It’s Club Med, but not as you know it, as the iconic all-inclusive holiday goes luxe on Indonesia’s up-and-coming Bintan Island.
You may have never heard of Bintan Island, but you’ll certainly be familiar with Club Med. The inventor of the original all-inclusive holiday has provided the backdrop to millions of holidays for over six decades, from boozy breaks (and hazy memories) with friends to more wholesome family vacations with the kids.
But, like most things, times are changing, and where Club Med was once synonymous with frivolous fun, the brand has undergone a very modern makeover. It’s 2018 and the focus at Club Med’s Bintan Island resort is now all about health and wellbeing, catering to the increasing number of travellers seeking a retreat from the stresses of daily life. Fresh from a $9m refurbishment, the resort on Bintan Island - Bali’s lesser-known neighbour in Indonesia - now stands as the jewel in the crown of the French travel giant’s reinvention strategy.
In days gone by, the average all-inclusive vacation wasn’t exactly renowned for its food and fitness options, but that’s all been transformed here. Centred around an Instagram-worthy pool, you can expect freshly made detox juices on arrival, lush tropical surroundings, and even beachside yoga and trapeze to blow away any holiday hangovers (because you’re still allowed a cocktail!).
I checked into Club Med Bintan Island to find out how the original all-inclusive holiday has been reborn for the era of wellness, taking advantage of this idyllic location. Here are the must-see highlights from Bintan Island - and why Club Med may just surprise you with its focus on creating a health retreat with an upmarket vibe.
1. Health and fitness
You can opt to take part in any of the resort’s activities - whether that be a 6km run around the island or simply finding a spot on one of the hammocks dotted around the private beach. In the name of being adventurous, I took one for the team and tried the guided run - not for the faint-hearted in the Indonesian humidity!
2. Activities are all included, a highlight being yoga by the beach
I was a total newbie, but staff cater to all levels. Never tried yoga before? No problem. Well, getting your inflexible body into the correct positions may be a problem (I’m looking at myself) but where better to discover your lack of elegance than beside a pristine Indonesian beach?
3. The food
I’m not the biggest fan of a hotel buffet but this resort has moved away from that concept. Instead, the main restaurant, where you’re likely to eat most of your meals, features food stations representing cuisines from all over the world. Example dishes are on show and in minutes staff prepare a fresh version just for you on
request. Local dishes from the Indonesian station should be your first choice - the beef rendang was a must-try for me.
4. Entertainment shows follow dinner, an enduring feature of Club Med’s past era.
Local productions weren’t to everyone’s taste during my visit, so if you’re in search of true serenity. the secluded beach bar offers cocktails at a more relaxed and refined pace, away from the main action.
5. Spa in paradise
Book yourself a couple of hours in the gorgeous spa treatment rooms, set in the peaceful rainforest with unforgettable views over the South China Sea. It was my first ever spa visit, and I opted for a traditional Indonesian massage to rid my body of the stresses of that long-haul economy flight. I’m now a total convert having had a particularly persistent knot in my back massaged out at Club Med. A full menu of spa treatments is on offer, including facials using local ingredients.
6. Exploring beyond Club Med
If you fancy a break from all that rest and relaxation, hop over to the hustle and bustle of the iconic metropolis that is Singapore. I built-in a one-night stopover on my way back to Sydney to check out Marina Bay Sands and Gardens By The Bay. Don’t forget your passport as you’ll need to pass through customs at the ferry terminal - queues were minimal on my way to Bintan, but a lot lengthier on my way to Singapore.
7. A round of golf
Golf fans will also be pleased to know that Ria Bintan Golf Club is next door to Club Med. Considered by many to be the best golf course in Asia, it offers a 27-hole course designed by legendary golfer Gary Player. I paid a visit to check out the course and was blown away by the ocean views.
8. The kids club
About half of those visiting Club Med with children enrol them in the extensive children’s club, so parents will get a well-earned break too if you do choose to explore further afield.
9. The value
Packages start at AU $1,550 per person. That includes all food, drinks, activities and ferry transfers, but not flights. I found it to be good value dollar for dollar compared to what I normally spend on meals out and local culture on holiday. Not to mention that added freedom of leaving your wallet at home and feeling like you’re not really paying for anything! Lots of things have changed at Club Med, but the all-inclusive element is thankfully here to stay, so you know upfront how much you’re spending.
Fly into Singapore Airport, around an eight-hour flight from Melbourne and Sydney, five hours from Perth. Low-cost flights from the east coast can be found for around $400, although we opted for the slightly pricier and slightly comfier Singapore Airlines A380 at just over $700.
Bintan Island is a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore, which is included in your Club Med package. Factor in extra time to pass through customs again at the ferry terminal since you’re leaving Singapore and entering Indonesia.
A seven-night stay at Club Med Bintan starts at around AU $1,550 per person.