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March 1, 2007updated 01 Feb 2016 10:46am

Island In The Steam

By Alessandro Tome

Smoking volcanoes, giant lizards and tents – all part of the experience of the best hotel in the world, says Alessandro Tom’

Smoking volcanoes, giant lizards and tents – all part of the experience of the best hotel in the world, says Alessandro Tomé

The brief seemed simple enough and somewhat enticing: write about the best hotel in the world. So here I was imagining unlimited travel, a First Class world tour, becoming Elegant Resorts’ favourite customer, a Four Seasons seasoned guest,
Shangri-La’s nirvana regular, confirmed Amanjunkie and I might even have to force myself to visit one or another of the One & Only resorts.

So it was with a bump that I landed back in the real world as further details emerged on the brief, such as the unfortunate and indiscriminate use of the word ‘limited’, particularly when referring to budgets, time, and pay. Clearly, this was not going to be as exciting as I had first thought.

And not as travel-intensive either, other than as an adventurous, if somewhat perilous, journey into the deeper, murkier, and totally biased recesses that are etched onto my personal, unstable hard drive. And from it, applying all sorts of junk filters and pop-up blockers, in order to extract my favourite hotel in the world.

The problem lies in what type of filters to actually apply. If it is ‘romance’, then the old Palazzo of the Bauer Grunwald in Venice immediately comes to mind, particularly on a day of aqua alta, or high water, in early December, when you are stuck in your room for several hours relying on regular top-ups from the impeccable room service and your companion for sustenance.

If it is ‘sexy’ one is filtering for, then Paris and the Hotel Costes comes to mind, all velvet and drapes, old world bordello-like, where every time the door knocks, you think a cute girl in appropriately short French maid outfit and stockings will willow into the bedroom and join the fun.

Little do you know that your companion’s thoughts were exactly the same when you were in Rome and she hoped a lost, hunky Italian waiter would burst in whilst you had gone out to see yet another ruin. Think funky or rave and think of the Setai in South Beach, or Pacha Hotel in Ibiza.

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It is the same with most things: one night your favourite wine will be La Tache 1978 (very expensive), on another a Cheval Blanc 1982 (still very expensive). The same goes for food and restaurants, even though I am expecting an otherworldly experience when I have a meal at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli later in the year (more on that in another issue).

So I guess the hotel that comes to mind is the one that is perhaps the most complete, but at an intimate level. Intimate because it is the one that, when I think back on it, appealed and stimulated all my basic senses and simpler human needs, albeit in a luxurious way.

Ultimately, going to a hotel is a way of getting away from your own familiar surroundings and forcing your mind outside its preferred path of habit, without pushing it so far as to cause discomfort. You want to be able to refresh your mind and soul without needing to go to an ashram or being flogged with herbs and straw, fed seeds all day long, and bossed around by Ingrid or Helmut.

And certainly you don’t want to be running into too many friends from back home, or even worse, the ones you generally don’t see back home. There must be a good reason why you never manage to get together there, so why would you want to do so here?

And so here it is. My favourite hotel in my world is the Amanwana on Moyo Island, Indonesia. From the moment you arrive on the island, serenity envelops you. You are taken to your own beautiful tent, on the water’s edge and left to your own devices, but with all the help you may want at the press of a button.

The other tents are far enough away not to bother you, but close enough not to make you feel isolated. The tents themselves give you a sense of Robinson Crusoe, feeding your sense of adventure, but are luxurious havens of uncluttered space and comfort.

Real jungle at the back, wild deer grazing in the evening, and cheeky monkeys gathering fruits around your tent at dawn, with beach and reef at the front, you lie somewhere between heaven and earth. You can do nothing or everything, a cruise for two days to see the Komodo dragon and assorted smoking volcanoes on the way, treks in the jungle and swims in the pools below waterfalls, deep inside the nature reserve that is Moyo.

You can learn to catch freshwater shrimps or lie on the beach all day. You can dive some of the most unspoilt reefs in the world (the waters around Moyo are also protected), or just snorkel two meters from the beach and be swimming on the reef drop-off with assorted turtles, morays, tropical fish and white-tip sharks.

You can eat under the thatched roof of the only ‘building’ or on your own piece of beach or in your tent everyday. Private lunches on secluded beaches, massages and varied rubs included, you are free to be as active or listless as you want to be. Your mind is refreshed, your body is soothed, you are having Holy Days.

No expensive version of the Club Med here, like Rethi Raa and others in the Maldives, where you start socialising on the plane over. No Holy Day for me, that.

And possibly no Holy Day either for the Japanese couple in the tent next to ours, as, much to their shock and awe, on one particular morning they had to contemplate an overweight, very white, naked man playing alpha gorilla, climbing trees while trying to chase monkeys away from the roof of his tent.

Perhaps for them Amanwana will not be their favourite hotel in the world, but it is definitely mine, and so in my world, it is probably the best hotel in the world.

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