Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
Last summer, I enjoyed a wonderful holiday in Singapore and the Indonesian islands of Java & Bali. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Singapore Airlines A380 new First Class suite from London to Singapore
- Review: Marina Bay Sands Hotel (Singapore)
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, Ubud (today)
- Review: Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Ubud (Bali)
- Review: Amanjiwo, Borobudur (Java)
- Review: Amandari, Ubud (Bali)
- Review: Amankila (Bali)
- Review: Banyan Tree Ungasan, Uluwatu (Bali)
- Review: Bulgari Bali Resort (Bali)
- Review: Anantara Uluwatu (Bali)
- Review: Singapore Airlines B787-10 Dreamliner Business Class from Bali to Singapore
- Review: Singapore Airlines A380 (old) Business Class from Singapore to London
Today (October 3, 2018): Review of Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
- Tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso
Voted #1 hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure in 2018, Four Seasons Resort Sayan encapsulates Bali at its philosophical and soulful best: a sublime hillside haven where man, humanity and nature unite with purest intent. Only a ten-minute drive from the stylish boutiques, artist ateliers and atmospheric eateries of boho-chic Ubud, Four Seasons Sayan is an inspiring base from which to explore Bali’s cultural heart or to retreat into nature’s meditative embrace. Guests arrive via a dramatic bridge, beneath which the Ayung River valley spreads its tropical arms. From the gravity-defying rooftop lotus pond, the property cascades down the hill to the two-tiered swimming pool, cantilevered over the river, through an enchanting forest that cocoons just 60 suites and villas.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan features in my top 10 lists of the best hotels in Bali, the best hotels in Ubud, and the world’s most spectacular hotel lobbies.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Reviews of other hotels in Bali & Java
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is located in the heart of Bali’s spiritual center, Ubud. Set in the island’s central uplands, Ubud is just one hour’s drive north of Ngurah Rai International airport and the beach resorts of southern Bali. This traditional country town offers a treasure trove of cultural landmarks, ranging from ancient temples and Hindu shrines to majestic age-old royal palaces and moss-covered ruins. Inspired by the fresh mountain air and vibrant Balinese festivals, Ubud became an elite artistic colony in the 1930’s, attracting eminent European painters, writers and musicians, and has now grown into one of Indonesia’s most famous tourist sights (also because of its starring role in the movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’). Complementary shuttle runs throughout the day between the hotel and town.
- Surrounded by fragrant gardens and cooled by breezy mountains, the Four Seasons sanctuary enjoys a coveted hillside setting, nestled between two rivers in the Sayan Valley: the sacred Ayung River with its holy springs and ancient temples, and the Subak River, which is part of Bali’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed irrigation network. Although the entrance to the property’s driveway is located just off a busy road, you feel transported to a world apart inside the resort, to a tropical heaven where tranquillity, positive energies and natural beauty take over hectic pace of daily life. As the property cascades down the hillside to the Ayung River, all you see are lotus ponds, patches of tall grasses, and rice paddies against a backdrop of verdant jungle.
- The property features one of the most dramatic hotel entrances you’ll ever see. Guests arrive via a show-stopping footbridge, suspended high above the jungle canopy and leading to a highly Instagrammable, infinity-edge lotus pond, seemingly suspended in the air and floating above the treetops. From this rooftop pond deck, a wooden staircase spirals down into the hotel’s main, multi-level, open-air pavilion, where you find the lobby (top level), main restaurant (one level down) and wellnes center (two levels down). Two accommodation wings – housing 18 suites – spread out on each side of the main pavilion and look out over the resort’s 18 acres of lush, green-terraced rice slopes (where you find 42 private pool villas).
- The hotel’s remarkable design and innovating architecture beautifully echoes the curves and waves of the surrounding, lush landscape. The heart of the property is the dramatic upside-down main pavilion, crowned with its arrival foot bridge and lotus pond (cf above). Designed by London-based architect John Heah – who was inspired by early James Bond films – the eye-catching pavilion’s exterior is somewhat reminiscent of a futuristic space ship (in part due to its elliptical shape) but still perfectly blends into the tropical environment. John Heah described the design as a “rice bowl”: guests enter along a “spoon” (a teak-and-steel footbridge spanning a tributary of the river) and pop out into the center of a “bowl” (the spherical main structure, with its sweeping, 180-degree views of the valley).
