After a stay at this edenic property in Bali, Nathan Lump reflects on what makes a hotel the best of the best.
Like many of you, I’m sure, when I read the results of our annual World’s Best Awards — the best of the best in travel, as rated by you, the world’s most sophisticated travelers — I scan first for places I already know and love, and then I look for ideas about where to go next.
When this year’s results came in, I was in the middle of planning a trip to Asia, so I jumped at the chance to pop over to this year’s No. 1 Hotel in the World: the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan (doubles from $418), just outside Ubud, Indonesia (itself an honoree, in the City category). I wanted to check it out, to see for myself what makes a No. 1 a No. 1.
One fact of life about Bali is that it has been significantly developed, which hasn’t spoiled its charms, but it does mean that you really want your resort there to feel like a haven. On this front, the Four Seasons, built on a hillside along the Ayung River, 100 percent delivers. From the moment you arrive — via a dramatic bridge that leads you to a huge infinity-edge lotus pool seemingly suspended in the air — you feel transported to a world apart.
The resort’s main building is an eye-catching (read: highly Instagrammable), multilevel, open-air pavilion that looks like something you’d find on one of those Edenic planets from Star Wars, but nearly all of the resort’s other physical infrastructure is hidden away. Most of the accommodations are villas built into the sloping ground; you enter from above and descend to your living quarters, which have expansive open-air lounge areas, private pools, teak beds draped in mosquito netting, slick marble bathrooms, and outdoor showers.
The choice to integrate the villas with the landscape has the dual benefits of giving guests an incredible sense of privacy — you can neither see nor hear your neighbors — and making a walk around the property feel like a wander through the Balinese countryside. This is simply great hotel design: rooted in the local vernacular and lovingly cared for, it reinforces all the other positive aspects of your experience.
The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan happens to be turning 20 this year, and one of the advantages of not being brand-new is that you’ve figured a few things out by now. The food is great (don’t miss the tasting table, a fascinating demonstration meal where the chef cooks you traditional Balinese dishes you won’t find on any other restaurant menu), the service is deeply friendly but also polished and anticipatory, and there is a terrific program of interesting things to do both on and off the property, from a purification ritual at a local “water temple” and hikes along the river to visits with local artists and artisans.
The spa is exceptional: I did something called the Sacred Nap, a kind of guided meditation while floating in a gauzy hammock that calmed my mind in a way I can’t explain, leaving me uncommonly refreshed.
Obviously, to be named No. 1 a hotel must be consistently excellent across the board. It’s got to have good bones, yes, and it needs to have great people who can build on those bones to transform the place into an experience. At the Four Seasons I especially appreciated how often I was surprised by something I saw or tasted or did, which reminded me that the most memorable hotels and resorts are also about creativity, experimentation, and innovation.
They are more than just luxurious or beautiful — they are agents of discovery that expose you to new things, opening your eyes to the world. Therein lies greatness, and I love that each year our World’s Best Awards lead me — and you — to it.
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2018.