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Aman: God's home

17th December 2012

By Lex Noller of Noller and Turner Travel Associates.

Legend has it that the Gods live in Bali – after all, the island is often referred to as “Island of the Gods.” I am sure however, that if these Gods had an address, it would be Aman.

Why wouldn’t they! “Aman” means “Peace”, and in the truest sense of this predominantly Hindu island, the Hindu Gods want nothing more than for Bali’s 3.5 million people to live in peace and harmony. And this is just what Aman resorts offer.

I recently visited four of the five Aman properties in Indonesia and while one, Amanjiwo, is on the more culturally diverse island of Java and the other three in Bali, the spirit of rest and relaxation – of peace – is found in every location.

These five stunning retreats seem almost to always have been there, such is their almost invisible imprint on the environment around them.

Amankila, for instance, nestles on the cliffs above the beach near the village of Manggis  on the lush  east coast, barely visible from the beach below. Amandari, perched on the rim of the deep Ayung River canyon at Ubud, quietly rests under the canopy of the jungle around. Amanjiwo is so cleverly designed that the only way to photograph this amazing resort is to climb the mountain behind, as I did, just to get an aerial view of the hotel far below.

Of course, this is exactly what the founder of Aman, Adrian Zecha, wanted. Retreats that fit in, that don’t stand out in the crowd, retreats that calm their guests and say Welcome, casual yet elegant, spacious yet intimate. As he explained at the time of planning his first Aman, Amanpuri, in Phuket, Thailand in 1988 : “At Aman, we want the guest’s first impressions to be a warm, unpretentious welcome. Even before a flower girl greets a guest with a smile, or a chambermaid addresses each guest by name, the simple clean lines and soft colours of the resort should themselves put a guest at ease. Simplicity is the essence of elegance.”

This “simplicity” means that most resorts in Indonesia only have on average 35 rooms – although rooms hardly does them justice. Oversized villas is much more appropriate. Averaging 60 sq metres, Aman villas offer  king sized beds – almost always snuggled under a four poster canopy,  and a variety of generous terraces complete with day beds,  outdoor baths and showers, double bathrooms and an excess of space.

These villas are often so spaced apart, that you cannot see one from the other. Mixed with a ratio of five staff to one guest, you get a picture of what is in store for you. With this generous staff/guest ratio, it’s no wonder the service is exceptional. One evening, I noticed a book mark had been placed in my novel – the staff had seen I had forgotten to bring one from home. Throughout my trip, staff knew my name and knew my room, without me ever having to tell them who I was or my room number.

Aman resorts are designed with couples in mind, however families and children are more than welcome. Extra beds are always available and connecting  or adjacent villas can be arranged where possible.

Children’s activities are often planned on the day, not locked in as part of a set program. For instance, the staff may decide to make kites or invite children into the kitchen to learn the basic skills of local cooking; or they may make craft or take the children into the local village. Aman is  about offering personal and individual experiences for each guest, no matter what their age.

Couples wanting romance and “no kids” need not worry though – despite seeing children in three of the four resorts I visited, at no stage did I feel I was staying in a noisy “family” resort.

Romance and intimacy were everywhere – from the table for two under candlelight in the rice fields in front of Amanjiwo, to a private beach setting for two at Amanusa at Nusa Dua, or dinner in your own bale overlooking the Ayung valley at Amandari, these resorts are the place to be for those wanting no one around but each other.

One of Aman’s newest ventures in Indonesia is Amanikan, a  five or seven night cruise adventure through the Raja Ampat (Four Kings) area in the north of the archipelago, one of the world’s most abundant marine areas. This is the destination for divers and snorkellers and those wanting time on the water. As you would expect, Aman staff are available 24/7 to meet your every need during the journey.

Given that the daily life of Bali, and Indonesia in general, is layered in ceremony and festivals – Bali alone is estimated to have  more than 10,000 temples - hosting weddings is also a popular activity at Aman, thanks largely  to the privacy and intimacy of their  resorts.

Rest and relaxation are the hallmark of staying in an Aman – however being idle in your villa, the library or by the pool is not your only option. All resorts engage with the community and environment around them. Adventurous walks, hikes and cycle trips are often available as well as a variety of activities such as cooking schools, visits to local villages, snorkelling and  expedition cruises. Do not stress though – spa treatments always await you on your return!

No matter how adventurous the activity however, they always come with a touch of Aman. At Amanjiwo for instance, after an early morning wake up call to greet the sunrise from the nearby 9th century  Buddhist Borobudur monument, we were driven to a nearby hill where breakfast had been laid out for us under the palm trees and pine forest – complete with umbrellas for shade and large batik cushions for comfort while we reclined and enjoyed the amazing view.

We enjoyed a similar experience at Amandari, where we breakfasted in a peaceful bale in the rice fields after an early morning hike into the valley below the resort.

While Aman began in Thailand and has it’s greatest presence in Asia, it has since spread it’s wings to include  ski lodges in USA and Europe and resorts in other exotic destinations such as  Bhutan, Morocco, and The Turks  and Caicos Islands.

Each resort is unique, not only in location but in design and character.

This discreet, boutique style however is not for everyone. For many they are simply too quiet. For the traveller who is looking to see and be seen, Aman is not for you. If it’s loud bars, shopping centres and crowds you're after, it’s time to look elsewhere.

However, if you want to share in Adrian Zecher’s original dream of offering resorts of simplicity, elegance, style and peace, you will be among a collection of guests from around the world who are regarded as family – or “Amanjunkies”. They are welcomed back time after time, usually by loyal staff who have been working in the resorts since they opened. These employees are also part of the Aman family.

After enjoying this “simple elegance” I can confirm that Adrian Zecher’s original  dream has been achieved. These are genuinely “peaceful” retreats – and I am sure the Gods would be pleased to called them home.

If you'd like to find out more, you can contact Lex on 1800 002 670 to find out more.

- Travel Associates