There is no more sublime a place to begin a discovery of Bali's innocence and beauty than at a small hotel in the village of Kedewatan, called Amandari. Sanskrit for "the place of peaceful spirits," Amandari is surely one of the world's best hotels.
Amandari is the creation of an Indonesian named Adrian Zecha, one of the founding members of the Regent International Hotels Group. Perched on a gorge high above the Ayung River, Amandari is surrounded by terraced rice paddies, with a distant view of the Indian Ocean some 25 miles away. The warm, humid climate has given Amandari's 29 thatched-roof villas a timeless look. Designed after traditional Balinese dwellings, each villa is built of teak and volcanic stone and is surrounded by its own courtyard, providing guests with complete privacy. The villas are elegantly decorated with handsome local furnishings, cool marble floors and sliding walls of glass.
Each villa's enormous bathroom has an outdoor courtyard with a generous sunken marble bath. Duplex suites have the bedroom on the second floor with an adjoining second bathroom. Six suites are equipped with their own pool.
Amandari's public rooms are open-air and enhance the hotel's atmosphere of luxurious simplicity. The dramatic, dark-green-tiled pool is contoured in the shape of a terraced rice paddie, creating the illusion of spilling over into the valley below. Overlooking the pool, the Verandah Restaurant, serving what local experts agree is the best food on the island, offers an extraordinary mixture of Indonesian and Western cuisine. Chef Andrew Skinner, who recently acquired his post after chef Richard Genn left to start his own restaurant in his native New Zealand, is, for the moment, retaining Genn's menu, which includes homemade taglierini tossed with smoked salmon, tomatoes and capers, and, by special request, a delicious roast suckling piglet. His delicate use of curry, ginger and other local spices is inspired.
The wine list primarily focuses on offerings from nearby Australia and New Zealand, but lovers of Bordeaux will not go thirsty. Be warned: Wine prices in Indonesia are high due to a recent 20 to 40-percent increase in alcohol taxes--a misguided government effort to curb abuse. A well-stocked Davidoff humidor (Zecha is an avid cigar smoker) completes the dining experience. At night, a gamelan ensemble provides haunting Balinese music, which drifts through the hotel's luxuriant grounds.
But what really separates Amandari from other pleasure domes is its service. It begins upon arrival at the island's busy capital city of Denpasar, a 45-minute drive south of Kedewatan. At Denpasar's bustling and recently expanded Ngurah Rai International Airport, you are greeted by name and your bags are collected and stowed in one of the hotel's fleet of Toyota Landcruisers. Before departing for the hotel, drivers offer cold towels, bottled water and a selection of cassette tapes. The Balinese are by nature warm, hospitable people, and Amandari's staff is especially gracious, though managers Henry and Char Gray insist there is no formal training program.
Unobtrusive, yet ever-present and anticipatory, the staff is also ample in number, with a staggering staff-to-guest ratio of five to one. An example: A poolside attendant shielded a dozing sunbathing guest with an umbrella seconds before a sudden shower passed by, and just as quickly removed it when the rain stopped. Nap undisturbed.
With such a cosseted ambience, it's tempting to abandon the reason you came to Bali: There is much to see and do. Bali is incredibly exotic, and its countryside is lush and dramatic with active volcanoes, terraced rice fields and hundreds of magnificent temples. It is a magical island where time seems to have stood still.
Start the day with an early morning walk through villages and rice paddies, guided by one of the hotel's resident trekkers. It's a wonderful opportunity to see Balinese life up close. Take the staff's touring suggestions. They are familiar with off-the-beaten-path sights and shops not found in guidebooks. They can arrange any excursion, providing transportation and knowledgeable drivers to escort you. If you go to mountainous North Bali to visit the dramatic temples of Pura Ulan Danu on Lake Bratan--and you should--the hotel will pack a delicious picnic.
Balinese life revolves around ceremonies, and guests are welcome to attend most of them--from house blessings and weddings to cremations, which are, in fact, joyous and noisy occasions. And after a day of sightseeing, whitewater rafting, trekking or shopping (each village specializes in a particular art or craft), return to the tranquility of Amandari for a Balinese massage.
-- Clint Fitch
Phone: (62) 361 975333
Fax: (62) 361 975335
Villas from $360