by Lucas Raven
Bali has captured the world’s imagination and inspired our true longing for an exotic and peaceful getaway, long before Julia Robert’s romance on ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (yes, I read the book, too!). You can roll your eyes, but hate it or love it, the story ignited wanderlusts from all walks of life to dream of Bali.
The “Island of Gods”, as they call it, is an ideal holiday destination, brimming with a seemingly endless supply of resorts, each with their own unique offering. A destination where a traveler can marvel for days, weeks, months if you wish, some families I personally know have made Bali their chosen home after one holiday. I for one have been here multiple times. Every trip however has given me a different perspective. Each corner has something for the soul, mind, and taste buds. That said, there’s one place I’ve been meaning to visit, since my first trip to Indonesia some eight or nine years ago. Amankila.
Some hotels get quite the reputation. Celebrities flock, the yogis and peace seekers return, and the rest who have heard the stories aspire to grace these hills while attempting not to take selfies with someone famous stretched on the sun lounger next to us. Such is Amankila on Bali’s thankfully quiet east coast. One incredibly well-traveled friend – a wellness connoisseur with a hotel obsession – names it his favorite holiday destination in the world, and trust me, he’s seen a few (thousand).
Chris, my husband, and I were pressed against the window of an Aman car that collected us from the airport, as we arrived at an unassuming entrance. I got off and was greeted by a lovely group of four in sarongs, staff members with bright and warm smiles. Immediately, I noticed a hint of tuberose and jasmine in the air. Like all things Aman, Amankila is deeply attuned to the seasons. I paused for a minute, before walking into the lobby. I took a deep breath, exhaled, looked at Chris and whispered, ‘ I’ve always wanted to stay here’. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the sunlight beaming from the open lobby; “well you manifested it”, he smiled.
Even though this Ed Tuttle-designed classic on Bali’s hushed east coast has been around for more than three decades, stepping inside its hilltop lobby still induces goosebumps. The view was spellbinding: three travertine pools, cascading like Balinese rice paddies towards the crashing waves of the Lombok Strait below. There’s a fringe of pink bougainvillea and a backdrop of swaying palms, plus a small army of sarong-clad staff serving fresh mangoes and passionfruit daiquiris to guests lounging at the poolside.
This resort’s sweeping swathes of blonde stone walls and walkways give Amankila a very grounded feel. The creamy and white-washed tones of the buildings and décor enhance a sense of peace, as does the surrounding greenery. Like its namesake, Aman, meaning peace in Sanskrit and ‘kila’ for hills in Bahasa. The resort is on a hillside, carefully designed to make the most of the views – and so suites are reached by a network of elevated paths. There was a delightful sense of seclusion and privacy all throughout the property. All 31-suites are staggered on the side of a hill, with uninterrupted views of the ocean out front, and access to a private beach below. The suites seem more like private villas than hotel rooms.
As we strolled into the Amankila suite, we were greeted by shadows of palm trees on the walkway toward the gleaming private pool, yet again, the infinite vastness of the deep-blue envelopes these peaceful hills like a mother’s warm embrace. As soon as our en-suite check in was complete, I put on my swimwear and went straight to the infinity pools and soaked up the hypnotic brightness of that perfectly clear sky, all the way to sunset. Safe to say that an Aperol Spritz or three kept Chris company while I was in water.
The next day was an early start for us. We had breakfast at sunrise on gentle waves aboard Aman XVI, Amankila’s traditional ‘jukung’ outrigger, in the presence of a living legend, the glorious Mount Agung. I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude that morning. For years, three or four trips, I’ve been coming to Bali with hopes of seeing the beauty of Mount Agung in a clear day, but the island can be rather tricky on the subject of weather, and only that day, on that boat, while at Amankila, did I get all the luck I needed to finally see her in the light. I couldn’t help but get emotional. As Balinese legend has it, only the ones—who are exactly where they’re supposed to be—get to meet the goddess Agung. I was in awe to say the least.
It wasn’t just the sky that was kind to us, the waters too showed gifts. As the clouds went back to cover the mountains, akin to curtains in a theatre, we jumped into the ocean and swam in the deep blue. There they were, a bale of sea turtles, eight or nine big ones, swimming around us like children in a playground. ‘As above, so below’, I thought to myself. As I was drying my hair on the outrigger, on our way back to Amankila, I remember a moment where I paused, mindfully inhaled and exhaled, I felt serenity, like I was in harmony with the sky above and the ocean below, I mean I felt it all throughout my trip, but only then did I feel it tangible.
I left Amankila with a profound sense of completion. It was like coming home.