Looking for a small, independently-owned resort that’s truly Asian? The Yak checks in to Secret Retreats.
Marcel Proust once said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” This spirit of broadening the mind through experiential travel is at the core of Secret Retreats, a carefully curated collection of boutique hotels, lodges, cruises and restaurants in Asia that offer much more than just a generic holiday getaway.
The founders of Secret Retreats, Bruno Ferret and Stéphane Junca, have years of experience between them managing, developing and marketing luxury hotels and tour operations in Asia. Through doing so they came to realise that although large luxury hotel chains dominate the market, many of them lack the authenticity and individuality that so many modern travellers now seek.
Fuelled by their love of Asia and passion to preserve local cultures, Bruno and Stéphane wanted to create a platform that would showcase small independently-owned ventures that are truly Asian in essence and committed to offering guests authentic interactions with local people, natural environments and warm hospitality. At the same time, they wanted to ensure that their offerings were truly five-star.
To become part of the Secret Retreats community, member properties must meet certain criteria. They must be intimate and discreet with no more than 50 bedrooms. They must offer exceptional environments, attention to detail in architecture, design and furnishings, and bespoke service worthy of a luxury hotel. They must also be in touch with the local people, traditions and culture in their area, and have a commitment to sustainable practices.
Today the Secret Retreats community consists of a wide range of passionate individuals who are art and antique aficionados, adventure junkies and lovers of authentic food who offer everything from floating lodges to intimate inns, bohemian boutique villas, exotic cruises on magnificent vessels, and elegant restaurants highlighting exquisite Asian cuisine.
Whether you’re wanting to get off the beaten path at a riverside hideaway in Laos, experience a traditional ryokan in Japan, or explore the Malabar Coast in a private houseboat, Secret Retreats has over 70 unique properties and customised travel experiences in 15 countries across Asia. For those looking to see another side of Indonesia, the following are just a few of Secret Retreats’ unique getaways here in the archipelago.
Located on the little-known island of Belitung just off Sumatra’s eastern coast, Arumdalu is the kind of place where you can play Robinson Crusoe on the 800-metre private white sand beach or in the secluded rainforest that surrounds the resort. Yet unlike Robinson Crusoe, you’ll have your own luxurious villa to retire to replete with contemporary Indonesian art and luxurious amenities. Even better, the resort is the first ‘state-of-the-earth’ eco luxury resort on the island.
Guests can choose from three different types of villas, each made with local timber and stone, and sporting big verandas that allow for natural cooling. The villas also have gorgeous ensuite bathrooms with deep bathtubs and an array of L’Occitane bath and body products. If you really want to sleep in style, book yourself into the Imabari Wellness Villa where you get luxe extras like a private pool, butler service and access to special wellness activities and workshops.
At the Sahang Beachfront Restaurant you can indulge in local delicacies and international classics made with fresh produce from the organic gardens on site, edible herbs, fruits and vegetables from the forest, and seafood caught that day. They also offer afternoon tea picnics in the forest and romantic candlelit dinners in the beachfront cabana or in the privacy of your villa. There are also fishing trips to catch your own dinner and organic cooking classes on offer.
Although the luxurious facilities may not give it away, Arumdalu is also a champion of eco-friendly policies and sustainable practices. Energy efficient LED lights are utilised throughout the resort, water is heated using recycled energy from the air conditioners, and wastewater is filtered into the resort’s organic gardens. In addition, they support and empower the local community by hiring locally and teaching villagers sustainable fishing, hospitality and culinary skills, and proper water treatment methods.
Far from the bustling tourist centres of south Bali, Sanak Retreat is a small family-run resort hidden away in the cooler mountain climes of the traditional farming village of Kayuputih near Munduk. Featuring just 11 wooden bungalows overlooking a sea of rice paddies and mountains as far as the eye can see, the resort was designed to compliment and conserve the natural landscape and culture, and to provide warm and welcoming hospitality that goes above and beyond the typical hotel experience.
The bungalows here are simple, yet chic with teak flooring and walls, natural stone bathrooms and vintage hand-painted batik wall hangings. Modern touches include crisp linens, fluffy towels and handmade natural bath products. Each bungalow also has a spacious terrace or balcony, which allows you to soak up the panoramic views and the sounds of nature. Accommodation options include a cosy one-bedroom bungalow, a two-storey, two-bedroom bungalow, or the spacious three-bedroom bungalow with its own private plunge pool.
