Review: Amandari Resort

Amandari is an extraordinary place, even amongst the many such places we have been privileged to experience and the many Aman resorts that have been called extraordinary.

Any resort that has stood the test of time - Amandari first welcomed guests in 2002 - must have some sort of special sauce, as it were, to keep it going. We recently went to the source itself to immerse ourselves in the Aman experience and, hopefully, expose this secret.

The wonderful and enigmatic thing about Amandari is that a single picture cannot capture its beauty, which is why the enigmatic and exotic image above was chosen to lead this story.

In our experience, resorts are typically designed to have what is called a "unique selling point" that conveys a sense of the place in just one image; it just does not work here.

In fact, the only thing you that you might remember from the many reviews, stories and travelers' tales about Amandari is that it has no TV.

None of the 30 standalone villas have TV sets but all of them do give you a sense of what it might be like to be a guest in a wonderful little village where everyone knows who you are and goes out of their way to serve you, while staying out of your way.

Try telling that story in just one picture...

In a few words, Amandari offers both uncompromising privacy and uncommon intimacy. It adds a dash of culture into this mix to arrive at what has been an unbeatable formula for more than 20 years.

It is so good and works so well, you cannot even tell that there is a formula at work. Try as they might, few other resorts find themselves at this level of excellence for more than a few years.

The excellent nearby Four Seasons, for example, has a lot more polish but none of Amandari's peculiar lived-in appeal - you will never forget your first experience here.

CULTURAL CHARM

To backtrack a little, we often find ourselves in Bali, not merely because it is so close to our bases in Singapore and Hong Kong but because there is a certain magical quality to it.

Enchanting might be a good word for it, especially if you are interested in beaches, culture and outdoor activities; Bali is not a paradise for consumer goods, unless you are interested in teak furniture.

As a perennial fixture on the frequent traveler's must-revisit itinerary, Bali is big enough that it has something for almost everyone. If you are coming here then where you stay will define what you do.

For example, Ubud - the closest urban centre to Amandari - is inland so beaches are out but rice paddies, hiking and cycling are in.

In fact, Amandari is right in the middle of a charming village called Kedewatan, which has grown up around the resort; the positive impact of the property on the community is both deeply important to the management at Aman and becomes obvious to guests.

Our stay coincides with a local religious festival and thus we get to experience the famous festival procession.

This goes right through the resort, from the lobby to a pool of holy water, because the villagers find it easier to do it this way.

The Aman management does not arrange these processions for the viewing pleasure of guests, as a bit of cultural pandering.

When work started on the resort, the location would have blocked direct access to the aforementioned pool and three shrines for Kedewatan locals so Aman resolved to give them free passage.

This is, after all, their home and we are mere guests. Guests are encouraged to meet and interact with the local people and these guests include, we are told, Mick Jagger and the Beckhams, so you will certainly be in good company.

For Aman junkies - as fans of the Aman resorts are sometimes called - this is exactly what sets the experience apart from other resorts, large and small.

POOL FACTOR

You might find all this muddling about with community standards a bit confusing given that this is a resort review but, over the years, this has emerged as the defining characteristic of Amandari in particular.

Even the villas are built to resemble the homes of Balinese villagers, contemporary styling be damned.

Of course, the staff are still largely local folk from Kedewatan itself, which just adds to the disquieting feeling that you are visiting a village not a paying guest at a resort.

About those villas, or suites as Aman calls them, there are several varieties divided into Village, Valley and Pool categories.

The Asmara and Ayung suites are duplex affairs while the Amandari suite offers one or two detached bedrooms and an outdoor dining bale.

The Amandari Villa is the penthouse equivalent, where the aforementioned celebrities likely stayed. Its 1,500 sqm are truly sumptuous, with a two-tiered swimming pool. To be sure, all accommodations are roomy enough to make yourself at home.

We stayed in a Pool category Amandari suite this trip as per the suggestion of our friends at Mr&Mrs Smith, who recommend Pool Suites 14 and 15 for extra privacy.

Only this category offers private plunge pools and we do like those. While it is not heated, the temperature is tolerable.

The decor of all the accommodations - thatched roofing and teak furniture - has a certain rustic vibe, making them somewhat timeless and protecting Amandari from appearing dated.

This is an accusation frequently leveled at this particular Aman, especially after the sexier Amankila opened, but it is entirely unfair.

If you have come looking for swanky digs then you have neither looked at the pictures nor done your research.

While other resorts have suffered from significant wear and tear, Amandari's charm has weathered the years (and the tropical climate) with a certain degree of flair.

The aim was always to mimic a typical Balinese home, with the accoutrements of modernity, and we are happy to report that this remains the case.

The presence of the iPod and dock playing traditional Balinese music is the only properly contemporary intrusion but then again, iPods barely qualify as contemporary (the classic variation with the clickwheel is even discontinued now).

The cookies - which appeared to be replenished regularly - are delightful and we heartily recommend that you indulge.

inally, it would not be a proper Aman experience without giving the renowned spa a shot (or two). As you might expect, there is an extensive menu of treatments, massages and such here and some require advance bookings, including the signature two-hour Village Spa Treatment, which should be booked a day in advance.

The virtues of all these treatments are well documented but you are advised to read about the treatments carefully as not all include a full-body massage, including the aforementioned Village Spa Treatment.

Whatever you do, try the Amandari massage, a fusion of Balinese, Swedish and acupressure styles, which can be soft as a feather or hard as stone, as you please.

As far endings go, the Aman experience is often like a gateway drug so, to paraphrase The Eagles, you can check out but you may never really leave.


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