Sunday, January 1, 2012

Update Hotel Openings

Executive summary by Darmansjah

Thailand; once the preserve of backpackers and hippies, Koh Samui is now chock-full of luxury resorts; come October, the new kid on its coast will be the Conrad Koh Samui (49/9-9 Moo4,Hillcrest Rd., Taling Ngam;66-77/915-888;; villas from US$825), which overlooks the Gulf of Thailand from its dramatic perch on the island’s southwest tip. The 80 pool villas here are tiered down a cliff, ensuring unobstructed views from rooms outfitted withmood cons like espresso machines and gourmet minibars. An on-site diving and sailing center offers watery excursions, while the hotel’s international restaurants stir up Thailand Mediterranean flavors. The lounge bar, Glow, promises to be one of Samui’s most romantic spots for watching the sunset.

Aegean Idyll
Turkey; Slated to open in August among the pine forest and olive groves of the Bodrum Peninsula, Amanruya (Bulent Ecevit Cad,.Golturkbuku;; doubles from US$1,162) will be Amanresorts’24th property, and its first in Turkey. Overlooking the Aegean Sea, the resort’s buildings-including an art gallery, dining pavilions, a wine lounge, two spa suites, and 36 private cottages-have been consctructed with materials like acajau wood and Anatolian marble, and cascade down the hillside like a traditional village. A restaurant focusin abroad a gulet yacht and tours of the ancient Greek ruins (including the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus) tha pepper the area.

Laotian Luxe
Laos; Organic herbs grown in an adjacent garden secnt the steam inside the hand finieshed, tak clad spa baths as Kiridara (856-71/261-888;; doubles from US$120) a boutique retreat that opened in Lune among the forested hills of Luang Prabang, Laos. All 24 guest quarters, finished in stone and polished timber, open onto balconies or courtyards that are angled to maximize the views of this herritage-listed city’s most famous Buddhis site, Mount Phou Si. Unwind amid original lao ceramics and textiles in your spacious room, slip lychee martins by the champa tree-line infinity pool, or contemplate the secenery from the deck of a mountain side yoga pavilion. Back in the spa, Kiridara’s therapeutic products are localy sourced through community outreach, which makes, treatments like the cooling wrap of mekong weed and aloe vera feel even better.

Songtsam Retreat AT Shangri-la
Tibet; outside in the private courtyard is an even bigger tub for soaking under the stars, which are plentiful in Lijiang's nighttimes sky. The Mandara Spa is another highlight. it offers a menu of local and international treatments, of which my favorite was the Balinese scrub. I was wrapped in a mixture of yogurt and turmeric, then rubbed and scrubbed to a state of near nirvana. Shuhe Old Town Entrance Rd; 86-888/530-0111;;doubles from US$260.

Songtsam Retreat at Shangri-La

While mountain lodges are rare in China, this one is the real deal: a collection of stone cabins tucked into a fairytale setting some 3,400 meters above sea level. The location is northwest Yunnan's Zhongdian County, which was officially rebranded Shangri-La a decade ago. The name change is not without its merits. Gazing out on flowering meadows, alpine forests, and the citadel-like profile of the Ganden Sumtseling monastery, you feel like you've stepped into the pages of James Hilton's 1933 Lost Horizon.
A locally born Tibetan created Song-tsam Retreat just over the hill from his childhood home. What began as a small guesthouse has evolved into an eclectic assemblage of 75 rooms, each outfitted in Tibetan antiques. The exquisite decor is part of the reason the retreat is now a member of the M Gallery Collection, another Accor brand, this time focusing on small, distinctive properties.
Songtsam certainly qualifies on that account. General manager Patrick Druet, who roams around the grounds in a Tibetan robe, proudly notes that virtually all of the staff is local, and that few finished school. What they lack in experience, they more than compensate for in eagerness and warmth.
Yet this ambitious endeavor sometimes comes up short. The room decor is arresting, but amid all the Tibetan cupboards and cabi-nets, it would have been nice to have had a closet to hang up a shirt. The platform beds, while big, could benefit from a bit more padding. And I'd happily exchange my hand-painted nightstands for a place to set up a laptop.
Still, the sun rises every morning over mesmerizing countryside. You can soak it all up on your private terrace, sipping yak-butter tea and listening to the sounds of cowbells chiming in the field. Even with a few rough edges, this one-of-a-kind getaway beckons the romantic adventurer.
Song Zan Lin Ka; 86-887/828-5555;; doubles from US$190.

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