'Ritziest resort' caters to Utah guests with 'yen' for privacy

Published: Friday, May 2 2014 5:25 p.m. MDT

The Amangiri Resort is located a little way off U.S. 89, just outside Big Water, Kane County. A single night runs from $1,500 to $8,000. The resorts most valuable asset is privacy.

Stace Hall, Deseret News

BIG WATER, Kane County — A couple of years ago, tabloids and gossip websites erupted with something like disbelief when it was revealed that movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had flown to Utah for a brief, private getaway.

"Why Utah?" the tabloids chorused. "It's the middle of nowhere."

At the resort where the couple known as "Brangelina" reportedly stayed, being described as the middle of nowhere is not considered an insult.

"I like it, because it's a buzz! You create a buzz about the place," said Christophe Olivro, general manager of Amangiri Resort.

Chances are you've never heard of the ritzy resort, located a little way off U.S. 89, just outside Big Water. Very few Utahns have ever seen it because it's tucked away in a canyon to keep prying eyes away.

A single night runs from a whopping $1,500 up to an astronomical $8,000 under a new set of rates going into effect in June.

The resort is part of a chain of Aman Resorts worldwide that has a marketing strategy aimed at some of the world's wealthiest people. Aman has an iron-clad commitment to protecting what for many guests is their most valuable asset: privacy.

"Aman is known for its exclusive and personalized service worldwide," Olivro said.

The word "exclusive" hardly seems adequate to describe the resort and its services. When guests walk in the door, they are greeted by a waiter offering a warm wet towel and a cup of hot apple cider. At Amangiri Resort, they'll wait on a guest hand and foot if that's what the guest wants. Staff members outnumber guests by nearly three to one.

A visiting reporter and cameraman were not allowed to mix with the guests and were kept far enough away from guests that their identities were kept secret. "We definitely have guests that are looking for a secluded, private place that they can come and experience," said Jade McBride, Amangiri Resort's activities director. "We deliver that, phenomenally."

The resort has a strikingly picturesque swimming pool wrapped around a magnificent outcropping of sandstone. According to Aman lore, the rock itself inspired the design and layout of the desert hideaway when it was first spotted by Aman co-founder Adrian Zecha.

"He felt that that rock had energy involved in it," McBride said. "He believed that if we built a hotel around here, that people would come to that energy."

In some respects, the architectural concept leans toward a simple, non-extravagant look. The design is deliberately stark, spare, austere. Parts of it are fortress-like in appearance, perhaps even prison-like to some people's eyes. Much of the construction involves bare, concrete walls colored to evoke the surrounding desert.

"An Aman philosophy is a very unique, peaceful environment," McBride said. "When you walk around here, you feel like you're remote. You feel secluded."

McBride said guests frequently comment on the look of the place. "All the time," McBride said. "They love it. It has a certain feel, like it belongs here."

Elegance, though, is never far away. The subdued but colorful lighting scheme in many areas suggests that Amangiri's budget for candles must be astronomical. A waiting-room for the resort's spa is so deluxe that it might just as well be the living room of a dot-com billionaire.

From nearly every room in the resort, huge windows provide spectacular views of massive, colorful cliffs and boulders. Even stretched out on a massage table, guests can soak in extraordinary views of canyon scenery, a kind of landscape many guests have never seen before.

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