By day, the thoughtfully-designed Desa Potato Head in Bali is a space for healing meditations, refreshing swims, hearty Indonesian meals, and leisurely lounging on daybeds. By night, it bustles with heart-thumping electronic tracks and loud chatter over tiki cocktails. Every hour prioritises the planet with sustainable cutlery and furniture from reclaimed materials. This regenerative approach to rest and recreation has caught the attention of travellers and environmental enthusiasts across the globe. Here’s what four days at this luxury Seminyak stalwart looked like.
Through the course of my eleven-hour-long journey from Bengaluru to Denpasar International Airport, I’d arrived at the typical Indonesian itinerary. This, courtesy of chatter from eager-eyed fellow passengers which included words like – Babi Guling (suckling pork), paddy fields, volcanoes, waterfalls, surfing, Kuta bars, and Arak. My first visit to the island nation stepped things up a notch from this template, giving me a taste of regenerative travel. It involved abandoning the 100 ml plastic bottle of water I’d picked up on my flight, using bamboo cutlery to dig into my third bowl of congee, and exploring verdant mangroves on a kayak while scooping up floating bits of instant-noodle wrappers that had washed out to the sea. These experiences – designed by Bali’s popular Desa Potato Head resort – transformed the way I look at luxury vacations by giving me the opportunity to leave my destination better than how I’d first found it.
A stroll around the expansive and vibrant Desa Potato Head, Bali
With the motto, ‘Good Times, Do Good,’ the sprawling Desa Potato Head is one of the most unique spaces in Seminyak, Bali. Here, you’ve access to a five-star hotel, beach club, music recording studio, culture library, co-working centres, streaming station, and six restaurants (including a wildly popular beach club). At the helm of affairs is Ronald Akili who opened the property in 2010, carving a path to carbon neutrality. He did this by eliminating all single-use plastic from the premises while facilitating the use of waste in art projects, architecture, and everyday functioning of the property. Maria Garcia Del Cerro, Communication Director of Desa notes “In 2017, 50 percent of our waste went to landfills. Last month, we had just about 3 percent. We’re working towards making it zero.”
A reflection of this effort is the towering Pointman – River Warrior by graffiti artist FUTURA2000 at the entrance – a sculpture made from waste materials collected from Bali’s waterways. Next to this is the breezy, informal reception space. Here you get to take a shot of a turmeric-based concoction before being led into the Circle Room to pick out a tote bag and water bottle – both upcycled – for the duration of your stay. A quick look around will reveal woven ceilings made by locals from recycled plastic, terrazzos featuring waste concrete, and furniture that was once styrofoam. Brutalist architecture meets verdant corners to lend the space a unique vibrancy and charm.
Checking into the elegant Oceanfront Studio
The property boasts 226 guest rooms across two buildings. Of these, the Potato Head Studios is believed to be the ‘cultural heartbeat,’ with 168 imaginative rooms that were co-designed with architectural firm OMA. My home for the next few days was the Oceanfront Studio. Outfitted with local sustainable materials, the room features a bathtub, walk-in closet, study space, and tea station. Here, beach sets made by the indigenous Dayak people, hand-woven rugs, handpicked teak furniture, and naturally-dyed linens are complemented by biodegradable bamboo slippers and candles made from used oil from restaurants.
A bar with local infused spirits, natural syrups, bitters, fresh fruits, ice, and mixology tools sits next to wide French windows that open up to a private balcony, complete with a hammock and a breathtaking view of the sea. Step outside, and you’ve access to a well-equipped gym and a spa that features the best of traditional and modern treatments.There’s also direct access to the beach. All you need to do is grab your flip flops and turn a corner from the long line of sunbeds to get there.
Meditative experiences spanning wellness, sustainability, and creativity
A peek at Potato Head’s ‘Headlines’ – both online or in-room offers an insight into the host of expert-led activities, workshops, and community engagement programs on offer at the property. These include yoga, oracle cards, native medicine, sound healing, visual therapy, ice-bath therapy, and more – promising to keep one engaged through the day. My first morning came with overcast skies and a gentle drizzle which – paired with the susurration of the waves – set the tone for a calming meditation session. Breathing intentionally, I followed the slow movements of the instructor, allowing the knots in my muscles and mind to ease themselves. Later in the afternoon, I toured the waste labs, watching faded hotel linen transform into a tote bag, old T-shirts being tie-dyed, and styrofoam being melted using paint thinner to be poured into dispenser moulds.
“We often say waste isn’t waste until it goes into landfills,” Del Cerro shared with me while pointing to the numerous recycling bins – for organic and non-organic waste – as well as bottles of wine and beer that are turned into candles and glasses respectively. She then led the way to a space where plastic is cleaned before being shredded and pressed in large machines to use for designing various amenities. Along the way, I watched guests contemplate their everyday choices and taking in facts and figures about pollution in Bali. All while transforming waste into soap dispensers. Many, like me, stopped by a giant installation of beach slippers titled ‘The Lost Soles,’ with flip flops sourced from the shores of Bali’s west coast.
