Adrien Portier and Dimitri Tran talk to Prestige about the humbling journey in running one of Bali’s most unique resorts
Located at the heart of Nirjhara in Bali is a waterfall. Quite fitting, of course, as the name of the resort means “waterfall” in Sanskrit. The waterfall, as such, becomes a tribute to Balinese culture and also a key feature of the property, an inextricable part of the resort’s identity. The philosophy of the waterfall has always fascinated Adrien Portier and Dimitri Tran, co-founders of Nirjhara, as it is chaotic yet at the same time relaxing; never standing still, yet always there.
It was Tran that was at first put in charge of the development of the resort. A year after moving to Bali, he was introduced to Adrien and they instantly clicked. Adrien then joined the pre-project stage and the resort as it is today is the fruit of their shared vision and hard work.
Nirjhara occupies a niche of its own. On the one hand, guests at the resort are able to appreciate features of a boutique hotel such as bespoke service, extreme attention to detail, a sense of privacy and intimacy. On the other hand, Nirjhara offers a range of facilities one may expect from a luxury resort: generous common areas, a full-service spa with a state-of-the-art gym, a cinema, a yoga pavilion, a boutique, a library and plenty of curated excursions. The villas and suites themselves offer unique views of lush rice paddies, a gentle river, waterfalls, as well as a glimpse of the ocean from the rooftop deck on the Canopy Suites.
Excerpts from an interview with Adrien Portier and Dimitri Tran:
What is the working dynamic like in Nirjhara? And how would you describe your leadership style?
Dimitri: Both Adrien and I come from a business and finance background. Nirjhara was our first venture in the world of hospitality. Therefore, we approached the development of the resort from a guest’s standpoint, from the bottom up. We then surrounded ourselves with people who are more knowledgeable than us and once they were on board with our vision for the project, we gave them the freedom to do what they are good at.
Adrien: We usually discuss and debate all aspects of our work until we reach a consensus, and then one of us executes. Fortunately, we usually agree on a fundamental level and we never let our ego interfere in any way.
Nirjhara is located just a few minutes away from the picturesque Tanah Lot temple. Is there any particular significance for this choice of location?
Dimitri: Tanah Lot is the most popular and arguably the most scenic temple in Bali, so it definitely helps put the resort on the map. We do believe that Tabanan has much more to offer, though. Our neighbourhood of Kedungu has managed to remain authentic despite large scale developments in nearby Canggu. We’re located two minutes away from a quiet beach, which is great for surfing and sunbathing alike. We’re about 20 minutes away from the heart of Canggu – close enough for our guests to check out some of the boutiques, cafés and restaurants, but secluded enough to offer peace and tranquillity.
Can you tell us a bit about the architecture of Nirjhara – the suites and villas, and its surrounding landscape?
Adrien: The villas are styled to exacting standards with clean lines, earth tones and decorative accents to extract the quintessence of Indonesian design while offering a fresh interpretation of a tropical aesthetic. In each suite, we chose to collaborate exclusively with local artisans from the archipelago to produce bespoke pieces that exhibit exceptional levels of craftsmanship, as well as emerging artists to showcase and promote contemporary Indonesian art. All of them are arranged around open spaces and pavilions reminiscent of traditional bales, places of gathering for families and local communities where most social interactions occur in Balinese society.
Dimitri: My family was moved by the stunning views as we first stepped foot on site, and to this day we don’t get tired of the scenery, which we find reminiscent of the Balinese landscapes that we first encountered when visiting Bali in the 1990s. The stunning waterfall, juxtaposed with boundless rice fields in the backdrop present an authentic glimpse of Bali – a postcard perfect view of the island. The natural features of the site influenced the design of the project from the onset.
On an architectural level, we rely primarily on local wood and stone. Indonesians have been cutting and carving stones for decorative purpose for centuries and we took advantage of their expertise to create tactile and visual contrasts through the combination of smooth grey andesite and rugged volcanic stones.
The artisans we collaborated with produced pieces that clearly appeal to our innate sense of touch. This can be found in our handmade fabrics and kimonos produced on the island, the woven rattan furniture in our suites, the coconut panelling that frame the headboards of our beds, and the extensive use of wood carving found throughout the property.
