AWAY-NIGHT Langkawi The Datai (Malaysia)

A metre-long iguana (about 33% of which was tail) lay sunning itself across the concrete path through the steeply-sloped rainforest. Welcome, it might have said – but there were plenty of welcomes from a posse of athletic-looking management waiting at the top of the 3 steps leading to the open-sided ‘reception’, which somehow includes a 30x20m decorative pool with water lilies and lots of frogs.  This was, obviously, going to be a nature-loving stay…. in fact, one of the first things on the agenda was a nature walk with Irshad Mubarak, known as  I learned trees, types and design, and was introduced to Indian Iron Wood (Romans used such trunks in the Thames to support river bridges).  Today, F1 cars have a hardwood base panel to prevent metal contacting the ground, and possible sparks flying.

This was my first visit to The Datai. It opened in 1993 as GHM and, since August 2011, it has been managed by Archipelago Resorts and Hotels, run by Franz Zeller. Archipelago’s owner, the privately-held Peremba Sdn Bhd, is also joint owner, with the Khazanah Nasional sovereign fund, of the 728.5ha Teluk Datai estate, which includes a 1.2km-long sandy beach on the Andaman Sea looking across to Thailand, and an 18-hole golf course currently being renovated by Ernie Els). Zeller has some strong players on board: the 110r resort’s gm, Anthony Sebastian, is well known to the important domestic market, and chef Conny Andersson is ex-Sandy Lane and many Four Seasons (his guest chefs include Rick Stein, 13-15 April, and Anton Mosimann, in September) • Today, I lunch in the all-day Dining Room, outside on its terrace. The shell-topped table is set with brown mats, the hotel’s white Lydia-by-Narumi china and Sant’Andrea cutlery. Wheatgrass pops out of a square black pot. Bread rolls are as good as anything in Berlin (the onsite baker is German). Simply greens, a composed salad with cubes of avocado and papaya and a citrus-basil dressing, is followed by fettucine with wild mushrooms, roasted whole garlic, baby spinach and a black pepper cream.

The clock ticks too fast, and I rush as fast as 88% humidity will allow to the spa which is, well, open air in the rainforest.  Down at beach level I skip along a 100m rainforest-flanked boardwalk to an open-sided rush hut. A charming young woman in cream shirts tucked tightly into green and black batik pants hands me the regulatory form (do you, women only, want to be pregnant?). Indra, similarly dressed, appears and leads me along a metre-wide concrete path set 50cm above the undergrowth to a double cabin. Its long front wall is completely open to the wood deck, with wood rocking chair, looking into what looks like a Rousseau theatre . Inside, a big white candle burns, near the floor-level black bathtub. The beds are covered in white linens.  I put on a sarong that matches Indra’s pants, and the 90-minute treatment starts.  She uses Uskincare, developed by Melbourne-based holistic disciples George Jilly, from Hungary, and his wife Jilly, a former nurse. Indra says she has been here 6 years, goes home every year: there are 7 other Balinese here and she loves it.

Now is the hour out Beach Villa 1, one of 14 new LTW-designed splendours that come onstream this September (I am a guinea pig). The 220 sq m interior has 2 buildings, with bevelled dark hardwood floors, and rush-mat or glass walls bordered with light Maccak wood. You enter the main, L-shaped, villa at its the outer apex, straight 888into the 9×5.5m sleeping area. From the door, you have an inset sofa to your left. Turn right, and the kingsize bed is centrally-set (a 1.25m-wide walkway behind), facing over the pool – big 3m-high French windows here can be pulled back to go straight from sleep to swim. The fabric-covered bedhead, 2m high has a pair of pull-out fibre-optic lights, and is flanked by fretwood that rises to 3.5m, meeting a room-wide horizontal fretwood canopy, above which the ceiling rises, cathedral-like, with a 3-blade black fan.  Looking to the far end of this room, black doors to the left conceal the minibar, Nespresso and oriental kettle: a matching black panel to the right holds the Sharp television, jackpack panel and iPod. Art is provided by views to the garden, and, inside, 2 framed batiks and 4 framed ancient necklaces.

Back at the door, I look straight ahead through a flat-ceilinged walkway 4m long: its 5m-wide breadth has a dressing table to the right, and a closet alcove to the left, with blue yoga mat, black beachbag with towel and suitable magazines (Malaysia Tatler and Sphere Asia), and a sensible-height Elsafe.   This walkway continues to the 7m deep by 5m wide bathroom, with another cathedral ceiling. The bathroom’s shiny black marble floor has an inset non-slip panel around the central soaking tub, an oval corian affair with side water gush, above which sit a loofah and defoliant-type bath salts.  Towels stand in a wood-handled rush bag.  Walls here are wavy grey marble, to ceiling height, or glass, looking into a private garden with fence, or wall, for privacy. The indoor shower, at the far end, is all-glass, with 30m-square rainforest and hand-held showers, and 100ml Plantation toiletries, by Mark Warshaw’s Limited Edition (there is another outdoor shower in the garden). One wall has 5 long metal spears, threatenily : another, enticingly, holds a pair of Ploh robes, one white cashmere-knit and one white-lined grey ‘Robe Works’ type (Ploh also provides bed linens and towels). Two floor-standing cathedral-type black candlesticks hold considerable white candles, in glass sleeves. A white orchid is flanked by 2 floor-standing cream rectangular sculptures inset with washbasins.  I have all necessary dental and shaving apparatus.

