Bali is a special place. I recently came back from my first trip there and quickly fell in love with the culture and people. The island is magical and there’s no doubt it’s because of the energy of the Balinese people. I have never met more genuinely happy, warm, friendly people in my life. It was extremely uplifting and refreshing. The Balinese are peaceful and spiritual people, they believe in spiritual well-being by practicing meditation and yoga and also believe in good karma and positive energy. It was easy to feel at peace there and I made sure to take everything in– I was completely present in the moment and absorbed in the culture. I spent 12 days in Bali and had the opportunity to stay at some of the island’s finest resorts. Traveling around to different parts of Bali gave me a comprehensive feel of the island and its culture. Each town had unique qualities and offered something different and exciting. I left inspired and it is definitely on the top of my list of favorite places I’ve traveled. It was an experience of a lifetime. Below is my Bali overview, detailing where I stayed and spots you don’t want to miss.
The town of Ubud is an hour and a half drive from Bali’s international airport, Denpasar. Ubud represents traditional Bali, you can really feel the authentic Balinese culture. It’s in the uplands and surrounded by rainforest, rice terraces, Hindu temples and shrines– Bali’s most iconic landscapes. Ubud is also known for the center of Balinese crafts and dance. It feels very far removed from the hustle and bustle of the populated town of Kuta and Bali’s beach party scene in Seminyak. It is the ultimate place for serenity and relaxation, and the perfect place to practice yoga and mediation. If visiting a spiritual healer interests you (like the healer Ketut in the movie Eat, Pray, Love), Ubud is the place to do it. Visit the Ubud markets, and don’t leave without visiting the iconic rice terraces.
*Ubud foodie tip: Visit Naughty Nuri’s for local street meat- I had the best pork spare ribs I’ve ever had in my life.
RITZ CARLTON- A MANDAPA RESERVE
I spent my first few days in Bali at the Ritz Carlton Mandapa Reserve in Ubud. I have to say I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Bali. It was love at first sight the moment I walked in. The entrance to the hotel was like a magical kingdom high up in the mist of the clouds. It overlooked beautiful rice terraces, luxury villas and the sacred Ayung River. After a warm welcome from the resort staff, I was brought to my one bedroom river front villa. It had a private pool overlooking the Ayung River and rainforest, a separate living room/lounge area next to the pool, and the actual villa itself was exquisite with a beautiful spacious bedroom and a bathroom with an indoor/outdoor shower. It was one of the most breathtaking villas I’ve ever stayed in.
Yoga was the very first thing I did when I got there, and it was one of those surreal “pinch me” moments. The open air studio located on the 2nd floor of the spa opened up to the rainforest and the Ayung River. My friend and I were the only ones in the class and all we could hear were the sounds of the birds chirping and the river flowing. It was one of those perfect moments in life that I felt at peace and I knew I was right where I should be.
Usually when I travel I like to explore and constantly move around to see as much as possible, but this was the first time I wanted to stay in one place and was content in just being. I really wanted to soak in the beauty of my surroundings and felt no need to leave the resort. The staff went out of their way to make my experience above and beyond incredible. A few highlights aside from morning yoga was a private picnic lunch by the river, a relaxing massage at the spa, and a beautiful dinner under the stars at Kubu- the resort’s fine dining restaurant which offers a fusion of Mediterranean and European cuisine. I also participated and learned about the process of rice planting. It was enlightening to see the hard work that goes into harvesting one of the world’s most simple foods.
Mandapa Reserve exceeded my expectations. Everything from the accommodations, food and service during my stay was impeccable. The whole time I felt like I was in a dream. This resort is perfect for any occasion, whether it’s a honeymoon or a relaxing getaway. It’s definitely one of those places I plan on visiting again.
FOUR SEASONS SAYAN
I couldn’t leave Ubud without experiencing the Four Seasons Sayan. It came highly recommended and is another great choice when looking into luxury accommodations in Ubud. Also located in the middle of the rainforest and alongside the Ayung River, the Four Seasons exudes complete tranquility surrounded by the beauty of mother nature. It’s unique architecture was built from the inspiration of Ubud’s signature rice terraces, staying true to traditional Balinese design. The resort’s main entrance is breathtaking, with a vast circular lily pond on top of the main lobby, signifying the center of a large rice bowl. The lush property is surrounded by tropical palms, rice farms, lily ponds and scattered gardens of fruit trees, medicinal and spice plants, all of which are labeled by name.
The Four Seasons put together a personalized itinerary of Sayan Signature Experiences which allowed me to really get the full resort experience. I practiced Power and Anti Gravity Yoga in the amazing open air bamboo studio overlooking their own rice terraces. Anti Gravity Yoga uses a dynamic “flying” technique with hanging hammocks used to support and stretch the body. It was a unique experience that I recommend trying (although be prepared for a challenge- it was a lot harder than it looked). Other activities included a Mediation and ‘Life Talk” session, a Rice Bowl Architectural Tour on the resort property, and a Rice and Spice Body Scrub & massage at the beautiful Sacred River Spa which was incredible. Although I had a busy schedule, I still had enough down time time to relax in my villa and by the resort’s amazing signature pool.
