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Keepicks: Hotels with a Sense of Place

On a recent visit to Bali, I stayed at two different hotels, which, while on the same stretch of beach in Seminyak, were poles apart in terms of aesthetic, mood and demographic.

The first, Katamama, is the island’s hotel du jour, getting rave write-ups in travel, design and lifestyle publications. Designed by leading Indonesian architect Andra Matin, the hotel opened this year behind the renowned Potato Head Beach Club. It is uber-stylish and a must for design lovers, its razor-sharp, modernist-inspired, handmade-brick facade standing out amid a sea of same-old modern Balinese buildings.

Touting artisan credentials that “evoke the best of Indonesia’s rich heritage in a contemporary setting”, the property is filled with gorgeous locally made textiles, ceramics and objects. I found myself coveting pieces and pinching design ideas for my beach pad back in Sydney. The staff, too, are lovely and good looking, as are fellow guests. Yet, by day two, I was ready to check out. For all its authentic elements, I didn’t feel like I was in Bali – at least the Bali I envisioned.

The lobby and main dining area, replete with cane chairs, reminded me of The Raleigh in Miami. The brick walls and cactus garden recalled the Parker Palm Springs, and the restaurant, an offshoot of one of my favourite Melbourne eateries, Movida, only serves Spanish fare. So much for food being the best way to learn about the local culture.

We were lucky enough to be in the hotel’s splendid Katamama Suite. Unfortunately, none of the windows opened, and the private rooftop is disconnected from the room; it was like being in a super-cool, but hermetically sealed urban development, rather than on a tropical island. As much as I loved the design, I felt I could have been anywhere, which, perhaps is part of the attraction.

A few days later, I checked into The Oberoi, one of Bali’s first luxury resorts. This old gal is definitely not hip, nor is the crowd, yet I was delighted to be there. Having the best beachfront and gardens in the area helps. Even behind my villa’s stone walls, I felt more connected to Bali, and not just because of the Indonesian decor and staff in traditional garb. The Oberoi is unashamedly Balinese, and captures that all-important “sense of place”, a mantra adopted by another hotel group, the Rosewood.

This made me think about hotels I’ve stayed at that manage to combine great design and a sense of place. I don’t mean feeling like a local, which is an altogether different topic, but that the place where you are staying captures the essence of a destination. Aman are masters at it. They have a knack for finding amazing sites that leave you in no doubt about where you are, while maintaining their signature minimalist look across every property. Amanjiwo, for example, by architect Ed Tuttle, takes its stupa-like cues from Borobudur, the majestic ninth-century Buddhist monument it faces. Rather than an add-on, Javanese motifs are integral to, and help define the hotel’s character.

Thousands of miles and another continent away is the Juvet Landscape, a series of boxy cabins in the Norwegian woods. This hotel takes minimalism to the extreme, the interiors so spartan they make Amans look like they’ve been decorated by the more-is-more hand of Hollywood decorator Tony Duquette. Although there is almost no furniture to speak of, I was never uncomfortable, possibly because I was captivated by the spectacular mountain, river and valley views beyond the cabin’s feature glass wall. The design may not be recognisably Norwegian, but I was left in no doubt about where I was.

Just as spectacular and more luxurious is the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur on America’s West Coast. Built nearly 25 years ago, its houses and cabins jut out from cliffs more than 1,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, or nestle within fir and redwood forests. All have a dialogue with, rather than fight (what would be a losing battle) against the magnificent landscape. Big Sur is the cradle of American hippiedom, and that spirit can still be felt, even in the US$1,000-plus rooms.

Not all hotels need such grand settings and prices to convey their locale. At Seven Terraces in Penang, a row of shophouses has been painstakingly restored and converted into simple boutique lodgings. The architecture is a pastiche of English decorative details and southern Chinese homes, typical of the mixed identity of this charming Malaysian island. Its in-your-face heritage is done exceedingly well, and guests come away with a better understanding of Penang’s history and culture through design.One of my top picks of new hotels that convey its sense of place is Zaborin, in Hokkaido. Pretty much everything about this contemporary ryokan, which opened last year, is, and feels, Japanese, yet one is never overwhelmed by it. Concepts such as wabi sabi, finding perfection in the imperfect, run throughout this stunning property, which reveals beauty at every turn. Such “imperfections” only enhance its appeal and add warmth to what would otherwise be an austere concrete and glass building, with a hard-edged modernity not unlike Katamama’s. At Zaborin, however, I never wanted to leave, the place satisfying my desire for exquisite design, without having to wonder where in the world I am.

Katamama, Jl Petitenget No.51, Kerobokan Kelod, Bali. +62 361 3029999. katamama.com

The Oberoi, Bali, Jalan Kayu Aya, Pantai Seminyak, Bali.  +62 361 730361. oberoihotels.com

Amanjiwo, Ds Majaksingi, Borobudur, Central Java, Indonesia. +62 622 93788333. aman.com

Juvet Landscape Hotel, Alstad, 6210 Valldal, Norway. +47 950 32 010. juvet.com

Post Ranch Inn, 47900 CA-1, Big Sur, California, USA. +1 831-667-2200. postranchinn.com

Seven Terraces, Stewart Ln, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. +60 4-264 2333. georgetownheritage.com

Zaborin, 76-4, Hanazono, Kutchan, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, Japan. +81 136-23-0003. zaborin.com


Follow Kee on Instagram and Twitter @keepicks

www.keepicks.com

– posted 25th August 2016

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