The Stones Legian
Geography and addresses mean everything on Bali’s coastal tourist strip. Regular visitors are loyal to their favourite precincts, from Seminyak to Sanur, and those who are not into bars, Bintang beerbranded singlets and mixing almost exclusively with other Australian tourists studiously avoid Kuta.
So it does have to be declared that The Stones Legian is actually on the border of Kuta (to the south) and Legian, across from Legian Beach. Unless you want to be confronted with retail haggling and nightclub madness, treat this tucked-away resort as an oasis-like enclave, complete with palm trees, hammocks and flourishing vertical gardens.
A member of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection of “strikingly independent luxury hotels’’ and its first such property in Asia, The Stones Legian is a medium-rise establishment that opened late last year and features 308 guestrooms, including 22 suites, the pick of which are in the “corner’’ category with extra living space and larger bathrooms. (During my visit, the owner was in residence at the Presidential Suite — three floors, a rooftop pool, helipad, all the big-shot works.)
But the design of the guestrooms is frankly weird — unless you are in a suite, you walk straight off the corridor into the bathroom, there is not enough width on the closet shelf to put two average-sized suitcases side by side, insufficient hooks and rails to hang clothes and towels and, yikes, the bathtub is on the balcony (thankfully, with pull-across privacy curtains).
At first it seems a case of style over substance and my initial impressions were not good. But the hotel soon grew on me over the first day and I now realise there is much to recommend, from the enthusiastic service and groovy touches (icy poles, like mini-Paddle Pops, on arrival; Illy coffee machines in guestrooms) to the big, blue-tiled lagoon pool. Beside the pool are five thatched cabanas that can be booked for, say, an afternoon of lolling about in potentate-like splendour with a healthy drink (perhaps an energiser of organic natural yoghurt, mango, mint leaves and cardamom) from the adjacent pool bar (which has a funky popcorn machine) and freshen up with the hotel’s signature pill-like towels that magically pop and expand. Dining: Toowoomba-born executive chef Chris Smith, with extensive Marriott experience in Hong Kong and Singapore “under his apron’’, is turning out imaginative fare at Stones Kitchen and the breezy poolside Big Fish Bar & Grill that rates up there with the best on the island. After many Bali visits, I reckon his Long Rice Table rijsttafel dinner spread of shared-plate traditional dishes, from stuffed pancake-style martabak telur to crunchy peanut-sauced gado gado, is the finest of this style of banquet I’ve tried.
The integrated restaurant and terrace are cleverly refreshed from day to night with mood lighting, sliding screens and tableware. The buffet breakfast set-up (Smith, who has a cheeky sense of humour, even has ice cream and lolly jars on the morning spread) feels planets removed from the elegance of the Long Rice Table dinner area, even though it’s the same flow-through space.
There are sit-up counters, too, with high stools, coloured glassware twinkles at all tables, and there are beanbags and loungey outdoor seating.
Smith’s signature dish is garlic-buttered king prawns with saffron and vanilla risotto, baby chervil and chive oil and he says he’s a “huge fan’’ of the simplicity and clear, clean taste of Japanese food. He serves many of the dishes on his menus in bento boxes or on irregular ceramic plates of hand-finished quality. Everyone’s talking about: The staff here are referred to as “talent’’ and they are all so fresh-faced and smiling that management could well have done a casting call. Smith’s take on room-service food, Gourmet Express, is served in cherry-red boxes and delivered by staff in boppy Converse sneakers who look as if they’ve just hopped off a pizza-delivery bike.
Pool attendants wear cool white trilby hats and move like models; almost every time you turn around an employee has materialised to wish you a happy day, and with creditable enthusiasm. Hot tips: The Stones Legian has extensive conference and meetings facilities and five gigantic ballrooms so it’s going to be periodically busy with groups, wedding parties and delegates. You must book a pool-facing room as these are larger, the views are deep and cool and you’re in box-seat position for the “sunset has its own soundtrack’’ evening spectacle of pink lighting effects, fire dancers and a lone saxophonist who climbs onto the roof of the pool bar and lends a madly transplanted sense of New Orleans by night to proceedings.
There’s a 24-hour gym and do try the leafy and woody-themed Celestine Spa for a sublime (and aptly named) warm stones therapy or a facial using jade stones. Prices are very good by hotel standards and most therapies can be taken as one-hour or 90-minute sessions — a 90-minute deep-tissue massage is $US75 ($71.80) plus taxes. Stepping out: The Stones Legian is opposite Legian Beach — get up early for a walk on the sand before the persistent hawkers and roving massage therapists descend. Turn left from the hotel to stroll to the open-sided arcades of Beachwalk Mall, with brands
such as Tommy Bahama for stylish casual wear, and Armani Jeans; look for Satu, a boutique that showcases Indonesian and Bali-based expatriate artists, jewellers and couturiers, including international fashion designer Espen Salberg.
If you want a driver to take you to Seminyak for shopping or to drop you at the fantastic Mama San for dinner (the newish bistro from Will Meyrick of Sarong fame), or even for a day’s hop to Tanah Lot and Ubud, the charming Putu Eka is your chap. His vehicle is spotless and his English is excellent — + 62 87 861 370 765; putueka.in-bali.bz. Essentials: The Stones Legian is about 20 minutes from Denpasar airport. Rates include free WiFi. There are last-minute deals, packages and seasonal variations but double or twin rooms this month are selling from about $US70. The website is confusingly arranged and room categories have similar names. Note that poolfacing rooms on the ground floor have plunge pools on the covered terrace-style balconies but no outdoor sitting space. More: + 62 361 300 5888; stoneshotelbali.com.
02 03 01 The big, blue-tiled lagoon pool is edged by five thatched cabanas 02 A pool view room has a box-seat view of the sunset spectacle of fire dancers and music 03 Stones kitchen turns out imaginative fare in an elegant setting 04 The top-class...