Three eco-resorts introduce guests to a forgotten island in Indonesia (2023)

I am at a small vantage point on the south coast of Sumba, an Indonesian island in sizeJamaican, 90 minutes east by planeBali. Here in the village of Lamboya, high thatched roofs flank rolling green mountains in the distance as hundreds of men - from grey-haired old men to smug teenagers - gather in a large open field, barefoot but with their heads and bellies wrapped in layers of neon textiles.

For today only, they are warriors mounted on small horses, whose manes are decorated with bells and shaped into cones, throwing blunt wooden spears at enemy riders who gallop quickly towards them. Standing next to me are tens of thousands of Sumbaian spectators, some on trucks with their ownkatopo(sword) or climbing trees to see better, we all create a rainbow of colors under a cloud of clove cigarette smoke.

We're here for Pasola, an ancient war ritual that began in the western village of Kodi when the clan chief's wife left him for another man and the village wanted to cheer up their chief. It is now celebrated every year in February or March, depending on the region. Historically, in this context, bloodshed was cause for rejoicing because it meant a bountiful harvest. This rare cultural event was virtually unknown to most foreigners like me, but thanks to a small collection of culturally conscious resorts popping up on the island, I can get an insider's perspective on it: my conversations with the local Nihi Sumba team prior to the event scripted, and the Sanubari crew accompanied me in the field today.

These deep social ties have been a key pillar of Nihi Sumba since 1989, when it was founded by Claude and Petra Graves, an American-German couple who discovered Sumba by traveling the world in search of surfing and fun places. They created a luxury 10-bedroom surfer's lodge, then called Nihiwatu, to help preserve and share the culture of the island, which is visited by a fraction of Bali's tourists. They predicted that the secluded beaches, rich culture, and crashing waves would attract off-the-beaten-path tourists, and these intrepid travelers could make a positive impact on a struggling community. To this end, they created the Sumba Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to preventing malaria and improving access to clean water and electricity.

Nihi Sumba has set an example for other international hoteliers who have begun to develop corners of the impoverished, mostly Christian island with low sustainability impact and ambitious social responsibility goals. For the past two years, the island has hosted Sanubari in 2022 and Cap Karoso this spring. Read on for a closer look at how these three resorts are raising the bar on what sustainable, community-centric travel on a remote island can look like, and how they can offer guests a richer experience as a result.

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Courtesy of Nihi Sumba

Nihi Sumba

Although it started today with a small surf house next to idyllic wavesNihi Sumba— purchased in 2012 by American entrepreneur Chris Burch in partnership with hotelier James McBrid — it covers 667 acres in southwest Sumba. Over the years, the team has grown to over 430 people, over 90% of whom are Sumbaans. Each of the 27 sprawling indoor and outdoor villas has its own butler and features a unique design right down to the shapes of the private pools, the palettes (one aqua blue, the other jungle green) and one of each. - hand-woven or carved island decoration.

Every day, grooms at the resort's stables open the gates so that the 26 resident horses can run to the beach below at noon. Nio Beach Club, with its wood-burning stove and infinity pool, is a great lunchtime spot to watch the salt-maned horses play in the sand, or even swim with guests. Breakfast and dinner are served at Ombak, a sand-floored restaurant that has undergone renovations this year; guests gather for drinks and snacks at the Boat House, where the last surfers of the day often perform on the famous Occy left wave - limited to 10 seats per day.

On Wednesday evenings, the resort organizes a barbecue dinner, during which a short film about the work of the Sumba Foundation is shown. Watching, I learned that the NGO's water infrastructure system and over 360 water stations support 40,000 people. The foundation has also helped reduce malaria on the island by 93 percent through the work of five clinics that diagnose and treat the disease and distribute treated mosquito nets.

what to expect

Although the official Pasola takes place only in February and March, the resort organizes its own shows on request. Otherwise, you can immerse yourself in culture through visits to the market or ikat weaving classes and enjoy the natural surroundings by hiking to waterfalls, mountain biking or stand-up paddleboarding on the river. On Mondays and Fridays, guests can volunteer at the Sumba Foundation, which may include serving lunch at a nearby school or helping with teaching English.

Another very popular pastime is the Spa Safari, an all-day event that begins with a scenic walk (or ride in a safari vehicle) to a green cliff overlooking rice paddies and the Indian Ocean. There's no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage here, so you can feel truly present as you watch the sea turtles dine - such as red snapper with farm vegetables - on a Robinson Crusoe-style perch above the waves. Then, indulge in an unlimited number of all-natural spa treatments, including Indonesian lulur body wraps and soothing tuberose, ylang-ylang and frangipani oil massages. The mirror under my cliff top massage table allowed me to fall asleep watching the ocean on the beach.

You can visit the Ombak Garden permaculture food forest, which has grown to five acres in 2021 and now provides 40% of the food at the Ombak restaurant, including peas, cassava, peanuts, pak choy, avocado and papaya. There is also a chocolate factory in Nihi where guests can make their own chocolate bars.

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Courtesy of Capa Karoso

Cape Karoso

The heart of the brand is craftsmanship from Sumbai and France, flecked with modernism and brutalismCape Karoso, a 15-acre resort and 7.5-acre organic farm that opened in March in the green village of Kodi, on the island's western tip. French owners Evguenia and Fabrice Ivara turned to Sumba-born ikat master Kornelis Ndapakamang to create a stunning outdoor lobby wall made of panels draped in rich red and brown threads, a deconstructed ode to the island's most famous fabric; the travertine tables resemble the island's traditional megalithic tombs. The accommodation consists of 47 studios and apartments and 20 independent villas, located along a gentle slope leading to a long beach. There, during the very low tide of the full moon's golden hour, I watched locals of all ages flock to the tide pools and exposed reefs to play and fish.

