Interview with Dino Magnatta on his Eco Retreat in Bali
Published: 28-06-2020 - Last Edited: 27-07-2022
Traveling high style with the least footprint at the Ulaman Eco Wellness Retreat
Staying at the Ulaman Eco Retreat in Bali is one of those experiences during our trips to better discover the islands, which we’ll never forget. Not only for the accommodation itself, but because it combines the essence of what we are looking for in ecotourism; the off the path lush landscape, innovative sustainable architecture, spa services, yoga shala, sustainable practices, and farm to table wellness cuisine.
We took the time to sit down with the Canadian born owner of Ulaman Eco wellness Retreat. Dino Magnatta is a former restaurateur and a savvy businessman in search of creating a haven to welcome a community of like-minded people.
We met him at Ulaman for a rejuvenating and relaxing weekend.
The Ulaman Eco Retreat Story
It all began in 2019 when Dino Magnatta searched for a remote location that reminded him of that Ubud ‘feel.’ He was looking for a piece of land with a river, a jungle, and some rice fields to build his private villa. When Dino came across a hidden gem with a private waterfall in Kaba Kaba, 30 minutes from Ubud and Canggu, he knew he had found his place.
It was essential to find the right architect who would create innovative design and balance the architecture harmoniously with the local landscape. Dino’s vision was to be part of a ‘green’ community that focuses on eco-sustainable architecture and building materials. He was clear about wanting to build his ‘dream house’ out of bamboo.
When Charlie Hearn from Inspiral Architects presented the final conceptual drawings, Dino fell in love with the flowing design but realized it was too big for his personal house. He quickly accepted the fact that his home might become something more significant he would share with the world.
We are glad Dino decided to turn his personal villa into this beautiful, sustainable resort, allowing many other guests seeking eco-luxury travels, to experience this unique place in Bali.
YOGI TIMES: Dino, what makes the Ulaman Eco Retreat such a distinctive, sustainable accommodation?
First of all, I would say that we’ve been conscious right from the beginning of clearing the land. I paid particular attention to keeping as many existing trees as possible. We relocated as many as we could and the five trees we had to cut were repurposed for the construction materials.
We hired the best water turbine company in Indonesia and have been working closely with them for eight months. We designed a custom turbine system that will be strategically installed across the river on the newly acquired land for phase 2 of Ulaman eco wellness retreat.
This system is designed to adequately feed all the electricity needed for our resort to be ‘off the grid.’ Also, all our hot water tanks are solar-powered. This really puts us on the eco-resort map in South East Asia.
We have strategically planted mosquito and other pest repellant plants throughout the property. It definitely helps to stick to only natural products to minimize unwanted insects. We’ve also planted selected varieties of plants to help natural irrigation and land erosion. Our operational practices will include natural cleaning products, on-site composting, organic garden, and fruit trees that we will use in our kitchen.
YT: What inspired you to open a boutique resort and retreat center focused on sustainability and wellness?
Mainly, as mentioned above, it started out as a ‘selfish’ dream to build my dream home and retire here in Bali. I want to spend more and more quality time away from my Canadian winters. Kaba Kaba is what I consider the perfect setting and location in nature and yet still close enough to Canggu and Ubud.
When Charlie Hearn proposed the ‘over the top’ design to me with the 2 guest villas, it was then that I realized that I’d like to share this unique location and place with the world and create that space to do so. So now, I plan to make my personal smaller house in phase 2!
YT: With the abundance of good architects on the island, why did you choose to work with the renowned Charlie Hearn and his team at Inspiral Architects?
From the beginning, I clearly wanted to build my dream house using natural building material, especially out of the sustainable bamboo in Bali. On the day I was visiting EcoSmart Bali, Charlie Hearn’s architectural firm Inspiral Architects came highly recommended.
They not only had unique bamboo design experience but as they were considered ‘green architects’ among the ‘green construction movement group’ here in Bali, I knew it was the perfect match.
After meeting with Charlie, explaining my vision of making the architectural and design feel to be a part of the natural jungle and river surroundings, I knew he ‘got me.’ He came up with extraordinary roof lines that I didn’t think were ever possible using natural building materials.
Can you expand on the rammed earth wall?
Ah, yes! During the design stage, Charlie introduced me to the idea of creating all the walls from rammed earth, a concept that was still foreign to me at that time. I was sold on the purpose and concept, especially knowing that it wasn’t at all known in South East Asia and that we would be the first!
With the help of a Canadian consultant, I decided to learn all about rammed earth and experiment with different recipes and color tones for all the retreat walls. Now considering myself an expert, I am actually looking at taking this experience and turn it into a rammed earth wall building business in Bali.
YT: Ulaman is already recognized as an exemplary model for sustainable hotels without compromising luxury, design, or technology. How do you combine business with environmental practices?
I’d say that creating and merging sustainable ecological building design with comfort and luxury has been my biggest challenge. Creating an “EcoLux” (I call it) resort is a constant work in progress. It has had its problems when it comes to technology and comfort; for example, whether to have TV’s in the rooms was a whole process itself.
In the end, I figured that it’s there for those who want it, and I made Netflix and Youtube available, which now are fully accessible in every room. (now discussing a digital room guide book!)
