Lombok is known as a laid back and relaxing island of escape, a less well-explored alternative to Bali for a relaxing getaway or embrace of nature.
Its location and island air already give it the sense of being something of a backwater, apart from occasional events such as the new Mandalika MotoGP race that led throngs of tourists to descend on the island.
Even for a backwater, then, the location of the Oberoi Beach Resort on the island sits pleasingly off the beaten path. Jutting out into the Bali Sea in the northwest part of the island, the waterfront resort is around an hour and a half from the island’s airport. While that may put it far from the madding crowd, there is an unusual crowd along parts of the road close to the hotel – wild macaques eating bananas, sitting on tree stumps and taking advantage of an open window in a parked van to swing inside.
Alternatively, the resort can be reached the way I got there, driving along the slightly longer coastal route, with its coves and twisting roads that suddenly unveil a maritime vista. A pit stop in Senggigi threw up not only some fresh Lombok coffee but also a variety of locally raised pearls, both freshwater and from the blue yonder beyond.
Charming that road is, though, the best view approaching the Lombok Resort is when coming by sea. The hotel sits across from the Gili islands. Ferries plow between them and the nearby port town of Pamenang. The resort offers its own shuttle twice daily from a jetty at the end of the property, with scuba diving in Gili included in the price. I walked to the end of the pier and looked down on the tropical fish swimming in the shallow water. As a launch pad for a day excursion to the Gilis, the location in this quiet corner of Lombok is ideal.
The lights of Gili Air twinkle in the distance over the water from the terrace at the resort where meals are served, alongside the adjacent dining room. In the evening, the al fresco dining is accompanied by a canopy of stars and, on some nights, a local musician, dance performance or player of the traditional Balinese rindik bamboo xylophones are around. Requests are actively solicited and while the singing guitarist did not know most of my suggested tunes, he did a creditable job performing the one Bruce Springsteen number in his repertoire.
This central area is the heart of the resort. The restaurant and terrace nestle beside a fan-shaped infinity pool, looking out over the sea. On one side is a discreet bar. There is a small library, stocked with books and DVDs in a variety of languages to while away the hours.
The resort is set in 24 acres, providing a pervasive sense of greenery and spaciousness as well as fresh air. Scattered around the extensive grounds are hammocks strung between trees. The thud of a falling coconut beyond the veranda one morning during my stay meant that I chose my hammock carefully. I decided not to chance concussion by coconut spoiling a blissfully relaxing weekend.
The beach itself is a fairly thin strip of sand for the most part, but at one point immediately beside the resort it is large enough that beach dining or seaside events are an option. Sitting above it in the early morning, I spied in the middle distance a shifting variety of small craft weaving their way silently along the coast and over to the Gilis.
The Oberoi offers a variety of accommodation options. Some are standalone villas, while others nestle in terraces although the presence of neighbours is not obvious. One benefit of this arrangement is that interconnecting doors can provide access through multiple rooms for families or large groups.
At the top end, the royal villa includes a private pool, large living room, kitchenette and private pavilion. I was in more modest digs, a terraced pavilion with its own veranda that altogether covered ninety square metres. The interior design, though, was very similar to the plusher rooms. Polished hardwood floors in the main room under a large thatched roof set a relaxing, calm tone while light-coloured walls added to the overall sense of relaxation. The large bed was very comfortable, allowing for the sort of deep, restorative sleep one associates with a trip to a place like Lombok.
The spacious bathroom also exuded a sense of calm. The grey marbling made it less light, but a large window looking onto a private courtyard let the daylight pour in. Beyond the window lay a wide bath sunk into the floor, from which I restfully contemplated the courtyard’s plants, statue, and fishpond.
But for me the most restful, though simple, feature was the large wooden terrace that the bedroom and lounge area opened onto. With its recliner, chairs and candlelit ambience, this was a perfect spot to watch the day melt into the nearby sea and enjoy the quietness of the location. I had borrowed James Hilton’s Lost Horizon from the resort library and sat reading this tale of a mystical Asian getaway set amidst natural beauty. It seemed appropriate for these surroundings.
Although the location is an enclave from daily life, it also offers the chance to explore Lombok easily. The restaurant serves local catch daily, Sasak tea and Lombok coffee are provided throughout and a small local village sits a short distance away. For visitors who want to explore further afield, the resort offers trips to Lombok highlights, whether on horsecart to Tanjung village or for a more adventurous trek near Mount Rinjani.
The resort also has nods to the Oberoi group’s Indian heritage. The menu includes an extensive Indian selection alongside local and western dishes. The lamb bhuna I had was one of the most delicious curries I remember. Usually a resident Indian chef helps deliver the authentic flavours of the subcontinent. Complimentary afternoon tea is served in a small pavilion in the main area, while another nod to the Indian heritage is the popular croquet pitch. The distant thwacking sound of mallet on ball in the noonday heat provides an irresistible temptation to try one’s hand.
More athletic sporting tastes are catered for at the tennis court. A spa housed in open air thatched rooms offers Balinese massage, Indian spa treatments and a variety of therapeutic treats in between.
While such amenities make this a good spot for a romantic getaway, the resort also lends itself to family trips. Daily activities are offered to keep children amused, such as wood carving.
But rather than describe the Oberoi Lombok as child friendly, the whole experience might be described as friendly. The resort’s key asset is its helpful and charming staff, many of whom are locals and have worked there for years – some since it opened in the 1990s.
Upon arrival, this friendliness took the physical form of an aromatic frangipani welcoming garland a staff member placed on me. Later, its delicate scent permeated the room even once the petals started to wilt. But the hospitality itself did not wilt at all, with an accommodating, thoughtful but unobtrusive atmosphere consistently characterising the stay.