By Chere Di Boscio
It’s a rare thing to feel truly at home in a hotel. Knowing that each room is more or less a clone of the others on the property makes you feel a bit like a bee in a hive, and the forced smiles and politeness of the staff connote a certain stiffness. The pillows never really feel quite right, and where the heck is the light switch to the bathroom…?
So when you find that gem of a place that really feels like your own, it’s hard to leave.
Such is the vibe at Stone House, Bali, set deep in the rural heart of Ubud. There’s no sign here, but I spotted the place immediately thanks to a small touch one of its rustic wooden doors; a smear of goldsmithing work denoting an artistic ‘handle’ to push. I had heard Stone House was an interior designer’s dream, and here was the first sign of it.
Pushing through that ‘golden door’, you enter the highly intimate world of Walker Zabriskie and Wendy Kassel, the owners and designers of this boutique property, who also happen to live next door. Wendy greets you with a warm smile and a drink, and you’ll soon find your worries melting at the sound of her sweet, contagious laugh. She ushered us into the open space of the hotel’s kitchen/living room/dining area and after a cold, fresh drink, led us down a marigold petal strewn path to our room.
It was spectacular. A rustic swing hung from industrial rope on a porch overlooking the communal pool, which was designed to mimic a natural pond with its rocks and irregular shape. The completely wood clad bedroom was a colonial design buff’s dream: cotton curtains billowed out to reveal views directly over one of Bali’s famous rice paddies; a lofty canopied king-sized bed was beset with thick white linens, and the key feature of the jaw-dropping bathroom was his-and-hers carved out granite basins set atop gnarled, ancient tree roots.
Our room was a sanctuary, complete with a large selection of books, handwoven rugs, local curiosities and delicious, healthy snacks like exotic fruits, nuts and veggie chips Wendy makes herself with her newly purchased dehydrator. Like the main building, all materials in our room were locally sourced and made of natural stone, wood, ceramic, rattan and straw.
Wendy explained that she and Walker had sourced all the fabrics and decorative items locally, too – in fact, creating different aesthetics in each room had become one of Walker’s passions: ours (‘the Long House’) was the most ‘Balinese’ but Walker had also designed a two level Mediterranean style room that wouldn’t be out of place in Greece, and a Javanese room which features rare, handpainted wooden panels sourced from an antique palace in Indonesia.
We spent our first evening reading outside on the patio facing the rice paddy, and the next morning, enjoyed a healthy vegan breakfast of a smoothie bowl, fresh fruit, coconut yogurt and fresh organic coffee served in the communal kitchen. There, we met Dale, an outrageous British gem hunter and his entourage and were most entertained by their tales of searching for the world’s most beautiful opals and crystals.
Later, we set out down the road to explore Ubud, the tiny town in Bali made famous by Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Inspired by the film, I actually paid a visit to Wayan, the healer in the film, who demonstrated an uncanny insight into my life and health. A little dazed by this, I crossed the street from her ‘office’ to have lunch at Bali Buddha, a vegan restaurant popular with expats. Refreshed, I jumped into one of Ubud’s many informal ‘taxis’ to hit Monkey Forest Road to do some shopping for local crafts and jewellery.
Back at Stone House, Wendy told us about her masseuse, Tino, who she said was a ‘love him or hate him’ kind of therapist. He had changed people’s lives with his touch, it was said, but Walker insisted he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Indeed, as soon as I met Tino, he explained that he was more a therapist than a masseuse, and if I wanted a bit of relaxation, I was in the hands of the wrong guy. I was a little scared, to be honest, but since he was there, I went ahead.
He didn’t lie. The pulling, pushing and pinching was doing to my muscles was so painful, I cried out many times. I even asked him to stop at some point, but he kept chatting as though he hadn’t heard me at all. At the end of a very long hour, I was absolutely amazed: a nagging pain in a hamstring had completely gone, and my left leg, which was always a bit shorter than my right, was now the same size. I realized that I was buzzing with energy when I got up from the massage table. Miraculous.
Later in the evening, I sat in the living room, throwing a ball to the hotel’s ridiculously cute rescue dogs (who never tire of a game of catch), listening to the grunts of the frogs and geckos and catching the delicious aromas of a vegetarian dinner cooking. Wendy’s throaty laugh was heard in the distance. The stars were coming out. ‘Dinner’s ready’ somebody shouted. Suddenly, home didn’t feel so far away at all.
Rooms from $219 per night. To book Stone House, click here.