It would be easy to while away the days here reclining next to the pool, hanging out at the communal kitchen table in the restaurant grazing on Balinese bites made with fresh produce from the surrounding farms and fields, or soothing your body, mind and soul at Heal Spa. But given that you’re surrounded by stunning natural beauty on all sides, it would be a shame not to get out there and explore the rice paddies, waterfalls, sacred springs, and coffee, clove and cacao plantations nearby.
What really sets Sanak Retreat apart from your typical mountain resort is their concept of being ‘handpicked with humanity in mind’. From the beginning the French owners set up the resort so that one day the Balinese family who own the land could take it over and operate it themselves. In addition, they set up initiatives to help give back to the local community like the Pack for a Purpose programme, which encourages guests to donate clothes, books and educational items to local children and families.
Imagine waking up in a lavish room outfitted with all the comforts of home, then stepping outside and finding yourself on a vast wooden deck surrounded by ocean with views to lush tropical islands untouched by development.
Welcome to Salila Expeditions, a seafaring adventure that takes you to Indonesia’s final frontier, the little-explored islands of the eastern archipelago aboard a luxurious 56-metre private-charter yacht.
The Expedition Yacht MV Salila is like a five-star floating resort with gorgeous sun decks featuring sun beds, a Jacuzzi, wet bar and a swimming platform that can be lowered to sea level. Below deck the modern interiors reflect the owner’s close connection to the sea with marine hues like cream and cobalt blue, plus warm oak the colour of driftwood in the lounge, dining room and library. And for bunking down there are 10 elegant state rooms decked out with all the mod-cons you could ask for like flat screen TVs, air-conditioners and room-to-room telecom systems.
Adventures with Salila Expeditions include everything from day trips around Bali to multi-day cruises to exotic locales like Komodo, Ambon and West Papua. Along the way you can anchor in protected bays and swim, snorkel or dive in the clear waters. Beachcombers can stroll along silvery stretches of sand, and trekkers can traverse jungle trails and visit traditional villages to get a taste of the local cultures. The experienced crew are also happy to create custom excursions like fishing expeditions, sea kayaking trips and surfing tours.
And of course in true Secret Retreats fashion, the service you get with Salila Expeditions is simply impeccable. The highly trained staff know these waters like the back of their hand, so they can take you to some of the region’s most stunning locations, all while providing you with gourmet meals made with nutritious ingredients, sunset cocktails on the Sky Open Deck, and lively beach BBQs with grilled delicacies like lobster, prawns, tuna and squid bought directly from local fishermen.
Misool Eco Resort
It would be hard to get more remote than Misool Eco Resort, a gorgeous dive resort and conservation centre located in southern Raja Ampat, 20 kilometres from the nearest village by boat and 165 kilometres from the nearest port. This truly is a tropical island paradise with wooden villas perched on stilts over a lagoon that is surrounded by uninhabited islands fringed by white sand beaches, and a Marine Protected Area boasting some of the richest reefs in the world.
The entire resort was built with reclaimed hardwoods milled on site, and each villa and shared living space was designed to let ocean breezes waft in and afford views out to sea. Scattered around the property are various villas, some with steps leading directly down into the lagoon, verandas overlooking the beach, or private locales that are only accessed by water taxi or a steep but scenic path. All villas have air-con, mini-bars and Balinese-style open bathrooms.
You will probably find that the majority of guests here are avid divers, as this is one of the best places on earth to see a huge range of marine biodiversity. In fact, the resort has direct access to their House Reef just steps from the shore where you can see schools of horse-eyed jacks, anchovies and groupers, as well as the occasional black tip reef shark and pygmy seahorse. The resort can also arrange trips further out into their Protected Area and other amazing sites around Raja Ampat.
Misool Eco Resort is also a world leader in marine conservation, and your stay helps to support their environmental initiatives and the local community. Their Indonesian charity Misool Baseftin translates to ‘Misool we own it together’ in the local language, and their main goals are to protect this incredible ecosystem and empower locals to reclaim environmental stewardship of the waters and land. Their projects include the Raja Ampat Shark and Manta Sanctuary, Reef Restoration Project, and Ranger Patrol Programme to name just a few.