Jessica Baldwin finds stunning villas, breathtaking views and perfect service at Bali’s Amandari
The golden shores of Bali attract thousands of tourists looking for sun, sand and sea, but the hillside town of Ubud attracts those seeking a deeper connection with the island. Inland Bali is rich in arts and crafts with each village famed for a different skill, from woodcarving and batik to painting and dance.
The spiritual town of Ubud is the place where these skills collide; an explosion of colour and creativity; the market overflows with hand-painted silk scarves, carved ornaments and bright paintings. Its sacred temples are just as vivid; crammed with shrines constantly attended to by women in colourful silk dresses, providing offerings of incense, flower blossom and holy water. Just 10 minutes’ drive from this intoxicating town hides one of the islands most luxurious resorts, Amandari. The decadent cluster of villas from the prestigious Aman group can be found high up on a hill overlooking the lush Ayung Valley gorge.
The hotel’s Indonesian restaurant overlooks the main infinity pool with the Ayung Valley jungle providing a dramatic backdrop. For breakfast, try the indulgent coconut steamed banana for an early morning sugar hit. In the evening the candlelight transforms the wooden restaurant in to one of the most romantic dining experiences around. You can’t beat the Balinese Feast; plate after plate of traditional dishes such as banana stem soup, suckling pig and addictive sticky rice dumplings bursting with local palm sugar.
For a real taste of local life head to Ubud and test out the local street food – try the infamous durian fruit; the prickly ball is filled with a creamy centre that locals adore, but hotels and airlines have banned it due to its pungent stench.
Like all Aman resorts, Amandari blends seamlessly in to its surroundings with ease. Designed like a Balinese village (a very luxurious one), it features shrines, statues and winding walkways, all centred around the alluring emerald green infinity pool. We were staying in one of their private pool villas; the two-story thatched villas look out across their own pool and generous sun terrace, with a backdrop of the lush rice fields and jungle. I immediately fell in love with the hidden outdoor bath and after being awoken at the crack of dawn by the local cockerels and cicadas I submerged myself in the enormous marble tub to watch the sunrise above me and listen to the sounds of the jungle. Perfect.
Who Goes There?:
Aman resorts are famous for feeling intimate, yet uncrowded and Amandari is no exception. On our visit there were around 30 people staying in the resort yet we only ever saw one other couple. The others were probably all hiding in their enormous villas and using their private pools – it’s hard not to! Although the resort welcomes children, it is built with adults in mind and its serene surroundings and hushed service make it perfect for a romantic break or solo retreat.
Out & About:
My morning kicked off with an alfresco yoga lesson. With a mind that races around the city at 100 miles per hour I have never actually found yoga relaxing. However, performing it on a ledge overlooking the Balinese jungle, with the cackling of cicadas and the calls of morning birds as a sound track, I left the lesson smiling and relaxed and ready for my jungle trek.
Just past the glistening infinity pool lies a hidden trail in to the jungle. As we made our way through the dense flora and fauna we saw beautiful statues, temples and shrines and trees bearing everything from coffee and cocoa, to coconuts and pineapple, not to mention the beautiful waterfall. After two hours we arrived at the ‘Bale on the Gorge’; a tranquil bamboo hut overlooking the valley, where the hotel staff served up a delicious breakfast just as the heat of the day took hold.
Those keen to explore the local culture and customs can take advantage of the hotel’s Balinese master-classes, such as an intimate cooking experience with the head chef, which invites guests to visit the local market and haggle for their produce before heading home to cook it and of course, eat it. They also provide lifts in to Ubud centre to visit the galleries, temples and markets.
The Best Thing:
We loved the way that the resort reflected the local spirit and culture so stylishly – like it was part of the landscape. We were also blown away by the impeccable, pre-emptive service, which the Aman group are so well known for.
The Worst Thing:
I genuinely cannot think of a single thing to write here. The villas were stunning, the culture was real, the views were breathtaking and the service was perfect.
A stay at Amandari in Bali costs from £538 (US$850) per night in a Village Suite, including airport transfers. The rate is room only and subject to 21% tax and service charge; www.amanresorts.com; 00 800 2255 2626.
Flights to Bali with Thai Airways depart twice daily from Heathrow via Bangkok using its recently introduced new Airbus A340-600 aircraft on the route, with individual in-flight entertainment screens now in all classes; www.thaiairways.co.uk; 0844 561 0911.