Sev­enth heaven

Susan Kuro­sawa re­vis­its Travel & In­dul­gence’s best re­sort dis­cov­er­ies of 2007

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THE private plunge pool is the ho­tel in­dus­try’s king-hit­ter of the past 12 months. No new re­sort worth its cock­tails and ca­banas could con­sider open­ing with­out at least one tier of ac­com­mo­da­tion that in­cludes pool vil­las. This no­tion of swim sanc­tu­ary el­e­vates a re­sort into the league of five star-plus, a dizzy­ing realm where the con­no­ta­tions of a do-not-dis­turb sign ex­tend far fur­ther than mere house­keep­ing in­ter­rup­tions.

This year’s clear win­ner when it comes to stylish swims is Fiji’s Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort. In­deed, a year af­ter the last coup, Fiji has emerged as a hol­i­day hot spot with a wealth of new prod­ucts avail­able. Liku­liku fea­tures the is­land na­tion’s first over­wa­ter bures, a style of stilt-bun­ga­low ac­com­mo­da­tion that is a chief sell­ing point for French Poly­ne­sia and the Mal­dives.

Liku­liku is on Malolo Is­land in the Ma­manuca group, within easy ac­cess of Port De­na­rau (in turn, a short drive from Nadi air­port). Al­though its chief draw­cards are the 10 over­wa­ter bures, my pick is a deluxe pool bure, right by the beach. Th­ese come with a pe­tite plunge pool and out­door thatched loung­ing pavil­ion and are sur­rounded by glossy-leafed green­ery and brightly flow­er­ing hedges.

Liku­liku’s other prime sell­ing point — aside from its in­nate stylish­ness and su­per-friendly staff — is Fiji’s best cui­sine cour­tesy of Aus­tralian chef Shane Wat­son, one of the re­gion’s ac­knowl­edged stars.

Don’t miss: Zak’s power cock­tails in the Dua Tale bar (its name means ‘‘ one more’’). www.liku­liku­la­goon.com. ALSO in Fiji, the newish Fiji Beach Re­sort & Spa, which is man­aged by Hil­ton and is known as such by lo­cals, of­fers bril­liant sun­sets from its west-fac­ing po­si­tion at De­na­rau. There are 219 rooms and vil­las, all with beach views and some with private pools fringed with cy­cads and ginger lilies; the de­sign cre­den­tials are very con­tem­po­rary and chic but, per­haps, there are too few Fi­jian ref­er­ences in its ar­chi­tec­ture and decor.

There’s a large pool with a bliss­ful ar­moury of loung­ing chairs (this is not ba­nana bed-snatch­ing ter­ri­tory), the splen­did Nuku restau­rant pavil­ion with a breezy, open-sided de­sign and de­li­cious spe­cial­ties such as black pep­pered crab, and a spa of­fer­ing pam­per­ing prospects in the so­porific league of a wa­terlily wrap.

This Hil­ton is a re­sort that man­ages to strad­dle two mar­ket seg­ments: it’s stylish enough for cou­ples but suf­fi­ciently roomy and in­for­mal for fam­i­lies. One es­pe­cially wel­come touch is the pro­vi­sion of a bar­be­cue on the ter­race or bal­cony of all rooms and vil­las ex­cept the stu­dio cat­e­gory. Pick up a meat pack at Epicier, the re­sort deli, and fire up a bar­bie, bula style.

Don’t miss: The ri­otous frog races at Nuku on Tues­day evenings. www.hil­ton.com. ON the east coast of the south­ern Thai­land is­land of Koh Sa­mui, the Karma Sa­mui re­sort of­fers all guests a roomy villa with a private pool on a sun ter­race with views to the sea. (The newish Karma villa con­cept is on the move, es­pe­cially in Bali: there’s Karma Jim­baran, near the Four Sea­sons at Jim­baran Bay, and the aboutto-open Karma Kan­dara, on the is­land’s south­ern­most tip; Karma Agung opens in 2009.)

