It’s early morning in Bali, and the banks of the Indonesian island’s Ayung River are already busy. Having finished a picnic breakfast overlooking the jungle-laced water, I am whisked off to a nearby farm where I’m invited to help locals plant rice as the sun dances over terraced fields of emerald green. It’s one of those moments that most travellers only dream of – it’s not every day that you have the opportunity to enjoy such immersive cultural experiences, after all. My day doesn’t end there either: after a farmer lops the top off a coconut for me to drink, I’m treated to a traditional bathing ritual including a remarkably gentle exfoliation using river stones, followed by an authentic farmers’ lunch of nasi campur (rice with meat, vegetables and egg). The outing is just one of the many ‘Extraordinary Experiences’ on offer at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts properties across the globe. And it’s a day I won’t forget in a hurry.
At a time when luxury hotels and resorts open on an increasingly frequent basis, the Four Seasons brand continues to stand out thanks, in part, to these bespoke and impeccably curated guest experiences. The concept of offering guests encounters that extend beyond the walls of their room or the property is not new, and indeed the Four Seasons is not alone in doing this. But it is a global leader when it comes to opportunities that offer real insider value; providing exclusive and personalised moments.
The company now offers more than 40 different ‘Extraordinary Experiences’ around the world. In addition to spending a day with rice farmers in Bali, guests can see a private performance in Prague’s Opera House, perhaps, or a one-on-one ice-skating lesson in Saint Petersburg taught by a former Olympian. In Mexico, you can travel by helicopter to the Jose Cuervo distillery for a glimpse into the art of tequila making, while in Bora Bora you can plant an underwater coral garden to help preserve the reef.
The immersive opportunities certainly don’t come at the expense of luxury, albeit understated and with a sense of place rather than extravagant and overworked. From Thailand to Hungary, the group has won countless awards for its commitment to architecture and design, bringing on board a host of talented creatives to craft guest spaces, not in the least Bill Bensley. The Bangkok-based interior designer has contributed to a number of the group’s most applauded properties, including the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai, which consistently takes home accolades for its effortless union of style and sustainability in northern Thailand.
It’s a far cry from the Canadian company’s 1961 debut: a modest motor hotel in downtown Toronto. But even back then, founder Isadore Sharp had visions of creating a hospitality brand dedicated to offering customers the highest standards and distinctive service. The son of Polish immigrants, Sharp had no real experience in the industry, but from the very beginning he took steps to set the brand apart from others. “Early in the company’s history we decided to focus on redefining luxury as service, and that became our strategic edge,” explains Sharp. “To deliver on that promise, we realised we needed to harness the ‘best of the best’ – employees who are dedicated, committed and inspired to deliver great service.”
As it expanded, Four Seasons became the first hotel company in North America to introduce now-standard items such as bath amenities, robes and hair dryers. It was also the first to provide European-style concierge services and 24/7 in-room dining. Twice-daily housekeeping, one-hour pressing and round-the-clock laundry and dry cleaning service are additional guest services introduced by Four Seasons before other luxury hotel operators.
From the outset, Sharp has always maintained a strong corporate social responsibility program, which today includes everything from charitable donations to initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of hotels to wildlife conservation in the destinations it calls home.
More than five decades down the track, the company currently manages 104 hotels, resorts and residences in 43 countries. And while its pace of development is not as brisk as other international hotel groups (which is not necessarily a bad thing), there are no signs of slowing down either – in fact, Four Seasons has more than 50 projects in the pipeline. In 2016 alone, the brand added nine hotels to its global portfolio, from an all-suite hotel in Jakarta’s financial district to a downtown New York retreat with a Wolfgang Puck restaurant; from a light-filled spa oasis in Hawaii to a revamped seaside resort in Hoi An, Vietnam.
It also introduced the company’s first private island experience: the Four Seasons Maldives Private Island at Voavah, Baa Atoll, its third resort in the Maldives. Located in a UNESCO-protected marine environment, the retreat has just 10 bedrooms, all overlooking the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve. Voavah days revolve around white powder sands and a crystal-clear lagoon where you can swim with reef sharks and a kaleidoscope of fish and turtles.
Openings in 2017 include the Four Seasons Tianjin, the group’s ninth hotel in China, as well as Ten Trinity Square in London. Located in the 1922 headquarters of the Port of London Authority, the intimate property features 100 rooms, not to mention the first UK restaurant by Chef Anne-Sophie Pic – the only current French female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars.
Distinctive culinary experiences have always been at the forefront of the Four Seasons ethos, and the company now holds more than a dozen Michelin stars across its properties. But in 2015 it took its global dining experiences up a notch with the launch of the Four Seasons Private Jet Offering an unparalleled way to see the world, the jet takes up to 52 guests on bespoke journeys around the world, opening doors to once-in-a-lifetime experiences and memorable destinations (up to 10 different countries) while staying exclusively at Four Seasons hotels and resorts.
This year, the ‘Culinary Discoveries’ (27 May – 14 June 2017) journey has been developed in partnership with one of the world’s top restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen, with the goal of tracking the evolution of food, culture and creativity across Asia and Europe. Highlights include a private dinner at Tokyo’s Michelin-starred restaurant L’Effervescence, meeting Tenuta di Valgiano wine makers in Florence, and foraging with Noma’s René Redzepi in the Danish capital. The ‘International Intrigue’ journey (3-26 September 2017) sees guests jet from Seattle to the Maldives and Tanzania, among other destinations.
Regardless of where you fly, you’re guaranteed the unparalleled style and service that the Four Seasons brand has become known for – in a sky-high setting.