First Look at Amanyara
Published: April 2009
By Peter Jon Lindberg
Along a rugged, windswept coastline in the Turks and Caicos lies Amanyara, a resort attempting
to reinvent luxury in the West Indies with an Asian touch. <span class="caps"><strong>Peter
Jon Lindberg</strong></span> takes an exclusive first look.
What's striking about this place, I think to myself while
clambering along a jagged bluff, is how un- like the
West Indies it seems. Or, rather, how unlike the postcard
tropics we have come to expect at island resorts.
The setting, for one: In place of clipped lawns, coconut
palms, and neon-bright bougainvillea is a chalky,
hardscrabble landscape of cacti, palmettos, and scrub. The
coastline is largely iron-shore, a rough mix of pitted
limestone and lava. Meanwhile, the resort's
design—open-sided pavilions made from Indonesian
woods, teak-and-rattan armchairs, daybeds upholstered in
Jim Thompson silks—recalls Southeast Asia. And not
just that: My lunch this afternoon used liberal amounts of
shiso, wasabi, and lemongrass. Almost half the staff is
As for island iconography, well, no one is performing a
fire dance, doing the limbo, or playing "Buffalo
Soldier" on steel drums. I have not been served a single
conch fritter (though the chef did prepare a fabulous conch
carpaccio). Nobody has issued me a drink with an umbrella
in it. During two days at Amanyara, here in a remote corner
of the Turks and Caicos Islands, I've heard no whirring
blenders, no whining Jet Skis, no whooping parasailers.
Despite intensive searching, I have not seen a trace of
The first few days are a bit of a shock—a
pleasant one: Where am I, anyway?
Amanyara, which opened last month after eight years in the
making, is the first West Indian outpost from
Singapore-based Amanresorts, and the largest Aman property
yet, with 40 guest pavilions and 33 multi-bedroom villas,
the latter of which are being sold as condominiums for $6
million and up. For a company that made its name in
Southeast Asia, Amanyara represents a bold move into new
terrain. Its arrival in the Turks and Caicos may also be a
watershed for this semi-obscure archipelago, thrust again
into the limelight after decades of fits and starts.
A British crown colony located southeast of the Bahamas,
the Turks and Caicos (or TCI) comprise some 40 islands and
cays, only eight of them inhabited. The entire
population numbers 30,000, although some of those are
expats—mainly Americans and Britons—who have
bought into the thriving real estate market. Travelers come
for superb diving (on the world's third-largest coral
reef), sportfishing, and impeccable white-sand beaches.
This isn't just hype; the beaches are magnificent. Nearly
300 square miles of TCI are given over to protected
parkland and wildlife sanctuaries. Launch a boat from the
busy marina on Providenciales (a.k.a. Provo) and within 10
minutes you can land on a sand-fringed cay whose only
residents are iguanas.
Although Grand Turk is the official capital, Provo has
become TCI's commercial hub—solely because of
tourism, and only over the past two decades. Few visitors
came before 1984, and then Club Med set up shop along Grace
Bay Beach, on Provo's northeast coast. Other developers
were ready to pounce, but a drug scandal intervened: in
1985, DEA agents in Miami arrested the Turks and Caicos'
chief minister for helping Colombian cartels smuggle
cocaine into the States via the islands. Many investors
were spooked, and the expected boom fizzled. For nearly 10
years Club Med Turkoise had the beach mostly to itself. How
idyllic Grace Bay must have seemed back then: a 12-mile
stretch of sand with hardly a development in sight.
In 1993, Grace Bay Club opened—a 57-room resort that
raised the bar in style and service; it would remain
Provo's top hotel for years. (The property is now
completing a $45 million renovation, with a new spa and
redesigned suites.) But the real shift was still to come.
Just north of Provo lay a small uninhabited island called
Parrot Cay, upon which Kuwaiti investors had begun to erect
a hotel—until the Gulf War caused them to abandon it.