There are 36 vil­las — neu­tral and con­tem­po­rary in style, with sweep­ing Thai silk cur­tains and Asian or­na­men­ta­tion — at Karma Sa­mui, in lay­outs of one to four bed­rooms. Re­sort staff whisk guests by elec­tric cart up and down the ter­raced and bougainvil­lea-threaded hill­side to the Chakra Spa or Padma, the pretty beach­side restau­rant where flick­er­ing can­dles cre­ate a ro­man­tic at­mos­phere in which to dine on chef Ste­fano Leone’s in­spired Mediter­ranean-Thai cui­sine, at once spicy and sunny, just like Koh Sa­mui.

Don’t miss: An in-villa cook­ing class or pre­pared bar­be­cue on your pool ter­race. www.kar­mare­sorts.com; www.lhw.com.

chef- A DETOX in five-star splen­dour? In Bali, Como Shamb­hala (for­merly Begawan Giri) is a res­i­den­tial well­ness re­treat just out­side the hill sta­tion of Ubud. Its five man­sion-sized res­i­dences, each with in­fin­ity-edge pool (rent an in­di­vid­ual suite or take the whole house for a trav­el­ling party), are reg­u­lar bolt­holes for the rich and stressed.

There are also pool vil­las with names as ap­peal­ing as Golden Space, Spirit Tree or Bam­boo Whis­per­ing, which are per­fect for cou­ples or small par­ties.

Sin­ga­pore-based Como Ho­tels took over the sloped and forested 8ha prop­erty in late 2005 but hote­lier Christina Ong has re­tained the jun­gle hideaway vi­sion of the for­mer owner, con­ser­va­tion­ist Bradley Gard­ner. Its su­perb new health re­treat fea­tures nine treat­ment rooms, hy­drother­apy pool, yoga and Pi­lates stu­dios; the re­sort holds reg­u­lar res­i­den­tial yoga work­shops and well­ness re­treats with guest in­struc­tors (next on the agenda: Bali Ash­tanga Yoga Ad­ven­ture, June 3-9).

There is a res­i­dent nu­tri­tion­ist, natur­opath, Ayurvedic spe­cial­ist and phys­io­ther­a­pist, or just flop by the pool af­ter a pam­per­ing mas­sage or an arts-and-crafts shop­ping mis­sion in Ubud proper.

Don’t miss: The prop­erty’s In­done­sianstyle Kudis restau­rant, set in a re-cre­ated vil­lage house. Try a per­fect nasi goreng or Irian Jaya mud crab with sour fruit, ta­marind and ginger. www.co­moshamb­hala.bz. ON the Sin­ga­pore is­land of Sen­tosa, the re­cently opened Amara Sanc­tu­ary of­fers a first for this city-state: pool vil­las in an en­clave within the re­sort proper. There are 10 such re­treats on the 3.5ha rain­for­est-cov­ered es­tate, all with an en­closed court­yard de­sign, glam four-poster beds and luxe trim­mings.

Amara Sanc­tu­ary’s leafy sit­u­a­tion feels more like equa­to­rial Malaysia or Bali than buzzy Sin­ga­pore, but Sen­tosa has long been the favourite back­yard des­ti­na­tion for lo­cals and the is­land is un­der­go­ing a tourism in­fra­struc­ture up­grade.

In line with this re­fo­cus, Amara Sanc­tu­ary has won the 2007 Sin­ga­pore Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Author­ity’s Ar­chi­tec­tural Her­itage Award for its re­con­struc­tion of a 1930s Bri­tish army bar­racks into a 12-suite colo­nial wing. This mini-Raf­fles — all colon­nades, balustrades and pol­ished tim­ber lou­vres — sits in a gar­den lush with fan-tailed palms and mas­sive banyan and fig trees; pea­cocks pa­trol the place with much pomp and at­ti­tude, screech­ing at the sky.

Don’t miss: The so-called sky pool on the fourth floor of the Sanc­tu­ary wing is for adults only; it’s less crowded and qui­eter than the main gar­den pool and has far-reach­ing views over the rooftops to the sea. www.ama­ra­sanc­tu­ary.com.

HAMIL­TON Is­land’s brand-new

Qualia bills it­self as six-star and while I am scep­ti­cal of such self-as­sess­ment, the star above the ac­cepted pin­na­cle could well re­flect the fab­u­lous de­sign specs and de­gree of closedgate pri­vacy. On this Queens­land hol­i­day is­land’s north­ern reaches, the (Bob) Oat­ley fam­ily’s Qualia com­pound crouches in splen­did iso­la­tion well away from the main re­sort.

