Review: W Retreat & Spa Bali balances style and substance in Seminyak

I would be very surprised if any frequent traveller had never heard of W Hotels & Resorts. Though down here in Australia the luxury chain no longer has much of a presence (that’ll all change with W Brisbane in 2018 and W Sydney in 2019), there are around 47 W properties in over 20 different countries around the world, and the brand continues to expand at a steady pace. The most famous of these are regularly referenced in popular culture (there are quite a few mentions of W hotels in commercial hip hop tracks, and Prince once famously played an impromptu gig at W Hollywood), speaking to the youthful energy and magnetic image that continually surrounds W.

A good example closer to home for us Aussies is the spectacular W Retreat & Spa Bali, a resort-style property that opens onto a section of Seminyak’s famous beach. The atmosphere is completely inseparable from idyllic island life, flamboyant and showy just like every other high-end option in Bali. Though W is amongst the elite few that packs in plenty of substance with all that style, justifying it’s status as one of the most sought-after stays on the island.

First Impressions Last

Before I get ahead of myself – it’s easy to get excited reflecting on almost a week spent at this property – let’s rewind a bit to the entrance, a first impression that has most certainly been built to last. Before you even get to the lobby you have to head down this fairytale-like bamboo tunnel just off Jl. Petitenget; during the day the sun shines through the interlacing, arched bamboo to make for scene that’s hard to forget.

The fantasy has a necessary break while you stop at a very comprehensive security check point, but soon enough it’s right back to the surreal arrival, pulling up to the dramatic open-air lobby. It’s busy and full of energy, there’s a bar at the centre serving fresh juices, decent coffee and signature cocktails, and sit-down check-in desks by the side with friendly staff who seem to have all the time in the world for each individual guest. Life here is unhurried and the atmosphere seems to suck out any stress in an instant.

Very little about the lobby resembles that of a typical hotel. It’s enormous, with smart décor mixing modern trends with tradition from Henna prints on the high ceilings to lighting shaped after Balinese temples.

The comfortable elevated lounge area next to the bar precedes a large walkway which is defined by a small number of glass-fronted shops – there’s even a small art gallery – and the entrance to the recently installed W Sound Suite (an in-house recording studio for musicians and budding beatmakers which you can read more about HERE).

Everything is rather open. The lobby flows into the outdoor public area which is this sprawling concrete jungle that further opens onto the beach. The design is thoughtful, the most noticeable being the pool which is elevated in layers across the property’s immense backyard. Taken as a whole, the pool resembles Bali’s wondrous Tegallalang Rice Terraces, the bodies of water overlooking the crashing waves of Seminyak beach while nearby the resident Woobar, which sits on an underground nightclub, buzzes with both guests and visitors.

Fire’s incredible chandelier.

Warm tones are found in the details. Groups of velvety fuchsia mirror the spectacular sunset which looks dramatic no matter where you stand (or swim) in W’s backyard. An aqua glow flows from the beachside Starfish Bloo restaurant, while closer to the lobby sits the grand Fire, a theatrical and beautifully done space where the main feature is a fiery orange and red fireball chandelier hanging from the ceiling; it’s intended to invoke a local custom, part of the highly considered nuances that give the property it’s character.

Watching the sunset from Woobar.

Food, Food and more Food

Looking back at the property from Woobar.

Incredible and generous spreads of local and international food can be found at Woobar, Starfish Bloo and Fire any day of the week, giving guests three very strong options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course there’s always Seminyak’s huge strip of restaurants (including newbie Bikini, where W were involved in curating the menu) a few dollars away (insist taxi drivers use the metre and do not believe them when they say it’s broken), but with the quality on the property it’s tempting to just stay on-site. In fact, a common complaint for W properties around the world, as I’m told, is that guests rarely get to see the city because they are too busy lounging on-site (whether that’s marketing speak I’m not sure, but from what I experienced, it’s at least somewhat believable).

Beachside breakfasts are a must at Starfish Bloo. Image supplied.

My breakfasts were plates of nasi lemak with organic tea on the side, or perfectly poached eggs on buttery smooth bread enjoyed while trying to avoid the temptations of dozens upon dozens of donuts. My lunches were nicely done burgers and other pub classics from Woobar, consumed by the pool while sitting on one of those plush lounges, or seafood over at Starfish Bloo in a booth that looked like a giant lobster cage. And my dinners? Well I had to leave the property and experience Bali at some point, and nearby restaurants like Mama San (best pork ribs I’ve ever had) did not disappoint.

Cake-Pops as part of W’s regular Sunday Brunch session.
Sliders and tacos from Woobar.

