I have no idea where my love of Balinese style and architecture comes from. None at all. I had no exposure to it as a child and didn't travel to Indonesia until I was 45.
When I was a young girl growing up in the United States, I read about far off places on the other side of the world that seemed so far away I almost didn't dare dream about it. My favorite books were always exotic and my trusty National Geographics would transport me to places far from my rural New Jersey bedroom.
When I got older and moved from fairy tales to popular magazines, I discovered Bali in an interior design magazine. An article in one featured a designer named Linda Garland who hung around with celebrity friends and designed their homes around the world. She lived in Bali, in this amazing place surrounded by green rice fields. Today, for a price you can stay in Panchoran Retreat, her former home just down the road from the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Or you can catch a glimpse of it in the movie Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts shacks up with Javier Bardem!
The home she lived in and others she designed were unlike any I'd ever seen before. They were completely open to the outside. Houses were constructed of native hardwoods and bamboo, with low-pitched rooflines made from tile or thatch.
Organic design elements like bamboo and carved teak furniture, silks and batiks, tropical garden statuary, and water fountains feature prominently in Balinese style. And British Colonial influences like cane furniture and planters chairs add a refined, historical element. The look and feel is just heaven to me.
So when I finally visited Bali for the first time, I researched 'til my eyes ached for places to stay near Ubud, the cultural heart of the island. It had to have just the right feel for what I thought Bali was supposed to look like. And I did find it - at a place whose name means "beautiful peace" - Alam Shanti, and her sister property just down the road, Alam Indah.
We arrived at Alam Shanti in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and half asleep, after two flights and twenty-two hours of flying. Our driver unloaded us and our bags at 3:00am and quietly closed the door behind him.
Sleep. At last. A few hours later we awoke to this....
...and a welcome spread on our breakfast table outside.
We gazed around at our sumptuous surroundings, taking it all in.
Every room in Alam Shanti (and we saw them all over the course of a week) was serene and unique in its design.
Outside, each step I took through the property revealed a view more beautiful around every corner. The air was filled with the fragrance of incense and jasmine, and mourning doves echoed their somber song in the trees.
The sound of trickling water everywhere attracted dragonflies like moths to a flame.
It was a feast for all my senses. Everything around me was new and sweet, and peaceful.
Every morning, women made canang sari, small baskets of woven palm fronds that held offerings for the gods. Fresh flowers, rice, incense, betel leaf, and rice wine were set at every entrance and doorway in the morning and throughout the day.
It's not often you can escape the noise of the world and hear yourself....just breathe. I found a stillness at Alam Shanti I never knew before. A stillness so sharp it cut through the noise in my head, and let me hear what was real....
And I heard the sweet sounds of gamelan music carried across the rice fields, breaking through the open windows and into my silence.
If You Go:
Alam Shanti (Alam Indah) - P.O. Box 165, Nyuhkuning, Ubud 80571, Bali, Indonesia