The deluxe Fairmont Sanur Beach offers Balinese hospitality, respite from the daily grind and a chance to rebalance mind, body and soul…
The hypnotically high sun brings the reflections of a dozen spindly trunked coconut trees across the infinity pool. Their jagged palms, extending upwards to the powder blue sky, mark the spot where pool ends and shoreline below begins. From a spongy mattress on an oversized rattan lounger, I gaze out at the fishing boats cemented by the low tide in wet sand. Beyond, a deep royal blue brush stroke marks out the reef that attracts the surfers to Bali. Staring out to where sea meets sky on a far-off journey across the Indian Ocean, I feel the tension in my neck – the result of three economy flights halfway round the world – loosen. My stay at the Fairmont Sanur Beach is short – just two nights to sample its hospitality – but as for so many visitors to Bali, rejuvenation is high on the agenda.
Balinese Hindus believe the human body is a microcosmos. Stress can damage the balance between order (dharma) and disorder (adharma). The religion, practised by the majority of islanders (in contrast to the rest of predominantly Muslim Indonesia), encompasses strands of Buddhism, animism and ancestor worship. And from the moment you alight, symbolism is everywhere – offerings, temples and statues wrapped in checked cloth adorn the road from the airport. On our arrival, Fairmont Sanur Beach staff welcomed us with reverence – a traditional sembah greeting (hands at chest level clasped together, fingers pointing upwards) – and a smile. A pink and yellow frangipani petal (a common offering to the gods) was placed behind our right ears, and a smattering of wet rice grain stuck between our eyebrows to focus the mind.
Being eight degrees south of the equator means darkness falls quickly – equinox is near-permanent in Bali – and by 6pm I retreat to our suite, with its traditional rich dark wood and contemporary soft furnishings. The Fairmont Sanur Beach has 120 luxury suites and villas, none higher than four storeys, thanks to a 1965 ruling forbidding building higher than a coconut tree. But it’s high enough to afford a stunning aerial view of the torch flames lighting the tiered pyramidal stone fountains that camouflage the wellness spa beneath.
The rainy season is due but as we head for dinner in the Fairmont’s Layang Layang restaurant, the clear warm air suggests humid months are still far off. Year-round, temperatures rarely fall below 23°C and rise to a high of 36°C. The restaurant serves traditional Balinese dishes including spiced pork ribs and locally caught grilled fish. Belly full, I return to the sanctuary of my suite and resist the temptation to sleep in, setting the alarm for an early start.
Sunrise on the world
The Fairmont’s south-easterly location on 200 metres of fine sandy beach affords it an enviable spot from which to observe – while enjoying breakfast on a table dressed with pastries and fresh fruit – what our hosts call the “sunrise on the world”. We watch in awe as hues of mauve and blue morph into fiery oranges and brilliant yellows, transforming early rising roamers on the shoreline into silhouettes.
I make the most of the early start with a gentle cycle along the 10km beachside path that separates the Fairmont from the sand, but the itinerary for the rest of the day proves sedate. A pre-lunch cookery demonstration in the tropical gardens bursting with bougainvillea, hibiscus and poinsettia, overlooking the ocean, is rewarded with the spoils of Balinese vegetable salad with peanut sauce (jukut santok), grilled minced fish satay with lemongrass skewers (sate lilit) and the decadently sweet steamed pumpkin cakes (sumping waluh) wrapped in banana leaves.
If lunch doesn’t lull you half asleep, a 75-minute signature spa treatment in the shade of the wellness centre will. Fifteen minutes of blissful foot relaxation is topped by a decadent hour-long full-body blend of Indonesian, Thai, Breema, Shiatsu and Swedish massage techniques. An oily combination of ylang-ylang – an aphrodisiac derived from the native cananga tree – and sandalwood is kneaded into my skin, pulling me into a dreamlike state I credit for a perfect night’s sleep later that evening. (And not the six-course taster menu prepared later by chef. Oh no.)
With the hours ticking down until our departure, the next morning, we drive 40km towards the centre of the island and the 10th-century Pura Tirta Empul temple, whose fresh springs are said to have curative properties. It’s a new moon – an auspicious day – and the temple is buzzing with families eager to perform the purification ceremony. Women in bright attire balance silver plates upon their heads piled high with boxes of floral offerings.
Wrapped in a maroon sarong with a green sash, I step down waist-deep into a large pool full of worshippers; the queue abuzz with chatter and laughter. As shoals of plump koi slide between our ankles I catch sight of a man, probably in his eighties, chest bare, looking at a young child in her mother’s arms, and imagine how many times he’s performed this ritual. One by one, we reach the first of 12 fountains running the length of the pool, dip our head under the channels of flowing water and pray. Entry to the inner courtyards requires a change into dry clothes but is rewarded with the sight of ornate golden shrines atop mammoth plinths bedecked with statues.
Later, as we prepare to depart the Fairmont Sanur Beach – taking one last look at the aquamarine vista from the sweeping-roofed lobby built in traditional joglo style from aged Javan wood and tiled with coconut shell – our hosts have a parting gift for us. They tie a thin bracelet, woven from red, white and black thread, around our right wrists, the colours symbolising the harmony of body, mind and soul. As we weave our way back through narrow streets, a whining moped carrying a family of three darts past. A bundle of logs is spread like wings from the scooter’s platform; in perfect balance, I tell myself, smiling. Namaste.