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Travel: A Natural Estate

Jack Smith

Say, for a moment, that you and your Swedish model-turned-designer wife are concluding your honeymoon on a tropical archipelago. How do you cap it off? If you are the British multimillionaire Sonu Shivdasani, you buy one of the islands for your bride, Eva, so she can transform it into her own vision of paradise. Then, since she admits to becoming bored quickly—perhaps from reading all that Ibsen—you buy her another property and another and another until, before you know it, the two of you are presiding over a portfolio of 13 resorts, each dedicated to the lifestyle you describe as "barefoot sophistication."

This ethos is best understood with a visit to the Shivdasanis’ latest creation, the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi, on a small island off Phuket in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay. The scenery alone at the resort, which opened in November, is worth the trip. Giant limestone outcroppings appear to float offshore like an armada of ghost ships changing color from chalk white to emerald green to black in the shifting light. Lagoons lace the interiors of some of these rock islands, and prehistoric drawings of elephants and tigers decorate their walls.
 
True to its name, the Hideaway is a study in romantic seclusion; several of the 56 villas are set amid the tropical greenery like so many tree houses, while others sit on stilts over the bay. The villas ($760 to $12,000 per night) range in size from 1,660 square feet to a more baronial 15,855 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space. The largest of these, Hill Top Reserve, comprises a master bedroom with a bath, outdoor shower, gym, Jacuzzi, massage room, and sauna, as well as five additional bedrooms for children, nannies, bodyguards, and private sommeliers (to tend to the accommodation’s wine cellar). An outside sundeck spans the length of Hill Top; at one end, a waterslide affords a spectacular, if brief, view of the sea as you plummet and then splash into the pool.

Every villa at Yao Noi is paneled in locally harvested timber, thatched in palm fronds, and linked by wood walkways that wind through the foliage, over ponds, and around waterfalls. Each also comes with its own butler, pool, espresso maker, satellite TV, DVD player, and iPod dock. This yin and yang of seemingly unspoiled nature and state-of-the-art amenities is consistent with the Shivdasanis’ leitmotif. "We encourage guests to go barefoot and get closer to the natural surroundings in our resorts," says Sonu, "but people want access to quality modern comforts wherever they are."

Though they designed the Hideaway to indulge and spoil their guests, the Shivdasanis took care to minimize their encroachment on nature. The resort recycles its water, cleans its swimming pools using oxygenating plants, and treats its sewage organically.

Guests wishing to detoxify themselves can do so at the Hideaway’s Six Senses Spa. A popular après-spa regimen includes a visit to the resort’s library, where, besides books, you will find a glassed-in wine cellar and a bar where you can nibble on Thai noodles.

After a snack in the library or dinner at the main restaurant, you can choose from the resort’s selection of cigars. A cold kitchen adjacent to the restaurant purveys an array of pastries, ice creams, and cheeses: blue, chèvre, Asiago, manchego, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and others. Though it is unlikely that you traveled to Thailand for the cheese, indulging in a platter in the middle of the night in your bare feet seems perfectly natural at Yao Noi.
 
Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi, +66.76.418500, www.sixsenses.com

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