Alice in Wonderland inspired tea parties regularly take place on one side of the resort, while on Sundays Starfish Bloo also plays host to an extravagant brunch buffet. The popular session – which attracts plenty of locals – is a hawker style feast that features carvery stalls, desserts galore (those cake-pops are addictive), raw bars, gelato stations and other fare that pushes more towards a fresh, made-to-order approach as compared to your typical all-you-can-eat buffet.

There’s a lot going on through the resort that most won’t notice unless it’s pointed out to them. “The Balinese live equally in two worlds”, I was told on a brief tour of the property. “first, the seen or conscious world called sekala, and second the unseen world called niskala”.

Hidden dining room 1BELOW.

This element of local culture has spilled over into the design, the most ambitious example being a private dining room hidden behind a cascading water feature. The 16-seated space, titled 1BELOW, hosts bookings with a personal sommelier and chef. Although I didn’t come to use it during my stay, it’s presence speaks highly for the dynamism that holds together each element of the resort and caters to a great variety of guests.

Fashion. Design. Music. Fuel

Lounge area of the nightclub underneath Woobar.

W’s culture is kinetic, continually riffing off their core tenents of “fashion, design, music, and fuel” to offer on-going program of things to do. All four “pillars” of W Bali have informed the constant activity that surrounds the property, from bringing in international DJ’s weekly and collaborating with local and international fashion designers to offering regular morning yoga classes and finding inventive, engaging ways to tap into a progressively health-conscious community (programs they conceptualise as ‘fuel’).

The reason for my week-long stay was last year’s launch of the aforementioned W Sound Suite, a swish recording studio carved out of an unused space. It was but one of many rolling out at W properties throughout the globe, and represented a gigantic leap in the W’s involvement with musicians, something which is obviously quite central to how the brand operates.

Damian Saint giving a tour of W Sound Suite.

Famed Lady Gaga producer DJ White Shadow, W’s North American music director, was on-hand for the launch of the studio, as was resident music curator Damian Saint, and Hasnor Sidik, music director for Asia-Pacific. These three industry figures are but part of a much larger cohort working autonomously behind the scenes of W to ensure the music programs at each property are always sound and on-the-pulse. Saint in particular is responsible for all the happenings at W Bali, which includes by-the-beach DJ sets from big international names and often insightful interviews via the W Sound Suite’s regular music podcast “Sounding Off”.

Leaning on industry professionals like this is a smart move from W, the higher-ups obviously self-aware enough to hand over the control of their culture to those who know what they’re doing. As such, there’s a certain credibility that’s often lost on resorts of a similar scale.

DJ White Shadow, Damian Saint and Hasnor Sidik in the W Sound Suite. Image supplied.
Classixx scoring the sunset.

Festivals, concerts and parties seem to be a regular occurrence, although the resort’s guest rooms seem to be quite well soundproofed, an added plus if you want to play around with the wireless BOSE surround sound system in your suite. The constant crowds down at Woobar never feel intrusive, and it’s hard to fault anyone for wanting to watch the likes of Future Classic’s Hayden James or L.A’s Classixx soundtrack one of Bali’s famous sunsets by the beach.

Home & Away

W’s gym. Image supplied.

The necessary amenities for a resort, including a spa and a gym, have just as much flair as everything else on-site. The gym is well-equipped, bright and tremendously spacious compared to those of similar properties. It’s prefaced by a wall near the lobby area with American street art, harking back to the New York origins of the W brand and bringing a bit of much needed personality to that side of the site.

W’s spa is a much bigger talking point however, a 24/7 smorgasbord of relaxation with it’s very own snazzy bar that looks like a cocktail lounge but serves fresh juices and mocktails. Referred to as the “AWAY” spa, it’s services also spill out onto the beach where the rows of pure white cabanas lay.

Lucky you don’t have to walk far for a quick massage.
The funky AWAY spa. Image supplied.

I’m told that recently they’ve even introduced an on-demand service that guests can access through WhatsApp, allowing for express treatments anywhere by the pool with choices from a “Pamper Yourself” menu including a 15-30 minute “fuel by the pool”, the head-massage-only “head rush”, and a hair braiding option called “get twisted”. There are also some treatments designed exclusively for men too lazy to take their feet out of the pool: the “man-up facial” with marine active ingredients massaged onto the skin; the acupressure-focused “Lanang Bagus Men’s Massage”, and the heat-treated “deep heat”.

On-demand massages without having to leave poolside? Yes please.

