Utah’s most luxurious resort, Amangiri, offers a window to a monumental, raw and primordial desert wildnerness
As a waxing moon rises effortlessly in the night sky, bathing the vast and craggy mesas surrounding us in a pale, almost ethereal light, I’m suffering from serious suite envy. Don’t get me wrong. My Desert View suite at Amangiri — a rare and remarkable luxury retreat perched on the fringes of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah — is the essence of chic, with a sleek and spacious bedroom and living area opening to an al fresco terrace with an eco-smart fire pit.
The problem is I’ve had a nightcap with a savvy couple from New York, who’ve booked a Desert Pool suite. They plan on taking a cool dip in their plunge pool before retiring to a private sky terrace above their suite, complete with a king-sized bed swathed in crisp cotton sheets for superlative star-gazing and a blissful sleep in the pure desert air.
Thankfully, envy is a short-lived emotion at Amangiri, a speck of man-made luxury in a monumental, raw and primordial wilderness that pre-dates humankind, even dinosaurs, and appears as a touchtone to the dawn of time itself.
Plunge pools and sky terraces aside, this unique and exclusive 34-suite retreat shares its abundant luxuries equally among guests, encouraging them to explore and discover the ancient landscape and to relax in contemporary comfort.
Amangiri (the name is taken from two Sanskrit words – Aman ‘‘peaceful” and giri “mountain’’) opened in 2009 but quickly started to blend into its harsh desert surroundings, like a chameleon on stratified rock.
Aman founder Adrian Zecha searched long and hard in this unforgiving and inhospitable terrain – an area popularly known as The Four Corners, where the borders of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet – and found what he was looking for at Canyon Point, a 25-minute drive from the small town of Page, Arizona.
Instead of building a jarring counterpoint to the ghostly white-grey desert sands and majestic mesas, bluffs and sheer cliffs of Canyon Point, Zecha opted for a more subtle and harmonious design based on a low-rise central pavilion with two accommodation wings on either side and a vast spa complex.
With pressed concrete as the primary exterior and interior building material, specially treated so its colour fades naturally in the harsh desert climate, the resort has an urban, almost industrial feel that’s a perfect fit with its rugged surroundings.
Anchoring Amangiri firmly into the desert landscape is a large and eye-catching swimming pool next to the central pavilion, set in a sunken courtyard with oversized daybeds and designed to wrap around a dramatic natural rock escarpment.
The Pavilion is the resort’s social hub, home to the main Living Room, Dining Room, Gallery and Library. Indigenous artworks and furnishings made of rawhide and timber, offset with comfy cushions and soft throws in muted natural colours, create a cosy, residential ambience with an authentic American Southwest personality.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Amangiri also embrace the natural surroundings, with a choice of expansive desert views on one side of The Pavilion or pool views on the other, complemented by thoughtful and well-executed menus by executive chef Anthony Marazita.
You should expect to pay capital city restaurant prices, but Marazita’s Native American-inspired pairings of unusual produce and flavours, such as Mesquite smoked duck breast, Navajo blue corn and charcoal crusted elk loin make for an intriguing and inspired dining experience, especially when followed by an after-dinner campfire roasting of S’mores (marshmallow, chocolate and crackers).
Amangiri’s all-suite approach means there are no bad rooms, only better ones. All 34 guest suites in the two accommodation wings have uninterrupted desert views and essentially the same sleek and somewhat minimalist interior design. The ensuite bathroom extends the length of each suite, with twin vanities, a rain shower and soaking tub with desert views.
Each accommodation wing has an indoor-outdoor signature suite, but my picks are the two envy-inducing Desert Wing Pool Suites (7 and 10) and Mesa Wing counterparts (24 and 25) due to their private plunge pools and fabulous rooftop sky terraces.
The resort has a network of guided or self-guided hiking trails and more challenging guided rock climbs on via ferrata (fixed cables and iron ladders) for guests to explore the surrounding desert, with the allure of a soothing treatment in Amangiri’s first-rate spa at day’s end.
A new aerial adventure introduced this year – The Grand Crossing – opens the via ferrata network to parents with children as young as five, providing a fun physical challenge as well as an introduction to palaeontology, geology and archaeology.
A replica dinosaur dig provides a peek into the ancient natural treasures found in the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, including castings from actual dinosaur fossils and trackways. For a really fun outing, take a spin in one of the resort’s fleet of racy BMW X5s and 750s, complimentary for touring excursions of less than four hours.
Amangiri is also an excellent base for longer day trips to some of the region’s most iconic natural attractions, including the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Monument Valley, and the beautiful Lake Powell and Colorado River.
Amangiri’s best feature, however, is the one right outside each suite – that ancient desert bathed in rose-pink light at dawn and dusk and flooded with moonlight after sundown. Pure magic, with or without a plunge pool and sky terrace.