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I’ve been interested in Lombok for a while – the Bali villa scene is thriving but it’s high risk when so much of that beautiful island is being taken over by heinous development, and there’s a fair risk that the Heliconias and marble baths that looked so desirable on the net are in the midst of a housing estate.

Lombok is an entirely different proposition – it’s trite to say it’s like Bali was twenty years ago, and in fact probably untrue as well. The crowd is largely made up of backpackers but it lacks the Eurofash magnetism that Bali seems to have. Being Muslim rather than Hindu, it also has a completely different feel. The gilded points of mosques, hundreds of them, spear through the jungle canopy as you arrive, a breathtaking sight.

The island has a slick new airport which seems to have been plonked there like a movie set. When I used the ladies’, I found that the smart signage led to an unfinished concrete cubicle, complete with pipes sticking out of the walls.  The smooth new highway surrounding the airport also seemed to peter out after about twenty kilometres, morphing into the traditional south east Asian potholed bitumen track.

Some might see the reality of Lombok as a backwater, others as a Paradise. I thought it was a little of both. The island itself is stunning, with its spine of viridian mountains, brown rivers, rice paddies and beachfront coconut groves. The smaller villages were neat as a pin, with chickens and cows pottering about, but the more developed towns and coastal areas held little appeal.

The geography of the island makes travelling slow and it took us two hours to reach our destination – Sira Beach House, on lovely Sira Beach just opposite the Gili Islands. We arrived well after nightfall and were greeted with warm smiles by the staff, who ushered us into the open air living pavilion whilst our luggage was whisked away. What seemed like hundreds of candles flickered around us, reflected by the dark lily pond to one side. After an iced gin and tonic and a lovely local meal prepared by the resident chefs, the crashing of the waves nearby proved an irresistible lullaby.

We woke late morning, eager to explore. Our friends had already been up for hours, scoffed all the pancakes and fresh fruit (a new batch was prepared as some secret signal passed to the kitchen to announce our emergence) and were lounging poolside, with clearly no intention of doing anything more strenuous for the day.

Sira is perfect for family groups, with six airy sleeping pavilions in groups of two set amongst a coconut grove. Polished dark wood floors, white linen, and a few well chosen antiques add a cool colonial simplicity. A large open air dining pavilion houses the owner’s stunning collection of Asian masks (“Mummy you look like that one” “Which one? This one? The Donkey? Are you sure?”), and the colonnaded living pavilion is home to several enveloping sofas and a few friendly geckos.  A games and television room with a very fine selection of novels, DVD’s and board games selected by the villa’s Hong Kong owners round out the common spaces. Outside, there is a lovely dark green tiled pool with plenty of cushiony sunloungers.  A large deck is overshadowed by a thatched bale with lunch seating, a fridge magically filled with favourite beverages at all times of the night and day, and an outdoor barbecue. A croquet lawn and badminton net are in the coconut grove, and a full size tennis court adjoins the main living areas.

If you still find yourself short of ways to relax, the white sand beach is right next to the pool and although not a private stretch, is virtually deserted. A zodiac is at your disposal if you want to explore the beach or head over to the Gilis.

The Gilis (Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno) are becoming increasingly popular with day trippers from Bali and there is a large hippy element there. Gili Air and Gili Meno in particular remain fairly unspoilt, with tiny horse drawn carriages remaining the only means of land transport apart from your own legs.  Beachside cafes line the clear waters so you can walk straight out of the water, doff your snorkelling mask, grab a daybed and order a Bintang. The channels between the islands house a treacherous current and it was tremendous fun watching boats under motor sail into them, cut their motors and be swept back out to sea faster than they came in. Let it be a warning to swimmers though: as the water gets deeper off the beach, you can feel the pull of the current, and unless you are an extremely confident swimmer with a good back up team, stay close in to shore. It did make for some excellent drift diving though as we were swept along with turtles aplenty, all spinning with what seemed like great enjoyment on their wise old faces.

Back at the villa, staff were busying themselves for one of the many meals of the day. On offer are breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, drinks and canapés, and dinner. Sensibly, you can take as many or as few meals at the villa as you like, but we found we took advantage of them the whole time with the exception of a couple of lunches. The food was not sophisticated but it was remarkably fresh and delicious, with the staff going out to local markets and into Mataram to buy fresh ingredients daily. The best offerings were Indonesian specialties which had not been dumbed down in any way, although I did sample the children’s Bolognese one night and it was better than many I’ve had in Italy. If you wanted to dine out, the Oberoi Lombok is not far, and there are some boutique operations also so there is a little variety, but we rarely felt the need to do so.

The days passed in a haze of eating, reading, sleeping, great company and the occasional excursion. I had a massage under the frangipani tree by the beach every day from the owner’s personal masseuse. We were worried the kids would get cabin fever but we were hard pressed to drag them out of the pool and there was something for everyone, from the pool toys for the three year old, to the village soccer game which the fifteen year old was invited to play in for the staff team. One night, at our request, the staff bought fireworks locally and we had a beach barbecue and fireworks display. Another night they set up an outdoor cinema for us complete with lounging cushions and popcorn.

It was a great place to relax and reconnect with friends, with enough Paradise to please those looking for exotic tropical glamour and enough Backwater to please those looking for peace and privacy.