Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas, Thailand
Anantara Phuket Villas is situated on Mai Khao Beach, the longest beach on Phuket island. Mai Khao is a relatively quiet, clean beach; but Anantara is the most northerly of a cluster of big resorts, so the feeling is more Gilligan's Island than Robinson Crusoe – if only Gilligan had had the luxuries of an international five-star resort at his disposal. Only 15 minutes from the airport, Anantara Phuket strikes an impressive balance between sophisticated seclusion and luxurious sociability: sip champagne in your private sala villa, or swim up to the bar at the big infinity edge beachside pool. Decisions, decisions.
Anantara Phuket consists of 91 private pool villas scattered among verdant, Bill Bensley designed tropical gardens and beach front. Architecture is indigenous-luxe: slatted roofs, wooden beams, whitewashed walls hung with artifacts. Enormous lily ponds and lagoons surround and separate the villas: the easiest form of transport is to weave along the intricate pathways and bridges on your complimentary bicycle. The gorgeous seafront pool, with its enormous floating daybeds and lawn running down to the sand, is a genuinely magical spot. It's also right beside the excellent pool bar.
The white, high-ceilinged rooms of the villas feel cool, serene and spacious, thanks to minimal furniture, thoughtful design and a neutral palette. The lurid silks that swamp so many Thai hotel rooms are blessedly absent: here it's all about white muslin draped from the canopy bed, warm browns in the woven wall and floor mats, and natural stone accented with orchids. Huge glass doors in the bedroom and bathroom open directly onto your private pool, allowing you to fulfil at least one tropical holiday fantasy: sliding straight from bed into the water. There's an outdoor rain shower, an external terrazzo bathtub, and a private pavilion with bar fridge and lounges.
The resort has five dining options, ranging from casual poolside snacks to elaborate food and wine pairings under the guidance of a resident "wine guru". This reviewer dined mostly in La Sala, the family friendly restaurant amid the lily pads, which had an unexpected, slightly '80s disco vibe (fluro lighting, curtains of glass beads). But the jarring decorative notes were entirely erased by the kindness of the staff, who follow small children around holding breadbaskets, helping them feed the ducks and stopping them plunging into the lagoon. The best restaurant is Sea.Fire.Salt, a sophisticated beachside grill, where great seafood is cooked on hot salt bricks.
PASSING THE TIME
It's hard to know why you would leave the resort, which has the usual panoply of pastimes: cooking, water sports, tennis, and a very good spa, as well as a kids' club, where children can dye T-shirts and build sandcastles to their hearts' content. There's a small mini-mall just beyond the resort entrance, containing some upmarket boutiques and a kid-magnet kitschy ice cream parlour. Further afield, elephant treks, sea kayaking and other adventures can all be arranged. But don't be surprised if you find that you're more than happy to simply tootle around on your bike, or laze inside your villa.
Anantara Phuket Villas is beautifully designed, well run, and extremely well-maintained. It feels secluded, but also glamorous; traditional, but also sophisticated; tranquil, but also interesting. Most importantly, a year after our visit, there are still several details – the daybeds, the bikes and lily ponds, the plunge from bedroom to pool – that still stand out as truly special experiences. What more could you ask of any holiday?
Anantara Phuket Villas 888 Moo 3, Mai Khao, Thalang, Phuket 83110, Thailand
Phone: +66 76 336 100; see phuket.anantara.com
Highlight: Muay Thai kick boxing followed by an Anantara Signature Massage to work out the aches and pains.
Lowlight: 45 minutes out from the airport and in a secluded location.