So, having a butler service, air-conditioned bedrooms, TV, and internet are all a part of having those extra comfort and services. Ulaman Eco wellness Retreat is for people who strive to live more consciously without compromising comfort and luxury.
YT: Ulaman being such a perfect setting for a retreat, Yoga teacher training, conferences, weddings, etc. What amenities can your guests benefit from?
From the get-go, Charlie has always envisioned Ulaman eco wellness retreat as a perfect destination for boutique weddings and retreats. Leaders of workshops, training, or event planners can rent out the whole place, offering a capacity of 22 people (11 rooms) and the possibility for extra wedding guests to stay in nearby accommodations.
The Yoga shala is an ideal chappel and dining room, offering a special menu and catering options. The expansive upper main floor of the main house a perfect area for a cocktail reception. Currently, the Yoga shala is also available as a private rental facility.
We have all the amenities necessary for all types of retreat, including corporate, yoga, health, and wellness events. Our treehouse spa has full services to all guests during their stay at Ulaman.
YT: Dino, with a 30-year background in the restaurant business, you do take food very seriously, right?! What sort of cuisine can we expect at Ulaman?
Absolutely for me, food is essential and has been a ‘make it or break’ it on vacation when I’ve traveled to resorts and hotels.
I have been lucky to have found Chef Arik, who specializes in local Balinese cuisine. He has good knowledge of international foods combining tasty flavors with an artistic presentation using local edible flowers and herbs.
Focusing on local ingredients, we use organic farms to acquire the majority of all of our vegetables.
Realizing the importance and growing awareness of vegetarian, raw, and vegan foods, our dedicated Chef Arik has recently expanded his skills in these cuisines, which are now incorporated in our menu.
YT: Part of sustainable ecotourism is to preserve and give back to the land and to the local communities. In what ways does Ulaman embrace this aspect? Can you tell us about some of the local organizations you work with?
First of all, we support the local communities by continuously meeting them to see how we can partner in support of their mission. Ulaman Eco Wellness retreat is located in the village of Nyambu, bordering Kaba Kaba. Since Nyambu has the purpose of becoming more of a tourism-focused destination, we are creating strategies to help them do so.
I have also met with the owner of our local laundry cleaner and working together in discovering green options from products used, including water filtration, waste management, and bioenergy options.
We work very closely with the adjoining Subaks (rice fields) in managing the water flows and damn filtering grates to collect the garbage flows. This helps keep the Ulaman river cleaner. Also, we support the local youth by having them take care of cleaning any remaining garbage found in our waters. We recycle and reuse the ‘grey’ water in the irrigation of our landscape.
We have recently discovered from a Spiritual Manku (local Priest) that the Ulaman waterfall is a ‘Campuan’ (meeting of 2 waters) and is a very sacred waterfall where we can practice ‘Melukat’ (water cleansing ceremony of the soul) as well as holy night meditation on full moons.
YT: Is there a way you can involve your Guest in such experiences?
Yes, one example is that we will work closely with the Manku in Blessing this magical and holy place one of our exclusive experiences for our Guests staying at Ulaman. Our team includes Gulia, an expert in Bali culture and unique destinations, discovery tours, and workshops. She brings a wealth of knowledge on the island and can translate it into various languages (Italian, English, and Indonesian).
Some of the traditional Balinese experiences and activities that Ulaman provides include temple exploration, Balinese offering making, and cooking classes. With the wellness city of Ubud being just a short 30-minute ride, market shopping, crystal and pottery workshops, winery tours are a few of the out of the path exciting and easily accessible activities our guests can partake in.
YT: What else does the Ulaman Eco Retreat offer for the more adventurous voyagers?
I chose the Ulaman location because it had everything; Natural lush, mountain spring water, flowing river, waterfalls, and jungle. But also rice fields overlooking the Batu Karu mountain. All of the former and still being only 10 min from the beach; truly all the best of Bali’s beautiful nature, in my opinion.
These natural elements are the best for nurturing our souls. With that in mind, we’ve creatively designed spaces at Ulaman that are in harmony with nature in our environment like our cantilever over-the-cliff waterfalls yoga shala and our river treehouse spa offering full spa services and yoga classes.
And for the more adventurous guests, we offer ‘off the beaten track’ tours and excursions to the best-kept secret waterfalls and sites in Bali. Nearby and from our property, we offer rice field trekking, local villages cycling tours, botanical jungle, and Subak tours.
YT: In all aspects of the business Dino, you obviously have not taken the short cut here to bring Ulaman to life; what is the main reason you created this retreat?
Indeed, we have not taken any shortcuts in the details which guests always notice when they visit Ulaman’s construction and design. And throughout these evolving phases of design and construction, I tried to keep the focus on creating comfortable and practical spaces for a truly holistic retreat environment. I feel joy thinking of people coming here to truly unwind from their busy life.
YT: When guests have spent some time at Ulaman, what are the most important things you hope they leave with?
In creating Ulaman Eco Wellness retreat, I aim for every guest that stays with us to be able to really ‘breathe’ again. Feeling rejuvenated without compromising comfort and luxury, while experiencing the best of what Bali has to offer.
For more info, visit the Ulaman Eco Retreat website or follow The Ulaman Eco Retreat on Facebook or IG.