Relaxing is easy when you’re surrounded by the natural beauty of Malaysia – as Karl Cushing discovers on a trip to Langkawi and Ipoh
“Yeeees, it’s great, thanks,” I bravely lied through gritted teeth as the diminutive masseuse at The Danna Langkawi hotel enquired about the monumental pressure she was somehow applying during my deep-tissue massage.
But once my hour-long treatment was complete, it turned out I’d been telling the truth all along – every kink and ache had been massaged away.
It’s rather as if Langkawi, the archipelago of islands off Peninsular Malaysia’s northwestern coast, has been designed for holidaymakers to kick back and relax – mentally, as well as physically. It’s a tropical paradise with clear waters, pristine beaches and lush jungle, and feels a million miles away from the urban rat race that characterises everyday life for so many of us.
Malaysia’s heady combination of natural beauty, deluxe hotels, and a cocktail of cultures and cuisines is undeniably appealing for the British market – some 10% more of us have visited this year, compared with last. While some opt for orangutans and head for the island of Borneo, I decided to check out two areas of the Malaysian peninsula’s hotspots – Langkawi, and the colonial town of Ipoh.
A cosmopolitan resort centre, home to the likes of Four Seasons and the luxurious The Datai, Langkawi Island has come a long way from the sleepy spot it was when I last visited in the 1990s. About an hour’s flight from Kuala Lumpur, its nickname is ‘the jewel of Kedah’, the Malaysian state to which it belongs.
My base was The Danna Langkawi, on Telaga Harbour, a modern French Med-style multi-use leisure hub with shops, restaurants and a marina, a 15-minute drive from Langkawi airport.
Built in a pleasingly simple Mediterranean style around a central courtyard of pools and manicured greenery, the beachfront Danna sits in a prime spot with lush green hills forming a charming backdrop to the classic white design when viewed from the beach or three-tiered infinity pool. The latter, flanked by all manner of cosy loungers and served by the Pool Cafe, is the island’s largest, while a variety of islands in the lagoon front the dreamy Andaman Sea views.
Part of the local Tradewinds group, the three-year-old property is impeccably presented. Its 125 rooms and suites all have private balconies, excellent fixtures and fittings and are refreshingly roomy, the smallest merchant- class rooms being 60sq metres.
I can thoroughly recommend the top floor spa, and the complimentary shoulder massage guests receive on arrival while they sip their welcome drink and navigate the check-in process is a nice touch. Food and drinks are all of a good standard, especially in fine dining restaurant Planter’s. thedanna.com
Families will appreciate that the property is within spitting distance of the Panorama Langkawi entertainment complex at the foot of Langkawi’s SkyCab, the world’s steepest cable car ride. The views at the top are stunning, especially from the curved skywalk (which reopens following a refurbishment in December) and the various ticket options link rides with viewings at a 6D cinema and activities such as the local Duck Tour excursion. panoramalangkawi.com
Langkawi’s greatest wonders, however, are natural. These include its beaches such as buzzy Cenang and the more tranquil Tanjung Rhu, next to the Four Seasons, while the Pulau Payar Marine Park is a top spot for snorkelling, watersports and diving.
I can also thoroughly recommend getting close to nature on a mangrove swamp boat ride in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park with Dev’s Adventure Tours, which also offers trekking, cycling and birding tours. My tour yielded sightings of everything from eagles and brahminy kites to macaques and monitor lizards with time left over for some scenic beach and swimming. langkawi-nature.com [agent net rates available]
Another good family-friendly nature excursion is the new Skytrex attraction opposite The Danna. Its Eagle Thrill circuit is home to treetop adrenaline activities from swings to canopy walks and ziplines. And fairway fans won’t want to miss the greens at stunning Teluk Datai club, designed by former pro golfer Ernie Els. skytrex-adventure.comdataigolf.com
Back on the mainland, I headed for Ipoh, an old colonial town two hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur. As the gateway to the nearby Cameron Highlands, it’s the perfect spot to take a pause and check into a wellness retreat before heading to the hills for trekking and tea tasting.
The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, part of the Sunway Group, opened in 2010. Its 25 villas, divided between garden (2,808 sq ft) and water (1,667 sq ft) styles, are built around a patchwork of geothermal pools and dwarfed by a motley crew of ancient, jungle-strewn karst outcrops, giving a wonderful feeling of seclusion and peace, especially at night.
Reserved for over-12s only, it offers everything from two-night Pampering breaks to five-night Detox and 21-night Longevity programmes, for those who want to take their wellness super-seriously.
With its 15 treatment rooms, the spa is the star. Guests receive a 30-minute wellness consultation upon arrival, and with 40 treatments to consider, from Malay to Chinese and Indian, every minute is needed. I loved the 90-minute Malay massage.
There’s also access to a yoga teacher, personal trainer and ayurvedic specialist, and facilities include hot spring dipping pools, an ice bath, a pool containing garra rufa fish and three caves – one for meditation, another that doubles as a steam room and the last, packed with crystals, which is used for various other treatments such as Reiki and reflexology.
There are plenty of opportunities to relax and be pampered in the cosy, generously-sized thatched villas too, with roomy private plunge pools, geothermal whirlpool baths, large lounge areas and very comfy beds.
Alongside the all-day Pomelo restaurant, there’s a quirky, grotto-like wine bar and dining space in another cave, dubbed Jeff’s Cellar.
Since September the hotel has been under new management, and the charming Swiss duo have been busily ramping up the foodie offering and making plans to add more villas next year. By the end of November they aim to have introduced a longer, more comprehensive guided jungle walk option (the current one being somewhat disappointing) and a new birding tour. thebanjaran.com
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