BRAVE NEW WORLD
Islands, by virtue of their geographical nature, are the very epitome of exclusivity. Private islands – with access made possible thanks to previously uncharted transportation routes – even more so. At Bawah Reserve, one arrives by seaplane. After an 80-minute flight from the Batam airport, the cinematic descent into the jetty sweeps across a dazzling gradation of blues mirroring that of the Maldives. Yet, hugging the alabaster shores are wild tangles of virgin forests, a fertile cradle of flora. This is the Anambas, an archipelago in the country’s Riau Islands where no other luxury resort has set up camp. Of the 250 islands in the Anambas, only 25 are occupied. Kiabu, the nearest one inhabited by local fisherman, lies 30km up north. At night, cast away from civilisation, the sky heaves with stars. In this remote Eden, the sense of isolation is grand.
With no television in the rooms, nature reigns as the main draw, and there’s plenty for the casual David Attenborough to explore. Spanning six islands, three lagoons, and 13 beaches, the previously uninhabited Bawah is both private island and nature reserve.
While it might feel like a world away, the creature comforts one expects of an ultra-luxe abode remain near – albeit underscored by consideration for the environment. Each of the 35 suites and bungalows might be air-conditioned, but over at the beachfront suites, guests can decide to leave their rooms open to the elements or hermetically sealed – and dedicated butlers tweak the configuration accordingly.
A master class in elemental luxury, rattan cabinets swing open to reveal a fully stocked minibar, while handsome recycled teak floors and recycled copper bathtubs make for a masculine contrast to gossamer drapes and safari-inspired canvas roofs. To minimise destruction to the pristine beauty of Bawah, noted Singaporean architect Sim Boon Yang did away with heavy machinery. Instead, he worked with Indonesian artisans from as far as Java to build the structures – including the three restaurants and bars, as well as the imposing bamboo spa – by hand. Good things take time, and for Bawah, the laborious construction process stretched over six years before the resort was finally ready to welcome its first guests this year.
Over at Treetops, Bawah’s largest restaurant commanding panoramic views of the lagoon, chef Roberto Bellitti serves up an impressive offering of Indonesian and global fare. Lunch offerings might include a whole grilled local tuna – caught earlier in the day – accompanied by punchy sambals made with organically grown herbs and spices from the resort’s backyard. Dinner is a more refined affair. Thinly sliced beef carpaccio might follow a starter of crab avocado tartare, before a richly flavoured mee soto ayam (Indonesian chicken noodle soup) hits the table.
For a veritable Blue Lagoon experience, a sunset picnic at any one of the 13 secluded beaches in the reserve offers complete isolation and privacy. Before guests arrive, staff forge ahead to set up daybeds and parasols, while chef Bellitti prepares a picnic basket to their liking – right down to the choice of still or sparkling water.
With unlimited spa sessions included in the room rate, sessions at the resort’s only spa book out quickly. Jade stone facial massages can be had while body-centric treatments are aimed at relieving fatigue, melting away muscle tension, and improving blood circulation – ideal for the burnt-out executive seeking physical solace.