I’m not an Aman Junkie. But I’m close to being hooked. After staying at the Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro, I’m now hankering after becoming one of the elite few who only travel to destinations where there are Aman outposts because… well, no other hotel brand will do.
Launched by innovative hotelier Adrian Zecha in 1988, Amanresorts are known for their minimalist style, superlative service and refined luxury (rooms average around £500 per night but many are priced in the thousands). They have a knack for getting under your skin. The brand’s 32 resorts are all in inspiring locations and built in harmony with their surroundings – think hidden away in the heart of a jungle, perched on a remote tropical island or a within the walls of a converted palazzo. Aman Sveti Stefan – based on a tiny islet and carved out of a former 15th century village – does not disappoint.
Favouring under-the-radar locations, Montenegro is an apt choice for the group’s first European hotel, which opened in 2010. “Where is it exactly?” some may politely ask. The Baltic country is a just-waiting-to-be-discovered European gem on the Adriatic, bordered by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania. The easiest way to get here is to fly to Dubrovnik, followed by a scenic one and a half-hour drive through moody forests and past picture-postcard-perfect coastlines. The choice of this tiny country in 2010 was a bit of a risk, with the country still under the cloud of the Baltic war, and with its neighbouring Croatia the hotspot of choice for savvy travellers. It wasn’t always thus, however. Montenegro’s heyday in the 60s saw a glitzy traveller – such as Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – arriving on their super-yachts, attracted by its crystal-clear waters, medieval villages and old-style glamour.
The arrival of Aman has, of course, already begun to put the country back on the well-heeled traveller’s map. It’s now set to be thrust further into the spotlight, with the triumphant opening of Aman Sveti Stefan’s new standout spa. The mega-watt opening has ramped up the glitz factor, transforming this mysterious corner of the world into a must-see destination.
While the hotel’s location is ebullient in its beauty – think verdant, pine-covered mountains and pretty, horse-shoe shaped bays – the interiors of the 50 rooms, which are former fishermen’s cottages, boast the brand’s signature minimalism, almost monastic in style. Bare-brick walls, thick timber floors and rough-hewn ceramic bottles for bathroom toiletries give a pared-back, restrained impression. There are exposed beams, leather-edged seagrass rugs and shuttered windows. Luxury is added in with crisp white bedlinens, hi-tech gadgets and Slovakian oak furniture. It’s an artisanal take on high-end luxe.
Under the direction of designer Jean-Michel Gathy, it took Amanresorts four years to complete the renovation of the UNESCO-protected island, which is joined to the mainland by a pedestrian causeway. Here, more rooms and suites can be found at a former royal palace, Villa Milocer, a sophisticated appendage to the main resort. Needless to say, attention to detail is second-to-none. Sveti Stefan was originally built in the 15th century to protect local fisherman from invading Turks, and the resort has taken great pains to reference its long, involved history. Winding cobbled lanes take you on an atmospheric journey from your room via piazzas to the dramatic, clifftop pool or al fresco restaurants. You may chance upon one of the three tiny, restored chapels complete with religious icons and relics. Your views are over terracotta roofs across to the twinkling ocean beyond. At night, the glowing lanterns in each of the windows give a nod to the original fishermen, whose wives used to light lanterns to help guide them home. It’s a way of connecting the guests to the past.
It is, of course, undeniably romantic (in fact Novak Djokivic hired the whole island for his wedding in 2014). Add in the beautifully executed cuisine and you have an intoxicating mix. Whether you are snacking in the piazza at the Antipasti Bar or watching the sun set from the main restaurant, Aman, which has a sea-facing terrace with heart-stopping views, menus have a strong Italian influence, with freshly caught sea bass and black squid ink spaghetti the standouts. It’s swoon-making stuff.
If you can bear to tear yourself away (and you must), there’s the aforementioned uber-glam spa to be explored. It’s palatial in its proportions – 6,500 square feet to be precise, making it the largest Aman spa to date. You meander along a hillside path, past two pristine, pink-sand beaches belonging to the hotel, until you reach Queen’s Beach. Here is where Aman comes into it’s own. Seriously sexy architecture with rolling lawns and a reflection pond is impressive and a stark contrast to the old-world charm of the island. The glass-housed, black granite, inside-out pool will wow you.
Seducing you further are the holistic treatments, which use Aman’s own organic products made from locally-sourced plants, flowers and herbs, all mixed by an in-house herbalist. Therapists are hand-picked from across the world so be reassured you are in the hands of the crème de la creme. The spa’s USP is based around privacy and expertise (presumably for the A-listers that will be checking in, away from the eyes of the paparazzi). So expect expansive treatment suites with their own relaxation lounges and bathrooms (communal is a swear word here).
There’s also an emphasis on bespoke holistic therapies with the Adriatic Rejuvenation being the signature treatment. It’s a delight. You are exfoliated with mint-infused olive oil, wild honey and raw sugar, followed by an oat milk soak and a lavender oil massage. Classic facials are adapted to each guest as are traditional treatments, such as foot reflexology, which uses wild thyme and Adriatic sea salt scrub to balance circulation and reduce any swelling in the feet and calf muscles. The scrub is followed by a foot reflexology massage using peppermint essence.
If you can muster the energy, there’s also a professional pilates studio, gym and a yoga pavilion where you can have one-on-one lessons. If that’s too much like hard work, book in for an hour with the Master Thai massage therapist. Tantalisingly good and utterly addictive (just don’t tell the bank manager).
Three nights at Aman Sveti Stefan from £1,164pp based on two sharing a Village Room on B&B basis, including flights to Dubrovnik and private airport transfers. To book visit www.thehealthyholidaycompany.co.uk