If you are willing to make the trek all the way to Bali, you might want to go just a little farther afield for a more mysterious experience. The island of Sumba in the Indonesian archipelago, just an hour’s flight from tourist mecca Bali, has only one resort beautifully sited on its 660 acres. The resort has undergone a metamorphosis in the last few years, transforming from a cult destination for avid surfers hoping to ride the legendary Occy’s Left to one for anyone seeking sumptuousness and escape.
In 2012, within a year after visiting the island, creative brand entrepreneur Chris Burch, along with established hotelier James McBride, purchased the unassuming hotel Nihiwatu on Sumba’s sugar-sand-rimmed west coast. Their goal was to create the finest hotel in the world in this under-the-radar paradise, with an emphasis on the native environment and respect for the Sumbanese people. And they did it. Renamed Nihi Sumba, the resort topped Travel + Leisure’s reader-selected “World’s Best Awards” as the number one hotel in both 2016 and 2017.
Stay in a thatched-roof villa—even Burch’s private residence is an option— with individual plunge pools and private butlers. Inside, traditional Indonesian design elements, such as native ikat prints and beds swathed in gossamer hangings, ease guests into the experience after
their long journey.
Beyond the gate, choose peace or adventure with yoga, sunbathing at the infinity pool that sits over the beach, horseback riding, sport fishing, and, naturally, surfing lessons for novices or for those with an eye on Occy’s Left. Hiking excursions deliver jungles, emerald- terraced rice paddies, and hidden beaches.
Travelers who may be jaded when it comes to the “spa experience” will be surprised by the option of a Spa Safari, which involves a 90-minute trek through the countryside, palm groves, and a Sumbanese village before getting to the remote locale where the indulgence begins in an outdoor pavilion high on the cliff with remarkable views.
Burch and McBride aim for connectivity and authenticity at Nihi Sumba: Rather than a traditional gated resort where you are removed from the local culture, all experiences, near and far, are imbued with the welcoming spirit of the Sumbanese people. The two owners celebrate this connection by supporting island projects such as access to clean water, health incentives, and local schools, which many guests visit, expanding the work of the Sumba Foundation started by the resort’s original owners. Guests who fall for the island and its people may also donate to help fund projects.
“It’s like exploring Bali decades ago,” explains McBride. “It’s wild and steeped in tribal traditions. There are few places on earth that can offer this experience.”
By Marion Laffey Fox