QUEEN OF THE COAST

The Beach Villas at acclaimed Langkawi retreat The Datai combine privacy and intelligent luxury in equal measure, discovers Nick Walton

It’s early morning and I’m standing alone on a pristine strip of white sand beach. Before me the tranquil Andaman Sea winds its way around a clutch of forested islands before galloping towards the Indian Ocean; behind towering peaks emerge from the ancient rainforest. It’s blissfully silent save for the wash of waves upon the sand and the morning gossip of tropical birds. Despite only being an hour’s flight from the Malaysian capital, at The Datai it’s possible to feel like the only person in the world.

The Datai, located on Langkawi’s northwest coast, is one of those beautifully-established, nothing-to-prove-to-anyone resorts beloved by the well-heeled and well-travelled. There are no gimmicks, no DJs, no mixologists, no fluro-hued stick-it notes, no beach parties, and no crowds. Nature permeates every aspect of the hotel, from the monkeys that entertain sundowner sipping guests, to the leopards occasionally spied on the golf course. The Datai’s architecture and its sustainable ethos help it slip into its stunning natural environment effortlessly.

Whispered among confidants, and coveted by those in the know, The Datai has been Langkawi’s luxury hallmark since it opened on the island’s most idyllic beach in 1993. Designed by Acclaimed architect Kerry Hill in collaboration with interior architect Didier Lefort of Didier Lefort Architects (and later beautifully revived by award-winning Indonesian designer Jaya Ibrahim), the resort is elegant and unashamedly luxurious without being ostentatious, and has maintained its grand dame status under the direction of acclaimed general manager Arnaud Girodon. From the lobby, with its koi ponds, piano bar, and stunning sea views, the resort terraces down, through wings of elegantly-appointed canopy rooms, towards the beach, where the coveted Beach Villas are secluded in a resort-within-a-resort.

While the resort has accommodation for everyone, from 54 guest rooms and 16 suites to 40 villas, you could be forgiven for never wanting to stray from your luxurious one or two-bedroom Beach Villa hideaway. Ringed by high fences and wreathed by tropical gardens, each villa boasts levels of privacy rarely encountered in newer resorts. There’s a stand-alone living room with complimentary minibar, dining table, and lounges set around an entertainment suite. Beyond the sizable private plunge pool and sun loungers is a path to the beach. From the king-sized bed in the main villa, with its cathedral-like bathroom and deep soak tub, walk-in wardrobe, and outdoor and indoor showers, it’s possible to see Tarutao islands which shelter Datai Bay, named by Nat Geo as one of the world’s top 10 beaches. In keeping with the resort’s Old School charm Beach Villas come with a charming butler at your beck and call.

At breakfast in the poolside Dining Room, The Datai’s cult status is confirmed; eavesdropping shamelessly, I hear couples discussing over Malay-inspired egg dishes and detox shakes how they plan to spend the first of their 20 days at the resort. Two others from the United Kingdom calculate how many times they’ve visited and lose count after 30.

Of course, if you can pry yourself from your Villa, there’s plenty to do, whether you’re staying for a weekend or a month. A must are the nature walks into the 10 million year old rainforest hosted by island nature guru Irshad Mobarak. The complimentary morning and evening walks delve into the flora and fauna of Langkawi, with a focus on the many exotic residents of The Datai, including rare hornbills and troops of monkeys. Alternatively enter the jungle with a local medicine man to learn about healing traditions along a 500 metre train that ends at a jungle stream.

Another true drawcard for the resort is its adjacent Ernie Els-designed 18- hole championship golf course. Named world’s best at the inaugural World Golf Awards in 2014, the course winds its way through mountain valleys before arriving at a dramatic coastline. The resort’s spa, home to acclaimed treatments like the Tongku Batu hot stone ritual, is also due to be rebuilt but promises to retain its intimate, luxurious ambiance.

Finally, once you’ve had your fill of romantic pool-side dining in your villa, venture out to visit the recently refurbished Gulai Houe, home to delicious and inspiring traditional Malay cuisine, served in a modern rendition of a stilted home. Iconic Malay dishes like Rendang Udang Galah Perak and Urap Sayuran Desa are executed with fine-dining precision by executive chef Richard Millar and his team. www.thedatai.com.my

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