Twenty-seven of an even­tual 60 pav­il­ions are open, all fac­ing wind­wards across the Whit­sun­day Pas­sage and with private hori­zon-edge pools. The re­main­ing 33 will be an­gled lee­wards, sans pools but with bush­fil­tered wa­ter views. Each pavil­ion comes with a two-per­son elec­tric cart to too­tle around the steep es­tate and down to Peb­ble Beach, site of a large beach­side pool and ca­sual restau­rant.

The hub of Qualia is the Chris Beck­ing­ham-de­signed clifftop Long Pavil­ion — re­cep­tion, main din­ing, bar, li­brary and lounge — where the views are of jaw­drop­ping stan­dard and the long, lean ver­nac­u­lar is rem­i­nis­cent of a shear­ing shed, al­beit a con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tion with ranks of whirring ceil­ing fans, groovy furniture and soft fur­nish­ings in a pal­ette of stone, sand and stormy seas.

Qualia has just opened but the land­scap­ing is bril­liant: well-es­tab­lished na­tive plant­ings give the es­tate an earthed feel, from gnarled old frangi­pani to full-grown lilly pil­lies and eu­ca­lypts. Gior­gio Ar­mani was here; ex­pect more big-name cov­er­age as the word spreads.

Don’t miss: Green ap­ple and ly­chee mo­ji­tos in the Long Pavil­ion; a hot-stones treat­ment in the big and breezy stand-alone spa. www.qualia.com.au. THE pro­nun­ci­a­tion is bah-lay but that’s just about all that’s puz­zling about the new fives­tar Pep­pers Bale at Port Douglas, north of Cairns. Pre­sum­ably re­cent guest Tom Hanks got his tongue around the word, which is In­done­sian for pavil­ion; he has been one of the first celebrity guests here but oth­ers have been quick to fol­low (man­age­ment is keep­ing mum).

It’s not dif­fi­cult to see why the dark glasses-and-per­sonal min­ders set would love Pep­pers Bale as you can ef­fec­tively spirit your­self away here, es­pe­cially if you have a villa (or sanc­tu­ary, as man­age­ment prefers) fac­ing into a ver­i­ta­ble cur­tain of rustling rain­for­est and ghostly pa­per­barks and not (in more pub­lic fash­ion) over the cen­tral gar­dens and la­goon.

Th­ese 41 hide­aways (with more un­der con­struc­tion in phase two) are the size of hol­i­day houses and come in con­fig­u­ra­tions from one to four bed­rooms; each has a size­able pool with cush­ioned day bed neatly po­si­tioned for be­tween-dip loung­ing, gar­den court­yard, in­door-out­door liv­ing, full kitchen and laun­dry, pond dot­ted with wa­terlilies and a dis­tinct Bali-meets-trop­i­cal-Aus­tralia vibe (think: game­lan orches­tra CDs, Lom­bok pot­tery, chilled hand­tow­els scented with frangi­pani and jas­mine).

Vet­eran Port Douglas chef Tony Sassi and his wife, Di, run the restau­rant, which is fast be­com­ing the place to dine be­tween Cairns and the Dain­tree. And of course there is a main pool (flanked with four-poster cur­tained lounge beds), yoga pavil­ion and a spa dish­ing up all man­ner of ther­a­pies, many with a fra­grant trop­i­cal or Asian flavour.

Don’t miss: Port Douglas of­fers lots of great din­ing but do try Sassi’s as­sured Ital­ian­in­flu­enced cui­sine. www.pep­pers.com.au. Ed­i­tor’s note: Full re­ports on Qualia and Pep­pers Bale will ap­pear in Travel& In­dul­gence early in 2008.

Deep blue: A sun­deck over­looks the private pool of a res­i­dence at Como Shamb­hala in Bali, main pic­ture; Fiji’s first over­wa­ter bures at Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort, top right; con­tem­po­rary de­sign in spa­cious vil­las with private pools at Karma Sa­mui in south­ern Thai­land, bot­tom right

Isle of dreams: Fiji Beach Re­sort & Spa

El­e­gant en­clave: Amara Sanc­tu­ary

Star sta­tus: Qualia on Hamil­ton Is­land

Private par­adise: Pep­pers Bale

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