Gardeners at the luxury Mandarin Oriental, Sanya, need to be dab hands when it comes to shears. Nothing in the area seems to be electrified as far as trimming hedges is concerned, and Bill Bensley‘s superb garden design for this 26-acre estate includes masses of hedges. They need trimming, by hand, and the gal is also impressed that the results always seem to have exactly-flat, horizontal tops. Give an amateur a pair of shears and the top of a hedge would end up zigzag or wavy.
The gardening required at this 297-room resort is just mind-boggling. Take Villa 13, a 1,600 sq ft Sky Villa, two floors with a 40-foot private pool in the garden leading off the lower level (which has an integral salon, plus a twin-bedded room for your one-kid and its grandmother who has been brought along as babysitter). The garden’s surrounding hedges are immaculately trimmed, as are the surrounds of little resting places in public areas of the grounds, some of which would make ideal venues for intimate weddings.
I go to the spa, an enormous three-floor complex around an ancient banyan tree. Some take a 45-minute consultation with the TCM, traditional Chinese medicine, specialist, others opt for the two-hour Hainan‘s Hidden Secret, which includes a back massage with hot lava seashells. After whatever treatment you have chosen, relax in an outdoor area with beds surrounded by water features. I go to eat, in Fresh, sitting outside on a teak deck, listening to the waves. Sensibly the menu is both printed paper, and illustrated on an iPad. I must start with a flat circle of cured Norwegian salmon, delicious, as is the whole baby turbot, fresh, just as the restaurant’s name promises.
And breakfast, after a good night’s sleep, is fresh, too, with lots of juices, and many buffet stations, sitting indoors or out at Pavilion. Alternatively – if you are Sky Villa – try breakfast in this luxury resort’s stylish standalone The Cliff club lounge. Here, classical music wafts as you read a satellited newspaper, enjoying a small buffet with your choice of main course brought. Want to do as the locals? This is where you can choose Cantonese congee with ginger, spring onion and you tiao sliced chicken, white fish, pork tenderloin or century eggs, ideally downed with Huangshan Maofeng green tea. Methinks it is time for another gorgeous Mandarin Oriental, but where next?
One of the many memories of the luxury Mandarin Oriental, Sanya, hotel is its sculptures, dotted around the entire 26-acre estate. This resort is unique in the entire Sanya area of Hainan in that it is not highrise – nothing is more than three floors. Dozens of individual buildings are dotted among steeply sloping wooded terrain that slides down to beautiful beaches. It is exclusive. Drive from Sanya past Dadonghai Bay naval base, along a sea-hugging main road where, in daylight hours, there are invariably several brides and grooms, in full regalia, and their professional photographers, with full paraphernalia, getting the keep-for-a-lifetime images, the sea behind.
The main road turns into a cul-de-sac no-way-out that takes you to the hotel’s security, and through to an oasis from the main area. Internal, buggy-width roads around the resort wind up and down (a little bit like Four Seasons in Bali Jimbaran Bay or Seychelles). Follow one arm of the many-tentacled roadways and you get to The Cliff, the all-day private club lounge for the Sky Villas, at the top of the whole complex. Outside The Cliff are more sculptures. As Bill Bensley, who designed these grounds, apparently says, they are not from any one world culture, they are an amalgam of shapes from many past dynasties. I think of the silver anthropomorphics he has put around the outside terrace pools of St Regis Bangkok…
Talking of pools, the main pool complex is enormous, with more figures, and, in its freeform overall shape, some real-sand beach areas that kids love. Cleverly, these beaches are shaded, so Chinese can use them day-long without having to worry about getting sunburned. Early in the morning, just as the sun comes up, adults are power-walking, or jogging, the maze of roadways. Each seems to be formed of a different mosaic of stones – Bill Bensley has used over 50 stone types in all, for road surfaces, ceremonial towers and decorative arches.
Paul Jackson, GM of this luxury resort, gets lots of exercise. Want to eat the dinner-only Fresh restaurant? If so, you can take an elevator but wellness wizards would rather take 41 rough-granite steps down from an upper lobby. He tells me how he initially followed seven generations of his family into law but he was diverted into doing something he enjoyed, which in his case meant starting work at The Connaught in London, which was evidently a grand initiation as that is where Laurence Geller first got into luxury hospitality….
At the luxury hotel that is Kempinski Hotel Haitang Bay Sanya, the gal borrowed a first class mountain bike and, accompanied by Max-the-bellman, headed north five miles to CDF Mall, which opened September 2014. This gigantic complex was of course planned long before the Chinese Government cracked down on excessive official spending, but, $500 million dollars later, it has opened and it is a tourist magnet for people from all over China. Why the island of Hainan, which is where Sanya is, has duty-free status despite being, unlike Hong Kong and Macau, part of mainland China, is not easily understood but never mind.
Hassell Studio in Melbourne has designed a complex that flows in curvilinear shape as if it were a modern airport. Outside it is absolutely beautiful and no wonder it is photographed thousands of times by everyone who comes to visit. Until they are mature and rigidly firm, trees are supported, but here they are wrapped in gold to show that this is a place with style, all part of the subconscious intent of China Duty Free – which is what CDF stands for – to make visitors spend when they do come here.
Mainlanders are allowed to come twice a year, and spend, maximum 8,000 yuan – $1,300 – a visit. You get an eight percent discount, apparently, if you are staying at the Kempinski, which of course has a shuttle bus here (from hotels that are further away, take those properties’ free shuttles to Sanya Town, and pick up the regular free shuttle direct to CDF Mall). There are shoppers of all ages, and all builds. Judging by the legs of this young lady, she must come from Dalian, or somewhere else in the north of China.
Once inside the building, it is like any high end mall anywhere, as long as it is the best – think of the Esentia mall in Almaty, Kazakhstan, connected to the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Almaty, or think of the shopping right inside The Peninsula Beijing and The Peninsula Shanghai. Here there are over 300 brands, all showing their best. Buy whatever and it will be waiting for you at Sanya Phoenix Airport (the one with outrageously large pineapples on top of the building) and if you have not got what you want this time, come back.
And people do. Look at the opening of the CDF Mall, which just shows the interest there is in shopping, which is good for all the dozens of luxury hotels that will be springing up, side by side, from Armani through to Waldorf Astoria, along this single section of Haitang Bay.