Four Seasons at Sayan: A Luxury Retreat in Bali

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Mr Sunshine and I had dreamed of visiting Bali for years. In fact, it was on our honeymoon shortlist, coming in second place only after our eventual choice of the Amalfi Coast. Two years on, we weren't ready to give up the dream; something about that lush jungle greenery, those azure ocean waters and the zen-like vibe of this laid-back Indonesian island was calling our names, and we weren't going to let travelling with a toddler put us off.

Often, long-held dreams don't quite live up to reality, but on this occasion we were far from disappointed. Our days in Bali were filled to the brim with things to do and see, we stumbled upon some truly excellent restaurants, and we watched Sophia flourish day by day. It was the two Four Seasons Bali hotels, firstly in Sayan, Ubud, and later on at Jimbaran Bay which we chose as our base, and which bravely rose to the challenge of making all of our Bali dreams come true.

Here is the first of a two-part series about our once-in-a-lifetime experiences with the Four Seasons Bali, focussing on the luxury retreat of Four Seasons at Sayan.

First Impressions

Fresh off a nine hour flight from Doha, with an exhausted toddler asleep on my shoulder, we entered the jungle paradise of the Four Seasons at Sayan. With one of the most impressive hotel entrances I have ever seen, involving a floating bridge which crosses over the treetops from the main driveway to the iconic circular lotus pond on the roof of the hotel, which seemingly floats above the jungle, the experience left quite the impression.

We had chosen the area just outside of Ubud to begin our journey, and I was delighted with our decision. Well-known as an area covered in lush greenery and steeped in natural beauty, a spiritual getaway from the stresses of everyday life, I couldn't have imagined a better juxtaposition between our first stop and our busy, urban, desert-based lives back in Doha.

One fruity drink, and swift check-in to the tranquil sound of music being played on a traditional Bamboo Xylophone later, and we were on a buggy on our way to our private villa.

The Villa

The extensive grounds are peppered with suites and private villas, but once you are tucked away inside your own, you could easily be alone in the wilderness, with only the babbling sound of the Ayung River for company.

With a topsy-turvy layout which mirrors the main building of the hotel, you enter the villas from the roof, and head downstairs to an indoor-outdoor setting which allows you to take full advantage of the nature on your doorstep.

We mainly spent our days on the resort moving between the cooling infinity pool, which looked out over the wild jungle beyond, and the comfortable seating area on the terrace, where we ordered room service and allowed ourselves to indulge.

Inside, the room was large and flooded with natural light; decorated with traditional wooden carvings and splashed with special touches of luxury which made us feel at home right away.

The bed was enormous, and as usual, Sophia rejected her cot in favour of the marshmallow mattress with the princess-like mosquito net which surrounded it.

The Grounds 

There are many things that are right about this hotel, but the extensive grounds are by far the best of them. Winding pathways connect the villas and the various outlying buildings of the hotel, and provided a pleasant way to spend a morning of exploration.

To Sophia's delight, we spotted brightly coloured birds, numerous lizards and even enormous frogs in the grounds, which came out of hiding after a rain shower one day. For the rest of the holiday, she couldn't stop talking about the 'bobs' she had seen, and kept dragging us around trying to find them once again!

Tucked away at the edge of the resort is the stunning riverside infinity pool, which provided another pretty spot for Sophia to splash about in when we fancied a change of scenery. With two levels, and the most delicious of views over the effervescent river, it feels more like a naturally-occuring rock pool than a luxury hotel pool.

The Activities 

The kid's club, which is free for all of the hotel's younger guests (unless your child is under four like ours, in which case you will have to pay for a dedicated child minder to stay with them, which actually gave us a lot of peace of mind!) is located on the edge of the grounds and is a stunning piece of architecture in its own right. With well-stocked shelves of games, books and activities, and a little yard outside to play, it is a well-appointed and safe place to leave your child for a few hours while you have a little downtime.

Which is exactly what Mr Sunshine and I did for a couple of hours on our last day, so that we could head to the beautiful Sacred River Spa for a couple's massage.

Treatments are either carried out in private 'huts' in a secluded location on the edge of the complex, or in the hotel's main building, and both locations offer patrons a number of traditional spiritual practices and rituals to calm the mind and restore the body.

