Where to stay in Bali: M.Group's The Clubhouse at Ulu and the latest villa under their Mandala brand, Mandala. The Bay
Like many others based here, Bali is probably the place I've been to the most beyond Singapore's shores. Between its wide range of options to eat, stay and play and its natural popularity as a destination for weddings, I find myself making a trip to the Island of The Gods at least twice a year. Being a frequent visitor, it's easy to slip into routines, going back to the same places for the comfort and familiarity. For me, that typically means staying in Seminyak or Canggu for the proximity to a mix of everything — nightlife included and opting for Ubud when wanting to recharge by zoning out at paddy fields, hiking and doing holistic well-being rituals. Uluwatu was only ever considered when on a romantic couple getaway with no intention of leaving the resort. I'd also gotten accustomed to seeing the standard Balinese tropical aesthetics replete with Buddha head water features and teak furniture with every new hotel and villa opening. So far, so familiar?
Well M.Group, the boutique development and hospitality group behind Oxwell & Co and Operation Dagger in Singapore have re-jigged all my future stays in Bali — thanks to their hedged bets on Uluwatu actually being Bali's most choice destination for stay and play and through their villa brand, Mandala Places, comprising of four stunning villas in epic locations around Bali with several more underway. Lucky for me, I got to experience temporal bliss at two of these locations, The Clubhouse at Ulu in Uluwatu and Mandala. The Bay. located at the south-east of Bali on the island of Nusa Lembongan.
The Clubhouse at Ulu
You might have already heard of their hip beach club, The Ulu Cliffhouse which has been open for almost two years and has played host to classic big-name DJs like Carl Cox and Norman Cook. Built on the same site, perched upon Uluwatu's dramatic cliffs that overlook the Indian Ocean is M. Group's maiden venture into hotels —The Clubhouse at Ulu, a boutique seven-suite establishment (5 rooms are available for booking for the time being) that houses a cosy cocktail bar and a club lounge where guests are checked-in.
Absent are the Asian resort references, instead its design influence clearly draws from Californian mid-century modern aesthetics and surfer culture, which doesn't feel out of place in Bali with the natural materials used, plus the fact that The Bukit (the local's term for Uluwatu, which means hill) has long been home to some of the world's most famous surf breaks like Dreamland, Lakeys and Impossibles, now also the given names of the hotel's seven suites.
The Clubhouse at Ulu is all rattan, marble, brass and breeze block gorgeousness. The main standalone building is also the entrance way to the beach club and on arrival, looking out across the grounds and pool, I felt delightfully transported to Palm Springs, minus the dry desert heat. Closer inspection and a chat with the concierge revealed that all materials used for the interiors and furniture have been sourced from within Indonesia (except for the marble) and are custom designed by M.Groups in-house interior design company, Superlatives, and hand-made in Bali. The result is nostalgic yet fresh, elegant yet relaxed and all sunshine coastal fun.
I got a chance to peek into a few of the different suites and while each made use of the same materials, thanks to boldly different colourways and varying architecture, each one comes out distinctly charming in their own right. What is consistent though is the overall grown up and playful spirit that is articulated in its choice of modernist pop art and hanging surf boards as well as the key feature of every room — an elaborate personal bar. Complete with a cocktail guide, bar tools and spirits, you can make yourself a very stiff drink but you won't ever need to because bartender services in suite are complimentary. Inform the staff and your own personal mixologist will come up to your room to show you how to make use of the given ingredients for any cocktail on the menu.
The in-room bar, the fact that most suites face the beach club that plays music all day and that no children below 12 are allowed to stay (sorry kids) are all good indicators that The Clubhouse at Ulu is best suited for celebratory hijinks rather than a pensive break. For in-room entertainment there's a Marshall speaker to Bluetooth a Spotify playlist to, an iPad to watch Netflix as well as reaching out to the friendly concierge for any requests you might have — whether it be serving breakfast in your room or in my case, arranging a massage in bed.
I stayed in the Playgrounds suite, the largest room option. As I surveyed the room for the first time, noting the welcome pink macarons on the bed and thinking I couldn't be more pleased with the giant four poster bed, big balcony overlooking the 25m pool, reading nook and walk in closet, I opened the bathroom frosted door to be greeted by the nicest outdoor shower I've ever seen from a hotel room. It's details like that that make it obvious that the team behind Clubhouse at Ulu are focused on delighting and elevating their product beyond expectations.
Rooms already come with breakfast at their cliff-side restaurant whose ingredients like the interiors are almost entirely sourced from Indonesia, wagyu beef included. In addition, the room night stay of USD300++ includes a USD100 voucher for food and beverages than can be used for room-service or hanging out at the Ulu Cliffhouse, there isn't really a reason to leave the hotel grounds for the entire weekend. I would suggest using some of the credit on evening cocktails at the Sunset Deck, a staircase down from the beach club to watch the spectacular sunsets Uluwatu is known for.
You can book your stay at The Clubhouse at Ulu directly here.
Mandala. The Bay
For many of us, the perfect Bali stay would involve choosing a villa over a hotel for the space and the privacy offered and this is where M. Group's Mandala Places comes in. The villa brand builds, sells and manages properties situated in exceptional natural locations and aims to offer the same considered and high level of service across all them. Catering to a young and tasteful demographic who enjoy laidback luxury, you can currently opt for Mandala The House or Mandala The Home in Canggu, Mandala The Rocks at Uluwatu and most recently Mandala The Bay located on Nusa Lembongan, a half hour boat ride from the main island.
The boat ride to the property proved to be the only hiccup of my stay. Rocky's, the speedboat provider we used there were true to their name and the half hour journey felt like a harrowing bumpy ordeal. The journey back however was a breeze on Tanis Boats so think it's provider and ocean currents dependant. I'd still suggest taking motion sickness pills prior if you're prone to sea-sickness. I'm glad I did.
A fifteen minute golf buggy ride from the jetty, a common form of transport around Nusa Lembongan and we reach Mandala. The Bay. Stepping through the red front door and it's immediately clear why this location was picked and designed to maximise access to the view, a confronting 180 degrees of wild crashing waves off Devil's Tear — the island's most popular sunset spot, dramatic cloud formations and the beach of nearby Sandy Bay Beach Club, all staring out past the pool deck of this five bedroom water-front villa.
Sleeping ten, the two-storey villa has one twin room and a spacious TV lounge upstairs, decorated in updated mid-century meets scandi fashion. On the first floor, the kitchen, a well-stocked bar, a lounge and one of the bedrooms are all open and facing the view. The master room where I stayed sits back in its own stand-alone pagoda, with the last two rooms built side by side and flanking the main house, pool and daybeds.
The dining area sits under a shelter right on the pool deck. It is the centrepiece of the home where the villa's in-house chef and bartender are on standby to whip up the villa's own menu — a mix of local favourites like nasi goreng, Western sandwiches and fresh coconuts, margaritas or pina coladas to go with it. At night, we opted for the barbeque grilled on the spot, comprising an assorted catch of the day from the market, as well as healthy salads and sides, indicative of the chef's past experience cooking all day beachfront cuisine at Bali's Potato Head.
If the hypnotic sound and sight of waves and lounging by the pool is a tad too sedentary for you, ask the villa team to book you in for a snorkelling or diving trip or opt to take a two-hour hike around the island. With the boat ride journey over from Bali's main island and such a special location, I'd suggest staying for at least three days. At night when it gets chilly, there's the perfect nook for catching a partial sunset and to light a fire with a glass of wine firmly in hand. This other side of Bali was something I never expected to do here, and now with this discovery, it's hard to do it any other way.
Mandala. The Bay is now available for booking at USD$650++ per night here.