When our youngest Arabella was six-months-old, we took her back to England to meet her grandparents and then onto France to a wedding. I spent most of the trip covered in vomit, settling her in a baby carrier. We arrived home in Sydney, even more, exhausted than we were when we left, only to endure three weeks of jet lag...
Since then, I’d resigned myself to the fact that travelling was never going to be the same. And for many years, it wasn’t. We went to Fiji, where our youngest developed a shocking bout of croup. We went to Bali, and arrived at the airport to discover our eldest daughter’s passport had expired. We had to turn around and go home. I know I’m not alone – travelling with young kids isn’t easy. Until our youngest turned five when suddenly, something shifted. When armed with iPads, colouring-in and chocolate, travelling became easier. So when the last school holidays were approaching and I was scrolling through a long list of camps to book the girls into, I raised the idea of heading to Bali to my mum. “Of course it’ll still be relaxing with the girls”, I assured her. Although deep down I wasn’t entirely convinced. But over the last few years, as the girls have gotten older, the importance of experiences and of making memories has been at the front of my mind. We all have a lot of stuff in our lives, but what we can never have enough of is memories. So a month later and mum and I were on a plane headed to Amankila, the luxury coastal hotel situated on the green hill of Indrakila in eastern Bali, making memories that we will never forget.
Before we left, I quickly jumped online to find out more about Amankila. I learned that it’s the only resort of its kind in traditional Karangasem near historic water palaces and temples. It’s a family-friendly sanctuary for wellness, relaxation and cultural immersion (the word relaxation instantly resonated – yes please). They offered watersports with Schiller Bikes, Naish SUPs, and outriggers for snorkeling and diving. There was unparalleled access to outdoor pursuits from trekking to mountain biking. And it was only a 90 minutes’ drive from Denpasar International Airport.
Located on a lush hillside beneath sacred Mount Agung, Amankila is the kind of place you arrive at and want to scream with delight. Obviously, I don’t do that, but it’s hard to contain my excitement. It’s the spectacular view that gets you first. I walk into an open-air lobby and the tropical sea-breeze hits me. The lobby looks out to a three-tiered infinity swimming pool, resembling terraced fields, which have been built into a cliff edge and overlook the waters of Lombok Strait and a 500m private black-sand beach. Next, I spot the large daybeds which surround the pool and have been covered in the most heavenly Indonesia traditional checkerboard fabric.
With the dramatic backdrop of Mount Agung, I quickly discover the magic of Amankila goes on and on. Each of the 34 free-standing suites – designed as Balinese beach houses with private outdoor terraces – are connected by stone walkways which are lined with fragrant frangipani trees, bougainvillea and palms (architect Ed Tuttle looked to the Ujung Water Palace, which inspired the walkways through the treetops). The suites are elevated on stilts and we have an outdoor bale next to the swimming pool with two treatment beds for couples’ massages (it’s at this point I decide that I’m officially in heaven).
Given Amankila is located in East Bali (one of the island’s remote and exotic areas), it’s not surprising that Amankila’s name is derived from Aman (meaning peace in Sanskrit) and Kila (hill in Balinese). Being so remote, there’s an instant air of peace that hits you on arrival. And that’s even with two young children at my feet. The idea is that you feel as relaxed at Amankila as if you were staying at the home of a good friend (there are even nightly bedtime stories educating children on Balinese culture which are delivered to our suite each night).
On our first night, we are driven to the top of Tamandari Hill where we follow a candlelit pathway to Amankila’s private bale, where we enjoy an authentic Balinese satay feast. The following morning, we explore the local villages which showcase a way of life little changed over the centuries. East Bali feels world’s away from the Bali I’m used to – it’s far more peaceful and serene.
We spend the morning on a Jukung, a traditional Balinese outrigger, and my seven-year-old has the time of her life snorkeling. Amankila owns two traditional outriggers – Aman XII and Aman XVI – which are available for guests to explore the beauty of the Lombok Strait. Guests can enjoy half-day cruises to explore the local coast or explore a little further afield to experience some of the best snorkeling and diving sites in East Bali, including Manta Point and Crystal Bay. With two children, the half-day cruise was perfect.
Wellness is a big focus at Amankila which is probably why we left feeling so rested and revived despite the fact that children still want to wake up at 6am, even on holidays (my morning chia pudding and green juice also helped). There are holistic practitioners who offer treatments ranging from hypnotherapy to reiki. There are complimentary group yoga classes that take place in a beautiful wooden pavilion on the beach at Amankila’s Beach Club or you can also book in for private classes which is what we did. We’re taught by a wonderful yoga teacher who has an infectious laugh and tells us we look happy (I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t look happy at Amankila – the place ignites joy in everyone). Meanwhile, the lifeguards supervised the girls while they made sandcastles. If yoga isn’t your thing, there’s also surfing and stand-up paddleboarding, cycling, and trekking. Or for something more culture-focused, a tour of East Bali which includes the highlights of the region from the ancient village of Tenganan to the temples and royal palaces of the area.
There’s so much to do, yet, you’re also welcome to do nothing at all but relax. Or head to the private outdoor cinema. Or indulge in the sensational dining options. I expected paradise, but I wasn’t ready for one of the best dining experiences of my life. Whether you favour Indonesian or Continental cuisine, this is a foodie’s paradise and even the girls’ nightly scoop of ice cream comes encased in an ice balloon. Local boats deliver daily fresh fish from the surrounding seas. Suckling pigs are locally reared. There’s even homemade ginger beer. And you’ll love the jar of chocolate chip biscuits and prawn crackers which are refreshed in your room each day.
There are three dining venues, with much of the herbs, fruit, and vegetables coming from Amankila’s own kitchen garden (sustainablity is a big focus for Amankila). The main restaurant is located in an open-walled pavilion above the pool. For lunch, there’s the Terrace restaurant or the restaurant at the beach club. There’s also daily complimentary afternoon tea where staff in traditional dress offer Indonesian ginger tea, Bali kopi, and cakes.
Amankila means it when they say they’re family-friendly. While we were respectful of other guests, we also felt that our children were welcome. When you have children, you’re usually on the same schedule as other families – early to breakfast and early to bed – so you tend to miss those on their honeymoon anyway. There was plenty to do to keep my girls happy and entertained from the minute we arrived (colouring-in packs on arrival anyone?). While there’s no official kids’ club, there are babysitters on hand (we booked one while we had a massage), endless activities and so much space for them to run. There’s also the beach where they can make sandcastles or chase crabs. After we’d ventured out, our afternoons were usually spent back at our suite, swimming in our private pool. It was the kind of schedule I could get used to. Of course, the word “mum” was still on repeat about 50 times a day. The girls still bicker in Bali. And there was still plenty of whinging. But when you’re in a resort as beautiful as Amankila, it’s hard to feel stressed by much.
All I want for Christmas? To be back at Amankila. So do my kids. There’s a ‘Santa and Kids’ Picnic’ where children gather on the beach to watch Father Christmas arrive by boat followed by fun activities and a picnic. And that’s just the beginning of the festive options Amankila offers.
Described as a “spirit-lifting sanctuary”, this is exactly what Amankila is. It lifts your spirit. It revives you. It grounds you. And it will give you enough memories to last a lifetime. We can’t wait to go back soon.