Amazing villas, large private pools you can actually swim laps in, extensive and impressive spas, environmental responsibility and sustainability, wellness and nutrition, organic haute cuisine prepared by innovative chefs, leading architects, designers and remote locations. Add tens of millions of dollars and you have the recipe for today’s new vision of luxury resorts.
Many of these trends can be traced by to Six Senses launch in 1995, a pioneer of home-sized residences between 3,000 sq. ft and now up to over 30,000 sq. ft. The group’s 2012 acquisition by Pegasus Capital Advisors from its founder Sonu Shivdasani and the appointment of Four Seasons veteran Neil Jacobs as CEO has seen Six Senses update and refine its approach to luxury.
But how so? “It’s subtle,” says Douglas Easton, Managing Partner of Los Angeles-based Celestielle Travel, a high-end travel agency that specializes in villas and high-end resorts and sells the groups’ nine properties frequently. “They’ve kept the barefoot Robinson Crusoe luxury principal, but they’ve tweaked the concept.” As example, he says, “It’s small things that are important…increasing the comfort level of their guests, such as air conditioning the bathrooms.”
Standards now include wireless internet access, Satellite TV, CD & DVD players, BOSE sound systems, iPod Docking stations, IDD Telephone and Espresso machines and fully stocked mini-bars.
Easton, who is on Travel + Leisure‘s ” The A-List,” the magazine’s pick of top travel advisors, travels over 270 days a year staying in about 120 hotels, each for a minimum of two nights. In terms of selling Six Senses, he says, “We want to look like heroes when we suggest something.” He says, “Six Senses properties are scenically stunning. You arrive. Your jaw is on the floor. The service is relaxed, but professional. The food is healthy but indulgent and innovative.” Easton adds, “We have really demanding clients and have never had anyone comeback and say, ‘It was just OK.’ Everybody comes back raving.”
Who shouldn’t go to Six Senses? Asked if there are some clients he would steer away from Six Senses, Easton says, “The kind of client who needs marble in the bathroom and gold faucets. It’s for people who have a predilection for barefoot luxury. Instead of marble there is a lot of beautiful woods and amazing design in harmony with the nature of each location.”
Of course, in addition to its house-sized, multi-bedroom villas, Six Senses has gained a global reputation and a multitude of awards for top spas. It operates spas in over a dozen additional luxury hotels beyond its own, the First Class lounges of Etihad Airways at London Heathrow and Abu Dhabi and aboard Christina O, the former yacht of Aristotle Onassis. Its wellness program goes even further with on property yoga masters, functional fitness, anti-aging and nutritional programs. Easton says, the resorts are good for family vacations, family and friends groups, romantic getaways, honeymoons and destination weddings. Resorts are small. The largest in the Maldives is 96 villas. The vibe, he says, is privacy, disconnecting and relaxation, so nightlife ambitions should be based on your traveling party. I talked to Easton to talk about some of his favorite Six Senses villas:
1. Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam
The Rock Retreat
Set at the water’s edge on the rock formations of a private bay, this cluster of pavilions face west to the setting sun. Access to the Villa is via a private boat or wooden private walkways set into the mountainside and is a scenic twenty-minute walk from the main restaurant and bar, or by private boat. The private plunge pool is surrounded by boulders. There are wooden steps for direct sea access. Totaling 2,917 sq. ft, housed in individual pavilions, are the living area, a dining sala, the spa treatment room and the master bedroom adjacent to an en-suite bathroom, which offers a handmade bathtub and steam shower. A dedicated butler is on call 24 hours a day. There is also an in-villa wine cellar. Easton does say, “If you are mobility impaired, it’s a bit of walk to get to,” and recommends the Hill Top Reserve (below).
Rates: Peak Season $3,045 per night; Starting at $2,480 per night.
Hill Top Reserve
The resort’s newest and most spacious villa blends with the jungle and granite environment of Ninh Van Bay. At 7,825 sq.ft., including 3,286 sq.ft. of air conditioned space, it is ideal for families and small groups, providing privacy and unparalleled views of the bay, looking west towards Nha Trang city and the adjacent mountains. A cobblestone path leads to the villa, accessed by an off-road buggy or mountain bikes. The villa’s oversized infinity pool and sun deck are perfect for the many months of sunshine, while the air-conditioned common and gaming areas offer respite for those desiring some cooler times. There are three full bedrooms with tailored configurations and en-suite bathrooms. You have the option of a personal chef, and there is a poolside movie screen with projector and sound system and in-villa wine cellar.
Rates: Peak Season $4,570 per night; Starting at $2,885 per night.
