MesaStila: A Retreat in Coffee Country

Imagine being surrounded by eight mountains in the distance, a dozen small villages close by, and a coffee plantation just a short walk away. This is where the narrow village roads in Magelang, Central Java lead you: a microcosm of Javanese culture and tradition. Welcome to MesaStila, a resort that is a destination on its own.

One of the traditional gates leading from the village to MesaStila 2
One of the traditional gates leading from the village to MesaStila

My day began with birds chirping and tweeting like there’s no tomorrow. I woke up early to see five of the eight mountains before they disappeared behind clouds. The gentle rays of the sun cast a warm glow over everything in sight, but it was never too hot (not even at midday). I was 687 metres above sea level, or so the sign on the heritage train station said. The station, which dates from 1873, was brought to MesaStila from Mayong town and serves as the front desk and reception area.

Forty trucks brought the heritage train here from Mayong town MesaStila
Forty trucks brought the heritage train here from Mayong town in 2001

I had a sense of being in a living museum, which called out to my fondness for historic structure. The Clubhouse, a beautiful white bungalow built in 1928, was once a Dutch plantation owner’s dwelling and office, and is the only original building on the premises. Set on the highest point of the resort, it gives an inkling of what life could have been like in colonial times. Behind the Clubhouse, you can play chess with giant pieces on the concrete lawn, or croquet on the grass as the cool breeze makes kapok fibres from century-old trees roll like tumbleweed through the grounds.

The Clubhouse's inviting seats include a 300-year-old day bed from Manado MesaStila
The Clubhouse’s inviting seats include a 300-year-old day bed from Manado

The 23 villas have fascinating histories, too. Each is full of character, setting it apart from contemporary accommodation. Most of them are in the limasan style of Javanese village houses, with a graceful saddle-type roof.

There is a nobleman’s house from Kudus town and a five-bedroom country villa that was once owned by a prince from Solo (Surakarta). Within the rooms are details rooted in the Javanese setting: framed wayang kulit (shadow puppets) and Javanese masks grace the walls. Whenever possible, the villas have plenty of natural light, either through skylights or balconies, in contrast to the use of dark hardwood for wardrobes and slatted shower floors.

Culture is an essential element of a MesaStila stay and there are various activities every day, from batik making to Javanese dance. At Joglo Bawen, a high-roofed pavilion that serves as a cultural event space, I observed janur weaving from young coconut leaves into various shapes and forms, and went home with small souvenirs in the shape of a bird and a star.

SEE ALSO: Sanctuary of Silversmiths

Janur craft made from young palm leaves are used for decoration and for wrapping food MesaStila
Janur crafts are used for decoration and for wrapping food

The sound of a gamelan drew me out of my room to watch and listen as villagers sang and played the instruments. It was practically a command performance. One of the elders motioned for me to play with them, but I was happy just to sit on the floor as they did one song after another as a community teaching the younger generation what they know.

A villager plays the gong ageng in the ensemble MesaStila
A villager plays the gong ageng as part of the gamelan ensemble

Dining was also a cultural experience. The Java Red and Java Green open-air restaurants offer Indonesian and Western dishes, fresh juices and herbal teas in settings that sport carved posts and lintels and etched wood panels. Whether you’re on a detox diet or not, you will appreciate the preparation that goes behind each dish, which follows the resort’s SLOW (Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome) food concept. The produce sourced from MesaStila’s own organic farm is vital to the freshness of the meals, and vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will be delighted to find numerous tasty options.

Java Red (above) and Java Green (poolside) restaurants in the evening MesaStila
Java Red (above) and Java Green (poolside) restaurants in the evening
MesaStila's organic farm
MesaStila’s organic farm and nearby sources supply the bulk of the ingredients used in the restaurants

It was a treat to have jamu (traditional herbal medicine) early in the day, prepared by ladies who wake up in the wee hours to boil herbs and reduce them to concentrated drinks. Five types are available, covering a wide range of needs, but a tabib (local healer) can formulate jamu specially for you, by request.

The taste of jamu ranges from very sweet to very bitter, depending on the ingredients used MesaStila
The taste of jamu ranges from very sweet to very bitter, depending on the ingredients used

My ideal getaway would not only give me tranquillity of mind but also make me feel good physically. These needs were thoroughly met by the resort’s rotating daily programme, which include power walking, circuit training, jungle gym, and aqua fit in the pool on selected days of the week. Took make the most of these, I  practiced yoga at Sasana Yoga Centre in the morning, received an introduction to the stances of the Indonesian martial art pencak silat in the afternoon, and followed this with a 4.8-kilometre walk to the villages guided by a map. It was refreshing to see the locals going about their usual routines and buying from a bakso cart, little boys cycling and little girls saying hi to me as I passed by their houses.

The most popular activity by far is the not-to-be-missed coffee plantation tour, an informative walk around the plantation, which covers roughly half of the resort’s 22 hectares. On the tour, I saw the different varieties of coffee plants and the initial steps in processing, from drying to shelling and sorting. I also had the chance to taste coffee as the locals do, unfiltered in a simple glass and served with shards of palm sugar. Though I missed the chance to pluck coffee cherries, as harvesting season just ended, I was happy to spot some flowers and cherries.

MesaStila staff member Tia shows Robusta and Arabica leaves on the coffee plantation tour
MesaStila staff showing Robusta and Arabica leaves on the coffee plantation tour
Stages of coffee, from flowers to cherries to dried beans MesaStila
Stages of coffee, from flowers to cherries to dried beans

In between activities, I ambled meditatively on stone pathways and wandered purposefully, stopping to take photographs. I also popped in at Hammam, the Turkish steam bath and spa with a domed roof and an attached octagonal resting room. The spa, as well as the restaurants, are phone-free zones, but see if you can resist taking a quick photo for your family and friends.

If you still have more time to spare, there are tours available from the concierge: excursions to Borobudur and Prambanan, trail running and trekking for the athletically inclined, or a horse cart ride to the market for families. But for me, the best thing to do at MesaStila is to relax and relish the time away from the daily commute of the metropolis.

I could just while away the time gazing at the mountains and the forest from the poolside, with the view of Mt Andong and Mt Telomoyo (and if you’re lucky, Mt Merbabu and Mt Merapi, too). I waited for sundown at the pretty Sunset Lounge, with its powder blue wooden shutters and wrought-iron balcony, enjoying a pink herbal tea.

Tea time with herbal tea at the Sunset Lounge MesaStila
Herbal tea of lemongrass, secang wood, clove, cardamom, cinnamon stick and ginger, served with slices of lemon and large rock sugar crystals at the Sunset Lounge

Who would have thought that in the interior of Indonesia’s most populous island, I’d find a place so extraordinary and rare, where the ways of the people are celebrated and where guests can find a space to simply watch and listen to the stillness of our workaday world?

As the fiery sun hid behind the clouds, leaving linings of copper and gold around the fringes, I counted down the hours before it was time to fly back. But I knew that all it took was an extended weekend in coffee country to be refreshed and ready for another workweek.


Address: Desa Losari – Grabag, Magelang 56100, Central Java, Indonesia

What do you think?

Becoming a Hamakko