Amandari resort, Ubud review: Serenity stripped bare

Read our writer's views on this property below

Rosemarie Milsom revels in the simple things at a five-star haven that forgoes glitz for authenticity.

During my previous four visits to Bali's lush artistic centre, Ubud, I've admired the stunning Amandari resort from afar while walking beside the winding Ayung River on the outskirts of town. Perched on an escarpment above, the famous curved infinity pool (designed to mimic the surrounding rice terraces) is the only signpost for the award-winning resort that otherwise discreetly blends into the village of Kedewatan, in which it has co-existed for almost 20 years.

Designed by Australian architect Peter Muller, Amandari was the second of Adrian Zecha's respected Aman resorts to be built.

Small in scale, with no more than 35 rooms, Aman resorts are big on stunning, exotic backdrops in countries such as Bhutan, India, Morocco, Tahiti, Cambodia and China, where they focus on forging strong cultural links.

Renowned for avoiding the institutional sameness that can infect hotel chains – even the five-star kind – the resorts stand out from the crowd but they don't come cheap. Expect to part with about $1000 a night at the three Bali properties, when factoring in meals and activities.

With its understated elegance and authentic Balinese design that has inspired countless imitators, has Amandari still got what it takes, particularly when travellers are penny-pinching like never before?

It's during my fifth trip to Bali, just weeks before the resort's 20th-anniversary celebrations begin this month, that I find myself in the spotless, white back seat of an air-conditioned van leaving the colourful chaos of beachfront Legian for Amandari.

Our arrival an hour later catches me by surprise. There's no impressive gateway or driveway lined with ornate lily ponds and statues, which are ubiquitous among Bali's high-end resorts and hotels. Instead we simply head down a narrow paved driveway. Blink and you'd miss it.

Amandari is essentially a couple of large pavilions housing the most modest reception I've ever seen as well as the small open-air bar, restaurant and newly renovated library. Beyond the pavilions is the green-tiled pool and, until you see it from inside the resort, it's impossible to fully appreciate its bold, organic design. The far edge drops away and you are left with a view of the dense rainforest that covers the opposite slope across the steep Ayung Valley.

There are six green Chinese-style umbrellas beside the pool but with 11 of the resort's 30 thatched-roof suites – located to the left and right of the main entry – having their own pools, the main area is never crowded.

After a warm welcome, we're led through the main pavilion past large ceramic vases filled with intoxicating tuberose down a paved path between lichen-covered stone walls to our light-filled duplex suite.

There are floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors on three sides of the stand-alone suite, a large marble-floored living area with two oversized day beds, a round dining table dominated by an arrangement of tropical fruit, a wood cabinet hiding a bar fridge and stereo, and a large combined bathroom and dressing area with an outdoor sunken bath and two sun lounges.

At the top of a narrow spiral timber staircase is a four-poster queen bed, desk and ensuite.

Once again, the simplicity surprises me. There's none of the typical features usually found in top-class accommodation – be warned, there's no television. And instead of sleek surfaces and sharp angles, there's plenty of timber, glass and open space. The surrounding garden with its fragrant frangipani and eye-catching heliconia provides a private retreat beneath towering palm trees.

My initial reaction is that the interior is dated and cliched. I later discover that Zecha consulted staff and Muller about a redesign and chose not to pursue an extensive overhaul, opting instead to retain the resort's original decor in order to maintain a link with its traditional setting.

There were some minor changes during a three-month closure earlier this year: WiFi cables were installed, cobblestones were replaced with grey herringbone pathways and the library doubled in size.

By our second day, I'm beginning to understand Zecha's decision.

After spending time by the pool watching finches flit about, trekking with Amandari guide Amon through the nearby rainforest, past terraces of sweet potato and rice seedlings to the small village of Bongkasa, and skimming an array of history and architecture books in the library, I feel as though time has slowed.

The serenity at Amandari is a rare experience when you're used to running ragged and it takes a little while to adjust. At night there is the calming pulse of frog song. There's no piped New Age soundtrack in the spa suite, where I receive one of the most soothing massages I've ever had (ask for Dewi). Instead, water falls from the roof on the open-air side of the suite into a large pond to mimic rain and is instantly relaxing.

There's no pretence or glitz here. If you're after authentic peace and quiet, the kind that is initially unnerving until the white noise in your fatigued brain switches off, just two nights at Amandari is enough to restore balance.

There are also the little things. When I request sugar water to add to my ginger tea, it is always there when I order again. As soon as I arrive at the pool, a towel and glass of cold water seem to instantly appear. When my husband forgoes the trek to relax on the day bed and catch up on the Ashes on his iPhone, a backpack arrives so I can carry my toddler son. I find out it belongs to the general manager, Liv Gussing, herself a devotee of walks with her children.

My only gripe is that while the kitchen turns out prompt room service and a solid range of local and Western dishes, the standard isn't as high as you'd expect from the luxury end of the market. But with a free shuttle into Ubud, there's a smorgasbord of dining options only minutes away, though we didn't really venture into town. The pull of Amandari proved too strong.

The writer was a guest of Aman Resorts.


WHERE Kedewatan, Ubud. Phone +62 361 975 333, see

HOW MUCH Accommodation is divided into village, valley and pool suite categories and prices start from $US750 ($870) a night.

TOP MARKS The spectacular setting and knowledgeable staff.

BLACK MARK The standard of food available via room service was inconsistent.

DON'T MISS Sunset in the bar and afternoon performances by the village children.