FOUR SEASONS RESORT LANGKAWI

Feature Story by Kamila Delart - with 24 pictures

Read also: Short Portrait


 

A global luxury brand. One of the leaders in the hospitality industry. A legend... No wonder I get carried away just picturing my upcoming vacation at Four Seasons! And when I receive an enquiry about my favorite leisure activities and culinary preferences, followed by a suggested itinerary for my stay, it’s impossible to remain composed! A variety of nature excursions, Spa rituals and private yoga sessions scheduled for every single day of my stay! Exactly how I picture my perfect holidays! The brand’s promise to provide a highly personalized guest experience is clearly not a marketing strategy but a core value Four Seasons truly live by!

Having rushed from one meeting to another for the last few days, I arrive feeling a little tense and exhausted. But as I sip a refreshing welcome drink, seated on a terrace overlooking a tranquil pond that mirrors the gentle movement of surrounding palms, the strain of the last few days begins to slowly dissolve. And once my check-in is processed, I’m ready to switch to a leisurely holiday mode.  

 

 

Escorted to the Melaleuca Pavilion, for a brief moment I wish there were no activities planned for the afternoon. Just so I get to spend time in my dreamlike suite! With 16 feet in height and floor-to-ceiling glass on two sides, it’s spacious and airy. I love the exposed beams of the traditional ceiling, the woven wooden screens, antique fans, handcrafted hanging mirrors and ornamental door knobs. The interior designer really paid attention to the smallest details! But my very favorite space is the bath. Made of marble, with a skylight above the artfully carved bathtub built into arched nook - it’s like a private Spa! A fantasy of a sultana… 

I walk out on the gallery that stretches along two sides of the room, and sprawl out on an oversized sofa, leaning against fluffy cushions. I listen to gentle flute music; inhale the sweet scent of a frangipani tree whose branches touch the balustrade of my balcony, and take in the mesmerizing view of limestone rocks towering above the infinite azure-blue sea.

Curious, I set out to explore the premises of the resort. Set on a stretch of white sandy beach, surrounded by millions of years old limestone rocks and a mangrove forest with a labyrinth of secret waterways, the scenery is simply spectacular! Designed by the famous architect, Bill Bensley, the resort blends traditional Malay kampong style and the elements of Moorish architecture with tall walls in warm terracotta hues, airy courtyards, reflecting pools and plentiful fountains. Wherever I look, there is the horseshoe arch emblematic of Islamic art. Resembling a secret keyhole, it lures the eye, offering a glimpse into dreamy landscapes in the background…

Following a path made of reclaimed railway sleepers, I reach the Kelapa Grill and decide to stay for lunch. Inspired by the tranquil color of the sea, the ambiance is accentuated by accessories in aquamarine and turquoise hues: sun umbrellas, cushions, place mats, drinking glasses... It’s such a soothing atmosphere! To celebrate the marine theme, I order a delicious lime-caramelized grouper fillet accompanied by a mango salad with sweet basil and coriander leaf, and enjoy not only a delicious meal but also a truly outstanding service! When sprinkling freshly ground pepper over my meal, the lovely waitress suggests that I briefly close my eyes, just in case the sea breeze blows the spice into my direction. How very thoughtful…

Putting on my hiking shoes, I walk towards a boat docking on the beach to join a Rainforest Immersion trip. Barely on board, I turn to the guide, Indran, dying to clarify where we are heading. My itinerary states Pulau Langgun, a deserted island with a lake hidden deep in the jungle. There is barely a nature trip I didn’t experience while putting together the Langkawi Adventure Guide - and I never even heard of that place! Indran’s face lights up in excitement as he recalls the adventures he and his team encountered when exploring unknown bays and tiny uninhabited islands, looking for hidden gems they can share with their guests. 

The longer I listen, the more intrigued I get - slowly beginning to understand the resort’s philosophy… Although a sought-after beach property, Four Seasons Resort Langkawi is really a Geopark sanctuary! With a full-time Naturalist and a team of Adventure Guides on board, discovering the natural treasures of Langkawi UNESCO Geopark is at the very core of guest experience.

