When imagining the pinnacle of luxury, I’d envisioned waking up in an overwater bungalow on a private island, surrounded by pristine coral reef and filling my days with happy hours and spa treatments. While many resorts around the world offer some of my criteria, none offer the whole package without bordering on a mortgage-sized sum per night, or a swarm of other guests’ suites huddled around your private villa.
Well, that was until Bawah Reserve popped up.
In a tropical archipelago in a remote corner of Indonesia, this haven-meets-luxury retreat ticks all of the above boxes and then some. What’s more, it’s entirely sustainably-minded, meaning that its guest capacity is as low as its plastic waste.
Enveloped by lush tropical greenery and azure blue ocean, Bawah Reserve rests in sheltered carefree seclusion 160 nautical miles (300km) northeast of Singapore – making it the ideal retreat on the tail end of a city trip. Surrounded by clear turquoise waters, blue lagoons and coral reefs, this pristine and previously uninhabited marine conservation area caters to outdoor adventurers with an appetite for indulgence as well as paradise seekers looking for relaxation. Bawah offers the true meaning of all-inclusive luxury, by being the only retreat in Asia to include all spa treatments, guest experiences and transport via its new amphibious seaplane.
It’s an adventure to get to – picked up by a chauffeured car from your hotel in Singapore, you’re driven to the city’s ferry port where you board a boat to Batam Island. Here, you drive a short distance to the airport where you board an amphibious plane to Bawah Island. Don’t fret, those who are cautious about making multiple stops on journeys – you will be accompanied by a Bawah Host the entire time, so you can’t get lost! All in all, the journey takes about 2.5 – 3 hours, but the views from the low flying seaplane will be sure to keep you occupied – as will the fun-loving, barefoot pilot!
Set off on ground and land on water in the pristine bay that is Bawah’s doorstep. Here, you’re greeted by friendly hugs from the resort staff, who already know you by name. Hop on a golf buggy and drive down the wooden jetty – where you’ll have full view of the resorts bars and restaurants, one of which is in a treehouse – and before you know it you’re at your new home. You’ll know it’s yours as the staff make handmade signs from driftwood with your name painted on them!
Relax a moment and take in the five jungle-covered islands dotted around the bright blue lagoons, whose waters wash ashore on the 13 white beaches that are all yours to explore during your time at Bawah Reserve. While you’re not the only guest, the resort only has a maximum capacity of 75 guests at any one time, meaning your day can be spent in total seclusion should you so wish.
Bawah Reserve boasts 35 luxury, beautifully decorated suites offering the ultimate private island experience with unparalleled exclusivity and privacy. Lining the south-facing coast of the reserve, the chic bamboo tented beach and deluxe suites are steps from the pristine sandy beach. Nestled behind the beach suites are the garden suites for those who want to experience a little slice of jungle luxe. Upgrade your view to an Overwater Bungalow, which we were lucky enough to experience – set above the turquoise-blue lagoon, while away the days gazing at the spectacular panorama of the archipelago and the marine life swimming beneath your deck.
No matter the villa you choose, you’ll be more than happy! Each villa typw is unique in its design in order to complement its natural surroundings. The exterior and interior designs feel natural, organic and earthy, using wood throughout and accenting it with natural tones, muslin cloth canopies, oversized trunks, copper bathroom fittings and minimalist splashes of colour through accessories to give the villas a decadent castaway vibe. Wi-fi is weak and there are no TVs – instead, flippers and snorkels are left on upon your private sunbeds, encouraging you to go an explore Bawah’s world!
Sandy pathways guide guests through the main island between guest’s villas and the resorts spa and eateries. The barefoot, back-to-nature ethos of the island is instilled in the staff, who encourage guests to leave their shoes in their room and feel the world beneath their feet. There’s no dress code, as guests are welcomed to feel at home. We spent our first night in the Boathouse Bar, where we rocked back and forth on the bar swings, watching the sunset and sipping some of the most delicious cocktails we’d ever tried! While alcohol is not included in the all-inclusive price, they cost a maximum of £8. You can also purchase your own alcohol in the airport duty-free, should you wish to.
