Finding bliss at Six Senses Con Dao

When six senses resort opened on the tiny island of Con Dao almost five years ago, it seemed a curious partnership. An ultra-luxe, resource-hungry resort on a quiet island known mainly for its history as a prison colony, a “hell on earth”. Five years on, and both have come into their own.

I arrive at the resort, set just off the main road, minutes from the airport. Having dusted off a fruit skewer in the Welcome Sala, I’m soon led through the Marketplace, a collection of shopfronts where guests can book experiences, spa treatments and shop. But amidst the retail therapy, I spot Deli’cious, a shop serving up 21 complimentary flavors of ice cream and sorbet. I wink at the little Vietnamese woman behind the counter because with flavors such as Honey & Espresso and Rhubarb & Ginger on offer, I have a feeling we’re going to be friends.

Located on a 1.6 km stretch of pristine bay, Six Senses Con Dao Resort is a collection of one, three or four-bedroom villas that feature spacious indoor / outdoor living areas. I’m guided along wooden walkways to Villa 211, a pleasing beach house with a bedroom on the upper floor, sitting atop a gigantic open plan bathroom on the ground floor. The bedroom is almost Robinson Crusoe-stark in comparison: rope pulls for drawers and window blinds cleverly designed around a rope and pulley system. The word “rustic” comes to mind, but then I notice the touches of luxury: a welcome bottle of champagne, a box of truffles in the fridge, satellite TV. And I imagine this is how Robinson Crusoe might have lived had he met up with Sir Richard Branson instead of Friday.

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I later bicycle down to the beach and swimming pool (electric buggies are available), past villas of stone and wood, and strangely find the public areas deserted, considering the beach is a wide expanse of A-ma-zing, fine sand gently lapped by a glassy blue-green sea. The lovely pale blue pool is equally empty. “Even when we’re fully booked with 140 guests, you’ll rarely see them other than at breakfast and dinner,” says Patrick Hoffman, Director of Food and Beverage. “The beach is clean, really shallow. There are no jelly fish, no currents for parents to be afraid of, but the guests simply enjoy the privacy of the villas.”

I take advantage of the serenity, sprawled across one of the comfy oversized loungers, thoughts of a recent Coconut and Mango ice cream with a side of biscotti and macaroons only fueling my next craving.

There are two restaurants and two bar options on site, including a Vietnamese Kitchen serving up local fare and the casual chic By the Beach restaurant, with its fluffy pillows that dare you to sit up straight. The extensive menu belies the size of the compact kitchens, with menu choices spanning the globe, from Indian butter chicken to house-made pappardelle with Con Dao seafood and chorizo carbonara. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the day swimming, bicycling, reading and lazing about that I find myself uncharacteristically craving healthy menu options. Soon, an Herb crusted tuna Niçoise salad comes to the table. I Instagram it (yes, I’m one of those people) and immediately someone comments: “OMG! WHERE?!?” By the time I’ve finished the main of Charred spiced angus beef fillet over a bed of watercress, cumin and roasted carrots, the sun has set against a soundtrack of tiny waves just steps away.

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Back in the villa, a mound of work awaits, but the purposely dim lighting and the heavenly bed with the buckwheat pillows I pre-ordered conspire to make me power down. “Dimly lit rooms are part of our philosophy,” Patrick tells me over breakfast. “Bright lights simply don’t work with our palette of natural colors. The spaces are cozy and relaxing; they shouldn’t be places for working.” I have a feeling he’d turn off the internet router if he could, and for once, I almost wouldn’t mind.

With its floor-to-ceiling glass doors thrown open to the early morning sun, sea and sand, breakfast at By the Beach is a sensory experience. The extensive offerings include make-your-own Mimosas and Bloody Marys and a live waffle/French toast/pancake station with accouterments like berry compote and Dalat honey, all included in the room rate. Today, however, I can’t believe that I’m jonesing for the homemade granola with fresh pomegranate kernels and a side of vanilla yogurt. When I find myself reaching for a green shooter of pineapple, broccoli, ginger and cilantro, I can barely recognize this healthy, sun- kissed version of myself.

After breakfast, I get a sneak peek of the resort’s back of house, where neat kitchens house racks of handmade pastas and breads, home cured salmon and sea bass. In a way, Six Senses has become a mini-city, purifying its own ground water for drinking and generating its own electricity. Its gardens grow cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and herbs and its sustainability mission has it collecting empty wine bottles to build walls, reusing filtered grey water for gardening and replacing plastic straws with stalks of lemongrass.

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Other than a few excursions to visit the historical sites on the island and trips to neighboring islands for snorkeling, diving and to watch Hawksbill turtles laying eggs, there aren’t a lot of things to do. “By not giving guests too many choices on what to do… 10am volleyball at the beach, 11am table tennis, etc., guests don’t feel guilty doing nothing,” says Patrick.

Gazing at the huge canopy bed set right on the beach, I’m already slightly regretting booking a Hit the High Spots trek to So Ray, a fruit plantation in the mountains tended by prison labor during French colonial times. But we’re soon on the 1.3 km hike that starts off deceptively easy. By the time we near the top, the heat, humidity and steep gradient have me longing for my villa’s plunge pool. But my efforts are rewarded with views looking down on the town and bay far below, a troupe of inquisitive macaques for company.

On the way down, I can’t help but reflect on the island’s history as “hell on earth,” juxtaposed against this gorgeous resort where every need is catered to, all set on a perfect cove beach. After dinner, I head to the resort’s observatory to gaze at the stars, strikingly clear with almost no light pollution to fade their glitter. All the constellations from my childhood are there, and the Milky Way cuts a dusty swath across the night sky. Through the telescope, I see Saturn, tiny but startlingly clear in all its ringed glory. Every few minutes, the telescope needs adjustment to keep the speeding planet in focus. The realization dawns on me that I’m looking at heavenly bodies light years away. But for me, right here, right now, Heaven is a place on Earth.

Doubles start at USD595++, including breakfast. Visit Six Senses for more info.

Images Provided By Six Senses Con Dao