2019/09/04

Review of Hotel Amankila, East Bali

Location

First stay at a property of the famed Aman Group

On our third visit to the tropical paradise of Bali, my husband and I decided to visit the lesser travelled eastern part of the island and to combine this with a stay at Amankila, a property of the much talked about Aman hotel group, an experience that we had had on our bucket list for some time. And, so much can be said, we had a great time here! Regarding all the areas we have visited in Bali so far including hotel recommendations for those like the finer things in life, have a look at my last post. My next one will be about things to do in Bali’s east where also Amankila, the hotel I am going to review, is located.

Before coming to the hotel where I had my first Aman stay, a few words to this extraordinary Aman brand.

Aman Resorts

Much has been said about Aman. It was supposed to set a new benchmark in terms of true hospitality. The hotel group is said to have a highly curated collection of properties (33 resorts in 22 countries) which excel with a unique location, a true sense of place, a boutique hotel character (mostly fewer than 50 rooms), an understated luxury, a serene ambiance and a personalized yet unintrusive service. Among Aman’s guests is a group of passionate repeat customers, who call themselves “Aman junkies” and whose travel plans are heavily influenced by Aman locations.

“Aman” means “peace” in Sanskrit, and each property was originally named “Aman-something”, “Amankila” for example means “Peaceful hill”. The hotel group was founded in 1988 by the Indonesian Adrian Zecha, the first property he built was the Amanpuri in Phuket that now turned 30. In the meantime, the Russian investor Vladislav Doronin is the owner of the Aman hotels and asked his chief operating office, the Swiss Roland Fasel, to restructure and expand the portfolio of hotels, acting from the company’s headquarter in Zug/Switzerland. From what I understand, changes will be made as to building new properties close to existing ones so that travelers can do a circuit in the country of question. The culinary concepts will also be adapted in order to satisfy the growing segment of traveling foodies. Furthermore, the spa orientation will also be intensified including medical wellness. Finally, Aman wants to become more child-friendly. The first Aman hotel to implement the changes is the flagship resort of the before mentioned Amanpuri in Phuket.

Now to the Amankila in Bali’s east where I spent four nights together with my husband.

Amankila within Aman

After the opening of Amanpuri in Phuket, two more hotels followed in Bali, first Amandari in Ubud (1989) and then Amankila near Manggis (1992). The latter was designed by the US born Ed Tuttle, as the first one in Phuket. He paid homage to eastern Bali’s Karangasem Palaces with a three-tier pool, inspired by terraced rice paddies.
Since it was built more than a quarter of a century ago, Amankila has been left more or less unchanged, with some improvements here and there. The management really did an excellent job at maintaining the hotel in pristine condition all these years!

Location

Amanpuri is situated on the green hill of Indrakila, near Manggis (a quiet rural town) in the less-explored east of Bali, a 90-minute drive from the airport. The area has rather fallen off the tourist radar in recent years, quite in contrast to the lively Ubud where you find the sister hotel. Having said that, the location is remote yet truly rural and still authentic Balinese, a world away from the tourist crowds and traffic jams of south Bali.
When leaving the main road and climbing up the hill towards the entrance, soon the sea comes into view, behind a long stretch of lush vegetation; your eyes catch sight of the Lombok Strait (a waterway between Bali and Lombok) and Nusa Penida in the distance and this set against the backdrop of the volcano of Mount Agung (the highest mountain in Bali), a really dreamlike spot of earth!
While I would not opt for Amanpuri in case you only want to stay at one resort during your Bali vacations, it is a perfect choice in combination with one or two more hotels in busier places just as Ubud (center) and/or in the island’s south.

Ambiance

Amankila is – despite its age – still a masterpiece of timeless architecture. The layout is spectacular, when looking from the sea, the unrivalled center of attention is the pool – although only perceivable as monolithic stone block – surrounded by some buildings housing restaurant, bar and lobby. A series of stairs and elevated walkways wind through the grounds with lovely frangipani trees and white bougainvillea to the standalone thatched roofed villa suites.
The atmosphere throughout the resort is soothing, there is never a rush, only comfortable quietude. I even witnessed a gardener mowing the huge lawn with a sickle! When going to the pool, the beach or to the restaurant, there are rarely more than a handful of other guests. As the grounds are extensive and people are few, you are able to enjoy much privacy. It is the perfect place if you long for tranquility and exclusivity!

A lot is done here to give you ample occasion to immerse in the local culture, be it during afternoon tea in front of the library where local children make Balinese Hindu “offerings” to be left at temples or almost anywhere else and give them to you.
There are also high-quality Balinese shows by the pool at some days before dinner
and you have even the chance to experience a traditional Melukat Ceremony, where a local priest gives you a water blessing!

