River Deep, Mountain High

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An Indonesian Resort Balances Yin and Yang

CHOOSING TO SPEND YOUR VACATION IN BALI, one of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, is far from an unusual escape. Surfers and intrepid travelers have been making the pilgrimage to the Island of the Gods for the last 20 years. Shortly thereafter, the well-heeled slowly followed, checking into iron gated, 1980s-style mega-resorts that adequately locked the luxury in… while keeping both Indonesia’s daunting poverty and vibrant culture out.

A paradigm shift in tourism over the last few years, however, has left luxury travelers yearning for a more heightened, “real-world experience.” In response, Bali’s top echelon of luxury resort properties have worked to seamlessly weave the five-star resort experience with Bali’s intense cultural offerings. The results of which left this traveler spiritually rejuvenated.

With nearly all high-end resort brands represented in Bali today (Aman, Bulgari and Ritz-Carlton), none achieve the yin-yang experience of Bali’s towering mountain climes with the tranquility of its beaches as Four Seasons Resort’s sister properties, Jimbaran Bay and Sayan, in Ubud.

Begin your visit at the beachfront property at Jimbaran Bay (John O’Sullivan, general manager of the resort notes that heading straight to the mountains of Bali can often be a bit too intense for the novice Indonesia traveler.), located just south of Kuta-Bali’s main tourist hub-and a short drive from Denpasar International Airport. Fringed by a pristine white sand beach and circling the protected Jimbaran Bay garnered the nickname “Beverly Hills of Bali.”

Modeled after a local village, Jimbaran Bay’s 156 villas are all freestanding, thatched-roof limestone structures complete with a private courtyard, outdoor lounge area, plunge pools and treetop views of the bay. Wandering the open-air corridors of the resort, all décor and architectural design are in keeping with traditional themes. Mythological limestone carvings, handcrafted teak furniture, antique artifacts and exotic fabrics are tastefully woven in to the landscape. Traditional diety offerings of rice and flowers are placed around the property three times per day.

If understanding the storied culture of Bali is on your agenda, head out on a sunrise beach walk to witness dozens of local fishermen returning home in their traditional jukung fishing boats. A short stroll toward the northern end of the bay will bring you to the Jimbaran fish market, where you can freely stroll the aisles, asking questions about the cornucopia of sea bounty. In the evenings, grab a table on the sand and settle into one of the grilled seafood restaurants that line the shore.

If you prefer to experience Bali within the parameters of the hotel grounds, the options are still vast. Many arrive from halfway around the globe to immerse themselves in massage treatments within cliff-side, open-air gazebos; others delve in to cooking classes to learn Balinese fare in a state-of-the-art facility. Art enthusiasts and history buffs soak in dance performances, temples and pop-up galleries.

When the pace sets in, it’s a fine time to head an hour north into the mountains of Ubud, for the “yang” portion of your jaunt.

“Sayan is a very spiritual place,” O’Sullivan explains. “The Ayung River that it is built on is the most sacred river in Bali. So the property naturally has a level of latent spirituality that is simply unexplainable.”

Perched among terraced rice paddies, the hotel is an architectural marvel, most notably in the manner of which the contemporary design majestically melds with its surroundings. Sayan features 60 suites and free-standing teak villas, each clustered around the resort’s impeccably manicured vegetable gardens and rice paddy. Shaped somewhat like many refer to as “a giant spaceship,” the riverside Four Seasons Resort Sayan property is where Julia Roberts bunked during the month while filming Eat, Pray, Love.

Venturing beyond the gates of the hotel is easy; the hotel’s complementary shuttle deposits you in the renowned art town of Ubud, where shopping for collectibles, a gallery visit, or the impromptu photo shoot with dozens of resident monkeys can certainly fill an afternoon. For the more adventurous, resort concierges can aid with customizable tours, like (the appropriately titled) “A Day in the life of The Balinese Farmer.” After trekking through the muddy rice fields of Ubud, you can experience a hands-on lesson in rice farming. Finish the day sipping fresh coconut water and a traditional meal of nasi campur in a private bale along side the Ayung River.

With your spirit settling in to harmony, head back down to Jimbaran Bay for your final night. Seated poolside, admire the sun as it plummets into the Indian Ocean, pondering all the surfers and vagabonds who helped spread the word of Bali’s mystique. After all, it’s the exquisite blend of culture and refinement that make a destination worth returning to, over and over again.

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