Tuesday, February 10, 2015

AMAN HAVENS IN BALI

Our guest blogger Sonja Catani stays at two amazing Aman hotels on Bali - on a visit packed with sights and barely longer than a weekend!


Amankila – stairway to heaven

Stepping into Amankila’s airy reception area was like stepping into heaven. Literally! You are high up on the cliffs and it feels like you are floating. The scenery takes your breath away and the views are utterly stunning. The main area of the hotel is hard to pin-point, it’s mythical – like a cross over between a Byzantine temple and a medieval castle. It’s majestic and at the same time inviting and warm. Three infinity pools ranging from 24 to 16 meters long, placed on different levels, distort your sense of perspective even more.

But more surprises are to come. We are to be shown to our villa, and asked to step into a “funky car” the hotels main means of transportation, an open top golf-buggy-jeep-thingy. We are driven even further up the hills and arrive at long walkways about two meters over the lush green grounds. At the end of the walkway is our beautiful villa, completely secluded and with its own pool. The layout is typical Aman: spacious bedroom, dressing-room, bathroom, separate shower and bathtub areas and relax- and office-area. With sliding panels one can change the room with thousands of different options for windows letting in the sunlight.

We decided to explore Amankila’s vast area and realized why we we’re offered a ride in the “funky car”. There are stairs and walkways high above ground everywhere. Some people might think it’s too much and resort to being chauffeured around, but we loved it! 120 steps up and down to the main pool area, great exercise and so beautifully laid out.



Sonja on the "steps to heaven"
By the main pool area, you also have two restaurants, a library and a bar. Walk further down on some hundred more natural stairs and you get down to the beach. Laid out in the coconut grove are a large swimming pool and one more restaurant. The beach is black volcanic sand. Stunning. Black sand is the new black! In typical Aman-style you get everything a luxury hotel has to offer, but then some. On the beach you get to try different water sports but there’s also a fruit barbeque and off course the attentive personnel helping you and always showing up even before you knew you wanted another glass of water.

Amankila - a place for total relaxation


We spent two days in Amankila and had time to enjoy great Balinese feast for dinner, champagne by the pool lounging in a balee (Balinese gazebo), wonderful massage treatment by our private pool in the villa, amazing lunches and good walks up and down all the steps. Amankila has a wide range of excursions they offer and are very attentive with kids. The Easter egg hunt in itself, sounds so much fun that I want to go back just for that.

Eternal views from Amankila

Your own spa therapists on duty in the private spa villa

Amandari a grand old lady in Ubud


A relatively short transfer later we are inland and closing in on Ubud, the town famous for arts and crafts, drawing masses of tourists out of which many stay for longer periods of time, learning yoga and ancient teachings. Ubud got even more famous after the movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts as Liz Gilbert, the author who went to Ubud to “find her self”.

Only 10 minutes from Ubud town center is the oasis of Amandari (click here). Amandari is laid like a typical Balinese village and feels comfy and authentic with it’s cobbled narrow “streets” and villas perfectly hidden behind beautifully aged stone walls. It’s very different from Amankila with the vast open ocean views and floating gangways, here you are surrounded by jungle and feel tucked into nature and history. I am so happy that Select included both properties so that we could enjoy the contrasts and experience different perspectives of Bali.

In Amandari we got a lovely villa with private pool and walled terrace over-looking the jungle canyon towards the river floating further down. You can hear the constant sounds of birds singing, but no traffic.

Sonja's villa at Amandari

And the magical setting at setting at dusk
 In Ubud I most of all enjoyed the nature experiences, but also the chance to meet local people and visit them in their homes. Driving in Ubud can be slow due to all the tourists that come from the coast just for a day, but I enjoyed the slow traffic as it gave me a chance to sit back and soak in the local life. It’s almost overwhelming with all the hindu-statues and temples and stone carvings. One day Mrs M and her husband came up by car from their house on the southern coast, and we went for a 2-3 hour bicycle ride outside Ubud. Now, you can do this two ways: one, you bicycle with a guide up and down the hills and get lots of exercise and get to meet local families, visit there homes, walk in rice paddies and look at holy sights and temples. Or you can do it the other way: get a car ride up the hills above Ubud and then roll down the hills on a bicycle with a great guide who will take you to meet his family in their home and out on their rice field. We chose the latter option.

Ricefields


Local life
Cycling in Ubud

Amandari are very helpful in arranging any of these activities and many more. We spent another early morning trekking from Amandari down to the river, over some shaky bridges to the other side and then up through the jungle. The views were out of an Indiana Jones film and that morning hike was my absolute highlight from the whole trip. The hike ended in a small village where we went to a Kopi Luwak farm to try the world’s best, and unfortunately also most expensive, coffee. In New York people cue around a whole block for this coffee, that costs 100 U$ a cup. Well, in a small village outside Ubud you can get it for only 5 U$ dollars. A bargain I would say, after travelling 10000 kilometers to taste it. Not to go into too much detail on how the coffee beans are processed in the stomach of the palm civet cats before roasted, but the coffee is great, worth the trip and the hike.

Shrines everywhere
Trekking - a lifetime experience


We ended our morning with a healthy breakfast set up for us in a private balee up on the steep jungle slope over the river. Opposite we could make out Amandari and realized we’d walked quite far.



Amandari also has tennis courts, a spa, gym, library, bar and large pool. The restaurant has a separate fine dining area for special bookings. We were treated with a traditional Balinese feast in a balee set privately below the hotel. Before dinner we enjoyed a traditional Balinese dance performed by three local girls aged 8 to 12 who attend a dance school that Amandari hosts in the property. You can see their practice class every afternoon at the same time as afternoon tea is served.