It is a 5m walk, under a covered walkway, to the glass-walled, air-conditioned sala salon. This is about 5 x 6m, with a 4m-high ceiling soaring, cathedral-style, with 2 more black fans overhead. The salon has a central milk-and-white chocolate carpet, on which sits a 2.5 x 1.75m low wood table. There is dining for 4, comfy seating for 5, and a half-wall entertainment ‘kitchen’ holds everything from jackpack console and litres of Bacardi, Grey Goose, Hennessy VSOP and other spirits, another iPod and minibar, Nespresso and a Barrique wine cellar chilled to 11-degrees (Veuve Clicquot holds court with 2 new-to-me Champagnes).  To one side of the sala, the grass-covered garden wraps around to the fence at the far end of the total 150 sq m outside space.  To the other side of the sala is a raised deck, encompassing a tile-lined 10 x 4.5m pool, and a sitting area big enough for 2 Dedon-type loungers, dining for 4 and an umbrella • I head up  a 5-minute incline and then 77 steps alongside the main 5-floor room blocks to the gym (LifeFitness and Technogym) equipment.  Back home, I plunge into the pool.  My laundry returns – 3 hours after handing it in – tissue-wrapped, in a lidded basket.

At evening cocktails, a bottle of Dom Pérignon is sabred, expertly: the memorable Vikram Singh (see Who else…) always travels with his own personalised sabre sword (Laguiole, of course). Food beckons, tonight not international or Thai but ‘anywhere’, namely Malay on the beach. A white canopy supported by 4 poles in the sand has a single hanging electric light.  Around, in the sand, are several multi-pronged wrought iron candelabra, each sporting 8 night lights with glass sleeves wrapped in wind-protecting white napkins. Sitting in chairs completely covered in white fabric, as is our table, we watch the sun set and eat local, family-style, the menu written on a banana leaf.  Mango salad with anchovies, seafood tubes wrapped in banana leaves and lentil fritters with coconut chutney precede chicken and fillet skewers, spicy grilled snapper, garoupa and tiger prawn, biryani rice and fabulous garlic naan. Dessert is sago in coconut milk with palm sugar; the New Zealand Pinot is Vicar’s Choice St Clair.

Roughly 95% of guests are leisure, led by the UK (34%), then central Europe and Spain, and Japan, then Australia and Singapore, with China and Korea growing.  Russia is helped by Transaero charters for half the year. With 7-night average stay, they typically take several trips – all Datai chauffeurs must know restrooms are along a route.  I walk back home, listening to a cacophony of cicadas and frogs.  Night turndown has left the New Straits Times, the daily single-A4-seet Rainforest Times, with a colour photo of a smiling unnamed gm.   I know sunrise and sunset, tomorrow’s weather, and restaurant opening times, and the spa suggests almost an overkill of bathing ceremonies, 30 minutes of Arabian (frankincense), Oriental (grapefruit and may chang) or Tibetan (Himalayan cedar and rose otto). A poem relates the birth of the Datai: ‘To move building parts, an elephant was gainfully employed So the natural forest would not be overly destroyed Everything arrived by boat through the beautiful bay Local workers then assembled this fine hideaway… Which displays such a selection of charming influences With Mayan walls, Malay roofs and Japanese screens’. Bathroom candles are lit, as are 10 lanterns standing around the pool. A handled wood tray holds dark blue Denby, a teapot of hot water, a bowl of sugar, and a 15g sachet of Swiss Caotina Surfin hot chocolate.

Butler Syed, a 16-year veteran, asked earlier about tomorrow’s wakeup (he travels every 2 weeks to Kuala Lumpur, where his Balinese wife, who worked in the spa lives with their 2 kids). Officially assistant room service manager, he is continually deployed, to help VIPs – including German Hydair Motorsport boss Peter Worm who owns the 4r Villa Hutan and a 12-person yacht here • What seems like a couple of hours later, my 0545 call, with a soft female voice, comes, to be followed, 0600 sharp, by Syed.  He bears a wicker-covered tray and butler’s stand and plugs in a toaster. As  requested, I have papaya (2 full-length sliceswith lime wedges, on a banana leaf on a Lydia-by-Narumi plate), about 250ml of fabulous home-made yoghurt, half that amount of good juice, butter under a glass cloche, a china pot of honey and 2 St Dalfour jams. The thermal coffee pot is in a wicker cover. Multi-grain ‘Paris Village’ slices come with tongs • Having checked around to avoid leaving Gostelow gear behind, I activate the Blinds button.  All 8 blinds slowly rise, which attracts, outside, a-flutter of moths.  Ready to go, I press the Master button. All internal lights go off – and the moths depart, as if programmed.

from The Gostelow Report – article exclusive online to CPP-LUXURY.COM

Mary Gostelow