Villa Kalisat – A Sustainable Hotel In Bali
Visitors to Villa Kalisat could be forgiven for thinking they are intruding when they first encounter the hotel. The entrance is reached through Melayang, a working Balinese village where traditional life goes on. The inhabitants greet arrivals with a cheerful ‘Welcome home’ and ask departing guests “kepan kembali?” (“When will you be back?”) “It is a sincere, caring query about your whereabouts,” says Benedicte Hansen, owner. “We have a precious partnership with the village, it is a long-term, sustainable co-habitation.”
This precious partnership is at the core of the philosophy of Villa Kalisat. It gives a stay at the hotel one of its most endearing qualities, the feeling of being part of a ‘Bali home’. All complemented by such luxuries as the open-air spa, the hot stone treatments and fusion restaurant. Guests are not insulated from all the life around them as in some hotels, they are part of it. Quite literally in some cases – the hotel lounge and restaurant have no wall separating you from the jungle.
The hotel is built on a cliff at the back of a typical rural rice farm village. Even this detail is important. “The back of family houses in Bali are traditionally used for chickens, pigs and garbage burning”, explains Benedicte. “I do not believe in building on food, in other words rice fields, so this appealed to me. I do not think I would have bought the hotel otherwise.”
The rooms have the indoor/outdoor feel of a traditional Bali house. Surrounded by verdant jungle they utilise the natural flow of air, minimising the need for air conditioning. The hotel’s water is supplied by a natural spring. Cuts to the water supply are a common occurrence in Bali making clean water a growing issue. In response Bene oversaw the building of a big reserve tank for the villagers use. They now no longer have to go down to the river below when the supply fails.
“I find the simple philosophy of Balinese life beautiful.”
Benedicte, or Bene as her friends know her, is passionate about this integration with village life. “During my teens I lived in the hills of Bandung, West Java. This is where I first experienced the fascinating Indonesian culture”, she says. “I find the simple philosophy of Balinese life beautiful. In exchange for the time we have been lent on earth we must maintain balance on three levels. First that of the Gods above. Then on our own level by maintaining harmony with our fellow people. And finally the level beneath by showing respect for the earth and nature. The spirit of Villa Kalisat is a combination of all this. The authentic village and temples, the daily ceremonies, the family and community life, the locally crafted exteriors and interiors. And of course the amazing Balinese nature surrounding all of it.”
An artist originally built the villa in partnership with the village. Bene has enthusiastically embraced and cultivated that partnership. “The villagers built all the constructions here”, she says. “The design is dependent on their knowledge of local material and building aesthetics. My recent additions have all been in consultation with the head of the village – a balcony extension over a sheer cliff that integrates an existing tree, and the new River Pavilion 80 metres below the hotel where guests and villagers alike can enjoy the water. The craftsmanship is extraordinarily detailed”.
“The Balinese believe that where two waters meet, a special energy is created.”
Bene has brought that detailed vision inside the hotel. She spent time living in each of the rooms before fitting each of them out. She used local items and some hand picked pieces by her favourite artists to create a unique style in each. “It’s hard to pick a favourite room”, she says when pressed. “But my personal favourite has to be the Waterfall room. It overlooks the meeting point of the Petanu River and a small waterfall. The Balinese believe that where two waters meet, a special energy is created. I am not overly spiritual” she says wryly, “the result of being in the commercial world too long. But even I have to admit that this room has a magical feeling.”
Magic is certainly a part of life at Villa Kalisat. A substantial part of the leasing fee was allocated to restore the family and river temples. Every building has a temple next to it to bring health and fortune to people staying there. Guests are welcome to join in with one of the many festivals, and the sight of offering baskets, sounds of gamelan music and scent of burning incense are commonplace.
“One should not take something away from nature without giving something back”
Bene tells of the time they had to cut down a tree because it had become dangerous. The tree surgeon suggested that the tree could only be cut after the resident tree-spirit had given permission. The villagers agreed. They spent the next few hours making a stunning fruit offering, which the surgeon took down to the roots of the tree. When he felt the permission from the tree-spirit he was able to cut the tree safely. “It was evident that one should not take something away from nature without giving something back” says Bene. With her village partners she is building a philosophy that extends throughout her business as surely as the scent of the frangipani flowers that suffuse Villa Kalisat, and as firmly as the jungle that embraces it.