The Best of Both Worlds: Four Seasons Bali
By Andria Mitsakos
It felt odd saying I’ve never been to Bali. I’d traveled so much it almost felt that in my own mind I had been there. Spent a month or two on an inner journey, fell in love with a surf instructor, maybe started writing poetry. That never happened. Well, not in Bali anyway. So I finally decided it was time to check out this Indonesian arcadia that has been present in my subconscious for so many years.
Accommodations in Bali range from the beachfront bungalow to the luxurious. I was coming off a pretty rustic stint in Mexico, so I opted for the latter, which enabled me to embrace the all-day beach lifestyle, yet also have time to immerse myself in the culture, bounce around the countryside and have plenty of time to partake in renewing spa rituals. So, as pioneers of luxury Bali tourism, Four Seasons Bali was the natural place to bed down for the week.
I began the journey with three nights at Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay, which is built on the beachfront site of an ancient temple, and then continued the spiritual path over at Four Seasons Sayan, an architectural masterpiece in the middle of the jungle near Ubud.
Four Seasons Sayan
Arriving at Jimbaran is the consummate definition of arriving in Bali. I was met with a team bedecked in batik who promptly escorted me to the resort’s own temple for a blessing. The batik pareo they wrapped around my waist became my own personal uniform the entire trip. I always pack lightly so having this piece in my wardrobe allowed me to blend into a destination the way I prefer. I tied it this way and I wrapped it that way. One day, I even sewed myself into it. I thought to myself, perhaps I should just move in and give pareo-wrapping lessons to hotel guests. It was a thought I pondered often, and still do.
As a designer of fashion accessories and interiors, hotel rooms can either thrill me or massively disappoint me. Moving furniture in the middle of the night often plagues me and friends will attest to me moving entire hotel rooms around until I feel that the room is laid out properly.
The hotel had just unveiled its newly renovated Premier Villas, enriching a sense of place, and thankfully, I didn’t need to move any furniture.
Premier Ocean Villa Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay
"It was so quiet, so serene; it was, quite evidently, everything that I didn’t know I needed."
Top Indonesian design firm, Jaya International, was commissioned to enliven the villas’ graceful Balinese aesthetic while creating flexible living spaces that maximize the ocean and sunset views. I was obsessed with the sanctuary they had created and it was quite difficult to do anything else other than luxuriate in my space, order room service and dip into the plunge pool. It was so quiet, so serene; it was, quite evidently, everything that I didn’t know I needed. General Manager Uday Rao was quite intuitive to this, and kindly confiscated my mobile phone for 24 hours during my stay. I’d never felt better.
Days floated by in a sort of sensual, dreamy haze. I slept early, woke early, watched the sun rise, made coffee, walked down to the beach and then napped before I wandered up to breakfast. Rao even encouraged me to skip a day of shopping to “spend time with myself,” and I obliged. I told him about my plan to move in and give pareo-wrapping lessons. He agreed, well sort of. The beauty of the hotel is that while you’re at a resort helmed by a massive company, you never feel that you’re being forced to do anything. Staff is barely there but their omnipresence is clear at all times. They’ve developed the alchemy on hospitality that is pure genius.
I’ve long heard about the spas in Bali, and while I love a massage now and again, my ability to clear my mind and actually appreciate a treatment is relatively slim. I’m usually the one having reflexology while reviewing emails.
Inspired by its beachside garden setting atop the Resort’s seven ‘villages’, the Healing Village Spa draws on Balinese traditions and nature’s bounty to nourish and heal the physical body, revealing a harmonious path to inner change. Grounding treatments, nature-inspired therapies, and ritualistic vibrancy pay homage to the colorful culture and evoke a sense of warmth and connectedness.
With my planned sense of renewal sorted at the spa, I was now ready to take to the water. With the surf instructor fantasy still fresh in my mind, I booked in at Tropicsurf, an outfitter known locally for unparalleled local wave knowledge and bespoke surfing experiences.
I surfed a bit in Mexico and New Hampshire as a kid, so I advised the instructor just how beginner I was. They explained that from the smallest waves to the fearsome power of Outside Uluwatu, Bali offers an epic selection of breaks, including some of the world’s very best. Many are seasonal, tidal or tricky to find, and often very busy. With good guiding, however, it’s possible to cut through the confusion – and crowds – and discover some great local opportunities, including some excellent waves within very close reach of the resort. Which is exactly where Tropicsurf comes in.