Our boat reaches a small beach. It’s time for adventure! Indran finds a solid branch, suggesting that I use it as a walking stick, and we begin to climb steep, moss-grown stairs that lead through a dense jungle. The trees are overgrown with prehistoric staghorn, bird-nest and oak leaf ferns. Along the pathway are primordial rocks with deep cavities hollowed by rain over millions of years. It’s hard to believe we are only a short boat ride away from civilization…

Reaching the very top of the mountain, we begin to descend and finally see between the giant tree trunks a blue lake shimmering in the sun. 

Rare dragonfly species dance above the water surface. The mysterious laugh of a hornbill bounces off the surrounding rocky walls. And as we lift our heads, we see eagles circling around, watching their territory.

Suddenly, there is the sound of a thunder. And without any prior warning, the sky opens up with heavy rain. In the middle of a dry season! I feel as though some Nature Gods decided we have seen enough, forcing us to leave this earthly paradise. And so we follow the unspoken request, inhaling the earthy scent of the jungle and savoring the rejuvenating power of the rain.  

Returning to the resort just in time for supper, I decide to dine at Serai, a restaurant celebrating the sun-drenched flavors of southern Italy and the Mediterranean coast. Choosing a table on the alfresco patio, I sip chilled Pinot Grigio and enjoy the light evening breeze, romantic Italian music and soft light radiating from atmospheric bird-cage lamps. I order a marinated octopus salad with apple, orange, avocado, sun dried tomatoes and herbs and savor the delicious composition of flavors and textures. The portion is so generous, I’m not really sure I should go ahead with a main course. But once I have a look at the menu, it’s hard to resist.  And so I indulge in a truffle infused pea risotto with seared goose liver and grilled cardoncello mushrooms, praising the culinary secrets of Italian cuisine.

The next day begins with a private Sunrise Yoga session. I walk along the beach, all the way to the end of the resort until I reach the Lotus Pond. It’s such a special place! Resembling ancient temple murals, the low walls built of dark rocks exude a grounding energy, while the open view across the pond and the Andaman Sea gives the space an ethereal feel - as if to help those practicing yoga to embrace both, their physical existence and the spiritual realm.

The sun is slowly rising, filling the air with the fresh energy of a new day. I breathe deeply in and out to center myself and follow the instructions of the Yoga Master, Jamil, moving through the sequence of Sun Salutation. Not very practiced, I struggle to get some of the asanas right. But Jamil encouragingly smiles - insisting that regardless of how imperfect my postures may be, what matters is being truly present in the movement. As much as I can see the reflection of my body in the Lotus Pond, yoga can serve as an inner mirror, allowing me to observe what’s happening within. All I need is to listen to my body and be respectful of my boundaries. What a beautiful gentle approach…

After a lovely breakfast, I board a boat to experience a private Mangroves & Eagles Safari - excited to finally meet the resort’s resident Naturalist, Aidi Abdullah. Passionate about protecting Langkawi’s natural beauty, Aidi is somewhat of a legend on the island. And as he begins to talk about the fascinating eco-system of the mangroves, I understand why. He seems to have answers to all the questions one could possibly ask. But what really makes him my hero is his love and passion for what he does. His hunger for knowledge that began with a nature book he got as a little boy from his dad. His ability to get excited about a crab mating ritual he must have seen thousands of times before. His genuine need to share the wonders of nature with others…

Our boat glides peacefully along the secret water channels of the mangrove forest. A family of Long-tailed Macaques briefly interrupts their play, looking curiously in our direction. There is a little baby-monkey, trying to climb a tree trunk. A little insecure and clumsy, it keeps falling down - finally giving up in frustration, sulkily hiding underneath a large leaf. It makes me laugh. Hearing the sound of wings cutting through the air, we lift our heads and watch a sea eagle diving deep into the mangroves to catch a lizard or maybe a frog. On one of the branches is a large viper snake that seems to have just finished his lunch. And as the tide begins to fall, and between the trees emerge tiny islands of swamp, we get to see the bizarre mud skipper and hundreds of fiddler crabs ecstatically waving with their single claws. 

