It was the film that launched 1000 flights, so it seemed appropriate to start my first ever trip to Bali by staying in the same hotel the star of Eat, Pray, Love did – the Four Seasons Sayan.
That’s right: apparently the Pretty Woman herself stayed at the Four Seasons in Ubud, the town in Bali renowned for its art, temples and rice paddies. The hotel is certainly fit for a movie screen Queen.
Set like a wooden spaceship in the centre of the primordial jungles of Ubud, this Four Seasons is something of an architectural maverick. Upon arrival, you cross a deep gorge via a long footbridge, which then leads you to the water lily pond on the roof of the main building. A grandly spiralling staircase then ushers you into the lobby.
This main building also houses the restaurant and bar, spa and suites which overlook the Sayan river, which has long been the site of Balinese rituals. The Four Seasons ran into a spot of bother when building on this location, as the Balinese consider not only the Sayan to be a holy site, but many of the trees and boulders surrounding it, too. In fact, one sacred rock is still found at one end of the resort’s main pool; locals strongly protested its planned removal and it now forms part of the pool design. Indeed, the hotel tried to be as unobtrusive as possible in its construction, and much of the surrounding forest’s lush tropical vegetation remains intact around not only the main building and its 18 suites, which boast river views, expansive bathtubs, and many traditional decorative features like carved wood panels, rattan chairs and batik print textiles.
Most interesting in terms of architecture are the entrances to the 28 villas. Amidst what seems to be a pool of floating lotus flowers, you’ll find a stairway. Descend this, and you’ll find a set of teak doors which, when opened, reveal a private plunge pool set in a beautifully furnished patio directly astride the Sayan river. Another set of doors leads to a large room distinguished by its river views and the constant sounds of rushing water, chirping insects and singing birds.
Local teak, bangkerai wood and limestone form the foundation for each villa, and water features are so plentiful it’s hard to tell what’s natural versus what’s manmade. The resort also grows many of its own vegetables on the grounds, and there’s even an on-site rice paddy. Deep down in the heart of a lush, tropical gorge is the pavilion where yoga and meditation classes are held daily. The latter is led by a delightful former Buddhist nun, who can advise everyone from novices to monks about how to improve their practices. The yoga done here is usually mainstream vinyasa, but the Four Seasons is offering the hottest new exercise trend: suspension yoga. Also known as ‘anti-gravity’ yoga or ‘flying’ yoga, this is more akin to Pilates: super strong textiles are tied to rafters and practitioners are guided to position by the yogi. Inversion positions and stretches are especially enhanced, and unlike most yoga classes, these ones are full of laughter and fun – and occasionally even delighted shrieking when you discover how liberating it is to be completely suspended upside down for an almost effortless ‘head stand’. I must admit I was reluctant at first to try this, as inversion poses aren’t my favourites and yoga seems to be the kind of activity that doesn’t necessitate any unusual equipment, but now I’m hooked: this paradoxically makes every move easier, but also deeper.
If the hotel’s architecture could be described as innovatively modern offset by Balinese details, so too can its menu. All of the Balinese classics are there: gado gado, nasi goreng and satay are all here, but so too are trendier, healthier options: quinoa salad, gluten free breads and green juices abound for health-conscious guests.
The spa at this Four Seasons is what I will remember most, though. Set in a forested pavilion with a view to a Monet-esque lily pond with pink lotuses in bloom, the Javanese massage here is more than a treatment; it’s truly a ritual that leaves you feeling not only relaxed, but connected to the world around you. After a foot bath, I was sent to a stone bath filled with local flowers. Once cleaned and laid on the massage table, the therapist seemed to float like a benevolent spirit; never obtrusive and intuitively knowing where to touch and with how much pressure. The music was hypnotic – an angelic voice singing some kind of chant. Only warm, natural oil is used, and at the very end of the 90 minute treatment, the therapist did something unusual – she gently held my hand and sang a sweet song of blessing. It was a truly genuine, caring and an unexpectedly intimate touch that almost had me tearing up.
Just when I thought the Four Seasons couldn’t impress me more, we moved to its Jimbaran Bay property in Bali.
From the moment you enter the winding, shaded driveway, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special; ascending the stairway to the lobby confirms it. Highly polished marble reflects the distant shimmer of the ocean so perfectly, I had to double check I wasn’t about to walk on water. Once again, the architecture is exceptional. Small, beautifully designed enclaves like shady gazebos, intricately carved benches and even a pool with a waterfall are tucked into the cliffs the resort, bringing serendipitous delight to whoever stumbles upon them.
Villas are perfectly proportioned, from their plunge pools and adjacent outdoor dining areas to their well-thought out bedrooms – studying, sleeping and living areas flow together seamlessly, whilst functional furnishings like the TV, closets, sockets and bar are discreetly tucked away.
Don’t believe for a minute that just because this is a hotel chain, you won’t experience ‘the real Bali’. The hotel is cogniscent of the fact that the island is host to a unique culture, and this is showcased in myriad ways: through the décor, of course, but also through the activities, for example. Rather than the typical tired buffet dinner, the Four Seasons set up an ‘outdoor market food’ area featuring actual sellers of market food hawking their delicious wares, including creamy Gado Gado, tangy Nasi Goreng and spicy satay sticks. Dancers and musicians from the local community were invited to perform their traditional musical dramas, resplendent in gilded costumes. There are even several temples scattered throughout the grounds, at which employees pray and give offerings several times a day.
I wondered why the Balinese pray so often and asked one of the friendly staff. ‘It’s just to say thanks for all the good things I have in my life,” he answered. “I have a wife, my kids, my health…I am so lucky,” he said with a warm smile.
Gazing out past creamy frangipani flowers to see my husband waving at me in the waterfall pool, I couldn’t help but think: so am I.
Four Seasons Resort Bali At Sayan
Jl. Raya Sayan
Ubud, Kec. Gianyar, Bali 80571
Four Seasons Resort Bali At Jimbaran Bay
Jimbaran, Kuta Selatan
Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361