The art of idle pleasure

The Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay.
The Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay.
The villa the author stayed in at Jimbaran Bay.
The villa the author stayed in at Jimbaran Bay.
Relaxing by the pool.
Relaxing by the pool.
Spa luxury.
Spa luxury.

On a morning trek through rice paddies and jungle around Sayan village we're being followed.

There's silence, then a burst of maniacal cackling over an already loud orchestra of crickets.

"It's just the laughter yoga instructor," says guide Sari by way of introduction, before the joker crashes through the greenery and, eyeing my mirthless face, bursts into another fit of giggles.

FLYING HIGH: Fun on the beach.
FLYING HIGH: Fun on the beach.

Then, among the banana trees there's an impromptu therapy session on the importance of laughter for my health.

Cooling my heels by a natural spring later I wonder if this is the place to get the fun back.

Laughter yoga, rice paddy planting, and a smoking ceremony of the posterior at the day spa; there's a full menu for a stay at the Four Seasons resort, Sayan, set among the green of Ubud next to the Ayung River.

The hotel is 15 years old, but on an island where it seems there's a villa, club, restaurant or bar opening on every remaining beachfront or rice paddy, this is like a stay with a sophisticated and wise aunt rather than her jaunty niece.

This resort and the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay are two iconic properties holding firm in the face of newer upstarts on the island.

Entry to Sayan is a salve in itself. Walk over the wooden bridge suspended high among coconut groves and banyan trees to the open-sided UFO-shaped structure and you've crossed to another reality.

Service is seamless; buggies arrive pronto, laundry is returned within hours, in-room meals delivered before time.

Gardens, including rice paddies, in this luxe village are manicured to within an inch.

Change has been on the inside with a 2013 makeover of its 18 suites next to the UFO and 42 villas, shrouded in green, some on the edge of the snaking river where the occasional "whoop" of rafters paddling by breaks the silence.

My villa is by way of the roof with lily pond, down an internal stone staircase where a "plunge pool" - big enough for a couple of decent breaststrokes - curved lounges and a couple's daybed await.

Inside, there's antique statuary, uplit carved wooden walls of birds and leaves, and a marble bathroom. There are also family suites with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a living room.

Across the way the Royal Villa - Julia Roberts bunked down here with her gang while filming Eat, Pray, Love - takes nine adults or six adults and three children.

But today it's just me and at the spa, a mini village of paths over lily ponds and individual treatment suites, I'm perched on a "throne".

Smoke wafts from underneath, directed at the root chakra, firm hands knead my shoulder knots and, after two hours, my faith in the power of touch is restored.

About a 90-minute drive away at Jimbaran Bay there's the "blue" Four Seasons, perched atop a headland and fronting the Indian Ocean.

It was the first all-villa resort beyond boutique size designed by Australian architects Martin Grounds and Jack Kent in 1994, with 147 mini compounds, without the temple, but with requisite statuary.

Inside the high-walled space, the tiles of the plunge pool match the turquoise ocean which you can see from the bed, the outdoor couch and dining area.

Sliding doors lead to the bedroom, to the robe area, to the bathroom with a standalone marble bath to the ultimate Balinese holiday indulgence, the outside shower.

At the infinity pool, flanked by loungers, "quiet pool" signs are a gentle reminder that this is a place of relaxation; the next level down there's another, with waterfall, no signs and presumably room to make some noise.

One can choose from about 10 activities a day, from oceanfront boot camp, to beach soccer, to a Balinese cooking class, but not before a trip to the early morning fish markets to check out the catch of the day with the locals on the beach.

That aforementioned jaunty niece is here, in the form of Sundara Beach Club, perched next to the hotel.

Open to the public, guests can book a spot poolside or settle in for a Sunday brunch that might morph into dinner.

At this type of club, so wildly popular in Seminyak, but not so prevalent on this curved bay, women in skyscraper heels and mobile head sets direct traffic throughout the uplit bar and restaurant that's serving charcuterie and lobster.

Back at the hotel tonight there's romance on tap at a poolside reception.

"I love you just the way you are," warbles the wedding singer.

One level up, I'm dining solo again but staff make excellent company; lingering to chat as they top up my glass. Across the sea there's a stunning Jimbaran sunset, planes in flight from Denpasar and smoke wafting from the beachside barbecue restaurants on the bay.

The wedding singer is right; don't go changing.

The writer was a guest of Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay and Four Seasons, Sayan.


WHERE Four Seasons Resort, Bali at Sayan, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia; Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Jimbaran, Kuta Selatan, Bali Indonesia.

HOW MUCH Sayan one-bedroom duplex suite from US$490 (NZ$563) a night, family suite US$670, villa $US670, royal villa US$2659; Jimbaran Bay one-bedroom villa from US$649 a night, two-bedroom US$1830, royal villa US$3410.

TOP MARKS Both properties have a full activities timetable. Flop and drop, or drop for 20 crunches. The most thorough turn-down service for the transition from day to night with fresh ice, fruit, towels, mosquito coils lit and night lighting.

BLACK MARK By necessity, this turn-down service is about 5.30pm - not ideal for those who may be preparing to dine early.


SPA Muladhara spa session includes a foot wash, deep massage using ginger and cinnamon oils and kemenyan smoking ceremony with "singing bowls" (two blissful hours).

MEDITATE Laughter yoga works on combining your best belly chortle with yogic breathing, or pranayama. Surprisingly effective (60 minutes). Water lovers can join a floating meditation class in the pool by the river (30 minutes).

LEARN Grab a plough and plant rice seeds in a paddy. You can admire your work over breakfast in a private bale overlooking the patchwork landscape (four hours).

COOK Take a trip to the Kedonganan Fish Market before preparing a traditional lunch with chef in the airconditioned commercial kitchen (four hours).

EXERCISE Using bamboo, learn the art of Indonesian-style stretching (runs for 30 minutes). Or try the oceanfront power boot camp for 60 minutes. Brace for push-ups, jumps, sprinting and squats (60 minutes).