And all along, Aidi animatedly explains. Telling us about the dietary and mating habits of the mangrove creatures, the resourceful ways in which the mangrove trees deal with the saline water and how they manage to reproduce despite the challenging environment… It’s truly fascinating! 

Back at the resort, I enjoy a delicious quesadilla with Cajun spiced prawns accompanied by avocado dip and sour cream, and indulge in a chocolate-banana popsicle, letting the vanilla flavored ice cream slowly melt on my tongue. What a bliss! In a leisurely state of mind, I move to the lounge area on the beach, and open the Geo Spa brochure - curious about the wellbeing ritual I will be enjoying later this afternoon. 

As I read the introduction, the mangrove expedition from earlier today comes flashing back. Inspired by the delicate balance of a mangrove forest, the Spa Menu is divided into four treatment series reflective of the core requisites that allow the live in the mangroves to thrive: NOURISHMENT rituals aim to calm, nurture and ground, WATER treatments facilitate the flow of inner energies, AIR rituals purify the body and LIGHT ceremonies illuminate the mind and spirit. Honoring the heritage of Langkawi UNESCO Geopark, the treatments work with the energy of primordial rocks and crystals, abundant water, healing mud and indigenous medicinal plants. 

A Spa experience embracing the abundant gifts of the surrounding nature and their potent healing properties, deeply connected to the very source… I picture the amazing synergy, and cannot wait to experience it first-hand!

When I arrive at the Geo Spa, Lastri, my Therapist, begins to explain the sequence and benefits of my ‘Bio-Rhythm Ritual’. Designed to deeply relax the nervous system and restore the body’s natural bio-magnetic energy field, it sounds like the perfect choice! Accustomed to the tranquil island life, the last week spent in a hectic metropolis threw me really off and although back for a few days now, I still didn’t find my usual balance. I wonder how they guessed…

Escorted to one of the luxurious treatment pavilions with a private changing room, aroma-steam bath and luxurious multi-shower facilities, I take in the serene atmosphere, and happily follow my Therapist to the treatment suite. Placing her hands on my knees, Lastri suggests that I close my eyes, and I feel waves of warmth radiating from her palms - fascinated to experience such a profound connection in a commercial setting.

Asking me to lie down on a massage table, Lastri applies in a circular motion energy scrub made of salt crystals formed over hundreds of millions of years. Covering my entire body in an ionic mud, she begins to stimulate the marma points on my head and face, while I rest in my cocoon wrap. After a refreshing shower, I return to the treatment room and Lastri begins with a Kundalini back massage. Applying oil infused with neroli, cardamom, jasmine and patchouli essence, her hands glide gently over my body, increasing the pressure as she works along the spine and around my scapulas. Following music designed to balance the seven energy centers within my body, she moves slowly from one chakra to another, placing on them heated poultices filled with tourmaline, pearl, sapphire, amethyst and garnet to restore the equilibrium within each of the energy wheels, allowing the powerful Kundalini energy travel from the base of the spine all the way to my crown chakra.

I feel like floating for the rest of the day, wandering around the beautifully landscaped gardens, resting at the dreamlike Adult Quiet Pool, taking a refreshing dip, reading a book…

The sun is slowly going down, and I enjoy a leisurely walk along the beach on my way to the Ikan-Ikan restaurant. Built in the style of Rumah Limas, the two-storey building with fish-scaled terracotta roof resembles a traditional Malay home. The antique fans keep turning around as if following the rhythm of the traditional gamelan music, the dining tables are decorated with fragrant cinnamon quills, anise stars and sun dried chili. The perfect setting to enjoy authentic Malay cuisine!

I couldn’t have chosen a better evening to experience the amazing variety of local flavors. Luring with a theme night called ‘Jom Makan’, which translates as ‘Let’s eat’, there are buffet tables bending underneath a load of mouth-watering traditional specialties. 

Beginning with a starter, I savor a delicious Som Tam prawn salad with roasted peanuts and banana wrapped chili-coconut rice with prawns, grilled on charcoal. But the main attraction of the evening is the fresh cooking hot pot. There is a huge variety of skewers with fish, white prawns, squid and scallops, chicken and beef, sotong and fish balls - beautifully presented in a wooden boat. Once I make my selection, adding a variety of vegetables, I get to chose among spicy Tom Yam, chicken-ginger and Dashi broth. Passing the bowl with my favorite ingredients to one of the Chefs, I watch it being cooked right in front of me! 

