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Despite its far-flung Indian Ocean location southwest of Sri Lanka, the remote country — where dozens of luxury resorts sit on their own tiny coral islands — is catching on with Hollywood. Rob Lowe, Steve Case, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen have recently made the 28-hour journey (take Emirates Airlines with a stop in Dubai) to reach its capital city of Male. Then it’s a seaplane ride to thatched-roof bungalows within outstretched-toe reach of a pristine blue ocean. “It’s an extraordinary place made even more beautiful by the warm hearts of its people,” says Hunger Games star Alexander Ludwig, who snorkeled there over the holidays.
What’s New: Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy’s new hotel group Cheval Blanc is winning rapturous reviews for its second property, which opened in November, a tropical haven with 46 villas boasting 23-foot-high ceilings and private pools (rooms from $1,300 a night) on the island of Randheli. The resort, reached via a flight on a custom seaplane with calf-leather interiors ($1,500 round-trip), roosts on five small islands and has four restaurants, a hammam and moonlit yoga classes. Design-junkie fans of COMO hotels will flock to the 66 villas and suites Maalifushi (rooms from $800), which officially opens in April. Located in the very remote southern Thaa Atoll, it offers classic over-water spa treatment rooms and accommodations, with pale neutral furnishings, and a nearby deserted island for picnics.
Go-Tos: Among the many options — a Banyan Tree, Shangri-La, One & Only, W and Viceroy (where Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively recently stayed) — L.A. accessories designer Kendall Conrad recommends Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru (rooms from $1,300). “It’s literally halfway around the globe and is a dream in blue. The water is amazing. We were in it from sunrise to sundown,” she says.
Next: Below-sea-level luxury? The Maldives already boasts an underwater suite (Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), spa (Huvafen Fushi) and restaurant (Hilton Maldives Resort). Now there are government-approved plans for an offshore resort, the futuristic Water Discus Hotel, courtesy of a Dubai developer, where every room will be 30 feet down.
What’s New: The all-suite Regent Bali (rooms from $360) has debuted in the exclusive Sanur District on the island’s southeast coast, complete with a private beach, soft gamelan music in the morning and 10 acres of gardens filled with frangipani trees. Reserve the 7,100-square-foot beachfront villa (from $1,600) with a view of a nearby island.
Go-To: Popping with bright orange and azure accents, the W Retreat & Spa Bali (rooms from $340) opened in 2011, joining Alila Villas Uluwatu (rooms from $675) and Bulgari Resort Bali (from $1,000) — where Justin Bieber stayed without incident last year — as favorites among the design-oriented resorts opened in the past few years.
Next: The tropical modern aesthetic should climb to new heights when The Stairs, a new Philippe Starck-designed villa resort, bows in early 2015 on the western coast.
What’s New: The white-sand beaches of Ko Samui island, an hour south of Bangkok via Bangkok Airways, welcomed the spectacular new Vana Belle (rooms from $454) last year. The Starwood Luxury Collection resort sits on Little Chaweng Beach with 80 suites and villas, each with their own pool. It’s south of bustling Chaweng Beach, separated by a rocky point that offers limited access, sort of like Malibu in David Geffen’s dreams. On the more famed but increasingly overdeveloped island of Phuket is COMO Hotels’ Point Yamu (rooms from $457), located on the less-trafficked east coast and conceived by Italian design icon Paola Navone, who has created furniture for Armani Casa.
Go-To: On Koh Samui, Million Dollar Listing New York’s Fredrik Eklund loves the Four Seasons (“Nobody does it better”), with its 60 hillside villas (from $660). On Phuket, stay at Aman resorts’ Amanpuri (rooms from $1,050), a favorite of Giada De Laurentiis.
Next: Rosewood, known for its industry-beloved Las Ventanas in Cabo, is building its first Thai property on Emerald Bay on the western coast of Phuket
What’s New: Aman Resorts fanatics have Amanoi (rooms from $750) on their must list. Set on a rugged coastline an hour east of Ho Chi Minh City via Vietnam Airlines, the resort opened in September. Gen Hershey of Beverly Hills travel agency Genuine Access recommends the villas, which have free-standing bedroom pavilions and a dedicated cook.
Go-To: Farther north, the stunning Nam Hai Resort (rooms from $650), with 100 villas on the bay, offers both a beach and easy access to the ancient town of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Next: The most anticipated luxury hotel is inland: Le Meridien Saigon, opening next year.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
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