After an hour-long, relaxing Thai massage, still in my blissful state, I headed over to the iconic Dharma Shanti Yoga Bale for a complimentary beginner's yoga session. This lotus petal inspired structure is located amongst the rice paddy fields and provides the perfect peaceful spot to immerse yourself in meditation and really feel at one with nature amidst the sounds of the birds and the trickling stream.

The Food

Breakfast at the Four Seasons at Sayan is something incredibly special. Set up amongst the treetops on the Ayung Terrace, a long balcony of tables allows diners to fully-immerse themselves in nature with panoramic views out over the jungle.

As a breakfast fan, I adored the menu, which was split between traditional Asian and Indonesian dishes and European classics. The buffet was well-stocked, and the service flowed, resulting in three very happy people each morning, with plenty of energy for the day of activities ahead.

The Riverside Cafe, overlooking the hotel's infinity pool, was an almost daily haunt of ours from day one. Serving up good quality European cuisine and with the warmest of staff, who took a liking to Sophia and swiftly brought out her favourite snacks and drinks before we even had to ask, it was a great location for lunch, or a snack from our sunbeds.

Usually opting to eat out for dinner, we only experienced dinner at the Ayung Terrace on our last night, and were thrilled to have caught them on their seafood-themed night. With a street food vibe and relaxing music lilting away in the background, an enormous array of fresh fish was on offer, ready to be hand selected and cooked in front of you. Plus sushi. And Indonesian dishes. And a fantastic room filled to the brim with desserts of every description.

The Verdict

Four years on from starting this blog to document our adventures across the world, Mr Sunshine and I count ourselves incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to stay in some of the world's most luxurious, iconic and memorable hotels. But this one was extra special. 

This is the kind of hotel which provides an entire holiday package and set of experiences in itself - in fact, if it wasn't located right at the centre of Bali's cultural heartland with so much to see and do on the doorstep, I doubt we would have left the hotel at all! The hospitality was impeccable and the staff warm and kind. The options of things for us to do, see and explore as a family were remarkable. The food was world class. The location and surroundings were faultless.

After an outstanding experience at the Four Seasons in Doha the year before, I wasn't sure that there were many hotels that could better it. However, the leading hotel group have exceeded themselves with this one, giving my family one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of our lives.

Have you visited either of the Four Seasons Bali resorts? What did you think? If not, would you like to?! 

Please read my disclaimer here.

10 Reasons Why Your 30s Are Better Than Your 20s

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!! And despite being another year closer to my mid-thirties, I'm feeling rather good about my advancing age. In fact, I'm currently attaching such little significance to these digits that I even had to ask my husband to remind me what age I would be turning this year.

OK, I'm sure this is partly due to my brain cells rapidly depleting due to continual sleep deprivation, but I mainly put it down to being entirely content with who I am and what I stand for at this point in my life. There's no need to count towards any huge life milestones any more; I think I've finally reached them.

Yup, looking back on the last couple of years, I can happily say that so far my fourth decade of life has surpassed my third in every way possible. So, before I take a deep dive into a summer's worth of food and travel posts, here are 10 reasons why I think your 30s are soo much more fun, fulfilling and favourable than your 20s.

1. Remember those hours you used to spend in front of the mirror worrying about they way you look? What a waste of time that was! Nowadays, you're more confident about rocking YOU - wobbly bum, knobbly knees, warts and all - and you're more comfortable about giving the proverbial middle finger to anyone who has a problem with that too.

2. All FOMO has gone out the window. Yes, we see your twenty-something lifestyle involving frenetic holidays and Friday nights out on the lash. No, we don't have any desire to join you. Been there, done that. Our new, quilted pyjamas from M&S, Ugg slippers and a night in with tea and Ozark is looking far more appealing, thanks. YOLO.

3. All this inner confidence about how we look and how we're spending our time slowly begins to give us that unicorn feeling of self-worth that we've never, nope, not in our thirty years on earth, experienced before. It's not about trying to be someone you're not any more to create a life that fits in with some unquantifiable, unjustifiable, unrealistic standard. Life is now about embracing your uniqueness, and celebrating it.

4. Speaking of self-worth, any 'friends' that don't help to boost it can say goodbye at this point. It dawns on you that it's not the number of people you have in your life that counts, but the number of people that count.

5. You are ready to embrace family life, whether that is becoming a parent, or being a better daughter, son or sibling. Your parents annoy and embarrass you a little less, and instead you start to realise the amazing job they did and all of the sacrifices they made. Your children are the apple of your eye and you now know that there is nothing more fulfilling than bringing another human into the world. It isn't just about you any more.