To complete the Malay dining experience, I order the traditional Tea Tarik made of lose tea from Cameron Highlands and sweet condense milk. According to tradition, the tea needs to be ‘pulled’ to bring out the flavor. And so I watch the waiter pour the creamy blend from one pot to another until it becomes all foamy. A real treat - especially when accompanied by a tantalizing selection of exotic local deserts.

I wake up surprisingly early next day and decide to enjoy a cup of strong coffee on my balcony. It’s still dark outside. But once my eyes adjust, I notice that the branches on one of the trees are heavily moving. Curious, I finish my coffee in a hurry and walk quietly towards the tree – to see a family of Dusky Leaf Monkeys!  Happily chewing on juicy tamarind leaves, they look so adorable; I’m immediately in a happy mood. And the day didn’t even start yet!

 

 

Still smiling, I enter the Serai Restaurant, looking forward to a breakfast with Mr. Alastair McAlpine, the resort’s General Manager. Energetic and welcoming, Alastair walks towards me, and before I know it we are in the middle of an animated conversation about the breathtaking beauty of Langkawi and the natural treasures of the Kilim Geopark.  Alastair’s fascination is so palpable, I’m not surprised to learn that he was the driving force behind creating a holiday experience that revolves around the resort’s spectacular surroundings, nor amazed to hear that there is a Geopark Discovery Centre in the making! A man with a vision! Radiating passion that is so contagious, it spread like a wildfire - engaging the hearts of the entire team. Suddenly things fall into place: The waitress enthusiastically answering guests’ questions about kayaking in the mangroves, the buggy driver proudly mentioning the unique Spa treatments that work with the energy of the surrounding nature… It’s impossible to remain blind to the beauty around when surrounded by all these passionate ambassadors!

In high spirits, I walk to the Geo Spa to join Pranayama Yoga. Jamil begins our session with gentle stretching, encouraging us to feel our bodies, and let go of any tension we detect. Taking up the ‘rock pose’, we begin with a gentle breathing exercise; while Jamil explains that the Sanskrit world Pranayama is composed of two parts: Prana stands for breath or the vital energy while ayama means to expand. The deeper our breath, the more of life force energy circulates in our bodies and the higher the quality of our lives. It takes time to master this ancient yogi technique. But even after the first session, I can tell the difference. Just the simple act of breathing consciously makes me feel calm and serene, validating the Vedic theory that breath is the bridge between our physical body and our mind and that by regulating the pranic currents, we can directly influence our thoughts…

My wellbeing journey is about to continue with a ‘Bio-Energy Scalp Therapy’. Usually uncomfortable the moment my hair gets a little bit oily during a neck massage, I have rather mixed feelings when I picture my hair entirely covered in mud. Then again - I’m curious by nature. And despite having visited hundreds of Spas all over the world, I never even heard of a treatment that begins with a scalp scrub! And so I pray that the shampoo is powerful enough to remove any residue after the treatment - and surrender. 

My Therapist, Yati, connects with me by holding my hands, prior to asking me to get comfortable on the massage bed. Parting my hair, she creates fine pathways along my scalp and begins to rub in the fragrant ‘Bliss Salt Scrub’. It’s a surprisingly pleasant sensation! I inhale the tantalizing aroma, listen to the calming music and drift away long time before she covers my hair in generous amounts of mud and wraps my head in a warm towel. When I finally awake, Yati is gently holding my feet, channeling her energy through the tips of the toes along my meridians. 

To allow the powerful ionizing blend to further penetrate my scalp, I spend the next twenty minutes in a private steam bath, stretched out on a heated bench, looking out through the floor-to-ceiling window into a tropical garden. Standing in a shower a little while later, I reach out for a bottle of shampoo - coming to a halt in the middle of the motion… Something really strange is happening! Behind the closed lids of my eyes, I see red color. Dark, rich, sprinkled with orange sparks … I blink a couple of times but the color is still there. When it finally fades, I feel unusually calm and grounded. Although my brain keeps interfering with this serene sensation - demanding a rational explanation for what just happened.

