Rusticity and luxury seldom merge; but, in Malaysia's Philea Resort and Spa, they do seamlessly.
Twenty minutes out of Malaysia's historic and beautiful Malaka, our road plunged to the right through dense rainforests. A short distance down we came to a guarded gate. After a polite enquiry, and a phone call, we drove through the grounds of a disciplined wilderness: not too disciplined, not too wild, just enough to reassure us that we had left the city behind and now the serenity of nature spread all around us.
In fact, this had once been a 15-acre rubber plantation. In all probability, the trees had reached the end of their yielding life and were condemned to the haemorrhage of slaughter-tapping. The estate had been bought by timber barons, we had been told. They had spent a fortune to fell the doomed trees, landscape the grounds, and replace the ecologically dangerous mono-culture of rubber with 3000 full-grown native trees. Their object was to re-create the self-sustaining eco-system that the rubber planters had destroyed.
They called their creation Philea Resort and Spa. Less than six months before we drove in, it had been opened by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, as a plaque on a great boulder — at the entrance to the soaring Reception Foyer — proclaimed.
The foyer of a hotel should capture its character because this is where guests first encounter their new home. This one was huge and high: conifer-tall literally. Dressed pine-trunks that had once grown in the Arctic forests of the taiga supported a web of beams and rafters far above. They rose out of softly gleaming floors of speckled chocolate-brown marble. For an instant we had a flashback of a trek in Finland where a tundra bog had stretched, brown and gleaming, to a dark palisade of firs. In the humid rainforest lands of Malaysia, this lobby captured that cool image excellently. It was also evocative of Scandinavian myth to find that the Reception Desk, and much of the lobby furniture, had been made of gnarled and pitted shipwreck wood, polished to satin smoothness. Images of the Finnish saga, Kalevala, welled up in our minds.
Curiously, these sub-polar visions did not clash with the reality of the tropical landscape that surrounded us when we were driven to our log villa in an electric buggy. Tall hedges of Bird of Paradise were held back by fences of old railway sleepers. Then we reached the little valley of the estate: a stream chortled through it fed by a waterfall in the distance. Both were designer-made, our Malaysian-Indian guide Dave Naidu, told us, as were the cliffs rising on the other bank. And the transplanted trees still stood in their protective steel cradles, holding them firm till their roots established themselves. Clearly, deep pockets and deep sensitivity were much in evidence here.
We trod up the wooden-sleeper steps to the stump-elevated verandah of our log villa. (The Queensland term ‘stump' is much more descriptive of the stubby supports that raised our villa from the ground, than ‘stilts'.) We touched our key-card to the sensor, the door slid open. We entered. The door clicked shut with its electric lock.
Outside we had been part of a wooded village of log huts. Inside, we were in a plush sophisticated domain of our own, cosseted in sybaritic comfort: soft lighting around the deep bed, all the other creature comforts including an LCD TV, a mirror-wall between the bedroom and the large bathroom. That normally very functional room was extravagant: antiqued His-and-Hers wash basins, a huge bath asking to be lolled in, a separate rain shower area and… luxury of luxuries… another wall-mounted TV. Clearly some people like watching the soaps while they soaped!
We were very relaxed when we fell asleep, soothed by the soft gurgle of the gently illuminated stream. We dawdled over coffee at the trestle table in our verandah. A woman in a sarong and carrying an umbrella strolled past giving the little green valley a rather Japanese ambience.
At breakfast in their Cravo Cravo restaurant, just off the lobby, we got talking to a Malaysian Indian named Ravi, here to conduct a seminar. When he went to bring a large bowl of yoghurt, fresh fruit, honey and whole-wheat toast for his Chinese wife, she asked us, “Have you tried their Rumah Tanjung Spa. It's named after the star anise. You must! Ravi and I both experienced it on our honeymoon here in July. It was sooo rejuvenating!” Ravi returned with a health-food breakfast before his wife and a large carnivorous repast for himself. “Don't you think they'd like to be rejuvenated in the Spa, Ravi?” Ravi grinned and looked at us. “Perhaps they don't need to be rejuvenated, Blossom.” Or, perhaps, just being in Philea had been an elixir in itself….
Getting there: By air to Kuala Lumpur International Airport and then a 90 minute drive on an excellent Express Way. Or a 20-minute drive from the World Heritage City of Melaka
Reservations: E-mail KL Sales Office firstname.lastname@example.org or resort email@example.com
Special honeymoon packages of three days and two nights available
More info @ www.phileahotel.com