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.
"It's powerful," McBride said. "It can touch people in some pretty special ways. And so all we have to do is put them in this powerful landscape and we change lives."
The guest suites — in spite of their bare concrete walls — are invitingly decorated with splendid furnishings and beautifully crafted fixtures. Guests in the higher-priced suites can luxuriate in their own private swimming pool or their own scenic outdoor lounge area. If they climb a few stairs, they can even stretch out on a bed in their own private sky terrace.
"Guests have an opportunity to spend the night out here and just enjoy the stars," McBride said.
The price for those suites is a mere $3,600 per night, plus the cost of meals. Under a new rate structure going into effect June 15, the cost of meals will be included in the nightly rate. That will raise the price of the sky-terrace suites to $4,100 per night.
"Nobody really pays that kind of money for a bed," McBride said. "It's (for) the experience that you get when you spend time here."
For those on a budget, there is a cheaper alternative. Some suites are only $1,100 per night, although they're going up to $1,500 per night under the new meals-included plan.
At the other end of the resort's expensive spectrum of prices, there's a four-bedroom house that rents for $7,500 a night. It goes up to $8,000 per night on June 15.
The resort itself is almost always full — even the four-bedroom house is rented most of the time — yet the resort never advertises.
"No we do not," Olivro said. "Aman philosophy is the word-of-mouth."
Aman resorts all over the world are certainly known for extreme prices, but they are also prized by some guests because of their extreme commitment to privacy. Amangiri Resort does not — repeat, does not — drop any names. But gossip in the nearby towns of Big Water, Utah, and Page, Ariz., includes celebrity names like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry, Brad Paisley and Keith Richards, among many others.
To the outside world, Amangiri is almost invisible a few miles away from Lake Powell, tucked away behind massive cliffs. A small, easily overlooked sign that says "Amangiri" marks the turnoff from Highway 89. A paved side-road leads to an old gate that looks like it might be the entry to a broken-down ranch.
"Behind the scenes, I can assure you that there's lots of security going on," McBride said. "But it's done very discreetly so nobody really sees what's happening."
Guests typically fly into the Page airport, often in private jets. A fleet of BMWs is available to chauffeur guests across the border into Utah.
Amangiri has created a network of companies in the area that provide recreation for the guests. The activities range from hiking and boating to hot-air ballooning. McBride said the resort can set up just about any recreational experience a guest can dream up, as long as they're willing to pay for it.4 comments on this story
A chef and his kitchen crew are able to tailor the cuisine for each guest. "Are they particular? Yes," said Shon Foster, the resort's executive chef. "We have educated palates here, people that have gotten to experience everything, everywhere. They've seen the best of the best."
Meals can be taken in a communal dining room that has stunning views of the surrounding scenery. If guests prefer, though, staff members can prepare and serve individual meals in a guest's private suite.
"So when people come here," Foster said, "we create experiences that are not just once-in-a-lifetime, but absolutely unforgettable."