The sun-drenched suites reflect the local Marapu culture and feature open-air bathrooms with carvings carved by artisans from the nearby village of Buku Bani. They stand alongside vintage French and English books, custom pottery, and tissue paper drawings commissioned by French-Indonesian artist Ines Katamso. The bedrooms are air-conditioned but have wooden shutters to allow natural cooling by the sea breeze, and the grass-covered roofs moderate the temperature in the stone-clad interiors. Solar energy heats the water; next year, the resort will set up a large photovoltaic park that will supply half of the resort's energy. Deep wells provide double-filtered water, allowing Cap Karoso to bottle it for drinking.

I loved savoring the amazing orange sky on the deep sofas at the Beach Club, where bartenders trained by renowned consultant Nico de Soto create complex cocktails incorporating ingredients such as jackfruit, sandalwood and smoked pomelo. At Julang, an exclusive restaurant for guest chefs (named after an endemic species of hornbill), we ate seven dishes prepared by chef Katsuaki Okiyama of the French-Japanese restaurant Abri in Paris. Also, don't miss the thatched Malala Spa: manager Teena Ngongo's grandfather is a shaman, and his knowledge of medicinal plants has inspired the development of sublime products and treatments, including the Moro Ndahaka Sumbanese massage, which uses fermented products. and roots.

what to expect

The resort cultivates social relationships that allow guests to have intimate experiences in locations where tourists have hardly ever seen each other before. In the village of Waikoroko - six kilometers by car from the resort - Chief Ndara Kawahaka invited us to his traditional home for a look around and gave us coconuts to drink. This summer, the center launched international artist residencies on the premises; An October residency with Dublin-based Claire Prouvost will feature a creative community engagement project in Waikoroko where residents will collaborate on large temporary paintings. Monthly ikat workshops for guests take place in the farm's outdoor workshop.

Beginners can surf right in front of Cap Karoso, while advanced surfers can drive 15 minutes from the resort to the left-hand Pero Reef. (Rent a surfboard - free for two hours - and other water equipment at the resort.) A 30-mile drive south took us to spectacular beaches, including Mbwana, where a steep descent between cliffs leads to a remote white-sand beach. coastal caves. At Danau Weekuri, a crystal-clear salt water lagoon surrounded by jagged limestone and tamarind trees, you can watch children snorkel, jump and swim - which my son loved. This is one of the many landmarks that can be reached by e-bike or e-Mini Moke.

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Courtesy of Sanubari


Sanubarioccupies a 297-acre reserve in southwest Sumba, where the scenic waterfront was not accessible to anyone - including locals - until 2017, when British co-owners Rowan Burn, Alan and Roger Thomas applied for permission fromGuerra(or a priest) as a sign of respect before building a road here. They opened a resort of six villas in July 2022 and added three more this year, with around 50 private residences and villas expected to debut over the next decade. A membership plan is in the works that will offer frequent visitors and homeowners special rates on accommodation, services and rentals of everything from cars to surfboards and stables. Burn's mission is to maintain the non-exclusive nature of the reserve so that people of all ages, financial and cultural backgrounds can enjoy it.

The staff, 95% Sumbani, are particularly good with children and provide a relaxed, happy energy that carries over to the outdoor three-course restaurant and Palapa beach bar. Six spacious villas sit on a palm-lined white sand beach (five have their own 26-foot pools), while three more studios overlook the mountains and rice fields. The rooms combine clean, modern lines with elegancestoprooftops (made from local grass), outdoor showers, and locally produced ceramics and textiles.

what to expect

True connections and immersion in nature are the highlights of Sanubari, which include waterfalls, biking and surfing, as well as sauna and pickles along the route. The 10-hectare organic farm and fruit orchard has 2,500 coconut trees and over 500 bananas and papayas (stems serve as organic straws). The farm will soon produce oils, creams and milk for the restaurant, and the resort will train islanders to work in the future village fresh produce shop. During the week, local children head to the on-site small school pavilion to learn English, do crafts and eat a healthy meal.

At the resort stables, I put my son on his first horse, a soft blond filly named Odessa, which I rode the next day to the beach and then straight to the aquamarine ocean. You can also take a guided tour of the areacamping(village) Waru Wora, three kilometers away, where dark and cool bamboo houses have a lower level for animals, a medium level for people and a high thatched roof for food storage. Everyone gathers in the highest house for ceremonies; here I learned about the local dowry system and saw countless buffalo and wild boar animal skulls that were sacrificed after the death of an elder. In another nearby village, Tanah Kaka, guests can take pottery lessons from the elderly Sumbanka, who made the pottery that decorates the entire resort. Work is underway on a pottery workshop and an ikat weaving workshop to serve both visitors and training programs for residents looking to gain future skills and employment opportunities.

The beachfront restaurant's menu focuses on locally grown produce and balances Western delicacies - such as Parmesan chicken and dragon fruit smoothie bowls - with Indonesian classics, my favorite being vegetable soup rich in saffron and rice, coconut with shredded meat cooked on banana leaf. new shadowweight(The Indonesian version of the viewpoint), which is a 45-minute walk up a small hill, is a place for picnics and drinks at sunrise or sunset.

Katarzyna Romeyn

Kathryn Romeyn is a journalist based in Bali and a dedicated researcher of culture, nature and design, especially in Asia and Africa - always with her little son.


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