Rich Experiences Await with the Bali Twice the Magic Package Through Four Seasons
River, Ocean and Everything in Between
Bali. Say the name and my imagination clicks on images of paradise, of green rice paddies and gentle people, the location of meditation retreats and spiritual journeys, a serene landscape dotted with temples and ringed with white-sand beaches. The airport, I imagined, would be a rustic reminder of the past, perhaps an old hanger of World War II vintage. I would be picked up there to embark on my Bali Twice the Magic package through the Four Seasons.
You can well imagine my surprise arriving at Bali’s only airport, where jumbo jets were lined up disgorging unimaginable numbers of passengers. The giant customs hall was packed. And the airport itself looked for all the world like Disney’s idea of where Aladdin might land.
In keeping with the theme, the Four Season’s greeter wore an udheng, the traditional Balinese headdress. Usually worn for religious purposes, it was a reminder that I had arrived in Bali for the six-day celebration of its New Year, Nyepi. Hindus celebrate the purification of their gods and the minority Muslims and Christians all join in. On the third day, the entire island comes to a total halt. Not a plane flies in, not a candle is lit, not an hour of work is done. Nyepi is a day of silence.
The Bali Twice the Magic package includes a stay at both the Four Seasons at Sayan and Jimbaran Bay, the former located alongside a river and the latter beside the ocean. So what kind of experience can you expect, in particular when visiting during Nyepi? Read on to find out.
Four Seasons Bali at Sayan
It was first off to the Four Seasons Bali at Sayan. As soon as we left the airport, reminders that Nyepi was approaching were all around.
Two days before the silent holiday, a cacophony of sounds greeted me as I sat in the back of the hotel’s comfortable Mercedes. I listened to the buzz of a thousand motorcycles and the blast of horns as buses hurtled toward oncoming traffic. Then we came to a complete stop. An enormous procession was blocking the main highway from Denpasar, the capital city and where the airport is located, to Ubud, called the spiritual capital of the island.
“Melasti” was being celebrated by hundreds of worshipers. On this day, each temple carries their religious statuary to the sea. The statues are transported under umbrellas and atop litters to the sea where they are washed and purified for the coming year.
The parade seemed almost endless. We sat in a sea of motorbikes that were to accompany us on an 18-kilometer drive that took well over two hours, so massive were the traffic jams. The Balinese were heading home for the holidays. And home was anywhere but Denpasar. We were on its outskirts — as un-Balinese a landscape as could be imagined. Tire shops and car dealers, fast food restaurants and miles of stone mason’s output of religious statuary lined every inch of the street.
I sat clench-mouthed most of the way, mildly terrified that we were one motorcycle too close to an accident. In a final push past a crowd stopped in its tracks on our side of the road, we drove headlong into oncoming traffic. Just at the moment when impact seemed inevitable, we turned off the road and entered an unassuming lane. We had arrived at the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan.
Being a traveler who pores over pictures before ever leaving home, I knew what to expect. But even then, I was astonished experiencing the hotel. Built to resemble a rice bowl, with a wing of suites as its spoon, the 20-year-old hotel is reached by a bridge. Once you have crossed it, you descend to the hotel lobby for check-in. Then you are escorted to your accommodations.
Mine were a villa that was somewhere between heaven and earth. A coy pond flanked the entry. Once inside, an entire open-air living room greeted me. A swimming pool glistened in the close-to-setting sun. To one side, an enormous bedroom beckoned. A canopy bed and a bathroom with two options to shower and one to soak were wildly inviting after my long trip getting here. But I had a massage appointment to keep and I was running late.
Four Seasons at Sayan has settled into the valley it occupies. With its two acres of rice fields, vegetable and herb gardens, groves of fruit trees, and two rivers running through it, its villas and suites all seem organic. It’s also settled into its role as an other-worldly retreat.
Muladhara Chakra Ceremony
The Four Seasons at Sayan has embraced what it calls “the healing energy of the valley.” I could feel it as I went down a stairway to the Sacred River Spa. And the treatment I had went far beyond any massage. The 120-minute muladhara chakra ceremony concentrates on the base of the spine, which the Balinese believe is the center of security, emotions and actions. Lying on a table beside a lotus-flower filled pond, I was carried somewhere else entirely.
The smoke ceremony said to cleanse and the singing bowls to soothe are combined with a deep, slow massage using ginger, cinnamon, vetivert, pathchouli and jatamansi oils. In a blissful two hours I relaxed completely. And this treatment set the tone for the rest of my stay.
