Zen out of Zen – Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan and Jimbaran Bay
No, honestly, I mean it this time.
Please, you have to believe me. Yes, I know I always say this is the ‘one’. But this time I’m for real. It was special. It was magical. Things happened to me I’ve never experienced before. I felt like a new man. Fuck, I felt like a new woman. I actually dribbled. A globule of saliva full-on fell out of my mouth. It was so good I nodded off.
Yes, the massage I had at the Sacred River spa at Four Seasons Bali at Sayan was the best. Her hands carried me somewhere else. In my mind, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 played (drowning out the mum-friendly spa muzak) as I walked, light-footed and naked, through a jungle, with monkeys, to a better place. With every knead, the stress of being a luxury lifestyle reporter exited via my skin, like passata squeezed through milk-white muslin cloth.
By the half-way point, I was convinced she was making me a better person. As if her petrissage was so profound that even deep moral corruption could be knuckled away. I looked down at the flower in the bowl and it began spinning – a buddhist mandala coming in and out of focus. Enlightenment was clearly just round the corner. Things, for a short while, got existential: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Why the hell is this so god-damn good?’
And then, just as she started the flat-palmed sweeps that signal the end of spa-vana, I grasped it. With both hands, I held the explanation for all this giddiness. No, not her technique – I’ve had better. It was context. All that Life of Pi metaphor nonsense running through my head wasn’t me thinking creatively. It was reality. I was naked, in a jungle, with monkeys, in Bali, a buddhist country.
You really got me.
I felt stupid, and it was all Four Seasons’s fault. Yeah, you know who you are, with your big rice bowl-shaped hotel (I know, right?) in the middle of nowhere. And you know what you’re doing. A little too well if you ask me. I haven’t seen this level of sensory manipulation since I first got my girlfriend into bed. But I’ve got to hand it to you, Four Seasons – I’m impressed. For a man who grew up in Birmingham, this is a head dunk into the preternatural.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so jaw-loose by a hotel’s first impressions. And bear in mind I’d done the requisite online research ahead of arriving. I’m loathed to pump clichés like, ‘photos don’t do it justice,’ but there’s no way around that being hard fact.
Shortly after my immersion-via-hands, I sipped on a G&T by my villa’s infinity pool. The last time the colours ahead of me were this vivid, my brother accidentally turned the family flatscreen’s saturation to 100%. As I stared dumb at the Ayung river bubbling along below my opulent enclave, I half expected Baloo and Mowgli to swim past.
This, I realised, is Sayan’s real worth: a place to think silly and forgot modernity’s abrasions. Men’s Health magazine, your Uber rating, anti-wrinkle cream – bye bye. If the view or the massage doesn’t do it, try anti-gravity yoga on the property’s paddy field-surrounded bale. Or a meditation session with a soporific-sounding skinhead ex-monk woman. Or planting rice as part of the hotel’s interesting – if a touch condescending – A Day in the Life of a Balinese Farmer experience.
I did all three. Though, I won’t pretend I got the hang of the former. Implausibly inflexible I may be, but the sling-system demands a little more of you than a balasana (child’s pose). I did feel about three inches taller after, mind – like the slipped disc never happened.
The city of Ubud is close by and offers the more inquisitive a chance to sample the fruits of Bali’s arts and crafts culture. It’s also a centre for traditional dance, which I had the chance to experience as part of the hotel’s nightly entertainment. Highly skilled, bedizen women performed angular, expressive gestures to the music of a percussion ensemble (or gamelan). Weird, but arresting.
And by the sea.
Not content with just one property on the island, Four Seasons also have their Jimbaran Bay offering. It’s found on the up-market south side of the eponymous bay, minute from Denpasar city centre. This is the Four Seasons brand I know: consummate luxury in villa-landscaped surroundings. And it’s the villas that prompted our visit. They’ve been given a facelift and now feel more in keeping with the de rigueur style – light-and-airy soft furnishings vs dark-wood fixtures – of other five-starers in their league.
It’s the seaside itself where one finds the best activities. We golf buggied down to the hotel’s beach club for a paddle-boarding session. I wanted to surf, but the water that day was glass. Once the others in my group were done with their 20-minute Instagram photo shoot (I mean, seriously), we headed up-beach to Jimbaran Beach Cafe. There are several similar establishments lining this stretch of the littoral, and the attraction is seafood barbecue. Tucking into charred claw meat on long tables attended by locals felt memorable.
Then the dribbling restarted: I was passing into Four Seasons world again. This barbecue was up there – like, top three. Not because of the taste particularly, but everything else. ‘This feels like we’re in a film,’ someone said. What a relief – I wasn’t the only one then.