Bulgari Resort Bali is a timeless gem in Uluwatu – Hotel Insider

The property may be almost 20 years old, but it's still a standard-bearer for luxury

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Set among three hectares of lush jungle on a cliff rising 150 metres above the Indian Ocean in Uluwatu, the Bulgari Resort Bali is easily one of the island’s most exclusive coastal hotels.

Since opening in 2006, the resort's plush villas – scattered among meticulously manicured gardens that cover steep, cascading hills – have been the standard-bearer for ultra-luxury.

Each is carved from hand-hewn volcanic stones and rich, exotic woods sheltered under traditional thatched canopy roofs, served around the clock by a team of buggy-driving butlers.

But describing the elegant Bulgari Resort as a grande dame would be a bit of a misnomer – it's more of a timeless figure than an ageing beauty, albeit one now facing competition from the dozens of high-end beach resorts that have sprung up across the Indonesian territory.

The National checks in to a One Bedroom Ocean View Villa and joins the well-heeled, diamond-wearing travel elite (as well as a pack of wild monkeys) at Bulgari Resort Bali to see if it's still setting the pace almost two decades after opening.

The welcome

After a two-hour drive through Bali's buzzy tourist hotspots and seemingly never-ending rice paddies, we reach the Bulgari Resort.

Thankfully, there are no wayward backpackers or singlet-wearing partygoers to be found here – similar to Burj Al Arab, you’ll need a reservation simply to get past the clipboard-wielding guard at the gate.

The view is immediate and striking – all water, jungle and peace – only occasionally interrupted by a passing boat from the local banjar (village) or the shriek of one of the resort's resident monkeys.

After pulling up at the enormous thatched-roof pavilion in the centre of the resort, we enjoy an extravagant welcome with cooling towels, introduction to our own personal butler and a buggy ride to the villa for check-in formalities.

All warm and smiley, the butler briefly turns serious while warning us about those crafty monkeys. They've been known to break in to rooms and spray $200-a-tube cosmetics all over the place and have even figured out how to open the outdoor minibars. The villa door, he cautions, needs to remain firmly shut when we're venturing out.

Luckily, the welcome fruit bowl and intricate sfogliatella pastry draped artfully in Bulgari ribbons are locked securely inside – a handy snack after a few hours on the road from Bali's airport.

When the butler trundles off in his buggy, there's a final flourish - a Bulgari-branded box left discreetly on top of our luggage as if by sleight of hand.

There's sadly no $50,000 Serpenti Viper bracelet inside (although you can pick one of those up in one of the three on-site boutiques), but you will find a thoughtfully personalised leather luggage tag.

The neighbourhood

Part of the Bulgari Resort's appeal is its magical feeling of remoteness and exclusivity, which comes largely from its clifftop location on Bali's south coast, far away from the bars and massage parlours of Seminyak.

But it's not truly isolated – there are plenty of other hotels nearby with top-notch restaurants and bars well worthy of a day trip, including the rustic Six Senses Uluwatu within walking distance and Emirati favourite Jumeirah Bali a 20-minute drive away.

To truly explore the neighbourhood and delve deeper into Balinese culture, join one of the daily Bulgari-hosted walks among the local banjar's traditional houses, followed by a yoga session back at the resort.

The room

Stepping out of the Ocean View Villa, we’re greeted by a lush tropical garden that feels like a private jungle.

In some of the villas, the view is framed by the thatched roofs of neighbouring rooms, while in others, it’s an uninterrupted panorama of the ocean stretching to the horizon.

The open-air outdoor living area – complete with complimentary minibar including chocolates and non-alcoholic drinks – is large, giving you all the space you need to lounge, read or simply soak in the surroundings on the comfortable sofa.

Inside, the villa is a blend of luxury and traditional Balinese charm, with antique local art pieces and a pavilion bathroom so big it's like a spa in itself.

The rates are expectedly high, but include some top perks such as 24-hour breakfast, an unlimited pressing service, a Bulgari fragrance and bath collection, and that handy butler.

They even offer packing and unpacking services, which – although slightly awkward to have someone rifling through your smalls – is a lifesaver after a long trip.

And don't forget the complimentary daily pool snacks and Italian aperitif at sunset – it's the cherry on top of an already fabulous stay.

The swimming pools, inspired by rice paddies and lined with Sukabumi stone, add a unique Balinese touch, and the private spaces are just as impressive.

