As the heavy wrought iron gates swing open, I realise the Kaliandra Eco Resort and Wellness Retreat is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. We’re just over an hour’s drive from Surabaya, in the foothills of Mount Arjuna, but the sprawling, traffic-choked streets of the financial hub, the capital of the Indonesian province of East Java, seem so much further away. All around the lush resort, gentle slopes are shrouded with pine woodland and dotted with ancient Hindu temples, and picturesque trails where silence reigns supreme lead hikers up towards the peaks. It’s an idyllic scene.
Located on a 40-hectare estate 850 metres above sea level, Kaliandra provides a tranquil and peaceful environment for both the body and the mind, offering a range of holistic treatments and luxury accommodation fit for royalty—and all in the name of a good cause. “Ever since I was a young boy, I have had this urge to help the less fortunate,” says the resort’s founder, Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro, an architect by profession and a philanthropist by choice.
All the profits from the luxury resort are channelled into the Kaliandra Sejati Foundation he set up in 1997, the goals of which include improving the living standard of the local community, conserving the rich cultural heritage of the Javanese and protecting the area’s natural resources.
“It is my wish that the foundation will instil a sense of compassion for others and a love of humanity in the people of Mount Arjuna,” says Tjiptobiantoro. The resort features traditional Javanese rooms, cottages and bungalows, a wellness retreat, two swimming pools and a gym, as well as restaurants serving organic produce grown on the resort’s farm. The bounty of the farm—patches of spinach, succulent bundles of dragon fruit and myriad other fruit and vegetables—colour a corner of the estate with their health-giving vitality. But the jewel in the crown is Villa Leduk, a Palladian-style villa where any royal would feel right at home—and which demonstrates that sustainability can be seriously chic.
Inspired by the grand palazzos of Italian aristrocrats from a bygone era, it houses the resort’s three suites and is my home for the next few days. Four grey Doric columns flanked by stone lions form a grand entrance where staff outfitted smartly in traditional Javanese garb greet us with garlands of fragrant jasmine. A wide flight of steps leads into an extravagant foyer boasting a trio of glittering 17th-century crystal chandeliers and lined with richly carved gilt mirrors contrasting beautifully with green, marble-topped consoles. Wide, column-lined corridors, hand-painted wallpaper, antique furnishings, French tapestries, Chinese objets d’art and lacquered screens welcome us as if we are arriving at a palazzo in Florence. Each of the three suites has its own private seating and dining areas, as well as access to a series of beautiful European-style manicured gardens that recall Versailles. The contrast with the natural surroundings is oddly enchanting. It becomes even more so in the twilight hour, when arias from famous Italian operas waft from the sumptuous interiors out into the gardens as the fading light casts its dreamlike cloak across the property.
Early mornings are something to relish at the resort, where guests may wake to find a wandering peacock or deer outside their bedroom window. Cool and refreshing, the crisp dawn air stimulates a healthy appetite, which is ideally sated on the outdoor terrace at the rear of Villa Leduk overlooking a lotus pond stocked with koi. As well as European style fare, the menu offers local dishes such as soto ayam (a spicy chicken soup with turmeric), sop buntut (oxtail soup) and rawon (a Javanese beef soup). After breakfast, guests might like to visit the organic farm, which grows a wide variety of produce on its 2.5 hectares, including black and red rice, tea and coffee, Chinese kale and spinach, herbs such as coriander, oregano and rosemary, as well as a delicious selection of fruit ranging from dragon fruit and tomatoes to lemons and bananas.
This story appears in our April 2018 issue, grab yours or subscribe here