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