Sipping from my free half-bottle of bubbly at Bali's Amankila while staring at the sunset has to rank as one of the more wistful experiences in my life. The place is so exquisite, so private, so damned quiet. Even average guests at the Singapore-based Amanresort chain's 15 boutique properties often get housed in self-contained villas, featuring plunge pools and patios. And its locations, which range from Morocco to Cambodia, seek out isolated pockets of paradise more than proximity to local bars.
So those looking for a high-priced oasis with the family would do well to check out Aman's range of villas (amanresorts.com). The most extensive offerings are at Thailand's Amanpuri, which is built within a coconut grove in the western beach area of Phuket. Guests can rent two- to six-bedroom villas from $1,700 to $7,300 a night. In addition to the usual menu of water sports, tennis courts, nearby golf courses, and a beach, Amanpuri has extensive spa facilities, a 1,000-book library, and what it claims is the most extensive range of boats and cruise options of any resort in Southeast Asia. Guests can hire small dinghies up to a 110-foot three-cabin luxury cruiser. From there, you can cruise the Andaman Sea or simply explore the exquisite coves, islands, and white-sand beaches around the area, which is a 90-minute flight from Bangkok.
That's preferable to hanging out in Phuket itself. Once a famed port of call for Arab and Chinese ships, it has since become less of a tropical paradise than a seedy city with backpacker cafés, loud bars, and young prostitutes. There are cheap souvenirs and some good restaurants, but bartering over batik pants may not be a priority for those paying $7,000 a night back at their hotel.
Aman offers villas at several other destinations, too. Those heading to the popular Indonesian island of Bali can also check out the villa options at Amankila and Amandari. Both consistently rank among the world's top resorts in various travel guides, with Amankila located along the rugged eastern coast and Amandari ensconced in the artist center of Ubud. A two-bedroom Amankila suite, complete with butler service and a private pool, runs for $2,600 a night. The same -- minus butler service -- is available at Amandari, which also offers a three-bedroom villa with such service for $3,600 a night. Just tuck in the kids after a day of exploring and eating bonbons by the pool, then pop the bubbly to stare at the stars (no, not the kind who tend to populate these places) in silence.
By Diane Brady
An Island of Your Own
Why rent just the beach house when you can get the whole island? For what some might consider a bargain -- $4,400 a week -- you'll be the only guests on Pirate's Cove Island, a lush tropical hideaway nestled in the Lower Florida Keys and accessible only by boat or helicopter (800 803-7553 or 305 797-9481).
The four-bedroom, three bath Caribbean-style beach house -- the only home on the island aside from a small staff quarters -- is solar powered and air conditioned, and decked out with a billiards table and satellite television. Outside, there's a covered deck by the pool and even a small driving range. A widows-peak atop the house offers a panoramic view of the island and its surrounding blue waters. The island comes with a concierge, who has a boat and can arrange all your transportation, but no cook.
Some of the best flats fishing in the Keys is just a few steps away, where you stand in the shallow water and hook tarpon, bonefish, permit, and barracuda. You can hire a flats guide, or if you're gaming for something bigger, charter a deep-sea fishing boat.
THE STARS AND YOU.
You can also explore the flats and coral reefs with the clear-bottom kayak or snorkeling gear provided for you. For scores of tropical fish, Looe Key marine sanctuary, one of the region's best spots for snorkeling and diving, is two miles away. Hikers and nature enthusiasts can trek around the 14-acre island spotting Key deer, white ibis, and spoonbills. Perhaps the best sight comes at the end of the day, when the sunset fades into a star-speckled night. A must-see on anyone's trip is the sunset celebration at Mallory Square in Key West, 30 minutes away.
Joe Stone, CEO of Systems & Methods, a data-processing firm in Carrollton, Ga., took his wife and three teenagers to Pirate's Cove Island last April. "It was a great family experience," he says. They split most of their time between fishing off the coral reefs and heading to Key West to enjoy the night life. It's a perfect mix of privacy and tourism -- spend your days on the island and your nights cavorting on the other Keys.