Yogyakarta's five-star hotel scene is heating up, with the entry of yet another competitor to the fray.
One of the newer ones in the heart of the city would be the Grand Aston Yogyakarta, which markets itself as a hotel with a convention centre.
Located just 1.6km from Tugu Yogyakarta, and 4km from the Beringharjo Market, the hotel is conveniently located to allow one to explore the main streets and narrow alleys of Jalan Malioboro and Beringharjo, if you are after colourful trinkets and such.
The hotel, which celebrated its third anniversary last December, draws a mix of foreigners and Indonesians. It projects itself as a business- and convention-friendly hotel, with a ballroom that can accommodate 400 to 600 guests.
At nine storeys, it is also the tallest hotel in town. Restrictions are imposed due to its relative proximity to the Yogyakarta airport, roughly 4km away.
The ninth floor is home to the Vanilla Sky bar, which, on a balmy night, is the place to be. Live music is occasionally available, though it would have to stop by 10.30pm in order to cut noise pollution for the benefit of guests who retire early (an unfortunate result of not using double-glazing for its ceiling-to-floor glass panels in its rooms).
The stylish hotel, designed by Indonesia's very own Hadiprana Architect, sits on a 4,000sqm site along a busy thoroughfare, Jalan Urip Sumoharjo.
At 28sqm, my superior room is clean, spacious and comes with a very inviting contemporary feel. There is a proper desk which comes with all the requisite sockets for the many devices that travellers carry nowadays, including one that can take in the three-pin plugs Malaysians use without needing any adapters.
The complimentary WiFi works seamlessly, not just in the room but the entire hotel. Only one password is needed, so you don't have to log on every time you go online.
As I drove myself from Borobudur to the hotel, I found the basement parking to be user-friendly as well, with parking spots wide enough to accommodate the rather bulky Toyota Avanza that I rented.
Breakfast at its Saffron Restaurant, the only proper F&B option (Vanilla Sky has food but more of bar snacks), proved to be a delightful experience. Where else can you drink four types of jamu (traditional herbal concoction) at one go? And while some lesser hotels may leave a bottle or two on the breakfast counter for you to help yourself, Grand Aston goes a step further by having a makcik seated on the floor, like how jamu is sold at some street corners in Java.
I am glad to say that it was my first experience drinking jamu, and I tasted three of them - beras kencur, brotowali, and kunyit asam - over two consecutive mornings. Beras kencur contains rice flour, aromatic ginger, cardamom, palm sugar, and is sweetish in taste.
Asam kunyit - made of tamarind, turmeric and palm sugar - is another refreshing choice as it has a nice balance between sweet and tangy.
Brotowali proved to be the hardest to stomach. The bitter herb is said to be able to get rid of yellow fever, rheumatism and diabetes, among others. The tip is to drink (or try) it first before drinking the other two sweeter jamu.
Rice lovers will be happy to know that all the delightful rice dishes that form a typical Javanese breakfast are served at the hotel.
For lunch, I tried Chef Jojo's excellent beef ribs (Rp150,000 /S$15.61). The meat was succulent, and done just right, and the portion was enough to feed three (or two persons with huge appetites). The catch is you have to order this dish a day in advance due to overwhelming demand.
I also decided to put the restaurant's ala carte offerings to the test one evening. They did not disappoint. My recommendations are: A three-soup dish called Three Tastes of Purees Special (Rp30,000), as well as seared salmon (Rp119,000). For drinks, try the refreshing house special ice-blended coffee (Rp35,000) or the flavourful lemon tea (Rp22,000).
The natural place to go after eating would be the hotel's Pejamata Spa (thankfully, it's open until 11pm), which has a couples' room along with individual treatment rooms. Booking a session is hassle-free, and you will be ushered in for treatment minus all the hassle of signing indemnity and health declaration forms, like some other places practise.
For an authentic experience, the Javanese massage (Rp300,000) is done by a Javanese. And for guests who like to maintain their exercise regine, the hotel has a small pool (more like a lap pool) and a gym.
With published rates starting from Rp658,000 (RM185), excluding taxes, the Grand Aston Yogyakarta is a worthy stop in this lovely city with so much potential.
In essence, this hotel is thoroughly modern, authentically Indonesian, user-friendly, and welcoming.
GRAND ASTON YOGYAKARTA
Jalan Urip Sumoharjo No.37
Kec. Bantul, Kab. Bantul
Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55711
Tel: +62 274 566999
Email: SSM@grandastonyog yakarta.com