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THESE days, it seems like luxury resorts are split into two categories: the uber-hip designer stay complete with a signature soundtrack that pulsates through the entire hotel, or the super-minimalist, steel-and-concrete property - which makes the average vacationer feel about as comfortable as Mark Zuckerberg in the front row of a Maison Martin Margiela fashion show.
Then there's Point Yamu. Luxurious without being intimidating; stylish without being pretentious. Now that's a tough balance to achieve, even for a property by Christina Ong's Como Hotels and Resorts. Located at the tip of Cape Yamu on Phuket in Thailand, the hotel is nestled on a secluded east coast peninsula and overlooks the Andaman Sea and the dramatic limestone caves of Phang Nga Bay. And Italian designer Paola Navone maximises the location's paradisiacal surroundings to dazzling effect. The intimate property boasts 360-degree views over the water, a feature achieved by Ms Navone's design philosophy of bringing the sea to the inhabitant. The architecture graduate who has made waves in the fields of art direction and, most notably, furniture design in her 40-year career was inspired by her own Greek summer home. Adopting a palette of turquoises, blues and whites, punctuated by bright splashes of orange reminiscent of the robes of Buddhist monks - a nod to the resort's homeland - Ms Navone creates a seamless flow from room to the natural surrounds.
Unlike other chic hotels, one never feels the need to be in strappy heels or a sports jacket even for dinner at this laidback spot. This relaxed ambience is in part due to Ms Navone's eclectic, homely (if you're a domestic goddess with a masters in interior aesthetics, that is) decor. Think deliberately lived-in details like unvarnished hardwood floors, Ms Navone's signature slouchy, linen-wrapped Ghost sofas, and a wall covered with rustic, traditional wood roof tiles to resemble the scales of a fish. So intent on creating a homespun vibe is the designer that she had a local artisan rip out a wall because the tiles were too perfect - instead insisting that the craftsman use the rougher blocks that he had previously discarded.
On the other hand, Ms Navone's customised accents also imbue the resort with an aura of exclusivity. Take the private dining room, cloistered behind a huge orange door with a large Buddha hand in a "Vitarka Mudraâ" gesture as an oversized handle. The all-white room is dominated by a long white marble table, flanked by scratched, hand-cut painted mosaic wall tiles to reflect the shimmering glow of tealights that are lit for all events. Also a prime venue for cosy weddings or corporate retreats, the multi-functional property offers high style with maximum ease.
And lest you think the upscale shabby chic theme extends to services and amenities, rest assured that Point Yamu exists to pamper. The Como group's signature breakfast spread, for one, is fit for any champion - whether it's excellence in yoga or gastronomic consumption that you've achieved. From an array of fresh juices (including wheatgrass shots, but of course) and healthy, gluten-free options, to more decadent buckwheat pancakes with coconut cream, brekkie is indeed the meal of the day for any guest. And there's little reason to leave the resort when the freshly-made pastas at Italian restaurant La Sirena are so divine, and the spicy southern Thai street food-inspired menu at Nahmyaa so wholly authentic and packed with a joyous harmony of flavours.
To assuage one's guilt after an indulgent dinner or even snack - the tiny parcels of pandan-wrapped mango and sticky rice that welcomed us in our rooms were particularly memorable - there's always Como Shambhala Cuisine, which consists of nutritious yet thoroughly tasty dishes that focus on raw foods rich in living enzymes, vitamins and sea minerals.
Not that one should be anything but indulgent when on vacation, but if particularly gripped by the need to work off the calories from the many hearty meals, the award-winning Como Shambhala Retreat offers yoga, pilates and treatments like a Thai Abdominal Chi Massage to promote better digestion, and a Lanna Heritage Body Scrub utilising lemongrass and galangal to stimulate circulation and nourish tired skin. Swimmers can also take advantage of the 100m infinity pool, which allows for 180-degree views of the dazzling turquoise ocean and Phang Nga Bay.
And while it is tempting to remain perched on the balcony, sipping on iced teas and enjoying the balmy weather of the current season throughout the stay, water sports enthusiasts may consider snorkelling and diving in the surrounding Andaman sea. Daily boat shuttles also ferry guests to a nearby private island with an unremarkable beach, but nevertheless offering a change of environment for working on your tan.
Then, as unlikely as it may seem for a resort that prides itself on understated style and luxury, there are the kids-appropriate touches that actually make a family vacation, well, an actual holiday rather than stress-ridden ordeal. While the water features and sharp-edged stepping slabs in the public areas aren't exactly children-friendly, plenty of effort has gone into the design of various children's menus in the two restaurants and even room service, as well as a well-equipped playroom.
The provision of kids' toiletries and even miniature flip-flops, adorned with the resort's hand-painted motif, are much-appreciated add-ons that go the distance with Como die-hards, many of whom have grown with the group and now seek out options for indulging with their families.
- From 7,000 baht (S$290) for a Bay Room in the low season, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or +66 (0) 76 360100 for reservations or visit www.comohotels.com/pointyamu for more details. The writer's stay at Point Yamu was sponsored by the resort.