Pioneers of ‘luxury surfing’, Tropicsurf selected and joined Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay in 2014 and use the hotel as their Balinese base. A Heli-Surfing tour is the outfitter’s newest venture, which offers tours to the legendary Grajagan (better known as G-Land) on neighboring Java island for an unprecedented, fuss-free access to un-crowded waves otherwise difficult to access by land. A 45-minute flight across the strait from Bali brings guests to a landing area right in front of G-Land’s waves on the edge of a national park in East Java. Pristine jungle, untouched beaches, free-roaming wildlife and ultra-fast, heart-thumping tubes are there to enjoy all-day, before the flight back to Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay in time for sunset. I had envisioned a Bond-like propel out of the helicopter in tandem with my instructor (which was not the case), so I passed on this particular excursion yet enjoyed the waves just in front of the hotel. The hotel also just added fun water bikes, which are a great workout.
Satiated by sea and sun, I headed down to Sundara, the all-day beach club and restaurant. A paired down version of what you might find in Mykonos or Ibiza, Sundara means ‘beautiful’ in Sanskrit, and represents the boundless beauty of Bali. Gorgeous service, craft cocktails and a killer menu rivaled my villa nesting. Dinner here is equally stellar with Pan Asian and Indonesian cuisine, complete with plenty of vegan and pescatarian options.
No trip to Bali would be complete without an immersion in the culture’s cuisine, and so one afternoon I spent the day with Chef Anak Agung Kristya Yudha (Kris), the Head Chef of Jimbaran Bay Cooking Academy. A Balinese native who has been at the hotel for over 20 years, Chef Kris is as charming and hilarious as he is talented. We started in the morning with a tour of the Jimbaran Fish Market – about 10 minutes from the hotel – where he showed me how to select fresh fish. As a Greek girl who has been around plenty of fresh catch, I challenged him a bit. We spared and laughed, and then took a break for fresh coconut water. “Now let’s see if you can cook!” he said. We spent the next few hours cooking together and then he walked me through his herb garden. “You’re a smart girl,” he said to me. “Greek food next time,” I said.
It was hard for me to leave the few days spent at Jimbaran, but I was consumed by everything Bali had given me thus far. There was more? “It’s a very special place,” said Rao encouraging me to get moving and get over to Sayan. But what about my pareo-wrapping classes I needed to start? “Just go.” So I took my phone back from him (but didn’t switch it on), and off I went.
Otherworldly in its design, and deep in the jungle near Ubud, Four Seasons Sayan rises out of the jungle like a bamboo UFO. Across fields of rice paddies, private villas hug the Ayung River’s edge, and the main building—which was designed to resemble a rice bowl—houses hotel suites, a restaurant and the spa.
Four Seasons Sayan
Each villa accommodation is equally singular in its construction. Unassuming walkways lead to a traditionally Balinese wood structure that houses a rooftop pond brimming with pink lotus flowers. An internal stairwell descends to one door, which begs the question, “Am I in the right place?” Turning the handle immediately signals epiphany music in your head as a massive terrace spills into a rectangular, black-ceramic tiled plunge pool with lounging areas that edge a grassy expanse. The river’s flow melodically makes the space prime for napping off the jet lag.
"They’ve developed the alchemy on hospitality that is pure genius."
Four Seasons is all about making this authentic connection with the destination, and offering a new perspective on what may be a familiar place. Get away from the crowds, really soak it up and enjoy Bali's myriad faces. Their excursions are unprecedented when it comes to hotel companies. They just know how to make this connection.
The best way to explore the countryside is by foot. There are three routes directly from the Resort: the picturesque morning Village Walk to Sayan’s streets via a traditional local house; the Sayan Valley Walk through lush forest to a natural holy spring; and the Rice Bowl Architecture Walk, which celebrates the Resort’s iconic integration into the natural landscape. Of course I did all three.
There was also the new Bongkasa Cycling Tour which takes guests through rice farming villages which have seem to be stuck in time from 50 years ago, as they still carry on as they always did and appear untouched by the tourism development in busier areas and main roads around Ubud.
Yet for me, it was the sweet layer of forest mist, the Tarzan worthy vines, the rushing of the water you hear; a rafting adventure was just what I needed.
Four Seasons Sayan
While the new rafting trip down the Ayung isn’t as fist clenching in the raging rapids sense of the sport, it does offer a distinct thrill. During your guide’s commentary of the passing flora and fauna, you’re encouraged to jump into the water and float on your back as the jungle passes around you. I stopped ahead of a historic dam, hearing the water rushing ahead of me.
Adrenaline rush, sorted. Cultural immersion, checked. I retreated back to my villa to start writing my pareo-wrapping curriculum and turn on my phone to tell Uday that I’d be back.
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