The property sat dormant for years (the site briefly drew
the interest of Amanresorts) before Singaporean hotelier
Christina Ong scooped it up; she remade the hotel in the
mode of a British colonial plantation with Balinese
details, opening it in 1998. Today Parrot Cay bills itself,
without apparent irony, as "the world's most exclusive
resort," and draws an admittedly fabulous clientele.
Strolling across the pool terrace is like attending a
performance of Us Weekly Live: there's Christie Brinkley en
route to the spa; there's U2's Adam Clayton ordering
sashimi; there's Keith Richards with a bunch of weird stuff
in his hair.
Parrot Cay brought bona fide buzz to the Turks and Caicos,
proving that the islands were ready for high-end tourism. A
mini-wave of hotel openings and residential development
followed. The two trends coincided at the Palms, an opulent
coral-stone resort fronting Grace Bay with interiors that
recall the theatrical designs of Oliver Messel; all 72
hotel suites were sold as condos before the resort opened
in March 2005.
Grace Bay Beach itself—and I mean just the sand and
the water—is still quite lovely, but it's being built
up within an inch of its life. A little beyond the sand,
developers are erecting cookie-cutter condo towers with
names like Toscana and the Tuscany, each somehow touted as
"private and secluded." Locals tell me there's not a single
acre along Grace Bay that's not claimed by some future
resort or condominium.
Savvy prospectors are now looking beyond Grace Bay and
Provo. The protected isle of West Caicos—with a
500-acre nature preserve—has been opened to (limited)
development for the first time in a century, and the
Ritz-Carlton Molasses Reef is being readied for a 2007
launch. The complex will include 125 suites and 70
condo-villas. And Grand Turk is adding a new cruise-ship
terminal, which officials expect will bring another
350,000 visitors to TCI annually.
Meanwhile, the past three years have seen a 25 percent
increase in scheduled flights to Provo, among them easy
nonstops from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte,
Atlanta, and Miami. A direct flight from London's Heathrow
via Nassau brings a steady stream of British visitors;
nonstops from Gatwick are reportedly in the cards.
Yet despite the gold-rush talk, the islands remain unknown
to most Americans. Passenger arrivals, up to 171,000 in
2004, are still negligible compared with those in Jamaica
(1.5 million) and the Bahamas (1.3 million). The Turks
and Caicos haven't crested yet. And that's how Adrian
Zecha—the 73-year-old founder of
Amanresorts—would prefer it.
Zecha created the Aman brand expressly for places on the
verge. His first resort, Amanpuri, opened in 1988 on an
isolated coconut plantation on Phuket; only in its wake did
other luxury chains set their sights on the island. Most of
the 16 Amans that followed were set in rural, far-flung
locales—an obscure atoll in the Philippines, a
Javanese forest, a remote valley of Bhutan. If the arrival
of a 400-room Marriott indicates that a destination has
reached its tipping point, the opening of an Aman is
assurance that overexposure is still years away.
From Java to Jackson Hole, Aman resorts offer a consistent
service formula: healthful, uncomplicated food;
Asian-themed spa treatments; and an uncannily attentive
staff. This is a company that's been known to spray beach
sand with cold water to ensure it's cool to the feet, a
company where even busboys greet guests by name. Properties
are intimately scaled and oriented toward privacy; guest
"rooms" are usually stand-alone pavilions with ample
outdoor space. Most of all, Aman resorts sell the promise
of pure, unadulterated quiet. As such, they've become a
refuge for the overstimulated urban elite.
Aman's clientele is small-scale compared with that of most
luxury hotel brands, but it is enviably faithful. So-called
Aman junkies greet new openings with a cultish
fervor—even if there's a similar haute-luxe exoticism
to the properties, regardless of their location. But maybe
that's the appeal. "Next fall we're heading to 'Wella /
'Kila / 'Gani," they'll say, using only the suffixes
Sound familiar?Zecha is in many ways the Steve Jobs of the
hospitality trade: defiantly niche, yet hugely influential;
devoted to simplicity and personalization; possessed of
exceptional taste and a keen eye for design. Both
Amanresorts and Apple cleverly sell their products as
lifestyle statements, so that one's laptop or hotel
becomes an expression of identity. Coincidentally, both men
were temporarily exiled from their companies (Zecha from
1998 to 2000, Jobs from 1985 to 1997), only to return with
renewed ambition. And both brands have been saddled with
that tiresome Zen tag—as in "Amanresorts' spare,
Zen-like interiors" or "the iPod's sleek Zen minimalism."