The small price tag for alcohol doesn’t seem so bad when you find out that your stay includes all-inclusive spa treatments – yes, you read that correctly. Every day you can indulge in luxurious and relaxing treatments at The Aura Spa. Set in natural, lush surroundings, the Aura Spa is the perfect environment for total rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit. It’s at the spa where you come to realise that Bawah Reserve truly believe in the fact that every guest is different. Therapists help to tailor their specialised treatments to your needs; from Deep Calm full body massages to Mood Boosting facials, the spa offers an array of holistic wellness treatments. The staff recommend that guests enjoy a treatment upon arrival to the island, to help them unwind and settle into island life. The Aura Spa also offers yoga and Pilates classes daily, including sunrise sessions for those who wish to experience the power that the island has to renew and re-energise your mind and soul.
If adventure is more your cup of tea (or piña colada, as I opted for under the midday sun), there’s no end to what can be done at Bawah: windsurf, paddle-board, snorkel or kayak between the five islands, or accompany the reserve’s instructors on a coral reef dive to spot sharks, sea turtles and parrot fish. For something a little more romantic, book a picnic on Turtle Island for you and your beau, where you’ll spend the day together in total seclusion. Maybe take a book from the library just in case you get bored of one another!
Dining at Bawah Reserve is nothing short of utterly fantastic! Head Chef, Roberto brings Italian flair to flavour packed Asian cuisine, while also offering international dishes. He’ll also recommend that you try his Indonesian fare, so opt for his fish curry at any given opportunity!
Perched under a jungle canopy, surrounded by tropical rainforest, with beautiful views of the lagoon, Treetops Restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Let the food, the wine and the magnificent landscape merge into a single sensation that provokes all your senses.
If you are seeking fine dining with crimson-coloured sunset views, then Treetops should be your #1 choice. Be sure to book ‘The Lookout’, at least once, for a private, romantic affair of lanterns, wine and dinner à deux.
Grouper Beach Bar
Named after the large fish that inhabits our lagoons, the whimsically-decorated Grouper Bar is a convenient meeting place at any time, thoughtfully situated jettyside, beachside and poolside. This is a social hub with a chill lounge vibe, offering everything from coffee to cocktails, ambient music to aperitifs, Champagne and fine vintage wines to 18-year-old highland malts.
The Boat House
The Boat House, the reserve’s gorgeous beach bar, is a little piece of paradise on the shores of East Beach that oozes a relaxed ambience. The venue is at one with its surroundings – boasting panoramic views overlooking the lagoon, with a contemporary, bohemian vibe punctuated with chilled lounge melodies. Enjoy lunch, dinner and drinks between swims, water sports and lounging on the beach.
Resting high above the tree canopies and transcending the imagination, Jules Verne Bar is the perfect place to ponder your great explorer pipe dreams. Here you can enjoy light snacks and soft drinks after an energetic hike through one of the forest trails; or celebrate the day with homegrown cocktails, meticulously muddled with a splash of panache by Jon Jo, the resident bartender.
The panorama offers a wildlife viewing platform with a cocktail hour – watch the pied imperial pigeons frolicking in the trees or observe the antics of the fruit bats at sunset against the soundtrack of the waves.
There is so much more than meets the eye at Bawah Reserve – and believe me, that’s a sight worth feasting on alone – with movie nights on the beach, private butler service, gifts left on your bed every evening that teach you about the wondrous surrounding wildlife, every moment at Bawah Reserve is sparkling.
Play out your private and perfect days between soothing sunrises and dramatic sunsets, fish-filled water swims and poolside happy hours, exceptional spa treatments and sensational dining experiences, and you’ll soon come to realise that Bawah Reserve is in a league of its own.
There is no doubt – and I say that with gratitude and candour – that Bawah Reserve is the most extraordinary island on this planet.