6. You become a better partner too. Remember those stupid bickers you used to have back in the day because your other half was half an hour late home or forgot to buy milk at the supermarket or because you were feeling a little jealous about some stupid correspondence with another woman (OK, just me then!). All of that is a thing of the past. Empowered and happy people make strong and happy partnerships.

7. You have a group of friends that you feel completely comfortable with, can share anything with and would do anything for. After all, you've been through decades of shiz together, and you've learned to work out who has your back through it all (see point 4). With friends like these, you don't need to worry about whether they are judging you, and can relax into the fact that you're all a bunch of nutters, who love each other to the moon and back no matter what goes on in each of your respective crazy lives.

8. You know how to pour yourself just one glass of wine and then stop. OK, maybe two. But only two...No more than three.

9. You 'do life' a little better. Better quality clothes that last longer instead of ones which look good but fall apart after the first wash. Better holidays that are about quality food, sights and time spent with family, rather than just what will look good on your Insta feed (but bonus if it does that too, amiright?!). Better food, at better restaurants. A few extra $$ in the bank helps, but so does being selective and tasteful.

10. You've finally discovered what makes you 'you'. Some say that life's a continual journey of self-discovery, but I actually think that if you don't know who you are by the time you reach your mid-thirties, you never will. Instead of trying different things on for size, you should now know your likes and dislikes, your pet hates and your deepest desires. And this makes for a very happy life indeed.

There must be more...come on 30 somethings, what have I missed?!

Top 10 Family Friendly Things to do in Bali

Friday, 1 September 2017

Remember that post I wrote recently, where I recounted the tale of the lady who checked us in at the airport who told us that Bali wasn't at all child friendly? (Spoiler: we didn't listen to her and continued on our merry way). Well, it turns out that she was wrong. Very wrong, in fact. Not only do the Balinese people adore children, but 90% of the sites that we discovered and the activities that we pursued on our travels around the island were incredibly easy to do with young children or a baby in tow.

Here are 10 of my recommendations for the most family-friendly things to in Bali.

1. Visit the rice terraces at Tegalalang, Ubud

The famed steep green valleys of rice terraces that are located in the village of Tegalagang are a must-visit if you are staying in or near to Ubud. Located just half an hour away from the town by car, this landscape is one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen on my travels.

Ignore the naysayers who tell you that the terraces are too steep for young children to cope with, or too trecherous for them to climb. Sophia, aged 16 months, tackled them admirably (with a little assistance!) and enjoyed counting the steps down the hillside and back the other side.

As an added bonus, she also slept incredibly well that night!

TIP: Take some small change with you, because even though it is free to enter the terraces, the men who maintain the paths will ask for a donation as you cross certain points along the way.

2. Make friends with the monkeys in Monkey Forest

While in Ubud, the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is also an exciting place to take children. It's one of Bali's most popular attractions for a reason: the beautiful (and rather ancient) natural forest is home to a troop of feisty grey long-tailed macaques.

Besides being able to watch these monkeys play for hours in their natural habitat, which is far more appealing to children than staring through the bars of their cage in a zoo, the site offers interesting walks through leafy walkways, with stunning ancient temples en route.

TIP: Educate your children to be careful around the monkeys before you enter, as they are very bold and have been known to be vicious if provoked. Also, keep bags zipped up and food & drink tucked away from their grabby hands!

3. Spend a day on Jimbaran Beach

Arguably the most visually appealing of all of Bali's beaches, Jimbaran Beach is located on Bali's southwestern coast, where Bali's mainland joins the Bukit Peninsula.

With a plethora of luxury hotels nearby, including the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, as well as great dining spots, such as the famous beach BBQ huts which spring to life as the sun goes down, there is more to see and do on this beach than any other in Bali.

Plus, it's one of my favourite places from which to watch the sun set.

TIP: There are no sun loungers or parasols for shade actually on the beach, unless you head to one of the beach clubs. If you are going to be there at the height of the day, hats and/or a portable sun shade is a must to keep children out of the scorching heat of the sun.

4. Watch the sun set on the west coast

Before we left for Bali, it was the sunsets that our friends who had already been there raved about more than anything else. Pinterest backed up their claims, but I had to see my first Bali sunset for myself to truly believe the hype.