Like Mac addicts, Aman junkies have had plenty to talk
about lately, with four openings in the last two years.
"We'd eventually like to see thirty resorts around the
globe," Zecha says. With Amans now scattered across
Southeast Asia, additional properties there will only
compete with existing ones. So the West Indies—and
specifically the Turks and Caicos—seems a logical
"At most places there's a clear dividing line where the
sprinklers stop and the outside world begins," says Nathan
Browning, Amanyara's landscape consultant. We're rattling
along in his truck at the edge of the 100-acre property,
and Browning is explaining the Aman philosophy of
landscaping—or, more precisely, not landscaping.
"When you arrive here, we don't want it to feel as if you
left the native habitat and stumbled on some Balinese
oasis," he says. To that end, all vegetation used on the
property is native to the region: the squat, century-old
gumbo-limbos, the hardy locustberry, and green buttonwood
Amanyara sits on Provo's undeveloped western shore, inside
a 5,000-acre nature and wildlife reserve called Northwest
Point. Reaching this remote corner entails a long, bumpy
ride from the airport, past the sleepy settlement of Blue
Hills, where the salt air has peeled the paint off tabby
bungalows; past Baptist church marquees (EXPOSURE TO THE
SON CAN PREVENT BURNING); past uniformed schoolkids kicking
crab shells along the shoulder. Soon the buildings fall
away and the road becomes a rough gravel track, winding
through a rolling expanse of pine and palmetto that's
surveyed by the occasional osprey or pelican.
At the far edge of the reserve, a rocky headland juts into
the surf like a ship's prow. Just to the north is Malcolm
Road Beach, a smashing stretch of sugary sand. Reachable
only by four-wheel-drive or by boat, it's as private as any
nominally public beach could be, and seems oceans apart
from crowded Grace Bay. Offshore is a protected marine park
with a pristine barrier reef and, just beyond, a diving
wall formed by a 6,888-foot drop along the ocean floor.
Adrian Zecha came upon this deserted spot eight years ago,
stood atop the bluff, and immediately knew he'd found his
site. "It took us two or three more years to actually work
out the details—we can't own the property, of course,
since it's government land," he explains. In the end,
Amanyara was granted a 75-year lease. Though it may not
resemble the lush island fantasy we've come to expect of
the brand, the terrain feels more natural, more genuine.
"There's a ruggedness to Northwest Point that Adrian really
responded to," Browning says, as our truck is enveloped by
a cloud of dust. "It's a dry and brutal landscape, but it
has a subtle beauty you won't find anywhere else."
For a design that would coax out and complement that quirky
beauty, Zecha turned to architect Jean-Michel Gathy, who
had designed Aman-i-Khas (in Rajasthan), Amanwana (in
Indonesia), and the Setai hotel in Miami Beach. "We wanted
to give guests a reassuring feel in a harsh and hostile
environment," Gathy explains. So he created a network of
tranquil ponds throughout the property and a reflecting
pool at the heart of the resort. The public buildings are
mostly low-slung pavilions constructed of kapur and balau
wood, with shingled roofs of slate-gray African wallaba.
Several are open-walled, creating a pleasing flow
between indoors and out, while others have tall louvered
shutters that swing open to the sun and the air.
Materials for the structures and interiors were hauled in
from 39 countries: hand-carved stone from Indonesia, silk
from Thailand, coconut-wood table mats from
Vietnam…the list reads like a roll call for an ASEAN
Guests enter via an airy, colonnaded
lobby-that-isn't-a-lobby (per Aman custom, check-in is
conducted in your room). There's no proper reception desk,
but instead a phalanx of smiling staffers to greet you.
