Most images you see of Nihi Sumba, Travel+Leisure‘s top hotel in the world for the last two years, show crashing surf – but there is more. Sumba is a 4,306 square mile island in the Lesser Sunda archipelago south of Bali, with a total population of about three-quarters of a million. Nihiwatu, the resort‘s 1.5-mile private beach, is renowned among surfers the world over (Nihi only allows ten surfers a day and getting a slot is on a par with golfers playing St Andrew’s Old Course in Scotland). Those who not into surfing are bowled over by other sides of Nihi, by sunsets like the one above, seen from the gal’s private garden, and by the lovely people, and the landscapes and things to do and so much more. The fact that it is all-inclusive, other than alcohol, spa treatments and some activities, makes for unusual camaraderie.
Nihi has been put together, as it is now, by James McBride, the brand’s CEO, and his business pal, entrepreneur Chris Burch, who bought what had been a tired, nine-room Nihiwatu resort. The pair have taken it up to ultimate luxury with the essential edge of wildness, which is what the true top-end traveller wants today. Getting here can be something of a trek, but you are taken in hand by Nihi staff as soon as you arrive at Bali’s Denpasar airport, and when Garuda touches down 50 minutes later at Sumba Island’s Tambolaka airport, you are amazed to discover that the waiting 4×4 has WiFi. Over mountains and through rainforest you go, and 90 minutes later you arrive, to find your villa personalised, as shown here.
Those signs are useful, actually. Individual compounds, bordered by plants and banana-tree fences, have outer double doors which are number-free, and on more than one occasion I wandered into the wrong areas, as others did to me. This is a lock-free environment (I hid my key under my doormat until I left). Many trek for 90 minutes, that magical 90, through jungle and undergrowth to Nihi’s own spa sibling, Nihi Oka, which does have one letting villa where you can overnight, complete with treetop dining if you want. This is the place for stress-relieving massages, in the open air, perhaps with brunch to follow.
Nihi has a knack of attracting one-off personalities. Which other luxury hotel has a Glaswegian head of sales and marketing who spent years selling Specsavers eyewear in Spain, and more years busking as a magician on various streets worldwide? Mary Tilson, who heads spa and wellness, is another unusual person, who will customize yoga to whatever level and discipline you want: wearing other hats, she also organizes retreats, say in Nicaragua, and designs her own brand of yoga wear. And Nihi, by the way, not only attracts such leading players, they interact with guests so you are sometimes not sure who is star and who is chorus, as one of the GMs, say Jason Trollip, sits next to a Goldman Sachs bond trader at dinner (Mrs Trollip, Loraine, who, like her husband, moved here from Singita, is babysitting their kids, tonight). AND NOW, TAKE A WALK THROUGH THE RESORT AND THEN, BELOW, A NEIGHBOURING VILLAGE WE VISITED