India’s Andaman Islands, in the Indian Ocean, will be the next must-visit destination on traveller’s hot lists. I had been there before – briefly, on a cruise ship – but this time I was headed to Havelock, one of 542 islands in the group, to visit the forthcoming Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Andamans.
All non-Indian passport holders need to register on arrival. Plan B was instituted and instead of heading straight on over to Havelock, I spent a night at the islands’ capital, Port Blair (one challenge is that Port Blair’s Wi-Fi is practically conspicuous by its absence, except during the night when authorities are not working – and then it is prehistorically slow). Port Blair has a very friendly luxury hotel, SeaShell, owned and run by Girish Arora, a local who is double the height of most Andaman men – he also has hotels on the two other main islands, Havelock and the surfing destination Neil Island. Anyway, not wanting to waste a minute, we skirted scudding rain clouds to take a 20-minute ferry to Ross Island, which does not require a special permit, for a really stunning son-et-lumière show – not to be missed.
My tour guide was Taj Exotica Andamans co-owner Pramod Ranjan, who conceived and put together the brilliant Vivanta by Taj, Madikeri, Coorg, in southern India’s highland rainforest. We left, coffee-less and unfed at 5.30am, for what turned out to be snail’s-pace speed boat, nearly two hours to Havelock Island, a lovely almost-uninhabited island popular with long-stayers, especially Israeli surfers.
Havelock, as it happened, turned out to be a short-stay destination. We diverted to the island’s SeaShell, which conveniently has a small resort of Hobbit-type wood villas five minutes from the ferry. After breakfasting on eggs and slices of bright yellow creamy birthday cake we careered through the semi-forested landscape to emerge at what will be, when it opens in September 2017, Asia’s most striking new luxury resort. Situated on 20 hectares right next to the beach, the 75 villas, all on stilts, are set among extremely towering coconut palms – and right next to what Time magazine is reputed to have called “the best beach in the whole of Asia”.
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Andamans will have a much-coveted 585-square-metre Presidential Villa, and three 248-square-metre Family Villas. Standard villas, 144 square metres, are coming along to such finesse that I was able to visit one, complete with a vase of flowers and a bowl of shiny fruit, where I was originally going to stay the previous night if we had implemented Plan A.
All the villas are designed in typical Jarawa style, in honour of one of the Andaman’s tribes who go back thousands of years. They are built more or less entirely of sustainable wood with all-weather finish from Italy and the roofs are arcs, dipping far down either side. Eleven villa-wide steps lead up to the front terrace, and the 74-square-metre interior space is dominated by a four-post bed with elegant white net curtains. Behind is a wall with two sliding doors to the full-width ablutions section, with a walk-in closet, two upstanding black-granite sinks and a sleek white bathtub. The overall effect is minimalistic and soothing.
The 182-metre-long pool is on the roof of the admin/restaurant block. The restaurants will offer the freshest local seafood and specialties from around the Andaman Sea, Malaysia and Thailand. Pramod Ranjan who, as with the Coorg resort, is the architect and designer of the resort, knows his seafood, his food in general and he understands the words ‘healthy’ and ‘organic’, which are not ubiquitous in the world of luxury hotels.
And so, after a lightning tour, illustrating yet again that my professional life pursues quality rather than quantity, we head for the return trip to Port Blair and on to Chennai. Note, however, that you have read about Taj Exotica Resort and Spa Andamans here first, and you can be quite sure the leaders in luxury lifestyle will now be heading there just as soon as they can. Also, Pramod assures me that by its opening, the resort’s Wi-Fi will be the best in the Indian Ocean. My advice is to start booking it now, for approximately October 2017 onwards.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com