A somewhat spoiltjourneys to Phuket to find out what’s so special about The Pavilions, on the way falling prey to a hypnotic fragrance…
FOR ANY MEMBER of the luxury caste, trips to Phuket are a dime a dozen, and the novelty of sun-and-fun weekend benders has long worn off. They’ve seen all the five-star resorts, explored the night markets, revelled in the seamy and touristy seduction of Patong, dined often at the island’s few five-star restaurants and lazed in more private villas than you can count on two hands – “What, another pool villa?” goes the refrain.
It may seem like I’m bashing the moneyed classes, but what I really mean to note is the ubiquity of high-end properties in the nearby tropics, a fact that isn’t combated very well by generic ideas, facilities and branding. Service with a smile? How unheard of!
Sarcasm aside, that’s why it’s fast becoming de rigueur to either get your own pad (the Lan Kwai Fong Zemans are regularly jetting to and from their Phuket home, which was used as inspiration when designing the recently opened Andara Phuket), or find a place that, for all its crisp white linens and complimentary buffet breakfasts, doesn’t reek of corporate robotics.
Maybe that place could be The Pavilions. Arriving at the hilltop resort isn’t an overwhelming experience, although the entrance is nice enough, a sleepy path cradled in a haze of overgrown bamboo, sliced into by slivers of sunbeam. Situated a bit away from the main clusters of resorts that dot Phuket, The Pavilions holds court atop a slope in Cherngtalay, overlooking Layan Beach, about a five-minute drive away. The relatively long distance between the property and the beach is one of its first idiosyncrasies; the distinct and mysterious absence of patrons is its other.
Besides a restaurant and bar, there are no communal facilities – no shared swimming pool or even spa centre. Twenty-odd villas make up the first phase of The Pavilions, with a further two dozen slated for completion by November. And it’s telling that guests of the hotel often choose never to leave the villa, partly because the hotel caters mainly to honeymooners and other romance-inclined couples, but also because there really is no reason to, with every whim and need attended to so absolutely.
Thou shalt never take a pool villa for granted, after staying here. The bed and living rooms are edged with glass doors that transport you to the ultimate infinity pond – if you can, request villa 11, the one in which I am ensconced, whose ample-sized pool offers the most stunning views: first, a viridescent stretch of leafy terrain, juxtaposed with a second layer of magnificent azure waters, punctuated here and there by the soft curve of hills that lie at the horizon. Forgive the hackneyed suggestion, but sunset is an experience not to be skipped – more than 700 photos on my SLR certainly don’t lie, and almost provide a second-by-second flip book of the half-hour window between day and night.
But The Pavilions wasn’t content in being the best honeymoon destination in town. Maybe the staff were getting lonely out on the grounds without anyone to wave to and smile at, or maybe they figured even newlyweds need to come up for air once in a while, but somehow or other, the Passions programme was born.
Some hotels do cooking classes, others offer more outdoorsy excursions…The Pavilions offers all of that, but it’s the Passions itineraries of which they’re most proud, a series of cour-ses that tie together romance and activity (and by that I don’t mean a romp in the sack). To that end, they have put together a perfume course that allows couples to explore their sensuality by commanding an understanding of scents.
If this all sounds just a little bit academic, that’s because it is. Perfumer Stephen Dowthwaite brings almost four decades of experience to the table. Besides knowing his way around a perfume lab (having worked on more than 300 fragrances and flavours out in the market today), he also understands the aesthetics of arousal. Initially, going through Dowthwaite’s proprietary “A to Z of perfumery” will seem tedious – you’ll start with “A is for Aliphatic Aldehyde,” and before you’ve arrived at “M is for Muguet” you’ll have been thrown back into the days of memorising quadratic equations and the dates that bookend the Cultural Revolution. But when you get to the mixing, it will have been worth the wait. Think of it as pedagogical foreplay – in both literal and figurative senses. There is, after all, a two-hour break in between the morning and afternoon sessions, as well as three empty bedrooms in the makeshift classroom: the living-room area of a three-bedroom villa. And as I explore the three-floor structure with its spacious layout, it strikes me that each bedroom is pretty soundproof. But of course, you didn’t get the suggestion from me…
More above-board sensuality happens in the actual course, when you’ll learn exactly which components of aromatherapy are the best aphrodisiacs, how to conceptualise the perfect fragrance for yourself or your partner, and how to recreate some of the world’s most iconic fragrances. An olfactory neophyte, I personally am lost when it comes to our first task – breaking down the five main scent components of the ubiquitous frangipani flower. But by the end of the short course, I feel fairly comfortable identifying various bouquets: the hotel-issued shampoo, conditioner and body wash, for example, are an easy jasmine.
