You know a resort and the land it sits on is truly special when it takes an act of Congress to allow the development. Amangiri, which sits at the heart of the aptly named Grand Circle in a stunning pocket of Southwest America, is that special property.
Millions of years of fire and brimstone and violent natural upheavals has created an unrivalled concentration of magnificent national parks and monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park and Monument Valley. It’s a geological wet dream, all within easy reach of the resort.
Our road-trip of a lifetime starts in Las Vegas, where we pick up our convertible, a lurid yellow Camaro that looks like Bumblebee in the Transformers. The first part of this five-hour drive is dull, but by the time we reach Zion, our eyes are popping at the prehistoric cliffs hemming us in.
Arriving is part of the experience. After passing settlements with streets named Yankee Doodle, Victory and Freedom and a petrol station advertising guns, ammo and beer (welcome to America!), we turn down a dirt track, which cuts through desert punctuated by hoodoos and sandstone cliffs that leach from red to grey in the fading light. Even among Aman’s many amazing property locations, Amangiri’s setting is incredible, and incredibly spiritual.
The resort sits in the hollow of a protected valley. Angular, low-slung buildings – split into a desert and mesa wing – take on the surrounding hues, thanks to the use of ochre, yellow and pink colouration in the concrete. No matter where you are in the resort, the vistas are perfectly framed. The story goes that the initial building was knocked down and rebuilt, because the alignment wasn’t right – easy to believe once you’ve seen the place.
Of all the knockout features, the main pool reigns supreme. Built around what looks like the fossilised remains of a sleeping dragon, it’s Amangiri’s centrepiece, where botoxed and buffed American and international guests surreptitiously eye each other. Make time for the spa, too, with its steam room and sauna, and outdoor hot tub carved into rocks of ages. It’s especially atmospheric after dark.
The resort’s 34 spacious suites, at least 93 sq m in size, are almost identical in layout. Minimalist Aman style rules, with white stone floors, blonde timber furniture, granite bathroom counters and bare concrete walls. All have private terraces complete with outdoor fireplace, to provide warmth while you gaze at the millions of wondrous stars above. It’s common to suffer room envy at most hotels, but here, I don’t. Sure, some come with private pools and daybeds on rooftops, but even in an entry-level Desert Suite, the view is spectacular.
Activities abound, though prices for ones organised by the hotel sting like a rattlesnake, so there’s no harm in checking what is offered in the town of Page, which is only 20 minutes away. I sign up for a slot canyon experience, which involves squeezing through narrow, grooved and chiselled rock formations only a body’s width in parts, occasionally pierced by brilliant shafts of sunlight.
At Horseshoe Bend, I crawl to the edge of a cliff and peer down a sheer drop to the Colorado River, followed by a plunge into the dark and seemingly bottomless waters of Lake Powell. Time and cost put paid to climbing the via ferrata around the property, hot air ballooning at dawn, exploring the desert on horseback, digging for dinosaur remains or bantering with a Navajo.
I regret not visiting Bryce Canyon, due to ignorance on my part, and a communication failure by staff. Having asked in advance about must-dos, Bryce didn’t come up until I got to the resort. It was then mentioned as a favourite by several people, and after seeing photos, I know why, but it was too late to organise a visit.
Service in general is not the strongest at this particular Aman. After checking in, my shoes went missing, only to reappear the next morning. A member of staff had taken it to the wrong room, and only realised when a confused guest reported it.
Food is also not a high point. Most of the meat and seafood was imported, though this may have improved since my stay, with the words “local” and “seasonal” finally making its way onto the menu and hopefully, the plate. These faults niggle, but the property wins. Given the chance, I’d return to Amangiri in a heartbeat.