Resort Notes: There is hiking, tennis, kayaking, a riverboat trip where you can try a mineral-rich mud bath as well as speedboat charters to visit nearby islands. Nha Trang Bay is one of the major coral centers of the East Vietnam Sea with 398 out of 800 species of hard and soft corals.
Getting There: Fly to Cam Ranh International Airport (NHA), which has a 10,000 ft. long runway with restricted 24 hour operations. It takes 60-minutes by car to the resort’s lounge, from where you will set out on the next leg of your transfer, which is a 20-minute boat ride to Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Airport representatives will meet all flights at Cam Ranh Airport for arriving guests with reservations.
2. Con Dao, Vietnam
Ocean Front 3 Bedroom Pool Residences
There are seven of these 5,834 sq. ft. villas, each featuring a living area, dining room and fully equipped kitchen. Set on the beachfront, these 3-bedroom villas each feature three pavilions and offer views of the East Vietnam Sea. They include a spacious living area, dining room and fully equipped kitchen. Two master bedrooms offer ocean views and large open plan bathrooms with double vanity basins, bathtub and outdoor shower. The twin room has a garden view and is located in the living villa. There’s a private pool, plus a lap pool and a sun terrace. “The villas are amazing, really exceptional and spacious, peaceful and quiet. You really have privacy,” Easton says, adding, “I wish I could tell you stay in Villa 6, but they’re all very private.”
Rates: Peak Season $4,030 per night; Starting at $2,420 per night.
Ocean Front 4 Bedroom Pool Residence
With 7,222 sq. ft. s et in the corner of the beach, this four-bedroom residence features ocean views. This villa has a spacious living area, dining room and kitchen. The master bedroom with king bed is located on the top floor and the remaining bedrooms on the ground floor – two king-bedded rooms offering ocean views and one twin bed room with garden view. They feature large open plan bathrooms with double vanity basins, bathtubs and showers. There is a private infinity-edge pool with terrace.
Rates: Peak Season $4,600 per night; Starting from $2,705 per night.
Resort Notes: “What is neat about Con Dao is that you’re not stuck at the resort. There is a town that’s 15 minutes away with a corniche along the water. It gives you a taste of authentic Vietnam,” Easton told me, saying, “If we had stayed longer, we would have gone in more often.” Activities include a turtle discovery, snorkeling, diving, including night dives, fishing excursions, catamarans and a trek through a nearby rain forest. Easton also says, there are excellent cooking classes where you can learn to prepare local dishes.
Getting There: Con Dao Airport (VCS) has a 6,008 ft. runway, but there’s no fuel and it is not an international point of entry. It’s a 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, and there are limited flights, so if you are flying commercially you need to coordinate airline seats and hotel space.
3. Yao Noi, Thailand
The total footprint is 6,942 sq. ft., about equally split between internal and external areas. There is also 1,120 sq. ft. infinity-edged swimming pool. Two master bedrooms with separate walk-through dressing areas and bathrooms have outside showers. There is a specialized wine fridge and an in-villa butler. A large living room has direct access to the pool and large terrace area with sun loungers. Amenities include a kitchen and private bar.
Rates: High Season THB 88,458 (USD $2,483) per night; Starting from THB 69,082
Resort Notes: Noted Chef Conny Andersson (L’Orangerie in Los Angeles) whose cooked on Oprah, The Today Show and The View has joined the resort. Day and overnight yacht charters are popular. There is a Thai boxing ring and lessons. Other activities including rock climbing, hiking, trail biking, kayaking and snorkeling.
Getting There: The resort can be accessed from both Phuket International Airport (HKT) and Krabi Airport (KBV), both of which have runways over 9,500 ft. and are international entry points, although only Phuket operates 24 hours a day. The hotel can arrange helicopter, car and boat transfers.
4. Samui, Thailand
With panoramic views over the Gulf of Thailand, The Retreat has a footprint of 6,460 sq. ft., including living space of 1,990 sq. ft. There is a 420 sq. ft. private infinity pool and a large pool deck for private dining and entertaining. There are ocean views from the bedrooms and the living room. Features include walk-in closets and oversized bathrooms with large bathtubs. There’s also a wine refrigerator.
Rates: Peak Season THB 115,838 per night (USD $3,252); Starting at THB 71,609.
Resort Notes: Samui offers a combination of temples, villages, morning markets and nature meaning there’s lots to do. You can learn Thai boxing from an onsite instructor or take Thai cooking and culture classes. In addition to kayaking, diving and snorkeling, you can charter a catamaran for a sunset cruise.
Getting There: Samui Airport, with a 6,759 ft. runway is about four miles from the resort, a 45-minute flight south from Bangkok.