Can You Keep a Secret Tour
The Can You Keep a Secret tour through the Four Seasons at Sayan was all I’d hoped for and more the next day. In an open-air vintage orange jeep, a guide from the hotel, 24-year-old Wahyu Widiyatmika, took me to a Balinese village, home to at least six temples. Explaining Hinduism and how it is practiced in Bali was but one part of this off-the-beaten-track tour.
We visited a home, watching a grandmother watch over her grandsons in their family compound. We saw offerings to both good gods and evil spirits including one place in which a cigarette had been added to the mix of food stuffs and flowers. Finally, we went to a holy site where I followed Wayhu in a ritual purification in sacred waters and where I received a woven bracelet that, months later, is still around my wrist.
Where did I go? I was sworn to secrecy and, as if to assure my promise never to reveal any details, not a single picture I took was usable in any way.
Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay
After what was truly a spiritual awakening, it was time to leave Sayan and travel the 90 minutes to Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay. It was now the day before Nyepi, when the Bhuta Yajna ritual takes place. This ceremony is meant to vanquish negativity. On route to Jimbaran, we glimpsed animal sacrifices, and plants and crops as part of the offerings. Each village has one.
We also saw preparations all along the way for the Ogoh-ogoh parades that usher in Nyepi. Ogoh-ogoh are demonic statues of amazing complexity and size. They’re made out of bamboo and paper and they all symbolize negative elements or malevolent spirits. In parades held at sunset, the Ogoh-ogoh pass through the streets in a deafening mixture of bamboo bells, claxons and drummers.
The Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay was the first resort in the world to boast a swimming pool for each of its 156 villas. The hotel cascades down a 34-acre hillside ending at the Indian Ocean. Every inch of the property is a mirror of a Balinese village. It is home to literally hundreds of statues and shrines. There’s even a resident priest who conducts welcoming ceremonies for arriving guests.
Its gardens are exquisite — none more so than the incredible plantings around each accommodation. Each villa has a traditional Balinese door, behind which a religious statue greets each guest. The villas are exquisitely furnished inside and out. Each villa features a lanai and a space for sunning in complete privacy.
I arrived as the resort was preparing its own Ogoh-ogoh parade for its guests. Families of the hotel’s magnificent staff were dressed in costume and meandered as a group through the hotel’s grounds to the sound of drums and bells and the scent of frangipani.
Nyepi starts promptly at midnight. The last of the planes took off from the airport across the bay and total silence prevailed. The hotel had dispensation to keep a single light on in each guest room but the curtains were all tightly closed. There was absolutely no landscape lighting at all. Even the internet was closed down for the day. As was the television station, every shop, every business and every activity. It is a day of meditation. I took it as such as it poured down rain all day.
Cooking School and Culture Center
Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay is first and foremost a beach resort. It offers surfing tours and an all-day dining and beach club. There is a spa, of course, and a yoga pavilion where we practiced hot stone yoga overlooking the sand. There is also the Jala Cooking School where I spent a morning with its head chef, Kristya Yuhda, a local celebrity chef who is a master of Balinese cooking. We made salsas, spicy sambal matha and a more familiar satay and then sat down to lunch.
There is also a Culture Center. Named for the Hindu god Ganesh, it features lessons on making palm leaf offering baskets, woodworking classes and Balinese dance. Ganesh is the Hindu Lord of Good Fortune, who provides prosperity, fortune and success. He is the Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles both spiritual and material. And in this atmosphere of prosperity, fortune and success that is Four Seasons, he is a highly appropriate symbol of Jimbaran Bay.
Return to Four Seasons Bali at Sayan
As Lord of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, I have to wonder if Ganesh had a hand in a new offering that would have made my trek to Four Seasons in Sayan far more interesting. And cut the drive time down by about 30 minutes.
The longest in Bali, the Ayung River flows down from the mountains. It’s home to the island’s best whitewater rafting as it courses through Bali’s rainforest and rice paddies. And, in a streak of good fortune, it runs right by Four Seasons at Sayan. Now Four Seasons is taking advantage of its perfect location — guests transferring from Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay to Four Seasons at Sayan have the option of traveling by river raft.
You can sign on for a two-hour guided raft adventure. After a 60 minute limo ride, you reach the start off point. On a leisurely trip down river, you will see secluded sites including a natural holy spring and dam belonging to Bali’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed subak irrigation system. You will experience Class III rapids, views of lush jungle, rice terraces and gorges. All the while, your luggage will be separately transferred from one Four Seasons to the other. You arrive directly at the resort’s Riverside Restaurant where a waiting staff ensures a seamless check-in after a hotel arrival like no other.
But after all, it is a Four Seasons. And exactly what you’d expect from one —or two — no matter where you roam.