The perfect retreat on West Java, away from bustling Bandung and Jakarta, except that there is little to do – and there is nobody; perhaps that is the attraction.
The longer we stayed at the Guest House of the Malabar Tea Estate, the more we got the impression of unrealized potential. The plantation is huge, tea as far as the eye can see, even after having climbed the hills. The Guest House is, in fact, the beautiful old planter’s house, probably well over a 100 years old, which has been turned into a lobby and dining room with a lot of character. Outside are a few wooden bungalows, with views over the tea-covered hills, and a block with nine modern rooms, attractively and comfortably furnished, each with a terrace in front, looking out over the lawn. Immaculately kept. Flower beds, not quite the Bogor Botanical Gardens, but impressive nevertheless.
And there is nothing to do. Well, you can take walks in between the tea, and onto several of the hills, and fabulous walks they are, with fabulous vistas. But there is no map of the estate, so you cannot really plan anything. We accidentally came upon the tomb of Karel Bosscha, the man who managed the estate from 1896 to his death in 1928. To get to the tea factory, you need a car, really, whilst it would be so easy – and fun to do – to rent a bicycle. Or a mountain bike, ideal for the hills around. And, whilst at it, why not lay out a mountain bike trail? Or build a pool? (Other plantations, apparently, have gone this way)
As it is, the place is almost entirely undeveloped. Which has its attractions, naturally: we had the place essentially for our own, except for one other couple there were no other guests, and it didn’t sound like they were going to expect a lot of people for the weekend. But for a drink, except for a cup of tea, we had to go to the small village behind the Guest House, because there is no bar. We had to order lunch and dinner – like that, lunch and dinner, no choice of food -, and better do this well in advance, otherwise kokkie (the cook) had disappeared already. There is, in short, not much else on offer than walks around the tea plantation.
But then, when it takes so much effort to get here, perhaps indeed very few people take the trouble. And what is really on offer, then, is a perfectly peaceful environment. Admittedly, a rare thing on Java.
next: on to Cipanas