5. Felicite Island, Seychelles
4 Bedroom Residence
The next Six Senses to open will be off the coast of East Africa on Felicite Island. The master bedroom’s interior features floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing sweeping island vistas. Each bedroom has a full bathroom. The master bedroom is on the upper floor. Other bedrooms are on the lower floor with the living room and kitchen. The master bedroom has its personal 250 sq. ft. swimming pool with a Plexiglas floor that will allow natural light to filter into the living space below. The living room leads to a terrace with a large infinity pool of just over 473 sq. ft. Even the gourmet kitchen has views.
Rates: High Season from EUR 6,840 (USD $7,690).
Resort Notes: Diving and fishing is good all year while sailing and snorkeling is optimal from October to June. Migrating birds can be seen in October, while the heaviest rainfall is from December through February.
Getting There: The Zil Air helicopter journey to Félicité is just 30 miles northeast of Seychelles International Airport (SEZ) on the country’s main island of Mahé which operates 24 hours with some restrictions. The 20-minute flight arrives at the resort’s own jetty helipad. Alternatively, arrive by a short boat trip from nearby La Digue and Praslin islands.
6. Douro Valley, Portugal
3 Bedroom Vineyard Apartment
Opened last year, Douro Valley is Six Senses’ first hotel in Europe and combines spa, soft adventure and wine immersion experiences. The 2,370 sq. ft. three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with vineyard views includes a private terrace and garden, plus access to a pool shared with another four villas. If you are traveling with friends and family, rent all villas to create your own private enclave.
Rates: Peak Season from EUR 991 per night (USD $1,117); Starting at EUR 755.
2 Bedroom Vineyard Apartment
Duplex apartments are 1,940 sq. ft. and are set in the vineyards and offer two bedrooms and bathrooms, plus access to a pool and garden shared with four other villas.
Rates: Peak Season EUR 849 per night (USD $957); Starting from EUR 613.
Resort Notes: Food and wine is the main feature with six options, including al fresco dining in a stone paved courtyard with the gurgling sounds of a fountain, overlooking the vineyards that surround the resort.
There are open kitchen and chef’s table experiences. In addition to visiting local vineyards, you can play winemaker for a day, in September and October you can help stomp the grapes, there are expert wine tastings hosted in the resort’s Wine Library. If you are looking for adventure, try rappelling, tree climbing, canoeing, water skiing and mountain biking. Diverse activities include bird watching, garden and helicopter tours. The spa has several treatments rooms overlooking the vineyards. There is an indoor swimming pool and wet areas, yoga studio, including aerial yoga, functional fitness area, alchemy bar and Integrative wellness program. There are also meeting facilities. High season is through June and July, with peak season over August, during the harvest period in early September and New Year.
Getting There: The resort is a 90-minute drive from International Airport Francisco Sá Carneiro in Oporto (OPO) or can be accessed via helicopter making for a scenic overview of the Douro Valley. OPO operates 24 hours with restrictions, has an 11,417 ft. runway and is an international entry point.
7. Zighy Bay, Oman
“We’ve sent families, honeymooners, also older couples traveling together,” says Easton. The two 12,077 sq. ft. Retreats are located at either end of the bay overlooking the sea. They are a blend of the surrounding traditional Omani, indigenous village style with modern amenities. There is a personal spa suite, a wine cellar and state-of-the-art entertainment systems. Huge outside space is within the privacy of high cobblestone walls, with plumped up sun loungers and shaded living and dining areas, including a traditional Arabic summer house, surrounding the large infinity-edge swimming pool. You also have direct beach access, a private gym, in-villa spa with steam room and live-in butler room with en-suite toilet.
Rates: Peak Season $7,520 per night; Starting from $4,216
Beit Musandam, The Private Reserve
Located at the secluded end of Zighy Bay on its own stretch of private beach, covering a massive 32,391 sq. ft. The Private Reserve reflects traditional Omani architecture. Its entrance leads to an open court, which overlooks the three buildings. There are four bedrooms and a variety of separate living and dining room areas for entertaining, a private spa suite, a gym, a yoga studio, a wine cellar, staff quarters, infinity swimming pool and live-in butler. The Master Bedroom is on the first floor, with a large living room balcony and full bathroom with copper bathtub and outdoor shower.
Rates: Peak Season $15,000 per night; Starting from $10,000.
Resort Notes: “There are lots of Asia and Middle East resorts that bear more than a passing similarity to each other. Zighy is in a class of its own. The people we’ve sent there loved it,” says Easton. “There nothing similar that jumps to mind.” says Easton. In terms of fitting into your overall itinerary, he adds, “People are looking for texture in a trip. You don’t want too much of the same thing.
