Published: Verve Magazine, Travel Special, April 2009
The complete Balinese experience includes rice paddies on mountains, volcanic home of the gods and sun-kissed beaches. Amanresorts creates a lifestyle out of intimate experiences with their three exquisite properties in Bali. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh discovers that these resorts go above and beyond making you feel right at home
They say you just have to let go of all that weighs you down in the city and find yourself floating weightlessly along in Balinese heaven. I believe it’s the simple concept of going back to nature. What some people call luxury, it is very basically finding your roots.
Seeing Bali through their eyes is about hillside villas designed like a Balinese village overlooking the best of Ubud at Amandari (peaceful spirits), sinking your toes into dark volcanic sand amid private bales poised against a backdrop of Mount Agung (a volcano revered as a home of the gods by the Balinese) at Amankila (peaceful hill), and finding yourself surrounded by the serenity of a golf course and most importantly, space, in Amanusa (peaceful isle). The typical Bali-Aman holiday drives you placidly through a time and space where you feel the world has taken a little pause, a deep breath to add some tranquility back into your life.
Aman directly implies peace, and that is something that these worldwide resorts, from the very first one (Amanpuri, Thailand, 1988) have tried to incorporate. They successfully create a natural environment for you to feel rejuvenated. That doesn’t mean that water sports, helicopter tours, Balinese temples and spas are not on the menu. The difference lies in the little details. As I walk into the villa, I feel an overwhelming sense of grandeur that comes particularly from the large spaces, open air, thatched roofs that serenade the sky, and every object that has been meticulously drafted from local handicrafts and nature. Fresh flowers kiss woven cane and straw holders and muted earthen jars play hide-and-seek with overflowing sunshine. You feel like you are a part of nature with the open rain showers. I lie in front of the gigantic private pool and watch a play between a fat gecko and a palm frond and engross myself in the beautiful coffee-table books that lie on the traditional engraved chest.
With the high staff-to-guest ratio in these small luxury hotels, I am not surprised that the managers know each guest by name, leave handwritten notes for them and personally attend to them. I arrive at Amandari, with a host of allergies, and find the chef Morgan Lonergan and the sprightly manager Liv Gussing at my service, organising a customised meal on short notice. Within minutes, all the other resorts have been informed of my food restrictions, menus have been prepared in advance to accommodate them, and I find myself eating innovative meals that I have never enjoyed before now. Amanusa’s solicitous chef Hamish Lindsay actually prepared gluten-free cupcakes, pizzas and bread to go with the finely spiced local cuisine.
While the chefs and managers are expats who bring to the hospitality an international accent and finesse, the staff that is local and Balinese, (hailing sometimes from Java) are warm and inviting – take for instance the motherly Ibu Sariyani who has been with Amandari for 20 years. Amandari has built the resort right into the mountain, not separating it from the regular mountain paths – one such passageway cuts right through the resort and you can find the Balinese people trudging up and down on their regular beat. Faint melodies float through the air as a little dance school that is run on the premises allows the little local girls to practice and hone their skills, while the boys acclimatise themselves to local instruments.
Amid the scent of frangipani and tuberoses at Amankila, I discover that Amanresorts provides a sanctuary for people – rather than a place to see and be seen, it is a place where people who lead hectic lives, find quiet repository to detox. It is where songs of the birds and rustle of leaves come alive, over the much-needed silence of a non-existent television set. It is not surprising then, that the resorts have an extended list of famous people who choose to unwind here, often thinking, rejuvenating and maybe even writing a book or two.