Facilites/Food

The most impressive feature is by no doubts the gorgeous three-tier infinity pool that steps down the hillside after the pattern of Bali’s cascading rice fields. I could not stop taking pictures at all times of day and night of the most beautiful pool I have ever encountered!
There is another pool at the beach club that can be reached by descending a winding set of stairs.
A few steps more and you come to the private volcanic beach (blackish sand).
While it is beautiful to look at, there are two points to criticize. On the one hand, there was a lot of debris washed up on the shore (removed by staff members) and on the other hand, the views across Lombok Strait were somewhat marred by a dozen oil tankers and ferry boats anchored across the bay on our whole stay (there is an oil harbor in proximity and a ferry harbor a bit further in Padang).

When it comes to the culinary offering, there are three restaurants on site but two of them only serve lunch (the ones by the pool
and at the beach club). The main restaurant, one level below the lobby, is lovely, located outdoor yet roofed in a minimalist décor allowing amazing views of the sea.
The same is true for the bar, located opposite the dining-room.
As to the food, there is no buffet for breakfast, everything can be ordered from an à la carte menu, and all items we had were delicious!
For dinner, there is a choice of western and Indonesian fare as well as a daily changing set menu. My husband and I opted most times for local food
and liked what we got, although it was not very spicy, at least at the beginning. When I casually mentioned this to an employee (not from the restaurant) towards the end of our stay, the last dinner I got was spicier; whether by chance or deliberately, I would not know …

On pool level, there is also a library, which is a nice place to linger after dinner to have a look through the books and to gaze at the paintings in here.
By day, you are treated to complimentary afternoon tea with western and local pastry on the steps in front of the building.
In terms of wellness and fitness, there is a massage pavilion (a suite converted in a spa) and an outdoor fitness (located at the beach club), but no real spa or gym to speak of. From what I heard, it is planned to add a new spa facility in the time to come.

Rooms/Pricing

There are 34 rooms available here, all standalone villa suites on stilts nestled into the forested hillside. They are designed in the style of Balinese beach huts and have all the same layout. While some have more than one bedroom, others have ocean views and/or their private pools. The entry-level accommodation (Garden Suite) has neither of these features but is still a cut above from what you expect from the least expensive room in a high-end resort.

We had a Garden Suite on a lower level so that we did not need to climb hundreds of stairs to reach it.
If you have limited mobility, the suites higher up may not suit your needs. The villa was open plan,
extremely spacious (94 sqm resp. 1,011 sqft), with a large bathroom and a generous outdoor terrace. The design aesthetic is timeless, simplicity is combined with a sense of understated luxury. When entering there is a large, very comfortable four-poster bed on one side and a daybed on the other, followed by some kind of in-between room with another daybed, a bathtub and two separate cubicles with a shower and a toilet in each. At the back of the suite there are two sinks and two closets.
Furnishings are sophisticated, with warm woods, delicate local artworks and cream travertine. All in all, ample space and a design that remains persuasive even after 27 years!

When it comes to the price, I found it surprisingly reasonable for an Aman property considering that we stayed here in the high season and had opted for the Romance package including breakfast, return airport transfers, a bottle of Champagne, a private morning cruise (breakfast, opportunity to snorkel),
a Melukat water blessing (Hindu ceremony lasting half an hour), a private satay picnic (dinner) in the hills
and an hour-long massage for both of us. All this cost us a bit more than 800 $ per room and day!

Staff

The majority of the staff has worked here since Amankila opened more than a quarter of a century ago! And they know the drill after all this time … Everyone with whom we interacted had the most gracious attitude. When we showed up at the pool or the restaurant, most employees knew our name and did their best to be of service. Ernst, the general manager, and Florian, the food & beverage manager, regularly checked on us to see how we were liking things and if everything was as expected.

One point that cast a shadow here, were some staff at the reception. Although being kind and helpful, they were not always informative resp. competent enough when it came to certain details concerning activities in the area.

Speaking of things do in east Bali, I will go into them in my next post. We had travelled in the area already on our first visit to Bali and were again on the route when staying at Amankila. Once, we did an absolutely worthwhile walk organized by the hotel
and the other time, we were touring the eastern part of the island with an Aman driver who was a warm and knowledgeable guy, we enjoyed the trip with him very much!

Overall

If you want to escape the crowds in Bali’s south and center and seek an upscale hotel providing understated luxury, an attentive yet discrete service, a tranquil atmosphere, a real soul and the most beautiful pool imaginable,
then you cannot go wrong at Amankila. I had been awaiting my first stay at an Aman hotel with great anticipation and I was not disappointed! It was everything I had hoped for, and even sometimes more. This resort in an out-of-the-way location in east Bali is one of the first Aman properties that was opened, and it is still a timeless beauty after all those years (27 exactly!), although not featuring all the amenities of newer competing hotels.

Date of visit: July 2019



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