A Journey of Contrasts by Christina Libuda | 6th March, 2020 | Travel
For those looking to enjoy Bali from its most sumptuous side, there’s a wonderful double experience to be had: It leads from the golden private beach of the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay to the depths of the Balinese jungle and the Four Seasons at Sayan. A tale of divine relaxation, encounters with rice farmers and Michelin-starred cuisine on the banks of the Ayung River.
“The Sacred Nap is a return to childhood, exclusively created for Four Seasons guests.” WELLNESS MENTOR IBU FERA
„Breathe in, breathe out, keep your eyes closed,” whispers the Hindu teacher as he encircles my folded hands with his own. I’ve only just stumbled out of the airport shuttle and into the lobby of the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay on the island of Bali, but after this short welcome meditation I already feel a little more in touch with my inner core. The ritual is the perfect preparation for the days ahead, which I will be spending in pursuit of one thing only: total relaxation. A golf cart takes me through the 14-hectare complex, which stands on a hill on the Bukit peninsula that forms the southern tip of Bali. It borders on the old fishing village of Jimbaran. Between the densely planted coconut and sugar palms, frangipani and hibiscus, there are 147 luxurious villas, built and laid out like a Balinese village. Behind a sturdy wooden door, my accommodation awaits me with a palm-lined terrace, an infinity pool and a view of Jimbaran Bay, which stretches for roughly five kilometers. A wall, traditionally used to ward off the island’s demons, ensures absolute privacy.
The palm-thatched villa is furnished in a classic, timeless style. Colorful ikat textiles and intricately detailed woodwork by Balinese master carver Made Jojol add a touch of authenticity to the elegant surroundings. When you open the terrace doors, a gentle sea breeze wafts in. The foaming waves of the Indian Ocean break off of Uluwatu at the very tip of the island and lap gently onto the golden sands of the hotel’s private beach. The resort, which opened more than 25 years ago, was the first hotel on Bali to offer guests not just five-star luxury but the most exquisite cuisine to match. You could say this hotel is as old as the Bali hype itself. And as with anything that has stood the test of time, the people here know what matters from experience. The food is fantastic, the staff are incredibly friendly and proactive and what’s on offer at the spa will take your breath away. I opt for an amethyst wrap. Based on the powers the mineral is attributed with, the treatment claims a balancing and revitalizing effect. The healing stone wrap keeps its promise: On this trip, nothing gets me worked up.
Bali, Twice the Magic” is a package from the Four Seasons chain that offers guests the chance to visit both the hospitality company’s resorts on the Indonesian island. So the very next day I set out for the depths of the Balinese rainforest, where my second destination awaits. It’s not far from Ubud, the cultural and spiritual heart of the island. The journey takes around two hours. The roads are choked with traffic, everyone is honking their horns in the hope of advancing just a few centimeters. But then the noise dies down and before I know it, has faded away entirely. I open the car window. The outside air smells of earth and nature. It’s not much further to our destination: the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan. In 2018, Travel + Leisure magazine voted it the best hotel in the world. I walk across a wooden bridge that rises spectacularly above the treetops and turns every arrival into an experience. The bridge ends in the middle of a huge lotus pond on the roof of the hotel – and offers a view that’s guaranteed to leave no guest’s soul unmoved. “It’s like a spoon in a giant rice bowl,” says Anglo-Malay architect John Heah of the famous design he unveiled more than 21 years ago. The “rice bowl” – an offering to the gods – is meant to express affinity with the island’s native culture: In Hinduism, Bali is known as the Island of the Gods. A spiral staircase takes me to the reception area, which commands a 180-degree panorama of the surrounding jungle. I can see little monkeys jumping from branch to branch. This is one of those places you never forget. Julia Roberts stayed here while she was filming Eat Pray Love in 2009, and former U.S. president Barack Obama visited with his family in 2017.
The resort covers seven hectares of jungle. There are three restaurants, a bar, a library, a spa and wellness center and a kids’ club. The 60 villas and suites have been integrated into the landscape so skillfully that you can neither see nor hear your neighbors. Echoing the design of the main building, the entrance to my villa is on the roof, surrounded by a lotus pond. A path takes me to a staircase that leads down to my own private outdoor space – complete with an infinity pool and a view of the lush vegetation. The interior features traditional Balinese teak furniture, hand-woven fabrics and timeless design in various shades of cream. The boundaries between inside and outdoors are blurred – the spaces can be opened up with sliding doors. And at sunrise, I’m woken by the ever-changing symphonies of the orchestra that inhabits the jungle. I start the day with morning yoga and rafting on the Ayung River. Then I get to take a look at the hotel’s paddy fields. I’m greeted by a farmer standing up to his ankles in dark brown mud. His hands have been sanded smooth by the soil. He knocks the grains of rice off the stalks and lays them out in the sun to dry. White gold – that’s what the locals call it.
Still immersed in my impressions of the rice paddy, I spend the afternoon suspended from the ceiling of a bamboo pavilion in a hammock of violet silk. During the “Sacred Nap,” I’m rocked off to sleep like a baby. The method was invented by wellness mentor Ibu Fera, a former Buddhist nun. As she quietly recites her mantras, I feel my mind drifting off. I don’t fully come to my senses until I order an espresso martini at the bar of the exclusive Sokasi restaurant, a tiny place with just eight settings and a show kitchen on the bank of the Ayung River. The chef is there in person, passionately explaining how the duck was wrapped in banana leaves and spent 12 hours stewing underground in a clay oven to reach the desired tenderness.
I’m struck by how often my Four Seasons trip has surprised me – with what I’ve seen, tasted and experienced. But then again, that’s precisely what outstanding hotel concepts are based on: creativity and innovation. At the end of my stay, I visit the Hindu water temple of Pura Tirta Empul. According to Hindu beliefs, bathing in the holy water cleanses the mind and soul. Wrapped in a colorful sarong, I follow my guru and learn how to prayer like the Hindus. I breathe in, breathe out, and close my eyes.