Travel | People | Culture

Finding Michi

Just when you think you know Bali, another hidden gem is revealed… Michi Retreat is an experience unlike any other on the island, and it owes its charm to the life of a remarkable personality.

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‘Nausicaa’ suite

It starts out as an aimless drive, undertaken purely for the pleasure of being out and about on rural Bali roads on a clear blue afternoon. One glimpse of the sign, however, and the day has a new sense of purpose. It is discreet, simple, a smallish slab of wood engraved with a Kanji character that, we later discover, represents Michi: a Taoist word denoting ‘the Journey and ultimately the Way towards one’s Great Integrity.’

Little knowing what awaits, but happily idle and intrigued, we look at each other, reverse, and take the turn that will lead us through Jukut Paku village, past a magnificent banyan tree and down to the Michi Retreat.

Once there, we are confronted by a mosaic marvel. Gaudi in Bali? The restaurant dazzles with its playful mobiles and claw-footed, mirror-studded pillars. Across the valley, distant figures are discernable in the lush padi, where a terrace of intense green drops down to the rushing river below.

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View of pool and valley.

The Founder – who, with a combination of modesty and mystique, does not wish to be named – appears shortly after our arrival. A former professor of cultural anthropology, he is in his late seventies and walks with the aid of a silver-capped stick, his canine companion Bubu by his side. While he consults with staff, someone presents a brochure.

Towards the back of the booklet is a page entitled ‘The Tale of a Nomad: Freedom from the Spurious and the Specious.’

The Tale reads as follows:
Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 was a thunderclap to an infant living near the Russian border of inner Mongolia. After seven decades of a peripatetic existence, the founder was able to unearth a strip of the land in Ubud, an art & craft center of Bali. The place was a providential “Canaan” for him…

The Founder approaches us, then listens appreciatively to our story of how we were inexplicably drawn along the path to Michi. “You’re not staying here? You can’t afford it,” he surmises, with some sympathy, before we have a chance to respond.

His sympathy is sincere: we are treated to lunch. The meticulous care taken over every detail here soon becomes apparent – every item of cutlery and tableware is unique, and beautiful. The chilled water is delicately flavoured with hints of fresh mint and lemon. And, as we discover from this and future meals, the food is divine. “Food is my obsession,” the Founder remarks. So much so that he has sent his chef, Ayu, for training abroad: she has had the opportunity to enhance her culinary skills in Italy, France and Japan.

Michi is a cooperative, built and run by the people of Jukut Paku, under the guidance of the Founder. It has now been almost ten years in the making, a process of design, training, construction and reconstruction. The workers will share in any profits of the retreat and, ultimately, it belongs to them. “I found my heart in harmony with the local people,” says the Founder. “I want to leave something good here.”

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‘Only Yesterday’ suite

Each room or villa is different to the last detail (and of details there are many). One suite is inspired by the story of Odysseus, the rest by the Founder’s own lifetime of wandering, taking in the friends he met along the way (one suite is dedicated to Man Ray), his passions (coffee and Coco Chanel), and the good old days (the glittering Only Yesterday is replete with old cameras, typewriters, contemporary art and jazz memorabilia). There is a temple, a meditation hall, a library dedicated to Gandhi and Tagore, and a dance studio dedicated to celebrated Indian classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai.

While guests have been visiting the retreat for some time now, it has most often been by chance or invitation – “the longest soft opening in history,” as the Founder would have it. Now, however, the time has come for Michi to be discovered.

To find Michi, visit or call +62 361 973432.

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