While I rest in a dreamlike bale that ‘floats’ over the Reflecting Pond, the Spa Director, Livia Reddington, comes over with a refreshing Ginger Elixir,  asking me how I feel. I’m struggling to find the right words to describe my unusual experience. But Livia seems to understand. Nodding with a knowing smile, she explains that rather than just removing dead skin cells from the scalp, the treatment purifies one’s aura. And while the personal experience may vary from guest to guest, it is not uncommon to see a color associated with a chakra that has been blocked for a long time. Suddenly, things fall into place. Red is connected to Muladhara - the Root Chakra that keeps us grounded, stable and secure. A need I have been neglecting for quite a while - floating around in the creative spheres… The realization is so overwhelming; I turn away, trying to hide the tears that begin to build up in my eyes. Remaining silent, Livia gently touches my hand, letting me know that tears are a natural part of the journey. Acting as though a five star resort Spa is the most natural place to look for healing… 

It’s time for lunch. But rather than ordering from a restaurant menu, this time, I will be standing at the stove! Since my culinary skills are pretty limited, I didn’t have the courage to try any of the exotic local recipes despite being a huge fan of the traditional Malay cuisine. But with the guidance of the award-winning Chef, Adee Affende, anything seems possible! And once I put on an apron embroidered with a Four Seasons logo, I feel definitely empowered.

I immediately fall in love with the cooking class manual! Featuring enticing culinary photographs, it provides an overview about the history of Malay cuisine and English translation of the most popular local spices and herbs. The recipes are easy to follow and there is enough space for personal notes, just in case I need to add some instruction details.

We begin with Satay Ayam, coating sliced chicken on bamboo sticks with an exotic marinating paste. Who would have thought that the traditional recipe calls for 11 different spices! Once I master with the Chef’s help also the Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, we walk over to the grill, and let the skewers sizzle until they absorb the earthy charcoal aroma.  

The main course becomes on the spot my favorite. Prawn & pineapple curry! The preparation is so simple; I follow the first steps of the recipe without waiting for any instructions. And the taste is just divine! When it’s time for dessert, the Pastry Chef, Ismail, takes over, demonstrating step by step how to prepare a creamy mango pudding. It’s so much easier than I would have thought. And beyond delicious! Encouraged by my first real culinary success, I walk away determined to spend in the future a little more time in the kitchen so I can wow my parents with traditional local delicacies once they come to visit! 

I laze around for the rest of the afternoon, heading towards the Rhu Bar just in time to watch the sun go down. I lean back on a dreamy Mogul hanging swing, enjoy the gentle rocking motion and Arabic melodies playing in the background, savoring the exotic flavor of a signature sunset cocktail with dark and light rum, triple lime, orange and cranberry juice. The horizon begins to shimmer in a golden hue, exploding a few moments later in orange and crimson red - transforming the heavens into an abstract painting that takes my breath away. What a spectacle!

My last day begins with ‘Jalan Jalan’, a guided walk around the resort’s garden. I cannot wait to meet the resort’s Naturalist, Aidi, again! I love how he makes me notice things I would otherwise miss, and picture what a revelation it must be for a guest who just arrived in Langkawi, seeing everything for the very first time.

Rather than trying to impress with Latin botanical names, Aidi likes to tell stories. And so I learn that the Fire Cracker with tiny orange flowers is often planted next to the entrance of Chinese houses in order to keep away bad luck.  The abrasive leaves of the Lacuala Palm were used for thousands of years by the Orang Asli tribes to polish aboriginal wooden sculptures. And chewing the intoxicating betel nut wrapped along with lime, gambier, clove and cardamom in a betel vine leaf used to be the highlight of traditional Malay ceremonies.

When I admire the blooming Frangipani Trees, complaining that those in my garden have only a few flowers, Aidi suggests to make a few shallow incisions in the bark .Triggering the plant’s survival instinct, I will see the tree quickly blossom - zealous to create enough seeds to reproduce. A few minutes later, we notice a Minor Bird building a nest in the cavity of a tall palm. As I learn, the cunning fellow has been around for a while, patiently waiting until a Woodpecker finishes his job, leaving behind a spacious nook - just perfect for building a new home.… I find the stories so fascinating, I’m over the moon as Aidi agrees to join me for breakfast sothat we can carry on with our conversation.

