Cover Photo: instagram.com/max_loong

Max Loong is breaking the rules of the boutique hotel experience in Bali. He talks about the importance of going above and beyond for his guests, and why Uluwatu is becoming the pinnacle of laidback luxury on the island of the gods

Sitting at the southern tip of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu gained fame in the 1970s when surf film icon Alby Falzon directed Morning of the Earth, which introduced the world to the region’s virtually undiscovered waves. In 1974, legendary Hawaiian surfer Gerry Lopez visited the island and became one of the first to ride the fabled Balinese surf break.

To this day, surfers from around the world make the pilgrimage to Uluwatu where, after a day of chasing the waves that roar and curl along the coast, they retreat, salty and sun-drenched, to its lush green hills. Maintaining the spirit of a serene surf town, over time it has become a luxury destination for those who want to enjoy Bali’s balmy embrace, away from the madness of popular tourist areas like Seminyak and Kuta.

“There’s something about Uluwatu that feels raw and authentic,” says Max Loong. The Swiss-Chinese actor and TV presenter—he is currently the host of The Voice of Switzerland—opened Hidden Hills Villas, a collection of individually designed villas in Uluwatu, in 2015 when he and his late mother set out on a mission to build a house for her to retire in.

“I’m not even particularly spiritual but there is a really special energy here. The beaches, the cliffs, the community are what drew us to Uluwatu in the beginning. Before we knew it, Hidden Hills became a bigger passion project,” Loong explains.

After purchasing the original plot of land, they began acquiring neighbouring plots and building intimate, intricately designed villas—a nod to his mother’s background in art and design. She spent years as an art consultant for Christie’s in Zurich, and guests staying in the five-bedroom Raja Villa at Hidden Hills will find themselves among artworks from the family’s private collection, including an original piece by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. 

“Raja is a very special villa; we built it as our family’s dream home,” says Loong, who goes on to list its luxurious specs: two living rooms, a huge kitchen, an infinity pool with sunset views, spacious cabanas and even a home cinema.

“We built Hidden Hills Villas before there was Airbnb, which disrupted the hospitality industry and unearthed a new breed of travellers,” says Loong. “Without realising, we kind of hit the nail on the head for travellers who appreciate staying somewhere that feels like a home.”

The property features 14 villas, including eight new villas built during the pandemic. “Our interior designer was my mother’s best friend on the island,” says Loong. “She really knew her better than anyone, and has helped us stay true to her vision.”

See Also: A Guide to Bali's Best Beach Clubs

The villas range from one to five bedrooms, and are named after and inspired by destinations loved by Loong and his family, including Marrakesh, St Barths and Santorini. The three-bedroom Bahamas villa features subtle nods to the West Indian archipelago, with recycled teak shutters, vintage wallpaper and retro green-and-white striped sun beds lining the private pool.

“Each villa has a garden or private pool, or both, and views of ‘that’ Uluwatu sunset. No two villas and no two pieces of furniture are the same,” says Loong, emphasising that he wanted to create a sense of place at Hidden Hills. “I’ve never been a fan of generic hotels, where every room is identical and you wake up not knowing whether you’re in Hong Kong or Singapore or Bangkok. We want our guests to feel connected to Bali. We didn’t build Hidden Hills in the hopes it would be the next big thing—we just wanted to create something special.”

And while villas in Bali are nothing new, Loong wanted to find a way to bring together the intimacy of a private villa and the deeply personalised service of a boutique hotel. “I thought: do we need a front desk? A front office?” Loong muses. “In the end, we did away with classic hotel departments and put our focus on developing a personalised butler service for our guests.”

"We want our guests to feel connected to Bali. We didn’t build Hidden Hills [for it to] be the next big thing—we just wanted to create something special."
Max Loong

Guests at Hidden Hills have direct access to a butler who doubles as a personal assistant, available around the clock via WhatsApp to cater to all needs big and small—even before you arrive. That can include making sure you have your favourite drinks and snacks in the villa upon arrival or flowers for a special occasion, or arranging for someone to whisk you through Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport’s infamous immigration process.

Once there, butlers can help reserve VIP tables at any of the nearby luxury beach clubs, make restaurant bookings, organise BBQs and massages in the privacy of your villa and arrange private surf lessons or guided treks.

“We try to make things cosy, familiar and personalised," says Loong. "Pulling strings on all levels to ensure our guests get to experience the best of Uluwatu and beyond.”

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