Designer Bill Bensley's New Tented Camp In Bali
In the village of Keliki, just outside Ubud, a group of women are in a paddy field harvesting rice, flailing the sheaves against a crate to loosen the grains. It’s a moment of visceral realism in a country that feels often feels - even in the 21st century - an otherworldly blend of Hindu temples and Western soul-searching.
This scene takes place just outside the new Capella Ubud, the acclaimed hotel designer Bill Bensley’s latest project; a triumphant, detailed and lavish take on the camping experience. Wooden busts of deer on the walls are festooned with necklaces while brass monkeys cavort across the camp’s roof tops. Stepped paths take you through the forest with tents, swimming pools, gyms and a great deal of nature. The whole is excessive, expansive and - intentionally - hilarious.
Romance is there in spades too. The 23 tents, all different, some along rope bridges, others tucked into the hillside, have fanciful titles and decor to match. Inside, they are a riot of batik wall-coverings, four poster beds and copper baths. The minibars are designed to look like Esky-style cool boxes. Retro-style red enamel tins contain teas and coffees. There are six different types of soap, all made locally. Outside, on the verandahs with plunge pools, all you can hear are frogs and water.
Each element of the hotel is meant to represent an element of a 1880s explorers camp. The swimming pool is called the Cistern and is shaped accordingly, the Api Jiwa restaurant has extensive laundry theming, from mangles to collection of irons and washboards, while one wall is a series of glass tub windows, some with washing still behind them. There is no menu at Api Jiwa - the chef will ask you what you’d like and cook a tasting menu, omakase-style, in front of you.
The hotel’s other restaurant, Mads Lange - named after a Danish spice trader - takes a more relaxed route into the senses with comfort-based food including the Indonesian national dish of Nasi Goreng. Evenings are rounded off by the campfire, toasting marshmallows while flickering black and white images of Bali from the 1920s play out on an outdoor screen, an American summer camp experience filtered through Bensley’s refined style prism.
There are two bars. Mortar and Pestle, by the swimming pool, creates everything by hand, the Officer’s Tent has a billiards table, a library of vintage books and artfully aged leather chairs. Next door is the soaring Armory, housing the gym. Like all the main buildings it is made from canvas; you zip yourself in and out.
Utterly lush - this camp has none of the sapling feel most new projects have. Spreading out across four hectares, no trees were harmed, instead, the tents were constructed around palm and banyan trees, and sometimes incorporate them; there’s a jackfruit tree growing through one of the spa tents. Taking four years to build, it’s a passion project for the owner, Suwito Dunawan, a steel commodities magnate from Jakarta, who originally bought the site to build a villa that would house his art collection.
Bensley too, has long been in love with Bali and this resort feels like a sensory safari, and a reminder that humour should have more of a place as a travel experience.