everything,” she says. “Now we get a mix of Indonesians, Koreans, and Singaporeans.” From the spa reception pavilion, Rita and I take a glass-roofed funicular cabin halfway down the hillside to the treatment rooms in a rectangular building that hugs the side of the valley. I find myself dozing off several times during a 90-minute Balinese massage; Rita’s long, skillful strokes with lemongrass oil knead out the knots in my tired legs, upper back, and shoulders. I virtually float out of the spa when the treatment ends.

That night, one final dinner awaits at the restaurant. I end up ordering the Hoshinoya Jewel Box — an exquisite chirashi don with salmon, scallop, and pearls of ikura in a neat arrangement that also includes fresh snapper, tuna tataki, and lightly charred squid. Interspersed between the sashimi are sweet ribbons of tamago and crunchy snow peas; the dish comes adorned with tiny wasabi balls, a sprinkling of edible flowers, and flecks of gold leaf. Tucking into this sumptuous mélange of seafood and fluffy sushi rice, I know I will someday return.

hoshinoya.com/bali; villas from US$458

Massages are enjoyed in treatment rooms built halfway down the hillside.

The living room of a 198-square-meter Jalak villa.

Hoshinoya Bali is perched right on the edge of the Pakerisan river valley.

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