Thirty years ago, a few friends bought a piece of land in Phuket, Thailand, building a place where they could find peace and tranquility for themselves and guests. They never met in a boardroom or made plans to become the best hotel chain in the world. All they did, was to do everything right.
Plans to build a home on the site soon developed into an idea to build a small boutique resort in partnership between four friends. They invested their own money in the venture, as no bank would lend for the project due to the small number of planned rooms. At this time, resorts usually featured 500 rooms or more, and the boutique hotel concept was still in its infancy.
Amanpuri (Place of Peace) opened in January 1988 with 40 rooms and 30 private villas. From the positive response to this project, they were encouraged to develop more resorts employing the same concept. While initially the resorts were concentrated in Asia (now including properties in Bhutan, Cambodia, China, French Polynesia, India, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand), over the last two decades the group has also opened resorts in France, Morocco, Montenegro, the Turks & Caicos Islands and the United States.
The Aman Resorts have never advertised. They have never had to. Once you stay at an Aman, you make plans to spend time at another Aman. Most of their guests are return customers, and many go back to the same resorts.
Most of the staff has stayed at the resorts they work in, since the inception of the resort. Twenty-five years ago, many of the sites they built resorts on were still untamed and today most of these areas now have all the competitors offering resort experiences. Yet, after 25 years, Aman is still the best resort in every region.
There has not been a year in the past 25, that Aman did not win best resort for one of their properties. This year’s Travel & Leisure winner is the Aman in Greece.
There are lots of beautiful boutique hotels in the world. Lots of stunning places, stunning architecture. But Aman is still the best.
Why is that?
It is true that each Aman resort is placed in a special and finely selected spot in each country it is in. It is also true, that everyone in the hotel business has been sent under cover to stay at an Aman to see what their recipe for success is. The Aman group is probably the most copied hotel group in the world. And still, they are just more special.
What is the Aman formula, that makes them so revered, so copied, so envied and so successful?
Dossier traveled to Bali, to enjoy the three Aman resorts scattered on the south of the island, and we will do our level best to try and capture the essence of the experience, although, it will just be a fraction of the true experience. But we will give it our best shot.
It starts when the driver pulls in to collect you. The whole fleet at Aman consists of all the same cars, all the same shape, black Toyota SUV’s. I know this has been copied, but it still feels so good: all the seats are covered in the softest white cotton, and as you climb into the back seat, there are white pillows which can be used for sleeping, for a sore ‘plane back,’ or just getting comfy. The driver immediately offers you an ice-cold cloth to refresh you. Most of the time this is sorely needed after long flights and/or transfers. Drinks are offered, all cold and wonderful in the Bali heat of 38 degrees plus humidity.
The car pulls into the property, and staff greets your arrival in a lovely Balinese bow before you are whisked away to your villa. No delays, no fuss. You will never get to sign a slip at all, ever. On arrival, you will be called by your name, by all the staff. I was called Ibu Mia, which is a Balinese term for Madame, but more loving than the French version. Each staff member will know your room number too. Your butler takes you to your villa, where something special awaits. At the one resort it was a sorbet with ginger beer … the other was a rose hip iced tea welcome drink and chicken pie, as it was lunch time. We stayed at three resorts, and never had the same welcome drink.
It is not just the welcome drinks; it is the surprise on your pillow every night. When the bed gets turned over, there is a little Balinese gift waiting on your pillow: a beautiful sarong in a weaved holder, a little Balinese basket with little carved mask, always something special, and never the same.
Your luggage appears in the room with the most beautiful leather tags with your name on it. Soft leather tags, one resort is orange, the other resort green, everyone a beautiful reminder, wherever you will travel with those bags in future.
But it’s not just the gift… every night the dinner starts with an amuse bouche… meaning a little something to amuse your taste buds, and yes, every night is different.
It is those little things, which add up to be a great experience. And that is how the Aman makes everything great, little details all the way, until you want to weep.
