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Ernst Ludick zeroed in on his target — a single crystal of sea salt — and plucked it off the surface of our breakfast table so swiftly that I almost missed the motion entirely. (Granted, my focus was elsewhere, on a forkful of decadent banana bread topped with ricotta cream, a drizzle of honey and a handful of slivered almonds.)
I had only known Ludick, the general manager of Amankila in eastern Bali, for a short while. But from the limited time I had spent with him, it became apparent that no slight imperfection — whether it be a crooked placemat or a rogue piece of table salt — went unnoticed (or uncorrected).
This acute attention to detail is a key component of parent company Aman Resorts’ unique brand of hospitality, which, as it turned out, was our topic of conversation at breakfast.
Aman Resorts operates 33 high-end properties within 21 countries. Amankila functions as the stand-alone luxury accommodation option in Bali’s eastern Karangasem Regency. Despite its somewhat remote location about a 90-minute drive from Ngurah Rai International Airport, it attracts clients with the promise of a private beach; an intimate size (34 suites); and plenty of modern comforts. (Oh, and if guests would like to charter a helicopter to the hotel from the airport, Amankila can arrange that, too.)
“People wonder, ‘How do you copy an Aman?’ — and it’s not so easy,” Ludick said as we sat at The Restaurant, the property’s alfresco dining venue that serves both Western- and Indonesian-style fare. “It’s a combination of subtle elements, and if they’re well-executed, it creates a feeling that’s really intangible.”
I saw these “subtle” elements manifest in several ways during my three-day stay. According to Ludick, top-notch internal communication ensures that employees know every guest’s name and preferences, and hotel staff quietly keeps track of food and beverage orders so that clients will only have one final bill to sign at the end of their stay. Needs are forecasted and prepared for ahead of time, which I happily discovered when, after returning to my suite from an off-site hike, I found a handwritten note and a laundry bag to collect my mud-soaked running shoes for a complimentary cleaning.
“We see these properties more as homes, and one of the core operating philosophies of Aman is that we are compassionate hosts,” Ludick said. “We take care of guests exactly as we would our family.”
Indeed, every aspect of Amankila exudes a warm, “home sweet home” feeling (that is, if the “home” belongs to a substantially well-off friend or family member). Thatched-roof suites are nestled into the forested hillside in front of Mount Agung — one of the most sacred sites in Bali — and face stunning views of the Lombok Strait. The accommodations themselves even look like miniature houses, with each stand-alone suite branching off from a series of elevated walkways.
My 1,011-square-foot garden suite was perched on stilts and featured an expansive terrace, where a copy of “The New York Times” was delivered each morning. The interior was decorated with inlaid pearl and coconut-shell furniture and came equipped with a king-size bed, a large bathroom with a tub, separate dressing areas, twin vanities and separate rooms for the shower and toilet. Despite the suite’s ubiquitous use of glass and its position between two neighboring structures, it still felt private and secluded.
U.S.-based architect Ed Tuttle took inspiration from the surrounding area when he designed Amankila 26 years ago. A three-tiered infinity pool is meant to mimic nearby Balinese rice paddy fields; wall art depicts ancient tales from sacred Hindu texts; and all materials are sourced locally and custom-made for the resort. Although the structure is more than a quarter-century old, I found its design to be timeless and well-maintained.
And despite its age, Amankila still continues to innovate. This fall, Ludick plans to open a new multifunctional cliff-top platform that can be used for everything from a place to sunbathe or dine privately to simply a spot to enjoy hand-shaken cocktails with fellow guests.
“In the past, Aman has always been about privacy,” Ludick said. “Guests traditionally stick to themselves. It’s nice, but times also change, and the platform can give them an opportunity to mingle.”
Fourteen percent of these guests provide the resort with repeat business, with many travelers spending upward of a week on property. (Although he carved out time to have breakfast with me, Ludick had spent the previous night enjoying cocktails with a couple of avid divers who frequent the resort on scuba trips.)
But perhaps even more impressive than this consumer loyalty is the staff’s. Seventy percent of Amankila employees have worked at the property for at least 20 years, and a staggering 50 percent have been employed since opening day.
“All Indonesians are pretty amazing people, but Amankila has an amazing Balinese hospitality,” Ludick said.
We see these properties more as homes, and one of the core operating philosophies of Aman is that we are compassionate hosts.
At that moment, a Balinese server appeared at my side, unfolded a purse stand and placed my new rattan handbag on it (which I had so carelessly placed on the ground next to my chair at the beginning of our meal).Ludick smiled.
“They are open and big-hearted; there’s something different about the people here,” he said.
Compassionate hosts, indeed.
The DetailsAmankila www.aman.com