A dozen or more years ago, Adrian Zecka (who founded the Regent Hotel Group) was staying at a little hotel on the west coast of Phuket island, an hour’s flight south of Bangkok.
Beach-combing, he splashed around a headland and found himself in heaven-virgin sand under his feet, a miniature valley ahead and lush coconuts overhead. He clambered up and transfixed by the swaying palms and blue-green crystal water, knew he had found Shangri-la at last. Even more incredible, it was for sale! Three excited telephone calls later and it was decided: he and three friends would acquire the property and, regardless of cost, would build the most idyllic tropical paradise possible. They did.
Amanpuri is so stunningly beautiful, brilliantly engineered and gloriously comfortable that one simply shakes one’s head, closes one’s eyes and surrenders in disbelief. While some of the island is being ravaged by touristic development, much of Phuket is a counterpane of lush rubber plantations, swathes of bright green rice paddies, vast coconut-palm forests, deserted white beaches, turquoise translucent water and rolling hills guardianed by pairs of caribou, barrels of monkeys and flights of fancy. On top of it all, being in Thailand, one is cossetted by the most caring people in the universe.
The raised floor of Amanpuri’s valley now forms the focus point of the shrine-like compound. On three sides are open-sided, classic-shaped Thai pavilions. One enters through the largest where you will be met by the assistant-manager assigned to you. This graceful and charming lady’s total responsibility is simply to ensure that your every wish is granted.
Through this pavilion is the long cobalt-blue swimming pool which at night reflects the golden-robed musicians on one side and the candlelit diners on the other. (While the Thai chef serves sublime classic dishes, the Italian restaurant whose chefs are from the Splendido and the Cipriani, is a delicious alternative.) Ahead is the sparkling Andaman Sea and, down the wide series of stone tiers, the amazingly soft and sheltered beach.
Forty walkway-connected, “pavilion suites” on stilts, range up the valley sides. Palm-shielded for privacy and having its own view, each suite consists of a dream-like, swooping-roofed, teak house with a king-bedded bedroom and, through sliding doors, an equally large dressing room/bath. A few paces across the connecting deck, where matching long-chairs catch the sun, is the sala-an open-sided, traditional Thai pavilion. Here one sips or snoozes as the languid breezes ease the mind and sooth the soul.
As Amanpuri is one of the very few, truly extraordinary sanctuaries in the world; its casually-dressed, couples book far in advance.