Amandari is a grand old lady and under the experienced hand of new General Manager Dee, it will undergo a minor face-lift, like all grand old ladies need to have a pampering once in a while. Return to this blog to read a more detailed account on Amandari.

Ubud town is very popular and has some great restaurants. The sad thing is that we’re not the first tourists to find it and hence even Starbucks has found it and opened up a coffee bar next to the main temple. I am keener on local Kopi Luwak coffee and authentic small villages, but I can see why Ubud is so popular. It’s definitely worth a visit but ask at Amandari for their shop and restaurant itinerary list as they have the best up to date info on where to go, to avoid the common tourist traps.

Amandari also arranged for us a great morning in the local market. You can combine this with a cooking class. Your guide will take you to the market in the morning and give you a specific amount of money and a shopping list, it’s then up to you to find all the food, haggle prices and choose the best produce that you will then cook in the evening with Amandari chef.

Finally I want to recommend going to Bali in November, the rainy season. It sounds crazy, but the fact is that “rainy season” in Bali means, one hour of refreshing rain in the afternoon and a whole lot less tourists than otherwise! Thank You Select Collection team for all your wonderful arrangements!



Memories to take home from Bali


My five favorite nature memories from Bali are:
1. the ocean views at Amankila, eastern Bali
2. the jungle hike from Amandari, Ubud
3. the dramatic cliffs on the southern tip of Bali
4. the bicycle ride down the hills in tea plantations above Ubud
5. the black sand beach at Amankila


Sustainability and conscious thinking


All Aman hotels are always involved in some charity- or environmental projects helping local people.

At Amankila, General Manager Claudia is active in local environmental projects including a large one on how to handle waste. She is also deeply involved in a project to help young mothers and orphan children, something she excitedly talked about with true involvement and feeling. Further on Amankila are very conscious regarding healthy and ecologically produced food, and it’s not you usual hip talk, but actually done.

At Amandari, General Manager Dee supports wild life projects as well as promotes locally made crafts. As a guest you get small handcrafted gifts every night, always made by local people. I got a beautiful small wooden statue made by a blind man. Amandari also supports, as mentioned in the text, a local dance school for children.



Some of the excursions and programs that the hotels offer:




Amankila


Sports:
Diving
Cruising and Snorkeling
Cycling
Trekking
Climbing
Stand Up Paddle
Tennis
Yoga

Wellbeing:
Hollistic treatments and consultations
Spa treatments in room or at Spa pavilion

Tours and Excursions:
East Bali Tours
Temples
Museums
Bali Safari and Marine Park
Local Market
John Hardy Jewelry Showroom
Charlys Chocolate Factory

Kila Kids:
Kid’s picnic
Dancing classes
Making Balinese Offerings (canang)
Kid’s adventure walks


Amandari


Cultural Experiences
Cooking with Amandari in the village
Cultural Tour
Art Class
Visit a Healer

Nature Activities
Hiking and trekking
Bicycle tours
Cross training — cycling and trekking
Mountain Climbing


Flashback

In November when things get truly rough in Northern Europe and you might see the sun for an hour or so every week, its perfect to go away and charge your inner batteries before the long Christmas season. Last year we went to the Maldives and this year we decided to stretch it even more and chose to take #weekendhoppers to Bali.

The only plans we had in place for the Bali-visit was to start the vacation at our friends’ house a few days, other than that I left the whole planning to Select Collection. They arranged great flights with Qatar Airways: short transit in Doha and Dreamliner airplanes on all legs, flat beds to rest our own legs. As I’ve stressed before; don’t regard the travel time as bad thing – see it as time to relax and talk to your significant other. Whenever do we otherwise have time to sit and talk each other without disturbance, enjoy good food and wines together without guests, kids or phones ringing, watch movies and read books uninterrupted for 12 hours?  Or like my husband – fall asleep as soon as he sits down and then snore loudly for twelve hours…. I kid you not, I think he sleep-walked through transit snoring. They must’ve thought he was speaking Dutch.

We arrived in Bali Denpasar new airport in the afternoon, and after a 45 minute drive arrived at our friends’ fantastic villa on the southern tip of Bali, where we stayed three days before our visits to the Aman hotels. During this time we enjoyed a whole day at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay Spa

 I had a chauffeur drive me and Mrs M to Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay for a complete spa experience. We spent three hours in the spa experiencing the full Biorhythm treatment. It’s said to be perfect for restoring the natural flow of the body’s biorhythm and magnetic energy field. And wow did I feel restored afterwards! I was so invigorated I ended up buying lots of great creams and gifts in the spa shop. Afterwards we restored our hungry stomachs by indulging in a huge lunch on fresh grilled fish in the Sundara restaurant.

About Sonja Catani and #weekendhoppers

Travel is my passion and I’ve developed a symbiotic relationship with Select Collection and their team. We plan and discuss together my hopes and dreams for different vacations and trips. Sometimes it’s for art, sometimes for relaxation, sometimes in connection with charity projects. Sometimes I travel alone, sometimes with my snoring husband, other times with friends and occasionally with my young daughter. The trips are always tailor made to suite my needs and I have come realize that the knowledge of the Select Team helps me greatly. All the e-mails and phone calls and personal meetings make the planning so much more fun. As a control freak I never thought I’d actually let someone else plan my vacation in Bali, now I am so happy I did. I’m not paid by Select Collection, Aman Hotels, Four Seasons, Qatar Airways or any other company included in this blog post to write this or any other articles featuring them. However I strongly believe that the palm civet cats should have slipped me a free bag of roasted Kopi Luwak coffee as a thank you for promoting them 

See you for a long weekend in Hong Kong next time!

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