AMEX Centurion article

Private Hideways

By Cynthia Rosenfeld

Whether in familial solitude or as a dream location to spend with friends, private villas are an increasingly popular choice

“The preferable way to stay without sacrificing attentive service, high thread count or a prime location”

Can’t bear the thought of rising from that padded chaise lounge even one more time to let housekeeping enter to clean the guestroom, return laundry or refill the mini-bar? The time sounds right to rent a luxury villa on your next exotic sojourn. Across Asia, this often economical alternative is becoming the preferable way to stay without sacrificing attentive service, high thread count or a prime location. Long a viable vacation option in Bali and Sri Lanka, these days savvy home owners with more style than time to enjoy their own digs open these private, fully-staffed retreats to paying guests who are free to frolic among the many bedrooms and sea-facing daybeds in between gourmet meals and in-house spa treatments.

From its panoramic vantage point above Bo Phut beach on Thailand’s Koh Samui, Suralai, meaning residence of the angels’, may be the island’s most indulgent playpen. The Hong Kong-based owners positioned this contemporary hilltop spread designed by MAP Design & Planning Ltd to take full advantage of jaw-dropping views over the coconut palm treetops and out to the Bay of Siam.

The six minimalist bedrooms are maximally plush and can accommodate as many as a dozen friends and family. Expansive bathrooms boast outdoor showers and deep-soak stone baths. The sun deck can accommodate over 100 for sunset cocktails or a sit-down dinner for 60, making this Samui’s prime party pad. Other exclusive treats include the 20-metre infinity swimming pool, gym and lush landscaped gardens. Techie travellers will be especially satisfied here, thanks to high-speed wifi throughout the property, an iMac set up for guests, Bose surround-sound piped to all the main public areas with remote-control access to thousands of preprogrammed songs and playlists. Each bedroom has its own separate surround-sound systems and iPod dock, plus the latest flat-screen TVs – complete with satellite system featuring more live sports, news and movie channels than anyone should watch on a tropical holiday.

The knowledgeable villa manager speaks fluent English and Chinese, daily maid service keeps the minimalist pad spotless and the private chef’s grilled lobster with Thai spices tastes sublime. Added amenities include a car and driver for exploring the idyllic island, browsing local markets or experiencing the eclectic nightlife and popular tourist spots. Another island already teeming with private crash pads is Bali, which offers a seriously diverse array of villa options and an almost equal number of expatriate rental agents. Petra Graves, a long-time Bali resident who heads up Bali Luxury Villas explains: “For families or groups of friends travelling together, villas are a much more intimate and personalised way to go, eliminating bills to sign at every meal and of course the presence of other guests. We provide a concierge service to our clients so they don’t sacrifice the insider information and flight confirmations they would expect from a fivestar hotel.” Graves works with prospective clients to understand their needs, be it a grand gathering or couple’s canoodle, then recommends available properties from the beaches to this island’s lush interior.

“Villa renters quickly work out the unbelievable value compared to Bali’s top resorts. Once they switch to villas, they usually prefer the space and pleasures of a whole house, often renting the same property each time they come back here. ”The numbers support the agents’ claim, even at a panoramic sprawl like the three-storied Longhouse poised atop Bali’s Jimbaran Hill looking south over Jimbaran Bay and Benoa. For around the cost of two suites in any of Bali’s top-ranked resorts, this six-bedroom estate delivers some of Bali’s best sunrises and sunsets over the 60-metre infinity pool. Spacious, well-equipped bedrooms make visitors quickly comfortable with plenty of lounging space, cushy beds and views of a veritable jungle with birds and frogs to provide the evening’s acoustic accompaniment. The Longhouse’s elegant décor, collected from around the Indonesian archipelago provides a stylish backdrop, while the smiling staff work silently and efficiently to treat guests to the best of Balinese service.

More intimate, and ideal for families, the four-bedroom Villa Bangkuang sits among Bali’s emerald rice terraces in Seseh, a still sleepy village between the chic shopping and nightlife hub of Seminyak and Tanah Lot temple, a 16th-century multi-tiered stone wonder on the isle’s rocky western cliffs. Spread over a two-storey main building, an open-sided living pavilion, and a separate twobedroom guest pavilion with enticing outdoor showers, the villa is laid back yet functional with plenty of space for family and friends to lounge. Air conditioning in all the bedrooms takes the edge off Bali’s tropical swelter and in the master suite a full-length balcony overlooks the lush fields leading straight to the Indian Ocean.

The Singapore-based owners, a European businessman and his German-Balinese wife, spent every holiday here with their two young children, mostly in the paddy-facing infinity pool, loving it so much they decided to build a second property nearby and share this one with discerning global nomads. The gentle, switched-on staff prepare authentic local and Western gourmet fare, a local masseur turns the house’s simple elevated day bed into a five-star pamper palace and the owner’s driver knows the fastest routes to Bali’s best shopping and dining addresses.

Sri Lanka has experienced a villa building boom seemingly at odds with its apparent political instability. With the civil war now officially over, tourists are finding their way down the palm fringed west coast where legendary Sri Lankan Geoffrey Bawa, the godfather of tropical architecture, designed some of his best edifices. Outstanding among them is Bawa House 87, recently renovated by Ajai Zecha, son of Adrian, the founder of Amanresorts. The compound of three separate bungalows with four bedrooms sits on 17 acres of jungle
gardens, a glassy lake for swimming and romantic hidden pavilions that are a Bawa signature. Hop across to the beach at Bentota or stay on the compound to watch monkeys hang off the tamarind branches then take Ceylonese tea with scrumptious homemade cakes.

Venture further along the southern coast to Kadju House, nestled in a cashew grove under skyscraping palms near Tangalle. Ideal for sexy trysts or playing Swiss Family Robinson in five-star style, the fourbedroom water’s-edge retreat belonging to a London-based Indian scholar welcomes parrots, monkeys and peacocks on the Indian- Ocean facing patio. For elephants, leopards and flamingos, ask the staff to organise outings to Udawalawe National Park, then come back to the cinnamon-walled Ayurvedic spa. Sunset is the hour tocongregate around the elongated swimming pool reaching over an intimate sandy crescent, before moving on for dinner created organic produce gathered in the surrounding gardens.

Next up on the horizon for villa vacationers must be the Philippinearchipelago, an enticing assortment of more than 7,000 sun-kissed islands straddling the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. Owners are still shy about promoting their properties so they let Global Nomad’s Lorenzo Urra do the talking. The Hong Kongbased Philippines travel guru recommends a favourite ocean-front estate in Calatagan, about two hours’ drive south of Manila. Rolling hills along the 3.2-hectare grounds lead to a secluded 150-metre private white sand beach.

The estate’s two story guest bungalows offer breathtaking views of the Pagapas Bay, the dramatic Anilao mountain range, and the lush nearby island of Mindoro. It’s easy to see how villa vacationing can become addictive when lounging by one’s own sea-tiled infinity pool. So, understandably, for those in a rush to relax, there’s even a helicopter landing pad.