- With only 60 rooms (grouped into 18 suites and 42 villas), the property is small by Four Seasons standards, which is exactly what makes this hotel so appealing. The spacious suites are set in two wings extending from the main building and mimicking the contours of the adjacent cliff. They are reached through dark corridors that run past stone monoliths and a good collection of traditional Indonesian and abstract Western art. These suites come with sitting rooms that feature stone and teak floors, comfortable furniture, small desks, genuine antiques, reproductions, dual-line phones, data ports, stereos, large TVs, minibars, half-baths and small balconies. Bedrooms feature king beds, elegant weavings, second phones and TVs. All suites have large furnished terraces that enjoy views of the gardens and rice paddies.
- The 42 elegant villas are dotted across the sprawling grounds, some within walking distance of the main building and others a quick electric buggy ride away. Each of these villas has a private plunge pool and enjoys complete privacy. During my visit, I stayed in a magnificent one bedroom villa, whose entrance was one floor above the spacious indoor and outdoor living quarters. The decor was a mix of contemporary and traditional Balinese, with handsome teak furniture and bamboo woodwork throughout and beige wicker furniture on the terrace. The bedroom featured a four-poster bed draped in fine white nets. Clad in vibrant red tiles, the lavish marble bathroom came with a freestanding tub, his and her sinks, a rain shower, a wood-panelled walk-in closet and an outdoor shower.
- As an alternative for relaxing in the privacy of your own lavish jungle villa, you may want to chill near the resort’s pool. Located on the banks of the Ayung River, in front of the main hotel building’s lowest floor, the resort’s pool area is a cool and relaxing oasis and the perfect hangout spot. The large, two-level, infinity edged pool follow the river’s natural contours and is surrounded by an expensive wooden deck furnished with comfortable chaises loungers. It offers great views of the lush jungle, the sacred river and the many rafters passing by. Pool service is offered, and you can enjoy snacks or lunch here, either served at your sunbed or at the Riverside Café, which overlooks the pool deck (more on that below).
- Not surprisingly, there’s a huge emphasis on wellness at the extraordinary spa, which is spread over two distinct and separate facilities. Three treatment rooms are located inside a set of exclusive villas at the Sacred River Spa located on the banks of the Ayung River. The four other rooms are located on the main building’s lowest floor, near the well equipped gym, a fabulous outdoor deck with three Jacuzzi (overlooking the jungle), and the locker rooms with gender segregated sauna and steam room. I recommend trying one of the Chakra Ceremonies, such as the 150-minute Anahata, which focuses on heart work, comprising a rose quartz crystal chest massage followed by heart-shaped basti filled with healing damascena rose otto placed over the heart and a loving, rose oil full body massage.
- Yoga aficionados will feel at home at the hotel’s beautiful bamboo yoga bale (an open pavilion), which is set above an idyllic riverside rice field. The bale specializes in anti-gravity yoga, in which you are weightless in a yoga swing and off the ground for the poses. A dynamic and groundbreaking ‘flying’ practice, anti-gravity yoga combines athletic strength with the motion of dance in a session that lengthens the spine and improves flexibility. In addition, daily complimentary meditation and yoga classes are offered, combining the freedom and health benefits of laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama) and asanas (poses).
- In addition to in-room dining, the hotel offers three terrific dining options:
- Ayung Terrace is the property’s fine dining restaurant, located inside the main hotel building one floor below the lobby. At night, it serves innovative Indonesian dishes, made with vibrant spices and the freshest ingredients, alongside captivating river views. Each morning, an excellent à la carte breakfast is served here (think eggs, pancakes and Indonesian specialities) in addition to a fruit station.
- The Riverside Café is a more intimate dining venue perched above the swimming pool. It serves light Mediterranean fare at lunch, while it becomes a smart, contemporary grill in the evening.
- Not to be missed is the Chef’s Table at Sokasi, an open-air 100% bamboo pavilion set on the banks of the Ayung river. Here, you’ll be served an intimate seven-course dinner, cooked right in front of you at Sokasi’s open kitchen. Highlights include babi guling suckling pig marinated with base genep thousand-spice paste and bebek betutu whole duck slow-roasted in a traditional clay pot oven.
- Due to the high privacy and its stellar reputation, the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is a magnet for many celebrities who visit Bali. The hotel’s most famous guest was USA President Barack Obama, who stayed here in 2016 when he took his family to Bali (the former president lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child). The Obamas stayed at the resort’s Royal Villa, a three-story, three-bedroom residence with a prime position overlooking the Ayung River, forest highlands and rice terraces. Hollywood actress Julia Roberts stayed in the exact same villa for three months while she was filming the popular movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.