The resort offers 60 luxury suites and private villas. I stayed in an amazing two-level villa with a private plunge pool and patio with breathtaking views overlooking the Ayung River. My favorite part was waking up to breakfast served out on my villa patio. The breakfast menu is extensive and you have the option to enjoy it in your villa or at the Ayung Terrace, located below the main lobby. Breakfast became the highlight of my Bali trip. Whether I dined at the Ayung Terrace, Riverside Cafe or in the privacy of my villa, I was impressed by every meal. The food was delicious. I recommend having dinner at the Riverside Cafe which is the restaurant by the main pool in a beautiful open air setting alongside the Ayung River. I enjoyed an amazing seafood dinner on “fisherman night” which happens every Saturday evening.
The Four Seasons Sayan enhanced and took my Ubud experience to the next level. I was blown away by the service, food and hospitality and was equally impressed by the beauty of the place. The resort took such good care of me and I left feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Seminyak is Bali’s party scene. It’s a fun beach town buzzing with restaurants, boutiques, bars and beach clubs. If you want to experience the action, I definitely recommend visiting Seminyak. It has an entirely different feel from Ubud and it’s good to experience both. My Seminyak list includes these trendy spots: Potato Head Beach Club, Ku De Ta, Motel Mexicola, La Plancha Beach Bar, Sarong restaurant, and the W hotel.
W RESORT & SPA SEMINYAK
I stayed a few nights at the W Resort and Spa in the heart of Seminyak. Located right on the beach and next to the popular Potato Head Beach Club, the W has an exciting energy and is the perfect place to stay to be in the heart of all the action. It was a nice change of pace after relaxing in Ubud for a few days. I stayed there during the W’s 5-year anniversary party and danced under the stars and fireworks at the Woobar. I got my party fix in, but also had time to relax and enjoy the resort’s amenities. Each morning I enjoyed their amazing breakfast buffet, and during the day I split my time relaxing by the resort pool and the beach. The hotel has a beautiful spa offering a wide variety of treatments and spa amenities. My days were relaxing and at night I ventured out in Seminyak for dinner and drinks. Most places are conveniently walking distance from the W. If you don’t feel like venturing out of the hotel, the W Woobar is a great place to have food and drinks right on the beach. The W is definitely a hotspot and is the perfect place to stay for a great Seminyak experience.
FOUR SEASONS JIMBARAN BAY
My last stop in Bali was the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay. The Jimbaran hotel had a completely different feel than the Four Seasons in Ubud, both unique and special in its own way. Designed after a traditional Balinese village, the property is a beautiful oasis of luxurious oceanfront villas set on Jimbaran Bay beach. Each villa has its own plunge pool and ocean view, with direct beach access just a few steps away. The resort’s massive inifinti pool over looking Jimbaran Bay was quite impressive, but if you want more of a beach club experience, the newly built Sundara Beach club and restaurant is a great way to spend your day relaxing in one of their poolside cabanas. The indoor-outdoor design combines an open air terrace, an indoor restaurant and bar, as well as beachfront daybeds with a view of the Infinity Edge Pool and Jimbaran beach.
The Four Seasons is a great place for foodies. On my first night, I met Executive Chef Liam Nealon of Sundara and enjoyed dinner and drinks watching the sunset over Jimbaran Bay. Offering modern Asian inspired cuisine, Chef Liam brought out dishes like Tempura Bulgogi Frog Legs with Kim Chi slaw, Crispy Pork Belly, Tuna Chirashi and a refreshing Crab and Coconut salad. The cocktail menu is creative and we onjoyed a few delicious fruity cocktails to compliment our dinner. It was a great dining experience, and after dinner, the chef brought me into his kitchen to meet the people behind the food.
The resort also has its own cooking school, Jimbaran Bay Cooking Academy, which gives food lovers a hands-on cooking experience using organic Indonesian ingredients from the local Jimbaran markets. It’s a fun and interactive activity for all age groups. The next morning I woke up early to meet Chef Kris, one of the resort’s cooking school chefs, and we hit the local Jimbaran markets to shop for ingredients. I’m all about venturing into the local side of town so this was definitely a highlight of my trip. Chef Kris taught me all about traditional Balinese ingredients as we walked through the local spice and fish markets. We took all the ingredients back to the resort where I had my own private Balinese cooking class at Sundara Beach Club. I was totally in my element and it was such an exciting and enriching experience.
Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay is great for couples or families. Being right on the beach, they offer plenty of beach activities, water sports and Power and Anti Gravity Yoga in an open air studio with beach views. Although the resort is very kid friendly, it still has a quiet and exclusive feel. There are also the Four Seasons Residences on property where you can stay for longer periods of time (I got a tour of the residences and they are absolutely beautiful). They are perfect if you’re traveling with a larger group of family or friends.
I was extremely impressed with The Four Seasons Bali, they made my Bali experience unforgettable. Both resorts offer the ultimate luxury vacation with impeccable service and hospitality.
To see more of my travels visit www.nicoleisaacs.com.