There are no welcome banners, no AMANYARA logos, no
snorkeling sign-up sheets. From the lobby a terrazzo
walkway winds around the reflecting pool, drawing you
across the shaded central courtyard toward the sea. Two
more pavilions flank the pool—one a clubby library,
all satiny teak floors and silk paneling, the other a
restaurant, with three dining rooms and two outdoor
Just past the reflecting pool is the resort's tallest
structure: a 45-foot-high, conical-roofed bar that rises
from its perch like a lighthouse. ("Our temple to alcohol,"
the manager jokes.) Inside, eight window nooks are
outfitted with reclining mats and bolsters.
The 40 guest pavilions, identical in layout (660 square
feet) and interior design, are situated either beside the
ocean or inland alongside the ponds. With low rooflines
concealed by dense groves of locustberry and sea grape,
each feels utterly secluded; three of the four walls are
almost entirely glass and can be slid open to two side
terraces, creating a single indoor-outdoor space nearly
twice the size of the original. Two side terraces are
furnished with enough daybeds and chaises to accommodate a
family reunion; bamboo blinds descend from the wide-hanging
eaves to let in the breeze while maintaining a sense of
enclosure. At the front of each pavilion is a shaded dining
terrace with a sunken table and, beyond, a timber sundeck
where two lounging mats face a pond or the sea. The outdoor
space is clearly the focal point, as there's no occasional
furniture inside—only one spindly armchair. Under the
pitched ceiling, a king platform bed—shrouded in
white—floats at the center of the room, which is
floored in Zamboni-smooth, sand-hued terrazzo with
Throughout the resort, Gathy's architecture is faithful
to signature Aman themes: the obsession with symmetry
(every line finds a counterpoint directly across a pool or
pond), the regard for right angles (excepting the bar,
there's nary a rounded edge in sight), the low center of
gravity (every 14 feet you pass a daybed or chaise that
commands, Lie down now). Muted earth tones predominate, and
the architecture rarely distracts from the natural
"When we're developing a resort, we continually ask, What
was it that attracted us to this site in the first place?"
Zecha says. "The answer is always, 'The way it was.' So we
try to minimize alterations. Of course, the ideal would be
to not do anything at all." Zecha believes a resort should
merely "frame" its setting, as a cinematographer would a
face, and Amanyara is filled with subtle forms of
flattery: a perfectly spotlit flower, a window
aligned just so with a mahogany tree. This rock-garden
exactitude is presumably what people mean by Zen-like. That, and the near absence of interior decoration. Why add
clutter when you have a forest's worth of exotic timber to
show off?And here it must be said: for all the Aman
rhapsodies about "connection to the environment," Amanyara
still feels more like Thailand or Bali than the British
West Indies. (Zecha refers to the look as "tropical
design," neither Asian nor Western.)
But ultimately, does a sense of locality matter?Well, not
necessarily, particularly in the West Indies or Caribbean,
where so much resort architecture is imported and ersatz.
(Witness the red-tile roofs and Moorish arches
proliferating on Grace Bay.) In the end, Amanyara is just a
beach resort; it doesn't have to be authentic or sui
generis to succeed.
Besides, I realize while standing on the limestone
headland, the setting speaks for itself. Here it becomes
clear why Zecha chose this site: from this bluff, 20 feet
above sea level, the ocean views are stunning. Just behind
me is a 164-foot-long infinity pool made of coal-black
volcanic stone, its glassy surface shimmering in the sun.
To my left is craggy iron-shore, with small, sandy coves
tucked amid the rocks. To my right is that sugar-white
beach, backed by gentle dunes and a ribbon of green.
There's not another person or a single condo tower in
sight—nothing that would betray our location, whether
it be the West Indies, the Far East, or somewhere in
Which, of course, is exactly how you'd want it.
Despite the April 2006 robbery of two American citizens at the resort, the Turks & Caicos has one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean and such incidents are rare. Arrests and charges in the case were made within 48 hours, according the Chief Minister of Turks & Caicos.
