It’s no surprise that actor and TV presenter turned hotelier and wine connoisseur Max Loong has high standards and impeccable taste – no doubt some of which he inherited from his late mother, an art consultant for Christie’s. His first boutique hotel venture in Bali is as multifaceted as his career, a unique collection of hilltop residences where no two villas, or experiences, are the same.
Breaking the cookie cutter cycle of corporate chain hotels, Hidden Hills Villas takes the meaning of bespoke to new heights of privacy, personalisation, and quite simply, perfection. You won’t find set mealtimes, restaurants or the usual common areas. Instead, chefs grill just-caught fish in your villa, while your butler will bring you a mixologist-made cocktail – whenever and wherever you fancy.
What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?
Each one of our guests is independently minded, so we as hotel owners need to get on the same page and be even more independently minded. The world has tried for too long to put people in categories, create cookie cutter templates for groups of people. Gen Y has shown us that the new traveller wants to have a unique experience and Gen Z will show us that we need to start caring for our planet more and have a sustainable approach in everything we do.
As a family-run business at Hidden Hills Villas, we have taken this to a whole new level – from the design of our villas, whereby no two rooms are the same, barely any furniture piece you find more than once and with unique artefacts – we really do create that warm feeling guests appreciate about their real home away from home. Our team members love their jobs, and they show this from the heart in truly tailor-making your vacation to your liking.
What was the inspiration behind the hotel, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?
The inspiration behind our hotel was that we were tired of hotels that might have all the elements of luxury, but you would wake up in the morning and literally not know if you were in Hong Kong or New York. This corporate hotel chain experience that the world had become decades ago, had to be broken. We were not the first by all means, but we wanted to take it one step further.
With my late mother and co-founder Beatrice’s decades of experience working in the world of art, as an art consultant for Christie’s Auction House amongst others, and with my 20 years’ experience in the entertainment industry producing TV shows, movies as well as unique events, we wanted to create an interior design experience that rivals the best of the best in the world, and from the feedback from our guests, it seems we have done something right. I constantly travel and love staying in great properties all around the globe and I am always inspired by some of the amazing counterpart hotels and hotel owners who put as much love into their projects, the way we do.
How do you think your hotel stands apart from other boutique hotels?
Most hotels overuse the word boutique but don’t offer that boutique experience. At Hidden Hills Villas from arrival to departure, our entire service experience comes from the heart, because we believe that a happy team is needed to have happy guests. We have created a small professional family amongst our employees who have been with us since our opening five years ago – when asked what they love about their job, for most the answer is being part of the Hidden Hills Villas family. Our truly personalised experience begins with the first communication we have with our guests, which starts when we proactively reach out to each one of them prior to arriving, discussing how we can tailor their vacation to their personal preferences.
We place a big emphasis on returning guests and keep track of every guest’s particulars so that when you choose to come back, we ensure that we remember how you liked your breakfast or which favourite restaurant you would like to make a reservation at. Of course, our in-house F&B experience follows the same philosophy and we try to adjust our meals according to your liking, may it be with a private cooking experience in the comfort of your villa, or by finding a specific local fresh fish on the market that morning if this is what you fancy that day. At Hidden Hills Villas, we not only still believe that “customer is king” but also that our customers are our friends and family.
If you only had 24 hours to get a taste for your hotel experience, what would you recommend a guest must do?
Firstly we would pick you up in our luxurious van so your transportation to and from our resort is seamless. Check-in already happens prior to your arrival so all you need to do is enter the villa of your choice, as with Hidden Hills Villas you know exactly which villa you will get. We have anything your heart desires, from Studio Villas to One, Two, Three, Four, and Five Bedroom Villas. Our Ocean View Villas all come equipped with a private pool. I would recommend you stay at Villa Sekapa, one of our Two Bedroom Villas. For the afternoon we would organise a soothing one hour signature Balinese massage followed by a 30-minute foot massage in the comfort of your villa.
Many of our guests agree that there is hardly a better place on the island to view the magical Bali sunsets than from our little paradise, and what better way to enjoy these than with one of our many local signature cocktails that are handcrafted by Italian mixologist Davide Mollica. We would serve some delicious pre-dinner snacks, like our homemade Vietnamese spring rolls or our unique tri-colour tacos with our secret sauce and fresh mango.
Shortly after we invite you to experience our unique in-villa dinner experiences, whereby our Chef Ayu personally comes to your villa and whips up one of the best BBQ experiences with fresh fish, tiger prawns and lobster from the market, as well as any meats and sides of your choice, paired with a nice bottle of wine. I myself study wine, and am in my final level of WSET diploma at the moment, so wine is a big thing for me.
Top the night off in one of our many natural stone bathtubs overlooking the Indian Ocean. Our beds are heavenly as we have spared no expense getting the top-of-the-line Therapedic mattresses with 400 thread count satin linen, for the perfect night’s sleep. In the morning we will bring you a freshly prepared breakfast experience right to your villa, with many choices from any style eggs, to our healthy bowls, seasonal fruits, Nespresso coffees and of course fresh croissants. By the end of the 24 hours we would have already assisted you in extending your flight by another 24hrs so we can start all over again, but we save that for those who want to come and experience it for themselves.
How would you describe your own perfect luxury experience?
My own perfect luxury experience are moments and experiences that are priceless. Those magical moments when you have to simply just take it in and say, “Wow, I have arrived in paradise and if this was my last day on earth, I would be in the perfect place for it.” It is what we are trying to achieve with our project. I must say though that one of the best experiences I ever had was when a guest relations manager would anticipate every one of our wishes before we even knew we had them. I know this sounds insane but it truly happened. He would plan things out for us and propose it to us, we loved the idea as it was exactly what we wanted in that moment and minutes later we could just hop in the car that was already waiting for us outside, taking us to that experience.
Do you have a vision for the future of the hotel?
Absolutely, even though 2020 has been the toughest year for us, our team, the island of Bali and the hospitality industry around the entire globe, sometimes you have to take those challenging times and turn it into something positive. We decided to expand our resort by building more villas which will create our entry level category of studio style villas. These are still individual villas but are more like a hotel room experience, in contrast with the larger, suite style villas we already have, giving the opportunity to experience true affordable luxury.
We are also adding a lounge and a common pool area to create a place for our guests to gather and socialise. But again, the best part about our concept is that you do not have to see any other guests if you don’t want to, and you can get all the luxury hotel amenities within your villa, for those who seek out pure privacy.
We want to expand the brand and have been actively looking into various other locations and are focusing on a property in the US at the moment. With our next property we want to be fully sustainable from the construction to operating the business, offering our own home-grown produce in a farm-to-table experience. Our ultimate goal is to create fully sustainable hotels with independently minded experiences, which are fully personalised and unique, listening to each and every one of our guest’s needs.