Kicking back at Puri Ganesha

Kicking back by the beach at Puri Ganesha retreat in Bali

ROSE ROUSE B&W

Rose Rouse reviews this delightful beachside retreat in North West Bali and finds vibrant and delicious raw and vegetarian Asian meals, discreet staff and deep relaxation

I’d had a big year – my grown up son had to have open-heart surgery, and my partner Asanga was recovering from an illness. Puri Ganesha was the perfect place to unwind and heal in idyllic surroundings, and we both felt thoroughly pampered and nourished here by charismatic owner, Diana Von Cranach, her Balinese husband Gusti and their staff.

Located in the fishing village of Pemuteran in the North West of Bali, Puri Ganesha is marvellously free of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Ubud-type tourism and it is enough to relish purely being here for at least the first few days. On arrival, Asanga and I were greeted by Gusti. Exuding gracious hospitality as well as a wicked sense of humour, he explained that after twenty years, he still loves the sense of space here. “We don’t have a spa,” he said, ”everything here is a spa.” It’s true. You can sink into a much slower existence.

Wake up, gaze in wonder from your king size bed at the sea view, then request a champagne breakfast in situ. Take a languorous dip in the pool, lounge with a book on a day bed, write a poem, order a speciality big salad for lunch – Flavours of Asia is a delicious one, heaps of raw vegetables with noodles in a coriander, lime and peanut dressing.

When the pace slows into inertia, there’s plenty to do. Diana organizes trips to local markets where the produce itself – from rambutans to snakefruit – is fascinating, she also runs cooking classes in her ‘Rawfully Good’ recipes. There is a treatment centre which is ideally suited to Absolutely Fabulous lovers – painted pink on the outside with coloured glass, inside it has exotic fabrics and a massage table. Normally, the renowned healer and masseur, Pak Putu is available for sessions (£25 for an hour), however unfortunately he was ill when we were there. Instead we experienced a cold, refreshing mint and lemongrass footbath delivered in a large earthenware bowl. We closed our eyes and allowed ourselves to be transported in a meditative way for half an hour.

Diana and Gusti also organise trips out – fantastic snorkeling on nearby Menjangan Island, visits to rice terraces, treks into the hills behind Singaraja. A German couple who were there at the same time as us, went off to East Java for the day, leaving their young children in the capable and willing hands of the staff here. Finally, you can return to a torch-lit meal on the beach if you so desire.

Our villa (one of only four) was called Sepi, which means quiet, and that is exactly what the house and garden provided. A ceremonial Balinese box greeted us with sarongs and local mosquito cream. We didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. The long breakfasts were a highlight – fruit salad including purple dragon fruit, apple pancakes cooked to perfection, multi-grain home-baked bread plus Diana’s Scintillating Strawberry Jam. The Earl Grey came in a blue elephant teapot, and marigolds adorned the table. At the beach end of the garden, there was a luxuriantly cushioned platform where we could relax and let the sea breeze ripple over us in the heat of the day.

If we wanted a change of scenery for lunch or our evening meal, we wandered over to the library – open on two sides, lots of books including Diana’s recent ChilliTime, lots of large wooden tables – where we could sip a Hendricks while awaiting the next course. Oh, what a delight. One evening, we risked skinny-dipping in the moonlight with the sparkly statue of Ganesha watching over us. We managed to avoid the security man’s torch. We had to have a bit of naughtiness within our tranquility.

‘The long breakfasts were a highlight – fruit salad including purple dragon fruit, apple pancakes cooked to perfection, multi-grain home-baked bread plus Diana’s Scintillating Strawberry Jam. The Earl Grey came in a blue elephant teapot, and marigolds adorned the table’

The amazing food is a good reason in itself to go to Puri Ganesha. There is no red meat, no canned drinks in the fridge, no frying and a policy of local produce wherever possible. Gusti apparently does all the shopping. Diana is one of the leading lights in the Raw and the Slow Food movements. Her dishes – she’s always inventing new ones – combine Asian and vegan options as well as chicken, pork and fish. One of our favourites was avocado, sesame, spinach and swordfish salad because it’s light, nourishing and very tasty. An exciting juncture every day happened at 6pm when the new dinner menu was delivered into our willing hands.

Our two staff, both locals called Wayan and Ilu – a young man and woman – had perfected the art of discretion. If we went out snorkelling early in the morning, our room would have been cleaned and tidied in our absence. They were an invisible and much appreciated presence – ever willing and smiling at any requests we made. If there was an issue with the staff in general (and I feel bad saying this considering the state of my Indonesian), it was the level of their English. Sometimes, they found it hard, for example, to explain the subtleties of the food which when you’re serving food of such sophistication is a shame.

Puri Ganesha is great for hedonists who want to escape the noise, pace and techno overload of the city. Foodies who want to explore culinary innovations with Asian flavours and vegan options. The well known – Matthew Williamson, Diana Rigg and Richard Curtis have all visited – who want privacy and pleasure. Burnt out ex-pats – from Hong Kong to Vietnam – have scribbled their delight in the visitor’s book. Families who want baby-sitting support. Honeymooners get their own special villa. There is no wifi (in the villas although if you’re desperate there is a connection in the library) so there is a sense of old-fashioned smart phone freedom and an invitation to luxuriate in simplicity.

We took home a deep sense that we’d been spoiled beyond reason. They are so good at going the extra mile. We’d definitely go back – with a group of friends and family for a special party. This is a blissful though, especially as Diana can organise dancers and musicians to come in too.

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