When to Go
As with the neighboring Bahamas, high season runs from
December through May, when daytime temperatures average 75
to 80 degrees. Summer and fall bring hotter and more humid
weather, especially in September and October.
Providenciales (a.k.a. Provo) lies on the western edge of
the Turks and Caicos archipelago, just beyond the Bahamas
and about 575 miles southeast of Miami, a 11/2-hour flight.
Almost all visitors to the Turks and Caicos arrive at the
recently improved international airport on Provo (airport
code: PLS). During high season there are frequent nonstops
from most major U.S. cities. From the airport it's a
10-minute ride to Grace Bay, where the majority of resorts
and commercial developments are clustered, or a 25-minute
drive to Northwest Point and Amanyara. Boats to nearby
islands—including Parrot Cay and Pine Cay—leave
from Leeward Marina, on Provo's northeast coast.
Where to Stay
Northwest Point, Providenciales; 65/6887-3337; www.amanresorts.com; guest pavilions from
Note: Amanyara's spa is scheduled for completion in 2007.
On a private 1,000-acre island, 30 minutes from Provo by boat, Parrot Cay is Amanyara's only
true rival for location, polish, and sheer glamour, though the two differ in tone and design.
Here it's all about the scene (Bruce Willis is among the house owners), and there's a palpable
charge in the air in the evenings, when the pool deck morphs into a catwalk. The main hotel
is a cluster of Mediterranean-style follies located on a verdant hillside well back from the
beach; rooms in these buildings have balconies but no genuine privacy. Infinitely better are
the freestanding beach houses and eight beach villas, nestled right off the sand.
877/754-0726 or 649/946-7788; www.parrotcay.como.bz; doubles from $620.
The spirit of Oliver "Mr. Mustique" Messel defines this Grace Bay Beach neo-Palladian newcomer,
an indulgence of coral-stone, marble, and mahogany that cost $95 million to build and flaunts
every cent of it. Rooms are enormous and exceedingly comfortable, set inside five-story towers
that feel like apartment blocks. Outside, the vast serpentine pool, complete with a swim-up
bar and throbbing dance beats, creates a high-energy vibe. (This is not the place for quiet
Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales; 649/946-8666; www.thepalmstc.com; doubles from $575.
The antithesis of the Palms, and an entirely singular place. Like Parrot Cay, it's on a private
island, just a short hop from Provo by plane or boat; unlike Parrot Cay, it's defiantly unpretentious
and old-fashioned. Guests stay in 13 tropical-themed rooms in a single-story block beside
the beach; each unit has a screened porch (creaky door and all), an outdoor shower, and paddle
ceiling fans—there's no air-conditioning, no television, and no phone. There's not much
of anything, in fact, besides the endless beach, the adjacent 500-acre nature reserve, and
a small fleet of catamarans and Sunfish to explore with.
Pine Cay (6 miles northeast of Providenciales); 866/746-3229 or 770/500-1134; www.meridianclub.com;
doubles from $650, including all meals.
Grace Bay Club
Grace Bay's original luxury property, this intimate Mediterranean-style resort consists of
a 21-suite hotel and 38 newly constructed villas. Rooms are adorned with decorative pottery,
Spanish tiles, and colorful textiles; all rooms have oceanfront views. Dine on chef Eric Brunel's
Caribbean-inspired dishes in the Anacaona's candlelit beach palapas.
Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales; 800/946-5757 or 649/946-5050; www.gracebayclub.com; junior
suites from $555.
At this British colonial-inspired resort complex, the smallest one-bedroom suite comes replete
with an Italian granite kitchen and separate dining and living rooms—and measures more
than 1,000 square feet. The 32 apartments all have spacious terraces and are housed in whitewashed
buildings set around a central pool. Frette linens, fresh flowers, and complimentary cocktails
lead the impressive amenity list. Traditional European thalassotherapy spa treatments take
place in oceanside cabanas.
Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales; 866/924-7223 or 649/946-5096; www.pointgrace.com; doubles