When I was 18, I flew to Bali with a girlfriend for a holiday...
We ended up staying in Kuta (awful choice, I know, but we were young) before making our way to Bali’s artistic heart, Ubud. Full of galleries and home to many artists, surrounded by rainforest and terraced rice paddies, and dotted with Hindu temples and shrines, we fell in love with the beauty and serenity of this beautiful town. Your mind slows down here and suddenly, it feels as if there’s no rush to do anything. Partly because there isn’t, but also because a sense of stillness overtakes your body and you can’t help but feel more connected to your spiritual side (I’d recommend booking in for a ‘personalised healing session’ ahead of time). I still remember this quietness from when I was 18, and two decades later, and I’m making my way back to Ubud, this time carrying a little more baggage in the form of two children. My mother has also come along for the trip (sorry mum, I know I promised you that despite being with children you’d get a relaxing break – it might be a little louder than expected).
Despite the fact that children don’t automatically become really well-behaved robots when they’re on holidays – shame, really – it’s hard to feel any anything but calmness when we arrive at Amandari. Floating above Ayung River Gorge in rich surrounds, the resort is only 15 minutes by car from Ubud (75 minutes by car from Bali’s Denpasar Airport), yet you feel miles away from anywhere once you enter the property (I wonder if the Beckhams, Christine Aguilera and Mick Jagger felt this way – they’ve all stayed here). We’re welcomed by local girls dressed in traditional colourful costume who cheerfully throw flower petals at us. We walk through the open-air reception area featuring high ceilings with thatched roofs, past the library and bar (is it time for a cocktail yet?) to discover the property’s renowned green-tiled infinity pool. It’s just as I’d imagined – paradise.
Inspired by a traditional Balinese village – or as Aman puts it “evoking village life between paddy and jungle in Bali’s cultural hub”, Amandari is world’s away from the hustle and bustle of Ubud. All we can see are rolling rice paddies and lush green rainforest.
We are led along a winding pathway, past tall, majestic moss-covered stone walls. These walls wrap each of the freestanding along-alang thatched guest houses, meaning every suite is incredibly private (designed to frame their natural settings, Aman destinations are renowned for space and privacy). Each of the spacious suites feature traditional Balinese interiors of coconut, teak and bamboo. We stay in one of the duplex Ayung Suites, which comes with an upstairs bedroom and downstairs living area (meaning my mum can escape the children and read quietly in the afternoon or enjoy a lie-in without being interrupted). The privacy also means you can holiday with children without feeling self-conscious that they’re interrupting everyone else’s break.
On our first night, we’re treated to a family dinner at Amandari Bale – a secluded and private hut overlooking the Ayung River Valley. I stop, trying to freeze the moment because it feels so perfect. We enjoy local Indonesian cuisine as the sun goes down over the river. The following day, we book a babysitter and mum and I head into Ubud. After purchasing some woven baskets and cute childrenswear, we escape the hordes of tourists and return home to the peacefulness of Amandari. In our suite, there’s a private pool and we spend the afternoon wrapped up in books and in and out of the water.
That night, it just so happens to be Amandari’s 30th anniversary celebration. Given that there are several staff members that have been around since the beginning and even second-generation staff members, this is a big occasion. Amandari was built in 1989 by Australian architect, Peter Muller, and it was Aman’s first Bali resort. All these years later, it’s still renowned for its service and the fact that guests are treated like family (nothing is too much hassle and there’s always a smile to greet you).
When it comes to dining, you’ll happily spend hours at the open-air restaurant, which overlooks the swimming pool and the Ayung River Valley. It’s here we enjoy Indonesian and Western cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner (smoked duck and turmeric-scented rice, fish satay, and chargrilled prawns are just a few of the dishes on offer). Forty percent of all the resort’s vegetables are currently organic, and purchased from small farms.
One of the most special things about Amandari it that it is built within the farming community of Kedewatan Village, which is where seventy percent of the Amandari team live. As guests, you get an authentic glimpse into daily life in Bali as villagers visit the property’s riverside shrine, farmers work on the land and local children attend dance classes. Daily, children from the village come and practise dance at Amandari – an art which they regularly perform for the Gods. Guest’s children are invited to partake in the children’s dance classes and my girls spend a few hours acquainting themselves with the local children’s traditional style of dance. Shy at first, they quickly warm up and are mesmerised by the local costumes.
Deepening their commitment to the local community, Amandari is also a sponsor of the nearby Kesayan Ikang Papa Orphanage, a refugee for Bali’s physically and mentally handicapped. Over the years, funds raised have helped purchase bedding, furniture, educational aids, and medicine. Amandari also oversees repairs art the school and home. And each June, at the end of the school year, Amandari and two hundred children, family members and teachers go on an outing to visit a famous site in Bali. And at Christmas, Amandari staff and orphans paint together – these paintings are later sold at the resort. This is a resort that is deeply tied to the local community.
Like all Aman resorts, you can make your holiday what you want it – for the action-seekers, there’s everything from spectacular jungle treks to Mount Agung to mountain biking through forests and rice paddies to white-water rafting through the Telaga Waja River. And for those looking for a less rigorous retreat, try a picnic or explore some of the temples close to Amandari which date back as early as the eighth century or relax at Aman spa. We opt for somewhere in-between. Each morning, we partake in a group yoga class, which takes place overlooking the jungled slopes. I feel so relaxed I think I might melt into my yoga mat (if only I could replicate this feeling back home). The spa features two open-air treatment bales surrounded by lotus ponds, a tennis court with all equipment provided, a 28-metre swimming pool overlooking the valley and a gym overlooking the lotus pond (if you so desire, there’s also personal trainers on hand). Spa treatments incorporate Aman’s divine all-natural skincare range.
In the afternoon, just when you think you might be feeling peckish, tea and coffee are served by the pool, where you can indulge in a selection of Balinese sweets made by the local villagers (fried banana fritters dipped in salted caramel sauce, anyone? Yum).
Sustainable travel is also incredibly important to Amandari – the resort uses local and natural building materials and there’s a recycling program at the resort with all rubbish sent to Bali’s recycling plant. They also use energy efficient lighting in the resort, run educational campaigns in the community and have introduced cloth bags to the community to reduce plastic.
Naturally, I’m in a complete state of zen by the time we leave (my children don’t recognise me). I’ll miss my morning yoga and that melty feeling, watching the sun go down over the Ayung River and the warmth of the staff. Amandari, I can’t wait to see you soon.
For more information, go to www.aman.com