The last time I was given a colouring-in book was probably Butlin’s circa ’90-something-ish. Or when they mistook me for a toddler down Wagamama’s the other week and handed me a cartoon menu and some crayons. Either way, it’s not something you’d expect when staying at one of the world’s most extraordinary resorts. It’s not something you’d expect at a Blackpool B&B! Intrigued?
The clue’s in the extraordinary. Bawah Reserve isn’t like anywhere else on earth, which is quite the coup in a world where everyone’s been there and done that and had ’em and got the tattoo even though who’s still getting tattoos these days?
Even if we just start with the ‘been there’ bit. If you’ve met someone who’s been to Bawah Reserve I’ll eat my bonnet. It’s a bloody bugger to get to – in a good way (see above). Coming from London we flew to Singapore (stopover central. Take a couple of days why don’t you!) then a bit of a drive to the harbour, boat from said harbour to the Indonesian island of Batam, then an 80-minute seaplane over to Bawah.
So we’re serious as a heart attack when we say it’s a schlepp. But that’s also one of its (many) blessings. Planes, trains, automobiles, shocking pink Dora the Explorer suitcases on wheels, you’ll need ’em all to get here, but that means Bawah’s proper, like proper, remote. David Attenborough remote. OK, maybe Ben Fogle. Which roughly translates as none of your riff-raff, just sophisticated travellers who really, really, really want to be here. Oh, that’s us!
And why wouldn’t you? Seriously, look at the place. No really, look! Bawah Reserve is bonkers beautiful, the sort of place Captain Cook would stumble across on his way from England to the South Pacific to take notes on the Transit of Venus for his boss George III (I’ve been listening to You’re Dead To Me on Radio 4, indulge me) and be so bowled over by the sheer otherworldly-ness of it all he goes stark raving, well, bonkers. It’s a thing. He went bonkers! Something to do with syphilis or Liz Truss or something.
And for your very reasonable (bearing in mind what you’ve read and are about to read) buck, you’re getting to play with six islands, 13 white, proper white beaches, and three lagoons, all tucked together among the wider Anambas Archipelago in Indonesia. It took five years to build, with sustainability and its environment being paramount to tip-top Singaporean architect Sim Boon Yang, and the result is a resort that looks like it grew out of, rather than plonked on top of, its surroundings. The design, now you mention it, is tropical chic, organic and ethereal with thatch topping the villas, restaurants encased in sweeping domes, infinity pools that somehow look natural, tables and chairs and bits and even bobs made out of flotsam.
And when you’ve come this far there’s no popping to the mainland for a Family Bucket, so thank any god/kitten you worship for the food, which is varied and stunning. Locality, obviously, it the main thrust, meaning four dining options serving Asian and Mediterranean flavours peppered with the islands’ ingredients. Fruit and veg from the fields surrounding you, fish caught fresh from the water surrounding you and, over at the two bars – including the spectacular Jules Verne with its views over a cartoon-perfect spit of pristine sand that grows and recedes with the tide – sundowners are garden-to-glass cocktails, so you can get your five a day while getting tropically squiffy on your, well, five a day. Isn’t it seven now? Ten?
Fancy some wellness? Who doesn’t! What it entails is very much up to you; here, it’s pretty much anything that gives you that fuzzy feeling, which is pretty much everything. The daily (included!) massages among them and they are, hand-on-heart, among the best I’ve ever had. Daily pilates, yoga and meditation classes. Sunrise qigong on the beach. An outdoor Jungle Gym – or another indoors, if you’re after air-con and lagoon views. Or the Spa Explorer option, which is the above but at a location of your choosing. And there really is something about a foot massage on a beach.
Kayak, why don’t you, to a lagoon round the corner where a romantic BBQ and lashings of champagne await under a floaty canopy as tropical birds flirt a sweet refrain above… Slightly redundant, mind, as I was there with a mate so we just drank said lashings and raced kayaks and lamented not having boyfriends at this juncture. Then we kayaked back to our villa-on-the-ocean.
Speaking of which, gorgeous. In the same vein as the rest of the resort, organic and huge and homely, with a massive pitched roof and outdoor shower and seconds to the sand and beautiful linen beach throws to take to said sand. ‘Barefoot luxury’ has been harped on about for yonks and while we never need to hear such a phrase ever again, Bawah’s nailed it. If anyone can think of a neologism for said phrase, send a postcard.
And we’ve not even got to Elang Private Residence, the newest, VIP-est bit of Bawah – an island that you can take over all for yourself, be it for weddings/bar mitzvahs/corporate away-gays/escaping political apocalypses/finishing off that bloody novel – that has full access to everything we’ve mentioned but you get to go home from the bar(s) in a cute boat and do your own Robinson Crusoe thing, making up your own rules as you go.
But there’s an angle to Bawah that there’s no getting away from, and it’s its Wellness thing. The whole place is meditative to start with, the nature getting you right there. The daily massages also help. The far-flug-ness, ditto. But then the people, which sounds like we’re on the verge of saying something very naff, are joyous. And take mental health very seriously. Without ruining anyone’s buzz, I’d just experienced a whole bunch of personal trauma back home and Lisa, who looks after this side of things, read me like a well-fingered book. She was therapy, against a backdrop of tropical beaches.
And Lisa was there, at the end, waving me and my mate off, crestfallen, or at least I hope she was. As the titchy propellor plane revved up its revvy bits to take us back to Singapore and then normal life, she handed me a little package. ‘I hope this helps.’ A collection of hand drawings, signed with a heart. Not only do you not get that at the Ramada, but these weren’t your back-of-loo-door doodles. I’m looking at them now, beautiful line drawings – some coloured-in, others waiting for the rainiest of days – and they’re like mini-Cocteaus.
It all came form a conversation we were having over Martinis (obvs) on one of the eastern beaches, just by the Jules Verne bar, and we were talking about mental health and the powers of meditation, and how colouring in can relax the fear centre of your brain – the amygdala – and what our favourite crunch biscuit is, the usual. And it turns out Lisa was taking notes.
Like I say, Bawah Reserve isn’t like anywhere else on earth. Give it a go yourself, if you think the schlepp’s worth it.