He recommends it as a side trip if you are in the Gulf on business or going to Africa or the Indian Ocean. Describing the arrival, he says, “You drive up a mountain, and at the crest, looking out on the Gulf of Oman, there is a spectacular crescent of sand below between these craggy mountains. It’s so dramatic, and then you have the option of paragliding down to the resort. It’s a desert experience, with muted colors and the blue sea.” Easton adds, “Every box is ticked. Food is off the charts.
It’s Middle Eastern with a modern tweak, prepared with French and Asian fusion, innovative, balanced and attractive.” Activities include snorkeling and scuba, four wheeling, hikes, biking, rock climbing and Dhow cruises. High season is from November to April, which is good for outdoor activities. During the warmer months from May to September, the property offers a variety of indoor and evening activities, in addition to whale shark watching from January to March.
Getting There: It’s a two-hour drive from Dubai International Airport (DXB), and there is an option to arrive by speedboat from Dibba Marina, a local port on the other side of the mountain in the next bay at the border with Oman.
8. Laamu, Maldives
2 Bedroom Ocean Beach Villa with Pool
The 7,857 sq. ft. Two-Bedroom Beach Villa with Pool is hidden between the tropical vegetation facing the ocean and is ideal for large families or for families traveling together. There are lagoon villas, and Easton says the main difference is they have a bit less wind. Each comprises two beach villas, each with its own spacious bedroom and outdoor bathroom. In between there is a common room with a dining and living area. This family hideaway features a private pool and private access to the beach, which is steps away. Loungers are placed for both sunshine and shade around the pool. There is an open-air branch-encircled shower and outdoor bathtub. To catch a sunset, you can climb up to the treetop deck which features a comfortable seating and dining area. Easton says the resort is spread out so, make sure to take a look at the resort map before deciding on a specific villa.
Rates: Peak Season $7,140 per night; Starting from $3,672.
Resort Notes: Easton likes the “number of dining options (Zen is limited to 12 guests a night serving a Kaiseki menu) and some of the best snorkeling (in the Maldives).” Most of all, he praises its General Manager, Marteyne van Well who shares her “passion for diving and photography” with guests. Like other Maldives resorts, activities revolve around the water, including surfing, wakeboarding, water skiing, early morning and night dives and catamaran sailing, as well as excursions such as a private island picnic or your own barbeque on a sandbar. High season is November to April.
Getting There: From Malé (MLE) International Airport you transfer to the Island Aviation Lounge and then a 35-minute flight gives you a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Maldives archipelago. When you land, you will be met by your butler, who will accompany you on the 15-minute speedboat ride to the resort.
9. Qing Cheng Mountain, China
2 Bedroom Deluxe Courtyard Villa
There are three 2 Bedroom Deluxe Courtyard Villas, each measuring 3,575 sq. ft. with two individual bathrooms with garden view bathtubs and rain showers. Outside are padded daybeds and there is an outdoor heated Jacuzzi surrounded by lush plants. Within the high-ceilinged bedrooms are antique Chinese wooden decorations combined with advanced smartphone apps that control in-room air conditioning, lighting and TV. If you want a private pool, you may be interested in the slightly smaller (3,326 sq. ft.) Two Bedroom Courtyard Pool Villa.
Rates: Peak Season RMB 15,660 per night (USD $2,381); Starting from RMB 10,060.
Resort Notes: Located at the gateway to the Qing Cheng Mountains, the resort was designed to complement the UNESCO World Heritage & Natural Cultural site nearby Dujiangyan. Visit Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding, a new giant panda breeding base. The facility contains three areas which are dedicated to breeding, semi-wild reintroduction and full reintroduction.
Currently there are 10 giant pandas in the center and it will be home to 30 to 40 giant pandas, 50 to 100 baby pandas and other wild animals. Hike the mountains of Qing Cheng, famous for their solitude and serenity and home of Daoism where you’ll witness Daoist living. On the way up you will see the Jianfu Palace and the Pavilion of Happiness. Halfway up, you reach the Tianshi Cave, the birthplace of Daoism. And upon reaching the summit of Qing Cheng Mountain you enjoy an incredible panoramic view. The Giant Buddha of Leshan, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, is the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world. Located in Leshan at the confluence of three rivers, it was built more than 1,300 years ago and brings many legends and stories with it. Climb up the staircase beside the Buddha statue. See the Dujiangyan Irrigation System which was built in 256 BC., the oldest and largest extant irrigation works in the world. There are four seasons, and the rainy season is in July and August. Some of the best times to visit Chengdu are March to June and September to November.
Getting There: Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) is a 60-minute drive from the hotel and Chengdu city is 60 minutes away by car or rail link. The resort offers private transfers in its new Tesla cars.