Room with a View

A 64 square metre “Spectacular Ocean Facing Escape” suite was my home during my time at the W, and while there are higher end options – including gated private villas a short golf-cart ride from the lobby – I couldn’t have imagined a more comfortable stay.

The highly attractive king sized bed has a lime-green throw with lillypads to add a bit of animation to the initial scan. It’s warm green colour reflects that of the pillows both inside and out on the balcony, as well as the velvety rug, all which seem to have been designed after Bali’s grassy rice paddies – a nice bit of continuity from the pool.

As for how comfortable the bed is? It’s impossibly soft and fluffy, a heavenly refuge when combined with the air-con for when Bali’s dry heat gets a bit too much to handle. There’s also the morning view, which is a stunning sight to wake up to each day seeing as the private balcony – a decent outdoor lounge space that comfortably fits around four or five people – overlooks the beach and the seemingly endless Indian Ocean.

Out on the balcony.

A long desk is where one will find the mini-bar, the AUX cable – for said BOSE system – expensive bottles of imported water, and premium Vodka. The space between the desk and the bed is more than enough to comfortably work while natural light beams into the room during the day, in which it’s best to keep that balcony door shut to combat both noise and mosquitoes.

The bathroom area seems to have been designed with a rainforest shower in mind. Guest rooms on the fourth and fifth floors (I was fortunate enough to be on the fourth) include a generous skylight that reveals itself at the flick of a switch nearby. It brings an outdoor feel to the large space, which also includes a deep bathtub (complete with rubber ducks) and is far enough from the vanities so any splashes of water won’t be of any consequence.

“Please take your time, I enjoy watching” – the creepiest toilet decoration of all time.

Opposite the vanities, sits a glass-encased space especially for the toilet, where one will find one of the strangest, creepiest and most confusing decorations of all time (see above).

Explore

The famous Tegalalang Rice Terrace in Ubud.

Though it’s easy to be completely transfixed by W’s glamour, don’t let the property eat up all of the time you have in Bali. As mentioned above, it’s tempting to stay on-site but that’d be a huge mistake in an island that has so many more valuable areas than just Seminyak and it’s infamous neighbour, Kuta.

Driving north-east for just over an hour will land you in Ubud, an area which is increasingly becoming the most popular for the more discerning of Bali tourists. My time there was brief, but if you do find yourself in the charming spot do head along to Jungle Fish, an oasis of sorts with a breezy restaurant perched above the treetops and a squeaky clean pool set amongst the jungle like surrounds.

Jungle Fish.

Canggu is another must, not only for the surfers who frequent Bali but those seeking out the trendier spots of the island. It’s main beach is rather dramatic, with waves that seem far too violent for anyone with sense, but nearby is a cool collection of colourful food stalls touting everything from typical western favourites to local delicacies. Though the real magic is found a bit further away from the water’s edge, towards the middle of the area where beloved Aussie brand Deus Ex Machina have set up shop, crafting an ambitious hut-like abode for their vintage fashion and motorbikes to sit alongside a café. They’ve even got a small built-in art gallery to showcase local up and comers.

Inside Deus Ex Machina – Temple Of Enthusiasm.

And that’s not even the best part. Nearby Deus Ex is where I found Love Anchor, a precinct of cafes, shops, restaurants and bars that looked like an interconnected series of tree houses. A huge “LOVE” sign should be easy enough to spot, welcoming you what is undeniably something hipster-friendly tourists will take to immediately.

If spreading out too far isn’t ideal, then, in addition to Seminyak Village which is lined with shops and restaurants, a nearby essential to the W is Revolver. The place is notable because it’s the best coffee you’ll find in the area, without a doubt (it remains the best I’ve had in Asia), and it’s as boutique as they come; fitting maybe max 6 people inside of it’s cramped but beautiful air-conditioned space.

Coffee from Revolver.

Be Prepared to Pay

Staying at W Bali ain’t cheap. A room such as the one I stayed in is currently listed at around $5,685,750 IDR per night, which comes to $563 AUD. On top of that you’ve got food (and you will be tempted, especially with their breakfast and brunch buffets), drink and a spa treatment every now and then to get the most out of your stay at the W. It’s pricey, but if you’ve got the cash to splurge amongt Bali’s famously inexpensive lifestyle then there’s plenty of value to be had.

W Retreat & Spa Bali

Address: Jl. Petitenget, Kerobokan, Seminyak, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Contact: +62 361 3000106
Website: www.wretreatbali.com.

The writer stayed as a guest of W Retreat & Spa Bali. Feature image supplied by W Hotels & Resorts.

All photos taken by the writer unless otherwise stated.