Four Seasons Bali at Sayan – A Rare Descent into Paradise

by | Places to Stay

Balinese dance Four Seasons Bali at Sayan

Four Seasons Bali at Sayan may be 17 years old now, but it still has the power to knock your socks off. And this is in the face of stiff competition as the density of five star resorts on Bali exceeds anywhere else on earth. From the moment you arrive, nothing quite prepares you for the scale of the theatrical experience. You cross a suspended wooden bridge perilously high above the coconut groves and banyan trees of a deep valley in the central highlands of Bali, to arrive at an elliptical lotus pond. This magical space floats above an unspoiled verdant landscape like a giant rice bowl – an offering to the gods. But the resort is nowhere to be seen. It is only when you descend a staircase below the pond that you discover the reception area, in the three-level central building with stunning 180-degree views of the valley.

The focal element at Four Seasons Bali at Sayan is the dramatic upside-down main public building, crowned with its Oskar Niemeyer-style rice bowl. This curved structure that combines natural and man-made materials, houses the lobby, restaurant, health club, spa, and 18 suites. Teak walkways are everywhere flanked by water-drenched and moss covered walls. The main building and its site is nothing if not dramatic and this is obviously not accidental, as the sense of theatre is actively cultivated by the resort’s London based architect John Heah, who cites Carlo Scarpa and Frank Lloyd Wright as influences. A preoccupation with the experiential perspective of the visitor is central to Heah’s work and this concern is consistently applied throughout the resort.

We want to surprise people” explains Heah. “I think the whole thing is about controlled confusion. When you come into the property, it’s very modest. And that journey over the bridge takes quite a long time relatively speaking. And it’s meant to disarm them saying, “I may have made a mistake.” And when they come down the staircase, everything reveals itself.

  • Resort Overview Four Seasons Bali at Sayan
    Resort Overview

This magical space floats above an unspoiled verdant landscape like a giant rice bowl – an offering to the gods.

The inherently filmic fantasy of the site is no coincidence either. As Heah explains, “I was really inspired by early James Bond films, which had these fantastic buildings, and also the surprise of being somewhere here in the middle of the jungle in a fantastic country and finding a modern building. It’s really to rock the senses of guests coming in. We really didn’t want to do traditional Balinese huts or anything like that.”

The design is remarkable in that it combines space age elements with a concern to harmonise the resort unobtrusively into the landscape, and here, Heah’s nod to Wright is clearly evident. “We strove to create a contemporary design that is sensitive to the Balinese landscape and culture,” says Heah. “While the slope of the site and curve of the building offered complex challenges, it also presented the perfect opportunity to blend the structure into the landscape.”

You have two choices” explains Heah when confronted with such an unprepossessing building site. “You either change the building to suit the site or you change the site. And the choice has always been that we will respect the land, so we changed the building.

  • Rice Fields at Four Seasons Bali Sayan
    Resort's Rice Fields

The architect’s respect for the land is revealed in the permaculture of the resort’s 18 acres of lush, green-terraced rice slopes, overlooking the sacred Ayung River, which is a major feature of the resort. “We planned the rice fields in such a way that it matures in different areas. And we will keep certain rice ripe longer than it should be so that birds can come in as well and feed on it. And from that, the whole ecosystem evolved so that you’ll find butterflies and dragonflies. So it promotes interesting life other than human.”

Sensitivity to the natural environment also informs the design of the resort’s spectacular pool – just a few metres from the Ayung River – following the freeform patterns of the paddy fields you’ll find throughout the grounds. Adjacent to the pool is the thatch-covered Poolside cafe.

As with the main building, the upside-down or sunken theme of obscuring buildings from view to create unspoiled and harmonious natural vistas of deceptively low density, is continued with the ingenious construction of the 42 private free-standing villas. Meandering paths lead to simple thatched meditation arbours beside lilly ponds and miniature rice paddies. Once again, it is only when you descend a concealed circular staircase, that the beautifully designed luxurious villas are revealed in all their unexpected glory.

The spacious villas are completely private and healing refuges. Each villa has outdoor seating and dining areas, refreshing plunge pools and wide open views of the rice paddies, the rushing river and forests beyond. The mesmeric sound of the furious waters is as calming as the extensive use flowing water throughout the resort, to celebrate the Balinese heritage of nourishing the body and spirit with fresh water.

  • Lily pond rooftop at Four Seasons Bali at Sayan
    Villa Lily pond rooftop

The contemporary design of the villas, incorporating local and natural materials like limestone and teak, is artfully fused with classic Balinese crafts like traditional hand-loomed Sulawesi silk furniture coverings. The large bathrooms and bedrooms – that are equal in size – add to the overall feeling of a rare form of pampered luxury.

John Heah has clearly applied the lessons of his heroes Carlo Scarpa and Frank Lloyd Wright: This resort harmoniously embodies both the contextual modernism of the former and the organic architecture of the latter. Whether you want to indulge your James Bond fantasies, indulge in architectural tourism or seek out the healing powers of this subversive experience in Bali’s natural and cultural environment, Sayan will not disappoint. Four Seasons Bali at Sayan may only be 10 minutes from the busy cultural and spiritual capital of Ubud, but it is worlds apart, not least from the lucky visitor’s preconceived imaginings of a paradisiacal escape – which it will far surpass.

Four Seasons Bali at Sayan a Luxurious Tropical Resort Nestled in the Sanctuary of Nature.

Four Seasons Bali at Sayan may only be 10 minutes from the busy Ubud, but it is worlds apart, not least from the lucky visitor’s preconceived imaginings of a paradisiacal escape – which it will far surpass.


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