Like many twenty somethings, I decided to visit Bali after watching Eat, Pray, Love. Lush jungle greenery, pristine ocean waters, energy-healing ceremonies, laid-back beach parties, seafood BBQs, and dragon-fruit bowls – my wish list for the Island of Gods was a long (and at times even conflicting) one. Burgers with a side of spirulina shots? Why the heck not?
With so much to look forward to, I found it all thanks to the Four Seasons. The leading hotel group accepted my long list of requests, bravely taking on the challenge of making all my Bali dreams come true.
As soon as I landed in Denpasar after a nine-hour direct flight from Dubai with Emirates, I made my way to the Four Seasons Sayan. The iconic jungle resort is nestled between two rivers in the Sayan Valley: the sacred Ayung River with its holy springs and ancient temples, and a “subak” river that is part of Bali’s UNESCO-protected irrigation network. Looking to detox my body and recharge my batteries, I made a point (#sorrynotsorry) of switching off my phone.
The first thing I noticed upon reaching the resort was its dramatic entrance, which makes quite the impression. Imagine a long footbridge leading you to the rooftop lotus pond high above the forest with a staircase descending into the lobby. As I walked down the stairs, it felt as though I was being swallowed up by the jungle.
A lemongrass-infused welcome drink and a few formalities later, I was in a buggy on my way to the river-front accommodations. Mirroring the resort, all the hotel villas have a “below-the-ground” design with rooftop entrances and private water-lily ponds. And plunge pools overlooking 18 acres of manicured hillside. And outdoor showers. And complete privacy to enjoy it all.
I spent the entirety of my first day in the villa. I read. I swam. I stared at the flowing river. I listened to the singing birds. I took in as much nature as I possibly could. Once the sun set, I moved indoors to enjoy the gorgeous bathroom. Marble floors, indoor and outdoor showers, an oversized tub, fluffy robes, and candles aplenty – it felt like owning a spa of my very own. The fact that all of the hotel’s beauty products are locally made using coconut oil and lemongrass was just the icing on the cake.
After an early night, I woke up to practice yoga at sunrise on the rooftop of the villa. Then, feeling recharged and completely zen, I headed out to explore the resort. A spirulina-sprinkled smoothie bowl for breakfast? Check. A guided walk to the Sayan village? Check. Rice planting with Balinese farmers? Check. Private rafting on the Ayung River? A coconut-oil massage? Traditional dance performances? Check, check, check. The Four Seasons Sayan has something to offer everyone, making the experience enjoyable for solo travelers, honeymooners (which the resort has plenty of), and families with children alike.
The yogi therapies at Dharma Shanti were undoubtedly the highlight of my stay – more specifically, the energizing anti-gravity yoga and soulful sacred nap (yes, nap) guided by a former Buddhist nun who is now the resort’s resident wellness mentor. Wrapped in fine silks and listening to the sounds of the holy river, I was contemplating whether I could ever leave this place. After all, didn’t Julia Roberts’ character stay on the island for months on end?
On day three, I sat at the reception sipping a coconut-milk cappuccino while waiting for my transfer to the Four Seasons Jimbaran, a recently renovated beachside resort located just 90 minutes away from Sayan. I felt rested, centered, and ready for some playtime by the beach.
The hotel’s lobby was just as impressive as that of the Four Seasons Sayan, with a traditional-style, open-air building overlooking the curve of the famous Jimbaran Bay. I could smell the ocean and the pink flowers of the trees framing every building within the resort. The setting was truly breathtaking.
I soon learned that the Four Seasons Jimbaran had just undergone a major two-year renovation, further raising its service and comfort standards. As a result, all of the property’s 147 villas boast a contemporary design scheme, an outdoor plunge pool, and the ultimate views of the sunset-drenched coast – all the while preserving the ambience of its original architecture inspired by a typical Balinese village. I was placed in a newly refurbished beachfront villa. Lucky me.
On the topic of sunsets: Jimbaran Beach is believed to boast the most picturesque one in Bali. The sky turns all kinds of pastel shades, highlighting the shapes of the little boats and planes that land at Denpasar International Airport not far away.
Sunset hour is (understandably) the busiest time for the resort’s chic beach bar Sundara, which serves sundowners with a side of live music. On my first night, I started out by the sea and then moved to the upstairs terrace to enjoy an Asian-inspired seafood meal for dinner.
Sunrise in Jimbaran is just as gorgeous, and the resort offers multiple activities to be enjoyed during those quiet morning hours. I chose a long walk on the beach followed by outdoor yoga – and I was done by 9 a.m., just in time for breakfast. Although the hotel’s main restaurant has a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea, I really enjoyed having my morning meal at Sundara while listening to the sound of the waves.
During the day, the beach-bar-by-night spot is transformed with sunbeds and umbrellas, perfect for lazy daytime lounging. Alternatively, there are a number of stunning beaches around the resort: Bingin, Balangan, and Padang Padang are all less than 30 minutes away and really worth visiting if you like the sight of rocks, caves, and white sand. Who doesn’t?
Although Jimbaran Bay is the biggest attraction for the hotel’s guests, the Four Seasons is so much more than just a beach resort. The Healing Village Spa offers a wide range of treatments ranging from traditional Balinese therapies using local products such as oils, salts, and water to high-performance facials.
If watersports is more your speed, the hotel is affiliated with TropicsSurf to offer both surfing lessons and heli-surfing classes. There’s also kayaking, sailing, and windsurfing – and just building sand castles on the beach for old time’s sake.
And if that weren’t enough to keep you busy in paradise, there’s also the Jimbaran Bay Cooking Academy. A half-day experience filled with chopping, marinating, frying, laughing, and eating, it’s not to be missed. The head chef took us to the famous Jimbaran Fish Market – the biggest in Bali – and then walked us through the academy’s private spice and herb garden on the way back. We learned how to make traditional rice, fish steamed in banana leaves, sambal, and pumpkin pie.
I returned to my room smelling of sautéed garlic and turmeric, with a cooking certificate confirming that I had completed a Balinese module – one of the seven different programs offered at the culinary institute. Over the course of my three-day stay, I had many beautiful encounters with the hotel staff, and I learned that more than 60 percent of them had been with the property for over 20 years.
I’ve always been an advocate of staying in resorts that support local communities, and the Balinese people are truly grateful for the recent rise in tourism as it provides villages with a steady source of income. That, on top of an incredible week at the two Four Seasons properties in Bali? Just the proverbial cherry on top.