You want to weep, because the staff is so humble and kind. They always bow lower than the guest, to speak to you. They speak at very low volume, which you think does not matter, until you realize, wow, it really makes a difference. And they just cannot do enough for you, and the weird thing is, you can sense it is real and not faked. They basically treat everyone as if they are the most treasured being in the world. It gets to you; you feel humbled and sometimes just plain emotional because it is so beautiful.
The Aman resorts in Bali are more than twenty years old, yet every last detail looks fresh. I think this is where the absolute pleasure and peace is created, the incredible precision of each resort.
I have been taking interior photographs for more than 30 years, and started working with a 4 x 5 camera, which featured a spirit level. My eyes have been trained to line up walls, and the furniture, it is something that now comes naturally. I spent most of my time looking at each resort … each room, each wall, each bit of tile, the wood paneling … lining each up to be level. I did not find one, not one, detail of the interior that did not line up immaculately. I would lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, first closing left eye, nope all straight, close right eye, all straight. I have never been in a place where not one single tile, nor one detail is not perfectly placed. And this also makes for a very peaceful stay. There are no jarring details anywhere. To get that right, can you imagine the work? The effort? It is truly wonderful.
In the restaurants, every table is at exactly the same angle… each piece of cutlery, in exactly the same place. Each plate of food that comes out of the kitchen is perfect. If there are potted plants in a row, every plant is exactly the same height. Everything placed, at exactly the right place. This might sound extreme, but it is not, it has a very calming effect, both visually and emotionally. It brings rest, peace.
Bringing peace is the Aman mantra.
Each Aman resort takes the best from its environment, and simplifies it to absolute simplicity. The Amandari – ‘peaceful spirits’ is in a forest just outside Ubud. The resort has this languid feel of Asia, the forest noises and at night the frog orchestra, mixed in with humidity and lovely breezes from the forest. It has a more forestry Balinese feel, with the Balinese walls surrounding each room and pathway. Amandari reflects Bali’s upcountry culture of art, music and dance. The tranquil oasis of the Spa includes the Mandi Lulur cream bath.
The Amankila – ‘peaceful hill’ – is a crisp beach resort, incredible pools everywhere, everything connected by stairs from the beach, through to the Olympic size pool set in the Palms next to the beach, to the three tiered infinity pools flowing from the restaurants… to your Villa pool, which is walled and utterly private…lovely evening swims after dinner until the middle of the night. While down at the beach club a 41- meter lap pool is set amidst coconut palms. At afternoon tea, women in sarongs and kebayas serve ginger tea, Balinese coffee, and local cakes.
The Amanusa in Nusa Dua is a majestic property, just above the Bali National Golf Resort, based around an incredibly big pool, with views of the Indian Ocean. Every space voluminous. Bougainvillea in all different colours, like splashes of delicate paint all over.
Each Aman has a shop, oh my word, each with different items but completely curated with the most special pieces from the area. The jewelry is spectacular, specializing in the silver, gold or stones of each area. Not cheap, but really choice pieces.
The food. I had my best ever Italian meal at the Amanusa. The Amanusa has two restaurants, Italian and Indonesian. Both superb but let me tell you, I had a simple pasta with sage butter, but you could not have a better meal in the best restaurant in Italy. The wines are all selected to go with each restaurant. At the Amandari and Amankila, one restaurant serves the resort, but the menu caters for all kinds of gourmands.
At present, Aman Resorts offer 26 resorts across 18 countries, but if success is measured by room numbers, then the brand hasn’t achieved much at all. However, Aman has never focused on being the biggest. As founder Adrian Zecha puts it, “It’s not that we are better than big hotels because we are small. We are different, that’s all. Aman Resorts responds to a contemporary lifestyle. That’s what we offer – a lifestyle experience, without limitations.”
Leaving is very hard; the only thing that helps is that the staff says, “See you soon Ibu.”
For more information on Aman Resorts visit: www.amanresorts.com