Though still routinely described as the Island of the Gods, much of modern-day Bali has gentrified into a palatable resort island. But hidden beneath the sleek beach clubs and photogenic avocado toasts, the island still has that potent Bali magic coursing through its veins.
You can feel it in the nape of your neck when you hear whispered stories of evil spirits visiting the island. You can witness it each morning as locals lay down offerings, leaving clouds of fragrant incense floating through the morning air.
Bali’s unique brand of je ne sais quoi is more potent in some places than others. At the villa paradise that is Permata Ayung, the magic feels very real.
Arriving in Paradise
Driving north from busy Seminyak, it’s remarkable just how fast the crowds of Bali’s southern shores fall behind. Before we know it, we’ve left behind the beach clubs and boutiques and see our car roll through rice fields and local villages, with palm trees swaying in the breeze.
Driving down a nondescript street just outside Ubud, our car slows down and takes an unexpected turn down a small lane. From the outside, there’s nothing to indicate that we have arrived at our luxurious destination. This cloak of mystery is part of what makes Permata Ayung so special.
The grounds of Permata Ayung – “Jewel of the Ayung River“ – feel like a resort… but then again, they also feel like your own private Balinese village. You’re at once in the lap of luxury – and in a place which seems to exist somewhere beyond place and time.
Lay of the Land
Permata Ayung is built on the banks of the Ayung River which separates two Balinese kingdoms. The villa sits on the border of Gianyar, while the rice paddies on the other side of the river belong to Badung.
To label Permata Ayung a villa seems somewhat misleading due to the sheer palatial size of the property – they even offer a private buggy service within the estate. Permata Ayung is built into multiple pavilions spread out over some five hectares of tropical land which cascades down to the riverside. Many of the buildings are authentic wooden homes sourced from across the Indonesian archipelago. You could spend a whole week at the villa and you’d still find new corners of this miniature kingdom to explore.
From start to finish, Permata Ayung is a glorious fusion of influences. On one hand, you see Indonesian heritage meeting world-class luxury. But the cross pollination goes beyond that, as Indonesian heritage is a hybrid in and of itself. Built over lush Balinese land, Permata Ayung blends together Javanese architecture, Madurese furniture and statues depicting ancient Buddhist deities. Throughout the day, you’ll see staff moving across the estate, laying down offerings on ornate Hindu shrines. Rather than a villa, Permata Ayung feels like a microcosm onto itself.
That Old Bali Magic
Simply exploring the villa takes up much of our first day at Permata Ayung. Moving through the 10 luxurious bedrooms, grand living areas and immense gardens, you often feel like you need to pinch yourself. Throughout, Permata Ayung feels surreal and almost unearthly in its sheer size, opulence and level of privacy.
As we make our way through the rooms, we discover a world of whimsical luxury. The natural rock bathtubs are so huge in their scale that the rooms they are now housed in had to be built around them. A living room furnished with fine antiques and a glistening grand piano overlooks a wild jungle ravine – one can almost imagine the black and white keys moving of their own accord.
Permata Ayung also has its own organic gardens where we spot hot chili, bananas and – always a wonder for someone who didn’t grow up in the tropics – pineapple pushing up from the fertile ground. Closer to the river bank, a separate walled garden is home to two majestic peacocks. After nightfall, we hear the distant hum of a temple ceremony taking place in the neighbouring kingdom across the river. Staying at the villa almost feels like moving through a beautifully surreal dream.
The Suite Life
Though the pavilions are rustic in style, Permata Ayung’s 10 bedrooms are six-star all the way. All rooms come with king-sized beds, spa-like bathrooms, personal espresso machines and minibars which are restocked daily with soft drinks, beer and snacks. As all rooms are equally lavish, there’s no need to fight over the “best” room – but choosing your favourite does present something of a Sophie’s choice.
Following the layout of a Balinese compound, Permata Ayung’s bedrooms are divided into multiple wooden pavilions. After making the grand rounds, it’s simply a matter of choosing which suite best tickles your fancy. Maybe it’s the grand master suite with its own private living room, or the romantic bridal suite with a grand bridal bed shrouded in lace netting. We spent our night in the Garuda building, with the ornate four-poster beds delivering the best slumber in ages.
Much of Permata Ayung is built following ancient local traditions, but the villa’s private spa feels like something from another dimension. The spa was designed by Elora Hardy, the daughter of John Hardy, an acclaimed jewellery designer and founder of Bali’s iconic Green School, another venue widely admired for its innovative bamboo architecture.
Permata Ayung’s Bamboo Spa is built directly by the Ayung River. Described by the designer as a “bamboo cathedral”, this is easily one of the most beautiful spas on the island – and it’s all yours. Every guest staying at Permata Ayung is treated to a complimentary 60-minute massage and from here on out, it’s very easy to get hooked.
The spa comprises three separate pavilions, so calling this a “wellness centre” is not an exaggeration. The spa has three treatment rooms, a designated room for mani-pedis, a private sauna and hot and cold Jacuzzis – there’s also a private gym close by. With views overlooking the river and an arched bamboo ceiling towering above you, visiting the spa is definitely another pinch-me moment.
A Visit to the Bulldog Bar
But as it turns out, the blissful spa is not the only surreal surprise waiting for us. One of the most unique and magical features of Permata Ayung is the villa’s private bar.
Built to the side of a tropical hill with a private terrace overlooking the rice fields, the bar is lit up by neon lights which immediately bring to mind the surreal world of Twin Peaks. The bar is fully stocked and ready to serve up the villa’s signature cocktails. Boo of Tohpati (tequila, crème de cassis, lime and ginger ale), Traditional Green Tea (rum, gin, vodka and pineapple juice) and Sunset River (rum, apricot brandy and fruit punch) are just some of the options available.
The Bulldog Bar’s surreal feel is only enhanced by the adjoining cinema room. Decorated with uniquely sculpted green sofas, it feels as though the room had organically grown from the surrounding tropics. Why you would need a movie to keep you entertained is beyond me – the villa itself feels like the ultimate break from reality.
And then there is the food. Permata Ayung’s dining table is set in a Joglo pavilion where the layout resembles that of your own private restaurant. In a daring manoeuvre, the near-by staff kitchen has an open-sided layout, meaning guests can see in at all times and presentation has to be perfect even before the food is served.
Our lunch is served a la carte style. I go for the grilled chicken and sample some grilled fish off a friend’s plate. Then there’s the Caesar salad, the fish and chips, the over the top bread basket… and a surprise dessert: rich creamy ice cream and delicate green crepes, or dadar gulung.
For dinner, we have Indonesian cuisine served rijsttafel style. The staff presents a glorious spread of assorted skewers, sambal, sautéed vegetables… The presentation is divine and the flavours perfectly balanced.
I have always had a soft spot for breakfast food and the spread at Permata Ayung does not disappoint. I order croque madame and banana pancakes off the menu which seems to cover every egg dish ever created. Every meal at the villa is served beautifully presented in stunning surroundings and the end result is nothing short of immaculate.
Staying in the heart of Bali
Permata Ayung is located in the village of Bongkasa just shy of Ubud, the spiritual heartland of Bali. A 20-minute car ride brings you to the bustling heart of town, which will set your heart racing and imagination soaring with its colourful local markets and vibrant temple ceremonies. Permata Ayung offers a complimentary daily shuttle to the centre of town… but that’s not really what this villa is about
Permata Ayung is one of those rare places in the world where you can experience absolute privacy – a microcosm in and of itself. A place where, if only for a night, you can let the rest of the world simply melt away. Read more about Permata Ayung or contact our villa specialists to book your stay at this once-in-a-lifetime villa.