“The COVID-19 pandemic seems like the obvious answer here, but I’d say that the toughest challenges we faced were all people-related”
How about F&B? What kind of dining experience can guest at Nirjhara expect?
Adrien: We’re really trying to showcase ingredients sourced locally in Tabanan. At Ambu, guests can expect fresh and healthy dishes showcasing flavours of the archipelago prepared using Western techniques. We favour seasonal produce and our menu evolves accordingly. Because of the recent limitations on inbound tourism, the majority of our current clientele is Indonesian, so we’re working on elevating Indonesian favourites such as Laksa Medan, Ayam Bakar Taliwang, Ikan Dabu-dabu, and many more.
We’ve also learned about the range of activities offered to the guests at Nirjhara. How do you curate those to make them engaging and interesting?
Dimitri: Nirjhara is a great spot to set out and explore Tabanan, from the sumptuous rice terraces of Jatiluwih to the sacred Batukaru temple and the tall mahogany trees of Sangeh monkey forest. In our view, the region is still underrated as it has so much to offer, yet very few tourists opt to stray away from the beaten path. We’ve curated a variety of itineraries centred around cultural discovery, wellness and nature. We put in the effort to take our guests to places they haven’t heard of and we avoid crowded, overly touristy spots.
Tell us about Nirjhara’s sustainability goals and commitments…
Dimitri: In essence, we wanted to offer a different approach to sustainable luxury. Nirjhara’s signature style is refined and contemporary; we did not want to create yet another eco-lodge. I would say that our take on sustainability is ubiquitous yet discreet. Sustainability has been one of our core values since the inception of the project and tangible efforts were made throughout the entire process, from design to construction to operations.
Knowing that roughly half of the power consumption of hotels in tropical climates is used for air conditioning, we conducted an extensive sun study that enabled us to downsize the capacity of our AC units for each individual suite. We then painstakingly insulated all of our suites from walls to ceiling to keep the cool air inside and the warm air out. Similarly, the resort takes advantage of Bali’s climate to produce hot water exclusively through heat pumps and solar water heaters.
Adrien: All of the wood used during construction is either reclaimed, upcycled or grown on certified sustainable plantations. Most of our decks and outdoor wall cladding, for instance, use reengineered hevea wood sourced from rubber tree plantations that would have otherwise been discarded once their sap could not produce anymore rubber for Indonesia’s booming industry.
Working towards our goal of eliminating single-use plastic from the entire property, we set up a water purification facility on property to bottle our own drinking water in recycled glass bottles and made the deliberate choice to remove single-use bathroom amenities in each of our suites.
Looking at your career milestones as young entrepreneurs, what has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in this industry so far?
Adrien: The COVID-19 pandemic seems like the obvious answer here, but I’d say that the toughest challenges we faced were all people-related. We were optimistic and somewhat naïve when we started out, and as a result we ended up trusting partners who didn’t necessarily have our best interest at heart. Ultimately, we only have ourselves to blame, but it takes a while to get over the feeling of being let down by people you trusted.
Dimitri: We learned that the hard way but we’re much more cautious now. It’s a shame because we also worked with a few amazing people along the way, but all in all it spoiled a big part of the journey. The pandemic itself taught us to be patient and we found that there are different ways to tackle a crisis and we chose to be proactive. By deliberately choosing to remain open, we essentially treated this phase as a prolonged soft opening, allowing us to improve our standards of service, train our associates and figure out what works and what doesn’t. We are confident that our efforts are paying off and that the resort will be in a good position to hit the ground running once travel limitations are finally lifted.
On a more personal note, what are your hopes and dreams for the rest of the year?
Adrien: We are very excited about the launch of VELA, a 50-meter sailing yacht that will merge contemporary luxury with the traditional elegance of Indonesian phinisi boats. VELA was built for experiential travellers and modern-day adventurers eager to explore the remote corners of the archipelago without compromising on refinement and comfort. We kept the same ethos that made Nirjhara special: an intense focus on sustainability, exploration and bespoke luxury, and we are more than eager to take guests on the journey of a lifetime.
This article first appeared on PrestigeOnline Indonesia