- The property has won numerous prestigious travel awards and has featured on the cover of countless flossy travel magazines. Most recently, it has been voted the #1 World’s Top Hotel by Travel&Leisure, in recognition of the unique location, architecture and experiences that connect guests with the cultural heart of Bali. In announcing the winner of the World’s Best Awards 2018, Travel + Leisure highlighted the Resort’s “sense of calm” combined with “innovative and modern” new experiences awaiting guests.
- Both management and staff at the property provide exceptional service. Miraculously, everyone at the resort seems to know your name and what you want before you even know it yourself. In addition to the stellar service, a wide range of complimentary activities is available to all guests, including a selection of yoga classes, guided walks, cycling, life talk series, meditation classes and Balinese dance performances. The activities vary from day to day.
- Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is one of two properties on the island of Bali managed by Four Seasons. The other hotel is the beachfront Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, which I reviewed here. This has the advantage that guests can combine two exotic experiences on Bali under the umbrella of the famous Four Seasons brand. You can try ocean living at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, and escape to a private rainforest sanctuary on the Ayung River at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is hands down one of the best resorts in Bali. There’s little to say against this majestic rainforest sanctuary, although you need the know the following when considering a stay here:
- The resort grounds are quite extensive and feature many steep paths due to the hillside location. Although efficient 24/7 buggy service is provided to all guests, you’ll still have to negotiate many steps, which may be challenging for those guests having difficulties with walking. This is especially true in the hotel’s 3-level main pavilion (which does not feature an elevator), and within the accommodations (most villas can only be accessed by a staircase and the duplex suites feature a staircase between the living and sleeping area).
- The property is more than 20 years old, but it has weathered well and is perfectly maintained, partly thanks to extensive use of wood, which ensures the resort is reflective of local, timeless architecture. It also underwent a major renovation not long ago, so everything looks quite new. That said, if you are looking for a hotel with a modern design and trendy vibe, you will be disappointed here (but why would you want that in the rainforest of Ubud?).
- The pool area is quite small for a resort of this caliber. In addition, the number of loungers on the pool deck is limited, so it may be difficult to find a spot here when the resort runs at full capacity. That said, most guests will prefer to lounge near the private pool of their villa, so this is not a major issue for most of the time.
- Contrary to most Four Seasons properties, the property does not feature an adult’s only area, so from time to time, families with younger children can disturb the peaceful bliss at the riverside pool.
- The resort is expensive, but you should know that going in. It’s a Four Season property and one of the best in the world after all. That said, the Four Seasons is not any more expensive than its competitors in the luxury resort experience on the island. Also, if you find the resort’s delicious food to be too expensive, you can always take the complimentary hotel shuttle to Ubud town, where you find many cheap eateries.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 8/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 9/10
- Food: 8/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 9/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8,8/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a Four Seasons property (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: enjoy complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. upgrade, daily breakfast, and $100 USD resort credit).
- Room tip (suite): The wider, single story suites on the upper level are preferable, since the low-end terrace suites are narrow duplexes with two-story windows.
- Room tip (villa): Choose a villa fronting the Ayung River or its tributary for views of bathing natives and working farmers.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
REVIEWS OF OTHER HOTELS IN BALI & INDONESIA
- Review: Anantara Uluwatu, Bali (Indonesia)
- Review: Bulgari Resort Bali (Indonesia)
- Review: Banyan Tree Ungasan, Bali (Indonesia)
- Review of Amankila, Bali’s best luxury hotel
- Review of Amandari (Ubud, Bali)
- Review: Amanjiwo, Borobudur (Java, Indonesia)
- Review of Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (Bali, Indonesia)
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan (Ubud, Bali)
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay (Indonesia)
- Hotel review: Villa Sungai, Bali (Indonesia)
- Hotel review: the Viceroy Bali (Indonesia)
- Review: Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali’s most spectacular hotel
- Hotel review: COMO Shambhala Bali (Indonesia)
- Hotel review: Soori Bali (Indonesia)
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Located close to the equator, temperatures in Bali hover at a balmy 30°C (85°F) year-found. The frequency of precipitation is the only concern for travelers seeking to visit this paradise island. The rainy season lasts from October to March, and the heavy humidity and torrential rainfalls make this period more unpredictable for adventures and exploration. The dry season lasts from April to September, and the weather during this time is warm and pleasant, so this is generally viewed as the optimal time to experience Bali at its finest.
HOW TO GET THERE
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is a one to two hour’s ride from Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (depending upon traffic). Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Bali.
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