Island of the Gods: Amanresorts, Bali
Bali has been a honeypot for tourism ever since the Dutch first lured travellers back in the 1920’s but it was twenty years ago, with the launch of Amandari – “peaceful spirits” – that Balinese boutique luxury was born. With the Amanresorts, what one gets is an emphasis on spacious simplicity and elegance, exemplary service (think high staff-to-guest ratios) and A-List privacy to match, that’s unique to its cultural and natural environment.
Given Bali’s unwavering appeal, even since the terrorist setbacks earlier this decade, chic hotels have been springing up like Frangipani flowers but Amandari has proved a resilient winner in the style-stakes, (re)defining the very category of cool and the Balinese aesthetic, hallmarks of which have been copied worldwide. Not content with this, Amandari is also a green trailblazer, having been certified Silver for its environmentally responsible operations by Australian body Green Globe 21 and hotly tipped to improve its status in their next imminent audit.
I didn’t so much ‘arrive’ as ‘float in’ to this lush sanctuary for the senses. Overlooking the majestic Ayung River Gorge, the 3.5 hectare estate effortlessly embraces its setting, thanks to the artistry of Australian architect, Peter Muller, who appears not to have interfered with the natural vegetation which lays eager claim to most of the land. The resort is styled as a Balinese village, incorporating only 30 thatched villas, with charming courtyard gardens and inviting day-bed pavilions for those lazy days and sunsets filled with indulgent relaxation.
Villas are connected by a serpentine trail of walkways. Around each corner you may discover a small lotus pond with miniature fountains, or one of a litany of Hindu idols swathed in black and white checked sarongs (symbolising the balance between good and evil). You may also wish to follow the villagers, who have access through the hotel to their local temple 129 steps below.
All public areas – the restaurant, bar and lobby – are deliciously breezy, open-air and enticing. In fact, the latter is designed to reflect a wantilan (village meeting place), and the hotel was constructed using local, natural materials, thus serving the local economy and skill-set: vivid-green, moss-clad volcanic rock walls, sustainable coco lumber for the dark columns flanking my king-size bed, and painstakingly perfect fusion of thatched grass and bamboo roofs. The hotel’s carbon footprint has certainly been minimised by such sensitive selection. Likewise, Amandari’s gourmet restaurant gleans as much produce from local, organic farms as possible and all food waste is given to the villagers to feed their livestock. Waste is a favourite subject as the resort is passionate about handling refuse responsibly, via the first Kyoto Protocol-certified project in the whole of Indonesia. All drinking water provided in suites comes in recyclable glass bottles, toiletries are artfully placed in pretty ceramics and grooming kits are encased in biodegradable paper packaging. I was equally delighted, feeling the cold as I do, that the Amandari is the only hotel I have had the privilege to visit which does not ferociously pump Arctic-cold air into its public areas.
Amandari conscientiously co-exists with the society and culture of Bali, none more so than the local village, Kedewatan. Some of this is quite visible to guests: employing the majority of its staff from the district, sponsoring traditional Balinese dance classes for local schoolchildren and hosting regular performances for guests. Others are less visible, but no less praiseworthy: monthly donations towards community affairs and festivals, sponsoring an orphanage for blind and deaf children, and, crucially, training their staff to educate locals on environmentally sensitive practices, like replanting trees: if villagers need to cut down trees in the locality, Amandari will replant three to replace the loss.
In addition, the resort enthusiastically encourages guests to participate in excursions and activities with a distinct Balinese flavour, such as a traditional cooking masterclass, starting with an early morning march through the market. Another great way to see the real Bali is to entrust yourself to a local guide on one of the myriad hiking trails: from easy routes around the river and paddy fields, to the more adventurous, arduous treks in the mountainous island interior. Otherwise, if it’s a spiritual journey you’re after, a traditional Balinese healer could hold the key. But really, what more entertainment does one need when lush greenery shrouded in mist greets the viewer at dawn? What could be more perfect than savouring the sweet nectar of a fresh mangosteen?
With a new General Manager at the helm, the effervescent Sally Baughen, the Amandari has a bright future ahead. This original haute hideaway is preparing for the next 20 magical years with a glowing, green new spell. I can only say Aman to that! VANESSA THREAPLETON-HORROCKS