When leaving, you’ll take home a full bottle of your very own bespoke scent, as well as a bit of a light head from spending all day sniffing this ’n’ that – especially if, like me, you make the mistake of accidentally dabbing a drop of N (for Narcotics like ylang-ylang and tuberose) on the tip of your nose.
During evenings, some will give in to room service and DVDs (the library offers a very thoughtful selection, handpicked by the resort owners and notably lacking in Garfield or Finding Nemo, in line with the property’s ban on under-16ers). And you’d be stupid to miss out on a spa treatment, if only for the fact that your treatment takes place inside your room (massage beds hide under the sink in your bathroom), so that flutter of irritation you normally get when you have to get dressed and leave the spa facility is erased. Robe up and lounge as long as you want, or slip into the egg-shaped bath – “slip” being the operative word; the giant tub’s granite confines are made for two, as singles who slide helplessly below the horizon line will quickly discover. At the newer villas, a standalone private spa facility pour deux has been erected, so the isolation is even more complete, as the spa technicians can leave discreetly through a separate entrance.
Not that congestion is ever a problem. Even dinner at the Plantation Club isn’t a crowded affair, and often there’s no more than a single couple enjoying the candlelit venue. If you’ve gone too long without human interaction, a tad more happening is the Hilltop 360, which is frequented also by local expats looking for a bit of night breeze.
When the time comes to leave, departure is tinged with a dash of melancholy. The holiday is over, but The Pavilions villas are so home-like that packing everything up into suitcases recalls the same hassle of moving house. A 30-minute car ride to the airport acts only as a reminder of the blue seas and sun-kissed beaches to be left behind. But whether you return to The Pavilions or not (and history tells us that repeat visits are often on the cards), there’s one Proustian fact you’ll learn that will help you in moments of weakness. Of our five senses, it appears that scent is the one most closely linked with memory. And for me, it takes no more than the sweet smell of frangipani to be transported instantly back to the idyll of The Pavilions.
The Passion for Perfume programme is on August 19-20 and 21-22, and October 14-15 and 16-17
+ The Siam
+ Abu Ahabi
+ The Sarojin
+ 137 Pillars
+ Conrad Koh Samui
+ The Kensington Hotel
+ The Pavilions
+ Renaissance Bangkok
+ Mandarin Oriental Paris
+ Waiheke Island
+ Hotel Icon
+ Phnom Penh
+ Buenos Aires
+ Shangri-La Paris
+ Passage to Hong Kong
+ Diving the Sweet Spot
+ The Far Pavilions
+ Hansar Thailand
+ Samui Wind
+ HOTEL DAS CATARATAS
+ The Ritz-Carlton
+ WALDORF ASTORIA SHANGHAI
+ Wolgan Valley
+ LA ISLA BONITA
+ SAIGON FOR MEN
+ ART OF THE CITY
+ Soneva Kiri
+ Langham Hotel
+ The Best of Boston
+ SULTANATE SUBLIME
+ SKYLIGHT VISTA – SEVEN STARS GALLERIA
+ MONGOLIA LUXE
+ The Plaza
+ INSTANT KARMA
+ VINO, VIDI, VICI
+ ARABESQUE: A TASTE OF MOROCCO