The more corners of the world I adventure to, the more hotel pillows I lay my head on, the more my idea of the perfect place to stay changes.
Once upon a time, I'd have judged five star luxury on the basis of volume of marble in the lobby, minutes it took for the concierge to source tickets to a sold-out show, and whether I could work any of hi-tech gadgets in the room (a control panel far too complex to fathom? It must be an uber-luxe hotel...).
These days my ideal hotel is smaller, more stylish and a lot more personalised. I'm well aware that this isn't groundbreaking stuff - the world and his Mrs Smith now all profess a preference for boutique hotels over megalith chains - but, let's get started by stating the obvious. Boutique is better. That aside, what elevates a handful of rooms and design magazine-worthy interior to a truly stellar hotel experience? What gives a hotel the X factor (or should that be the Zzz factor?)?
For me it's a finely tuned combo of great service, great location, great food and the sort of bed that you can only imagine is made of clouds. But, if Trip Advisor and its schizophrenic reviews teach us anything, it's that hotels are very much not one-size fits all and no one has a universal answer to the Zzz factor question.
Or so I thought... On a trip to Lombok last month I found a hotel so incredible, that not only is it my very own personal hotel Nirvana but I pretty much defy anyone not to be wowed by it. It doesn't have room service, it doesn't have a bath you can swim laps in, it doesn't even have mobile signal. But it's actually the lack of all these that make me love it even more (particularly that lack of mobile signal - hello, real out of office...).
This perfect hotel is a beach camp in Lombok called Jeeva Beloam and if you go there and hate it, well, good, because if it's fully booked for the next five years the next time I go to reserve a room I'll be heartbroken.
To call Jeeva Beloam a 'camp' is a bit like saying that Monet was a bit of a doodler or that Einstein had a higher IQ than average. If this is a camp, I'm a born again camping enthusiast.
Jeeva is made up of eleven wooden beruga houses scattered along a private beach on the far South-Eastern tip of Lombok. Getting down to the hotel from the airport takes a couple of hours (the hotel collect you from arrivals in an air-conditioned 4x4 and the transfer's included in your room rate). As you move further South, the corn fields and rice paddies begin to outnumber the houses and the people you drive past stare like you're a rare vision while smiling, waving and shouting out at you in their very best English. The final stretch of the journey is a bone-rattlingly bumpy ride down a rutted, unfinished road but by the time you reach the 55 hectares of jungly forest where the camp nestles, all memories of any difficulties in getting there seem magically swiped away.
Even if the hotel itself was a complete hovel you'd be beside yourself with delirious excitment on emerging from the lush, green jungle and setting eyes on the beach. It's a spot that's impossible to descibe without liberal use of tired old cliches because it genuinely is picture postcard stuff.
The sand really is powder fine and dazzlingly white, the surf is truly mouthwash turquoise, with foam-capped, 10 feet high waves that rip across the bay and crash against the shore. It is utterly deserted. You do feel like a modern day Robinson Crusoe. And it is going to make every other beach I ever step foot on look a little bit rubbish.
But Jeeva's not just a pretty face. Besides being breathtakingly beautiful, its also an eco resort in the truest, non-marketing hyperbole sense. The camp site has eco reserve status and is home to flora and fauna galore - butterflies flit from beautiful flower to beautiful flower and I'm certain one morning I even spied a kingfisher sitting in a tree opposite the bathroom. The hotel is off the power grid, uses sustainable energy sources whenever possible and keeps electricity running only during periods of the day that the resort really needs it.
Sustainability continues in the construction of the berugas which have been made by local craftsmen using traditional house-building tecniques and natural wood, bamboo and thatching. Worry not though, this is eco with a hefty side of chic. Each beruga has a huge beach-facing front deck, soaring peaked ceilings (geckos with vertigo need not apply as resident mosquito catchers) and simple, stylish decor.
The huge mosquito-netted four poster beds ensure an incredible night's sleep, definitely helped along by the slumber-inducing chorus of cicadas and lullaby of crashing waves. Leave the curtains open at night and you'll wake to the spine-tinglingly beautiful view of the sun shimmying its way up into the sky above the blue, blue sea. A vision which makes a morning swim irrestible. Luckily a dip lies just a hop, skip and a tumble away from your pillow.
Bathrooms are rustic-luxe with hammered brass baisins, peppermint and lemongrass products and large rain showers (literally actually, shower water is solar-heated and comes from Jeeva's rain catchment basins).
As the hotel is so remote and there are no restaurants and bars in the vicinity, board is on an all-inclusive basis (save for alcohol which is extra). Meals are served in the open-sided tenda in the centre of the beach which is the only thing in the camp that gets anywhere even vaguely close to tent-ish. But let's not get carried away, the dining area is fronted by a day-bed lined sun deck, there's a beautiful rug on the wooden floorboards and cushioned sofas sit scattered between the tables laid with flower garlanded napkins. The menu for each three course meal changes daily to make the most of the best produce available from local fisherman and farmers.
What goes on Jeeva Beloam? Well, days drift by in a blur of napping, reading and splashing through the surf all punctuated by delicious meals and a few Bintangs. If that sounds like too much hard work, you can get a massage in the spa or just while away the hours reclining on the daybed on your terrace counting the myriad shades of blue smudged across the horizon in front of you.
Alternatively, if doing nothing's not your thing (who are you and what is wrong with you???), the beyond helpful staff will happily bundle you off on an adventure tailored to you.
History buff with a dash of the David Attenborough? How about a bike ride to a WWII Japanese canon with a bit of monkey-spotting en route?
Energetic Photographer? Perhaps a guided hike up to the bluff above the beach offering the most incredible vantage point to pap that A-list beach?
Water baby? There's snorkelling and kyaking over at the neighbouring Pink Beach or worldclass surfing just a short drive and little boatride away?
Hungry angler? You'll maybe want to borrow a fishing rod and clamber round the rocks just off the shore to catch your supper.
At sunset, sit back and watch the sky turn amber while sipping a gin & tonic by the fire pit. Or, if you're craving solitude, at a nod to the staff, find yourself whisked off to the nearby Sunset Beach where a blanket will be unfurled for you to lie back on and gaze out at the sinking sun while the pearlfarm workers pack up for the day and putter off on their fishing boats.
Once night falls and you've feasted on a seafood barbecue accompanied by live local music, it's time to hit the beach one last time before bed. Turn your face skywards and prepare to be dazzled by a stargazing extravaganza.
In all the corners of the world that I've made it to so far, Jeeva Beloam ranks up there with my absolute favourite. If you get the chance to visit, go in a heartbeat, and here's to all of us being lucky enough to uncover at least a couple more special places even half as magical.