A beautiful, very private hideaway on Gili Air Island, with luxurious villas and a warm welcome
If you’re looking for a chilled-out, desert-island experience, the Gili Islands between Bali and Lombok are as idyllic as they come. Three tiny islets fringed by coconut palms and turquoise waters, the archipelago is an easy fast boat from Bali, yet offers a totally different experience from the mainland. Car-free Gili Air, our favourite, is particularly special. Many people plan on just passing through, only to find themselves spending much longer here. Slow Gili Air’s owner Julie is one such traveller. Having spent 6 years globe-trotting as a dive instructor, something kept pulling her back to the island’s friendly community, and eventually she decided to stay and build something beautiful for her fellow travellers. A few years later, architect-designed Slow is fast earning a reputation as the Gili Air’s most fabulous hideaway. Just 10 enchanting villas wait beyond the antique Javanese reception, all housing original art and indulgent luxuries.
The antithesis of an impersonal resort, everything at Slow Gili Air is designed to work with the local community. Staff are from the island, villas display photography of local tradesmen constructing the resort, even the beach towels can be bought to help support a local children’s initiative. There’s creativity at every turn, and beyond that there’s pure luxury, too. We loved morning swims in our plunge pool, delicious breakfasts on our terrace, and relaxing Balinese massages in the beautiful spa. Our days soon fell into an easy rhythm of snorkelling from nearby beaches, then sunset cocktails and suppers by the sea. Pure island bliss.
- Perfect for an easygoing holiday, be it romantic, family or with a friend. The villas are all very private with plunge pools, huge gardens and kitchenettes
- Tucked away on a quiet part of the island, but a walk or bike ride from beaches and chilled bars and restaurants
- You’re made to feel like a welcome friend as much as a valued guest
- Excellent spa treatments and pilates classes
- Gili Air is seriously cool and unspoilt, like Bali 10 years ago. It’s yet to be discovered by the masses
- Service isn’t quite 5-star, but the team are very willing and Gili Air is all about a slower pace of life
- No on-site restaurant, but you can order light meals (from fresh grilled fish to pizza) and Indonesian barbecues to your villa
- Staff spoke limited English during our visit, but Slow provides lessons and assure us most of the staff now speak good English
- Expensive for this area (but so worth it)
The 10 villas hide behind traditional hand-carved wooden doors, off a central pebbled walkway. Identical in size and layout (but for the 2-bedroom villa), each has a deck and rippling plunge pool, beyond which lies your enormous, private lawned garden with loungers. Inside, interiors are airy and beautiful; snowy-linen topped four-poster beds, waffle robes and wall-mounted flatscreens for music and movies. Gallery-white walls display captivating original photography by Serge Anton, depicting local tradesmen during Slow Gili Air’s construction.
Furniture includes solid wood tables built from old fishing boats, rugs sourced in Marrakech, and artisan ceramic vessels re-purposed as lamp bases. It’s an eclectic, autobiographical mix that reflects Slow Gili Air’s inclusive and creative ethos.
Bathrooms are open to the heavens and feel pristine and indulgent. We loved our drench shower, the solid stone basins and the locally produced organic products.
Each villa has a well-equipped kitchenette that’s perfect for light lunches and snacks (there are local grocery stores), but it would be just as easy to skip the self-catering altogether. You can order a range of home-cooked meals to your villa; staff can even prepare traditional Indonesian barbecues by your pool.
Breakfast is brought to your private terrace at a time of your choosing and we were blown away by the delicious offerings. Fresh juices, sweet tropical fruit salads and sunshine-yellow avocados atop perfectly poached eggs. The menu is creative and original, so there’s no danger of getting culinary fatigue during longer stays.
In the evenings, romantic Balinese barbecues can be served in the privacy of your villa, but Gili Air has a wealth of cool beach bars and eateries to explore. Julie has the inside track on the island’s best hangouts. Thanks to her we spent an awesome evening at sunset hotspot Mowies, where the food is fantastic and the cocktails are even better. Get there by 5pm, grab a beanbag and watch the sky turn pink to the sound of chilled Balearic beats.
- Embrace the ‘slow’ vibe. Wake up late, linger over breakfast, paddle in your pool and soak up the sun in your garden
- Rent a bicycle or walk over to the east-coast beaches for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. This area’s waters offer the best chance of seeing turtles and Slow Gili Air guests can sunbathe at Cabalitto Del Mar beach club
- Alternatively, wander 5 minutes from Slow to the quieter west coast and swim in seclusion. At dusk, catch the sunset from one of the nearby beach bars
- Gili Air is a diving hotspot and Julie is an experienced instructor; Slow offers various excursions and courses for all levels
- Join one of the resort’s regular pilates sessions and book a spa treatment for afterwards – our Aloe Vera massage was outstanding. Yoga retreats are also held throughout the year
- Daytrip to Gili Meno, an even sleepier Gili island (regular fast boats)
- The hotel can arrange excursions to Lombok and activities such as kite-surfing and horse riding
Gili Air is the happy medium of the 3 Gili Islands: quieter than party central Gili Trawangan but more of a living, breathing community than sleepy Gili Meno. That said, it’s easy to island-hop thanks to daily fast boats.
After sunset, walk or bike over to the east coast. Many restaurants set up candlelit tables on the beach, and the Chill Out bar was a particular favourite of ours, thanks to their delicious barbecued fresh fish skewers.
If you would like to talk about a freelance project or creative ideas, that would be just lovely.