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First Look at Amanyara

Ditte Isager The entrance pavilion at Amanyara in the Turks and Caicos

Photo: Ditte Isager

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 summit.

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 terraces.

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 teak inlays.

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 landscape.

"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 between.

Which, of course, is exactly how you'd want it.

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