Scientist and meteorologist Julie Pullen takes a break from living in the sky with a grounding experience at a lush nature retreat in a Central Java rainforest.
"Forgive my wandering gaze, but I'm struck by those large creatures dive-bombing the light above you," I said to my two new Australian friends who invited me to join them for dinner. "Ah! Could be a giant flying ant!" one said. "Where are you from?" the other asked. "New York," I answered, "and we don't have those back home." So went the animal sightings at MesaStila, a sprawling hilltop coffee plantation in Central Java in Indonesia.
Situated on gentle hills rolling down to the town below, the plantation is easy and lovely to explore. Luscious gardens and a fruit orchard supply food for the restaurant (such terrific salads!) and are ringed by stables, coffee plants, and rice terraces. Ponds and fountains with sparkling koi fish add to the contemplative vibe, as do daybeds sprawling around the veranda of the stylish Dutch colonial clubhouse. It is an enthralling landscape, interrupted by the skittering antics of chameleon lizards, frogs, beetles, and goats. I whiled away hours watching enormous red dragonflies frolic above the pool. Nature was never so benign or glorious.
Claim to Fame
Gabriella Teggia, who co-founded several Aman resorts in Indonesia, acquired the property in the late 1990s and made it her labor of love before it was taken over by the Mesa group about ten years ago. Hence the eye to enchantment, detail, and service that is ubiquitous at MesaStila.
What's on Site
The day begins with yoga and a coffee plantation walking tour. At any time, the infinity pool beckons, as does the spa, which offers a broad array of healing massages. All treatments are tailored and superb, and the traditional hamman is a singular treat. Afternoons offer a range of rotating experiences: martial arts, Javanese dancing, batik-making, cooking. A jockey from Jakarta, who will take you for a spin around the property or the village, ably manages the stables. El Capitan was a trusty, solid steed for my rides. Mountain biking is also a featured activity. This being Indonesia, the service is friendly and impeccable.
The ingredients for fresh Jamu juices are mined from the gardens by a village healer daily — and guests can go along for the foraging. Meals are fresh and local, a mix of Western and Indonesian cuisine. Breakfast is served under the veranda by the pool; other meals are upstairs in the open-air Java Red restaurant.
In the Room
The 24 distinct villas, reconstructed houses in different Javanese styles, span two arcs facing two sides of the property, one of which has Merapi and Andong volcano views.
My room type, Arum, was on the lower level of a two-story structure on the Andong side. Furnished in simple country colonial style with wooden furnishings, an outdoor daybed, and a canopied king bed, the space was large and appealing. As a New Yorker accustomed to living in the sky, it made me feel grounded. Even more appealing was the giant inlaid stone soaking tub that looked like it could easily fit five and faced the volcano for optimal views. Local touches like copper basin bowls for the sinks add to the charm. Some rooms have outdoor Balinese showers.
Room with a View
Villas like the Anbar family suite and Bella Vista, a complex of five suites with a pool down the hill, are more opulent, tricked-out in royal style. (The former President of Indonesia liked to stay in Bella Vista). Villas have multiple bed arrangements, so request the right one for your party.
This Place Is Perfect For ...
Honeymooners and families alike. MesaStila has several capable meeting rooms and would function very well as a conference retreat for small groups of up to 30 people. I came here from a meeting at the Indonesian Weather, Climate, and Geophysics Agency in Jakarta, and wished we could have met here instead of the post-apocalyptic landscape of random towers connected with sky bridges.
But Not So Perfect For ...
Families with young children, considering the activities on offer (cultivating rice, horse rides) and generally quiet ethos that pervades the property.
Calls to prayer echo from the mosques in the surrounding villages. I found this very atmospheric, a pleasant reminder that I was halfway around the world and not in, say, Costa Rica. But others might find the noise jarring.
In the tropics, phenomenal lightning storms light up the sky and surrounding volcanoes at night. It is a sight to behold. Imagine what it must look like from space: The planet discharging pent-up heat and energy bombarding it at the equator. MesaStila is located in the lush tropical highlands of central Java, which makes the climate cool and pleasant, especially when the afternoon breeze kicks in. I knew this from being a meteorologist, but I felt it when I descended for day excursions in the stifling heat of the lowlands. Happily, I didn't see a single mosquito the whole time I was at MesaStila.
What to Do Nearby
A visit to the breathtaking temples of Borobudur (ninth-century Buddhist) and Prambanan (ninth-century Hindu) are a must. You can do a sunrise tour of Borobudur and continue on to Prambanan. Yogyakarta itself is a Special Capital Region with its own sultan and palace and markets that are worth a visit.
HOW TO GET THERE
MesaStila is located 1-2 hours by car from Achmad Yani International Airport (SRG) in Semarang on the north coast and Adisucipto International Airport (JOG) in Yogyakarta on the south coast. Most connections are through Soekarno–Hatta International Airport (CGK) in Jakarta.
Rates begin at $190/night. Click here for reservations.