Anna Dunn Anna Dunn | May 19, 2021 | Lifestyle
The illustrious Amangiri resort introduces a fresh perspective with the opening of the instantly iconic Camp Sarika, a collection of 10 luxury tented pavilions hidden among the canyons of the southern Utah desert. Blink and you might miss it—but that’s the point.
Backed by majestic sandstone formations, Camp Sarika at Amangiri derives its name from the Sanskrit word for open space and sky.
Healing takes many forms. At times it’s an hourlong massage customized to your needs. Other times it’s spontaneous, expertly tailored tequila pairings with dinner suggested by your server. Healing can be found in necessary safety protocols that artfully maintain a human element, the sound of a crackling fire and the ever-present signature scent of desert sage, or perhaps in stargazing in seclusion and the quiet introspection that follows.
Camp Sarika’s pool and Jacuzzi, tucked among mesas and seamlessly connected to the surrounding desert landscape, offer a space for respite.
As I discovered on a recent visit, no matter how it manifests itself, healing is found at Amangiri—which fittingly means “peaceful mountain.” With the property’s midpandemic opening of Camp Sarika, healing takes shape as 10 luxury tented pavilions that seem to disappear into the canyons of the southern Utah desert, only a short drive or hike from the renowned main hotel. Isolated campsites are outfitted with rugged details that have been elevated to an ultraluxe level, and quiet attention to detail and impeccable “invisible service” stay true to the Aman brand DNA.
The main pavilion at Camp Sarika houses a restaurant and relaxation area.
When Camp Sarika quietly welcomed its first guests in July 2020—11 years after Amangiri opened—it became the ultimate spot for healing (and social distancing) during a time of universal uncertainty. Occupying more than 55 of the property’s 600 acres, it is the first year-round camp of its kind in North America. “The idea was not just to add more rooms; it was to create a whole new experience,” general manager Julien Surget tells me over breakfast at Camp Sarika. “We needed more inventory, but at the same time we also wanted to tell a new story in the market.” That story unfolds in the form of five 1,100-square-foot, one-bedroom pavilions and five 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom pavilions (all fully enclosed and spaced out for privacy and comfort), a bespoke creation of San Francisco- and Johannesburg-based design and development services firm Luxury Frontiers. Each boasts an expansive outdoor terrace with a heated plunge pool, cozy fire pit area and telescope; a roomy, light-filled common space with wet and dry bars, a dining area and a smartly concealed TV; and a spalike en suite bathroom with a deep-soaking tub and indoor and outdoor showers. Canvas walls, custom-designed leather and walnut details, and matte black fixtures and finishes are inspired by the surrounding rolling plains and recall traditional camping elements. And, of course, epic views visible from telescoping sliding glass doors only add to the appeal. Seven of the pavilions (mine included) face commanding sandstone canyon and mesa formations, and three have westfacing views for catching stunning sunsets.
Each pavilion has a heated plunge pool and highlights a “very thin separation between nature and construction,” says general manager Julien Surget.
At the camp, a common building houses a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, in addition to a lounge with a focal-point fireplace that keeps things cozy during chilly evenings, a sleek pool and two spa suites (an extension of the brilliant main Aman Spa), all of which can be accessed by guests of both Camp Sarika and Amangiri. As part of the camp experience, guests use golf carts to navigate the exclusive enclave and can travel to the main hotel and back by hiking or using private car service. Surget explains that guests especially enjoy moving between the two properties for meals as Sarika offers a second dining outlet and an entirely different experience.
Pavilion bathrooms are equipped with deep-soaking tubs.
“Part of luxury travel is seeking out the experiences you can’t buy at home no matter how much money you have,” he says. “We’re not trying to re-create a five-star restaurant experience you’d have in Paris, because you can get that in Paris. What you can’t get in Paris is the chef who has the contacts with native tribes to get special ingredients,” he continues. “It’s not just about cooking local; it’s cooking relevant.” Spearheading that effort at Camp Sarika is lauded chef de cuisine Oren Currier, who stays busy—and keeps me on my toes during my stay—creating and executing a new dinner menu every night, highlighting seasonal ingredients with a focus on regional Utah cuisine. “My creative process is a combination of several components,” shares Currier. “This includes seasonality of ingredients, the number of guests we are expecting, and the interaction of flavors between dishes as we try to have both complementing and contrasting flavor profiles.” With all meals and nonalcoholic beverages included, guests can indulge in seconds of a favorite course, and preset menus for breakfast and lunch round out the offerings. While dining next to the open kitchen one evening, I witness that food preferences, restrictions and allergies are handled with the utmost care, and Currier receives frequent praise from guests impressed by his craft.
A spacious living area leads to a shaded deck, sun beds, a telescope and a fire pit.
The brand’s focus on two main pillars—wellness and adventure—plays out seamlessly at Camp Sarika. “We want to build guests a robust itinerary to complement restoring and healing,” says Surget. Those itineraries can touch on both pillars, including everything from challenging hikes and climbs—called via ferrata, Italian for “iron road”—on a network of on-property trails and routes to restorative spa treatments and special culinary experiences that honor Navajo traditions. (Mine includes a healthy balance of both.) Another Aman-specific touchstone is sustainability, which Surget says is manifested in three ways on-property: environmental protection, community outreach, and preservation of local heritage and culture. “Sustainability is not just about conservation, but it’s also about educating people and exposing them to new things,” he shares. Outreach takes shape as meal deliveries to local Navajo communities, self-defense lessons for employees, financial education courses and more. “If you condition [employees] right, they then carry that back home,” he says. “It’s meaningful to us.” In regard to environmental protection, the property has its own solar field and three natural wells, and uses geothermal heat pumps in lieu of standard HVAC systems for the camp pavilions. But due to local restrictions, what are considered standard practices in many U.S. regions are nearly impossible here, such as recycling. So, for Amangiri and Camp Sarika, the primary focus remains on outreach and cultural preservation, says Surget. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of being kind, being polite and helping people upscale.”
Surget is optimistic about what’s next for Camp Sarika as travelers seek new ways to experience solitude and healing. “There’s no doubt that there’s an excitement about the property,” he says. “I’m grateful for it; I’m humbled by it, honestly. We relentlessly work to honor that excitement.” Pavilions from $3,500 per night
Photography by: PHOTOS COURTESY OF AMAN