It's early morning, even by Balinese standards. I stumble out of bed, feet sinking into manicured grass so soft it's like standing on plush carpet. I look out over the infinity pool as the gentle dawn light spills across Jimbaran Bay. Fisherman in long-tail boats float on the languid, silvery inlet tinged with pink and gold. Sipping on an espresso in my private cabana, I watch Bali wake to a new day.
Here at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay, a famous five-star resort and global standard bearer for tropical luxury when it first opened 25 years ago, a new era is unfurling. If the Oberoi Bali, at 40, is considered the "isle's Grand Dame", then the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay is surely of a similar, albeit younger, ilk. It's Kate Winslet to Diane Lane. Glamorous and impeccably groomed, she's a classic stateswoman on an island obsessed with the hip, the fashionable and the new.
New isn't necessarily better, yet let's face it, even those with good bones can use a little help. Today, following the completion of an exhaustive two-year renovation, the resort continues to hold its own against a surge of newcomers. Balinese vernacular architecture rules, yet the 147 relaunched thatched villas have been given a contemporary twist that also maximises the ocean and sunset vistas.
Renowned Indonesian design firm Jaya International – responsible for the interiors of luxury properties including the Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing; the Setai in Miami and Capella Singapore – is behind the elegant new-look villas. The villas are more spacious and offer shaded bales (swim-up bales in deluxe and premier categories), along with larger plunge pools, housed within the high walls of traditional-style dwellings. The Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay was the first resort to offer plunge pools in every villa – something now practically de rigueur at high-end hotels, resorts and villas across not only the Island of the Gods, but also globally.
Also new are the freshly minted Imperial and Royal Villas. Located steps from the five-kilometre sweep of Jimbaran Bay, which is famous for its barbecue seafood shacks, the two-storey Imperial Villa is a luxury haven with three bedrooms, infinity pool, fitness studio, private breakfast chef, personal trainer and yoga master. Perched on the ocean edge, the villa can host private parties for up to 80 people.
There are other new offerings, too. The resort has recently changed its Western-style Sundara grill into a contemporary Balinese restaurant serving shared plates of upscale takes on local dishes. With its luxe daybeds and Bali's longest beachfront pool, Sundara Beach Club has been a popular hotspot with the fashionable set since it opened in 2013. Olympic gold medallist Michael Klim and his family are regulars. Named after the Sanskrit word for beautiful, Sundara morphs from chic beach club by day to one of Bali's best restaurants by night.
Also new is an airy oceanfront pavilion for spa treatments and yoga (the anti-gravity yoga is particularly fun), an artists-in-residence program for guests to learn traditional woodcarving, weaving, painting and dance, while experiences such as heli surfing, a sunset cruise and water biking adventures are also on offer.
About 14 hectares of hilly headland and tropical water gardens cascade down to the Indian Ocean below, meandering paths wind through the resort where bougainvillea spills over high stone walls and traditional Balinese doors mark the entrances to villas. The resort commands one of the best positions on the island. With vistas across the narrow peninsula that connects the mainland to the arid Bukit Peninsula, it's also a mere 20 minutes from the airport (handy given Bali's escalating traffic congestion).
A regular stream of aircraft can be seen taking off and coming in to land, but noise isn't an issue. It's more like watching a mesmerising scene play repeatedly on silent. "Being one of the first resorts on the island, we were able to secure the best location with the combination of both cliff and beachfront land, and views across Jimbaran Bay's fishing village," says general manager Uday Rao.
Golf carts ferry guests along the steep pathways 24/7, yet it's also fun to wander on foot through the manicured tropical gardens adorned with hundreds of statues and shrines. Across the road and within a separate gated complex are the resort's nine swish, two to four-bedroom residences. The impressive, Eurasian styled, two-storey, houses come complete with private swimming pools, library, sunken lounges overlooking lily ponds, enormous bathrooms, 24-hour butler service, beach access and more. Whether you're staying in a villa or in a residence, you'll want for nothing.
The resort's Taman Wantilan restaurant is the latest outlet to receive a makeover. The open-air restaurant has recently relaunched with a new design and concept that sees chefs take centre stage against a backdrop of sparkling ocean views. The chic new design maximises vistas of the beach and the stunning sunsets. Guests can now watch specialty chefs at work in the Balinese-style dining pavilion. Its dishes, made fresh to order, include handmade naan fired in the tandoor, spicy street-food style laksa, teppanyaki, homemade pasta and more. Breakfast here is among the best I've had at a hotel, and service is outstanding.
With 25 years of experience behind it, the service at Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay is what sets the resort apart and brings guests back again and again. At breakfast we overhear an American couple celebrating a milestone birthday raving about the impeccable service and attention lavished on them by the warm, caring staff. The couple had just arrived from 20-year-old Four Seasons Sayan (this year voted the world's best hotel by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine), they could not find fault with either property.
Leaning over, I tell them how impressed we are, too, as staff fuss over us, ensuring our every need, spoken and unspoken, is swiftly met. Musing on the hundreds of flash new hotels, resorts and villas now on offer across Bali, the American couple sums up best why you should stay here. "You can stay at many luxurious and cheaper places, but why would you? You know your expectations are going to be exceeded. They just nail it on every level." Yep, there are many pretty young things in Bali, but this classy older lady's still got it.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Four Seasons Resorts Bali and Virgin Australia.
Villas at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay start from $921 plus taxes for a garden villa with infinity-edge pool, including complimentary resort activities. Jimbaran Bay Villa costs from $1120 per night. Luxury transfers from Ngurah Rai (Denpasar) International Airport cost $64 per person. See fourseasons.com/jimbaranbay
Virgin Australia flies from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane non-stop to Bali daily. You can fly home to Australia on a daytime flight from Denpasar to Brisbane. See virginaustralia.com