I can't put into words how magical Bali sunsets are. A combination of the perfect weather conditions, clear skies and just the right aspect make the south west coast of Bali one of the best places to view a sunset in the world.

TIP: The sun typically sets around 6.15pm in the summer, which is quite late for very young children. Therefore, we tried to combine our sunset watching with dinner, by booking a restaurant with a view.

5. Spend a day at a cliff club or beach club

Bali is renowned for its fabulous beach clubs, with their sparling azure pools, trendy cocktails and chic clientele. However, super-glamorous doesn't always come hand in hand with super child-friendly, so if you want to spend a day at one, do your research first.

El Kabron, the Spanish restaurant and cliff club located just outside of Uluwatu, has excellent food, provides high chairs and has plenty of shaded areas for little ones.

Sundara Beach Club, attached to the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay has the most amazing infinity pool overlooking the beach, a fabulous children's pool and kids club, and provides colouring books and crayons for the youngsters.

TIP: Check whether the beach club has a children's menu before you book. You might find it's worth packing some extra provisions if they don't cater for the under twelves.

6. Visit a temple...or three!

A visit to Bali isn't complete until you've visited at least one Hindu temple. It was top of my list of things to do while we were there, but I was worried that it might be an impossible feat, as many of them are located in quite remote places, a long drive from the main settlements where we were staying.

I needn't have fretted. Located just off the main street in the centre of Ubud, at the end of a pathway which crosses scenic lotus ponds, is the stunning Saraswati Temple.  With intricate architectural details and pretty grounds, this is a great place for kids to have a run around.

The other temple we visited was Uluwatu Temple; the oldest temple in Bali, and one of the most famous. Perched on steep cliffs overlooking the sea below, this temple hosts traditional dance shows and is one of the most picturesque places to watch the sun set.

TIP: Don't worry about having to cover your knees before visiting temples: most will provide you with a sarong at the entrance.

7. Go surfing and fishing at Padang Padang Beach 

This small beach in Uluwatu can be found at the bottom of a winding pathway which tunnels into the steep cliffs, meaning that the journey down to it is just as fun for kids as the beach itself.

This is one of Bali's most famous surf spots, attracting surfers from around the world. Here, you can rent boards or sign up to a surfing academy. If fishing is more your thing, there are several nooks in the cliffside around the beach which provide perfect places from which to cast a rod.

TIP: The waves on this beach break over shallow coral, so if your children are beginners, this might not be the best beach for them to start learning to surf on. However, it's just as fun to watch the pro surfers doing their thing here as it is to get stuck in.

8. Spend the day at one of the Four Seasons resorts

Undoubtedly two of the most luxurious resorts on the whole of the island, the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan and the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay have so much to offer families. 

From picturesque grounds, to stunning pools; world class restaurants to incredible kids clubs, I can't recommend spending at least one day in complete and utter luxury at one of these resorts enough.

TIP: Look out for my upcoming blog posts on these hotels in due course!

9. Swim in an infinity pool with a view

With sunsets and sea views, beautiful natural landscapes and dramatic cliffsides, Bali is the dream location for a good infinity pool. There are a few world famous ones dotted about on the island, at The Hanging Gardens of Bali, Alila Villas Uluwatu, the Viceroy Bali and Ayung Resort, to name a few.

We enjoyed a few rather beautiful infinity pools on our trip, but Sophia liked the one at Sundara Beach Club, Jimbaran Bay the best. Look out for my upcoming blog posts for more info in due course!

TIP: Make a simple infinity pool more fun for the little ones by packing some pool toys. I'm still amazed at how a simple bucket, watering can or ball can transform their experience of a pool and keep them occupied for hours!

10. Enjoy the moment and get completely and utterly lost

With a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips these days thanks to the old WWW, it's all too easy to create packed itineraries full of sites to be ticked off before you head out on your travels. However, Bali is one of those places where magic lies around literally every corner, and if you stick to your plans too rigidly, you're likely to miss some special moments.

Some of our most treasured memories from our trips were from when we went 'off piste'...such as exploring the grounds of the Four Seasons Sayan to keep Sophia entertained when we were waiting for breakfast on our first day...

And getting lost down the narrow lanes of Ubud while searching for a restaurant and accidentally stumbling upon the pastel umbrellas of Ubud Art Market...

If you're travelling to Bali with kids, it's so important to allow yourself to get lost.

Just not so lost that you lose all phone service and are unable to access Google Maps. You know, just in case...

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