Luxury shouldn’t cost the earth (literally). The boutique hotel hunters at Mr & Mrs Smith have picked five mind-bogglingly beautiful getaways that treat the world as kindly as they’ll treat you…
Spared a thought for giant clams recently? Probably not, eh. You will at Gayana Eco Resort, which has its own marine research centre and conservation programmes that protect the world’s largest living bivalve mollusk. The hotel was deliberately designed to make the lightest footprint on its Sabah setting: buildings are set on stilts, occupying very little landmass and made from indigenous belian hardwood; furnishings are locally sourced (and lovely). Gayana’s seafood is plucked from the resort’s fish farm; guests get the opportunity to take part in coral restoration sessions and other eco-initiatives. Additional watery thrills come courtesy of the PADI dive centre, glittering infinity pool and romantic overwater bungalows, which have direct access to the ocean. The hotel has a healthy conscience, but it doesn’t stint on treats: be massaged with bamboo in the spa, feast on seafood in Alu Alu (reputed to be the area’s best Chinese seafood restaurant) and be intoxicated by Latitude Bar – the perfect spot for sundowners, when the first drink is on the house.
Smith Extra: BlackSmith members get a romantic dinner table set-up on the day of arrival; SilverSmiths get an hour’s guided kayaking, snorkelling or jungle-trekking tour; GoldSmiths get a 45-minute spa session for two on the day of arrival.
If any private-island paradise is worth making a song and dance over, it’s Song Saa, the very deserving winner of the Eco Award at the Smith Hotel Awards 2015. Not many hotels are set on a self-made marine reserve measuring one million square metres, spread across two pristine isles, with a team of resident marine biologists, recycling and waste initiatives, and a cluster of sustainability projects in nearby villages. This one is. Song Saa also has a rainforest spa whose treatments draw on local herbs, oils and sand, plus a yoga pavilion, a seafood-focussed overwater restaurant and two bars – one championing champagne; another one muddling potent cocktails. The hotel’s eco-conscious agenda hasn’t resulted in any sartorial sacrifices: Song Saa’s stone and thatched villas have polished marble walls, four-poster beds, Moroccan lanterns, carved statues and private sea-view plunge pools. It’s hard to play favourites here, but the two-bedroom Jungle Villa scores points for its crescent-shaped layout and generous kitchen and living area. Its seclusion makes cheeky (skinny)dips in the outdoor bath tub a must.
Smith Extra: One 60-minute spa treatment each.
You’ll share the Racha with resident stubby-legged water monitor lizards, which amble slowly across the hotel’s white sand and manicured paths. These four-legged locals look prehistoric and predatory, but save your screams – they come in peace. This hotel on just-remote-enough Racha Yai island doesn’t take its gawp-worthy patch of Phuket for granted; instead, it works with the Reef Ball Foundation to restore and preserve the sea’s natural environment. Villas here are serene and white-washed, clutter-free and utterly calming; spectacular sea views take centre stage (the private plunge pools aren’t bad, either). The focus on nature doesn’t mean a lack of luxury, though. Have your room perfumed with lemongrass, jasmine or lavender, indulge in a spoiling spa treatment – a sea-salt or orange-citrus scrub, or white-mud body wrap, perhaps – sink a few mojitos at the bar and scrunch your toes in sand during dinner at Sunset Beach Restaurant. The main infinity pool has a few tricks up its sleeve – underwater beats, for example – and you can also splash around lazily in the secluded garden pool. If you’re craving even more gold-and-blue isolation, Siam Beach is a five- to 10-minute walk over a small hill.
Smith Extra: A bottle of wine and a fruit basket.
Evason Ana Mandara’s location is pretty jammy: a mountain-backed beachfront strip near the buzzy heart of coastal town Nha Trang. The hotel has a good heart, too: it employs local staff; runs charity schemes to boost the community; has on-loan bicycles for touring; serves up organic, locally sourced food and has a thing for recycling. It’s also pretty easy on the eye: village-style villas decorated with lots of white, pepped up with marshmallow-soft throws and cushions in spice-rack hues. The Ana Mandara Suites have seductive private walled gardens and alfresco rain showers, which are especially brilliant during warm tropical storms (trust us, we tried them). Sticking with the watery theme, make the most of the hotel’s watersports centre, where you can choose from speedboat trips to nearby islands, parasailing above the coast, jetskiing or waterskiing on the water, or snorkelling and diving below the waves. Back on dry land, Evason’s Six Senses Spa deserves special mention: try a Vietnamese herbal compress, Thai massage, Indian head therapy or green-coffee body ritual. You’ll probably refuse to leave, but they have staff for that.
Smith Extra: A 30-minute foot massage or body scrub for two people.
Who knew former coconut plantations scrubbed up so well? Bon Ton is a ravishingly revived Malay village, sitting pretty on a lush, lotus-strewn lagoon. We would have loved to have been flies on the wall in the boardroom when Bon Ton’s design concept was proposed: ‘Let’s take stilt-perched wooden houses – many of which are more than 100 years old – to this Langkawi location, restore them and then open them up to lucky guests.’ Owner Narelle may be something of a mad genius; she’s also a philanthropist and as kind-hearted as a Disney heroine. Next door to Bon Ton, Narelle runs a private animal shelter, using profits from the hotel to fund work at the centre. The same sense of generosity can be felt in the furnishing of the hotel’s eight antique timber houses: they’re beautifully decorated with traditional Malay fabrics and carefully picked design details, and come with eye-widening pool and lagoon views. The treats continue in the acclaimed hotel restaurant, Nam, which plates up delicious dishes with a warming whack of spice. Try Nyonya, the signature platter, which showcases nine Malay and Chinese dishes presented on banana leaf. Try to catch a glimpse of water buffalo cooling off in the lagoon while you eat.
Smith Extra: A welcome lime margarita each.
Mr & Mrs Smith gets you the best rates, guaranteed, as well as a little something extra on arrival at every hotel. To book, call the Smith24 team toll-free on 800 905 326, or visit mrandmrssmith.com.