The next day, a bus fuelled with processed oil from the kitchens of Desa drove me to the lush mangroves of the archipelago. Conservation efforts – led by the Indonesian government – reportedly began in 1992, saving the coastal vegetation from extinction. That said, waste from the ocean – including plastic bags, bottles, straws, fast food packaging – often float about in its waters, polluting the space. Armed with a net and a life jacket, I spent three hours picking them up with the locals, all while gawking at the beauty of the forest. Later that evening – while lazing on a sunbed at the property, I gazed at the clear blue Bali waters, knowing I’d helped (albeit in very small ways) keep it pristine.
On my last evening, I indulged my long-standing desire to be a bartender at the award-winning Akademi. Sipping local infused spirits – Citrus Husk Vodka, Black Grape Arak, Pineapple Arak, Spiced Rum – I was given an insight into the drinking habits of the country as well as the processes followed by mixologists at the space. I then experimented with native fruits, juices, and sweeteners to craft a sweet, breezy passionfruit-lemon concoction that had me buzzing through the course of the next few hours.
Savouring the islands at Desa Potato Head’s dining destinations
Breakfasts – served from 7:00 am–11:00 am – involved a medley of local, seasonal fruits with coconut cream, congee, smoothies, and coffees. If you enjoy eggs in the morning you could have it alongside a helping of greens and potatoes. The portions are generous and the flavours, delightful. My lunch at the sustainable seafood spot Ijen gave me a taste of Bali’s freshest produce. Reportedly the island’s first zero-waste restaurant – the ambiance here is marked by long community tables and chairs featuring motorcycle oil caps and terrazzo floors with repurposed broken plates and chipped glasses. Despite being full from breakfast, I couldn’t help but go for seconds of their oysters and flatbread with seaweed butter. All while sipping their refreshing cocktails – Spicy Margarita with tequila and chilli agave and Indigo with lemongrass gin and lychee liqueur.
Apricot-hued sunsets are Bali’s gift to travellers – best witnessed from the bustling Sunset Park. Located on the rooftop, the space features a breezy bar and several seating spots. While there, I savoured Negronis and a unique strawberry-infused Old Fashioned – the perfect accompaniment to the transition to dusk.
My most unique dining experience, however, was at the wildly popular, planetarium-like plant-based restaurant Tanaman. Helmed by chef Don Hammond, the multi-course menu here is playful and exciting – using every part of every ingredient. Apart from immaculately-plated pickled fruits and vegetables that tasted as good as they looked, I was delighted to dig into crunchy, spiced-batter spinach leaves, comforting rotis with sea salt, and chewy mushrooms on skewers. The dumplings with tempeh, pumpkin, and zingy chilli oil – perfectly steamed with complementary flavours – were a revelation.
At Kaum, I went on an exploration of Indonesian flavours which were condensed into a compact menu. Known for authentic creations – with recipes from across the country, passed down generations – the restaurant’s Sate Babi Kecap, Nasi Goreng, Gohu Tuna, Gulai Gurita, and Tongseng Ayam had my taste buds singing. The only thing that truly elevated the experience was their medley of sambals – spicy and flavourful – that I heaped on to my rice, meat, and vegetables with no regard for portion control.
Regardless of my dinner destinations – nights at Desa always led to a cocktail and quick dip in the infinity pool at the Potato Head Beach Club. One of Seminyak’s most popular party destinations, the space offers sunbeds, delicious bar bites, and the most eclectic set of cocktails. Here, the party goes on until the wee hours of the night, the sound of the waves fusing with loud chatters of friends on a vacation, business people kicking it back after a long day at work, and young couples in love. On more occasions than one, I found myself sipping a Tiki concoction with tropical fruits and rum while grooving to the tunes of the space’s DJs. Best part? While all of Bali had to beat the traffic to make it there, I only had to take a few steps from my room. An exciting ambiance combined with a facade made of repurposed window shutters – the space truly reflects my experience on the island – a heady, enlightening combination of recreation and regeneration. Here’s toasting to the best of both these worlds, Bersulang!
With no direct flights from India to Indonesia, expect 8-14 hour flights – with transits in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur – from most major cities to Denpasar Airport. Desa Potato Head is about 45 minutes and IDR 475,000 (INR 2644 approx.) bill away from the airport, depending on traffic.
The Oceanfront Studio is priced at INR 28,868 approx. (IDR 5,200,000) per night (all inclusive, breakfast and taxes). All rooms are non-smoking. For a quick puff, look for the designated zones. Check-in is at 3:00 pm and check-out at 12:00 pm – with provisions for changes based on avalability. Outside liquor, drones, and decorations for celebrations are not permitted. Neither are pets unless they’re certified service companions. Guests staying in the studios have access to the Beach Club pools. And if you’re feeling under the weater an on-call doctor can come to the room at any time of day. The space is wheel-chair friendly with ramps most everywhere and ATMs are located in the Beach Club and the Escalier store. Best part? The internet is free and unlimited all throughout Desa Potato Head.
For reservations, head to the official website, here.
All images: Courtesy Kevin Mak/Desa Potato Head, Bali