If you really want to ramp up the luxury, The Mansion is where it's at. With five bedrooms, two private pools and a garden with ocean views, the property also has high-end Miele kitchen appliances and a private lift.

The service

With our butler available any time by phone and WhatsApp, the service is refreshingly unstuffy throughout the resort. The general manager is often found roaming the pool area in a button-down shirt chatting to guests.

Buggies arrive quickly, and discreet walkie-talkie chatter between staff fuels seamless transitions – the funicular driver, restaurant host or local priest will be ready and waiting with a cool towel to greet you by name on arrival.

Ever eager to go above and beyond for the sometimes-demanding clientele, the resort even recently installed a $30,000 heat pump in the pool of the signature Bulgari Villa after a guest mentioned to their butler that they felt a little chilly during an evening swim.

The scene

Looking out over the empty water, guests can admire the view from the infinity pool, which sits on the edge of dramatic cliffs falling hundreds of metres below to the Indian Ocean and a secret beach that can be reached only by funicular.

It really feels as though you've reached the end of the island, if not the world.

For a taste of the traditional, a must-visit is the spa, if only to admire the architecture of the antique “joglo” house it sits within.

It was transported piece by piece from Central Java and rebuilt at the resort with the decidedly modern additions of plunge pools and relaxation rooms decked out with plush furniture.

The Bulgari even has its own temple where a priest carries out traditional Hindu purification ceremonies each day – and a chapel for the many wedding ceremonies of the rich and famous it hosts each year.

The food

The resort isn't all about tradition and temples. Continuing the lavish experience, Il Ristorante – Luca Fantin adds a touch of Italian flair to the mix.

Opening its doors in 2017, this 36-seat gem serves up nine-course tasting menus in an intimate space overlooking the ocean, with the view of a reflection pool playing with soft lights to create a mood that’s both romantic and exclusive.

It's a place where flip-flops and singlets give way to collared shirts and evening wear, keeping the high-end experience special for everyone.

Each course is a hit, but the standout is the sgombro in salsa verde – a creative take on Spanish mackerel – which is both vibrant and beautifully balanced.

Another exquisite combination is the beautifully plated tagliolini allo zafferano, caviale e gremolada – the saffron adding a subtle touch of warmth to the dish.

For more casual dining perched dramatically at the edge of a cliff, Sangkar Restaurant offers a breathtaking setting with a beautifully illuminated ceiling and traditional woven lamps.

The menu has Indonesian dishes reimagined through a contemporary culinary lens, with Balinese favourites such as tamarind chicken breast or fragrant bamboo shoot and vegetable curry served with turmeric-scented rice.

For a more secluded and unique dining experience, there's La Spiaggia – accessible only via funicular and open exclusively to hotel guests from noon until 4.30pm each day. Nestled under the steep cliff and overlooking the hotel’s stretch of pristine white sand beach, this intimate restaurant and bar offers a cosy escape.

Highs and lows

The hotel's secret beach is really quite spectacular – a completely secluded strip of sand surrounded by rocks and endless water.

But before soaking up the sun, you'll need to climb down a flight of stairs leading to a funicular railway that descends the 150-metre cliffs, followed by even more rocky, uneven steps.

Make sure to pace yourself by taking a rest stop at the small restaurant perched on the cliffside halfway down for lunch, cool towels and a jug of iced water. It's really worth it.

The insider tip

It's rare to find a hotel that won't charge you through the roof for late check-out, but Bulgari Bali is luckily one of them.

Guests can arrive and leave whenever they like as standard (subject to availability, of course) – we stayed in the room until 9pm while waiting for a late-night flight.

And there are no set breakfast times here – the hotel offers up an extensive selection of Italian classics and traditional Indonesian staples served any time, 24 hours a day, to your villa.

The verdict

Despite nearing its 20th year, the ultra-luxury Bulgari Resort remains a jewel on the lush cliffs of Uluwatu, where monkeys frolic among the foliage.

This resort continues to thrive, and shows no signs of losing its almost mystical Indian Ocean allure.

The bottom line

Rates start at IDR20,000,000 ($1,285) per night, including 24-hour breakfast at the restaurant or served to your room, a complimentary in-villa non-alcoholic minibar, complimentary resort activities (including a village walk and a traditional purifying ceremony at the on-site temple), 24-hour unlimited pressing and daily canapes during sunset at the poolside Bulgari Bar. Check-in and check-out are flexible, depending on availability; bulgarihotels.com.

Updated: January 13, 2024, 4:06 AM