With a few more hours left, I stroll along the beach, taking in the breathtaking vista. At the very end of the resort are secluded beach villas, each with a dreamlike reflecting pond. The perfect hideaway for honeymooners! I picture enjoying sensual couples massage in the villa’s Spa suite, sharing a glas of champagne in the private plunge pool, a romantic moonlight dinner on the teracce… Why is it taking my Mr. Right so long to find me!

The sun is standing high on the sky, reminding me that it’s time for lunch. Going to the Spa afterwards, I look for something light, and choose Shawarma Wrap with spicy marinated chicken and refreshing minty yogurth. But once I glance at the dessert menu, it’s impossible to resist! I indulge in a delicious calamansi tart with crispy pecans and mixed berry sorbet and enjoy an ice coffee,  taking in th dreamlike view with yachts against the azure blue infinity of the sea. 

In anticipation of my upcoming treatment, I arrive at the Geo Spa a little early, delighted to have a little time to speak with my therapist, Lastri. The two previous rituals were so unusual, I’m looking for the missing puzzle pieces, trying to understand… 

As Lastri begins to explain, her entire face lights up! Originally from Indonesia, she became Therapist more than 10 years ago, enthusiastically learning new and new techniques. And yet, the true transformation came only once she joined Four Seasons and experienced ila training.

A holistic company with a unique philosophy, ila sources the purest ingredients from indigenous tribes that live in harmony with their natural surroundings. Capturing the ancient wisdom and purity of Mother Earth, the exquisite products are extremely potent. And yet, they are only a smal part of ila‘s philosophy. Rather than providing a pampering experience, ila’s treatments aim to channel the flow of energy. And so, each therapist is encouriged to develop their spiritual side with meditation, yoga and chanting prior to mastering ancient techniques of yogic healing and energy work that enable them to connect with their guests on a spiritual level.

The longer I listen, the more fascinated I am. Having spent in the Spa & Wellness industry more than twenty years, traveling around the world and learning ancient healing practices at the very source of their origins, what Lastri describes is not new to me. But the realization that a global hospitality brand founded on traditional values feels that the world is ready to embrace holistic approach to life…I wonder whether others realize the significance of the message!  

While indulging in philosophical thoughts has its own appeal, I do not want to miss my last treatment. And so I follow Lastri in anticipation of the ‘Jantung Ritual’ that aims to open one’s heart chakra. Applying rich oil all over my body, Lastri sprinkles on top heated blend of ancient salt crystals and poppy seeds and rubs the exquisite paste in circular motion into my skin - gently removing the dull outer layer, drawing out impurities. I follow her into a dimmed room dedicated to bathing ceremonies and glide into a spacious, jade-green hydrotherapy basin to enjoy a flower ritual. The warm water embraces my body, and I play with the delicate frangipani flowers and rose petals that float around me, inhale their sweet scent, losing myself in the moment. 

With my skin smooth and silky, I’m ready for a blissful massage. Chosing the fragrant oil of Rose Damascena  with healing vibration that relates to the heart, Lastri begins to apply the gentle technique of lymphatic drainage and works with heated salt poultices on the twelve petals of my heart chakra - lulling me within a few minutes into a trance-like state. At some point, I hear an angelic voice, wondering whether I am still dreaming. But when I look up, I see Lastri, with her eyes closed, her palm placed on the center of my chest, chanting an ancient mantra - inviting with the sanskirt words ‘Jay Ananda Maa’ love, peace and harmony into my heart…

It’s getting dark outside. A  gentle reminder that my dreamlike stay at the Four Seasons Resort Langkawi is coming to its end. Still under a spell of the powerful healing ritual, I  take one last leisurely walk along the pathways, entering fairytale courtyards illuminated by hunderds of lanterns. I watch the flames of burning fires dance in the evening breeze, tempted to join in and twirl joyfully around. Feeling alive and in tune with the world around me…