Alila Villas Koh Russey isn’t just about the destination, spectacular as it is, a pristine island playground just minutes off Cambodia’s southern coast. It’s equally about the Alila lifestyle, effortlessly chic yet casual, where luxury isn’t defined by the odd perk here and there but rather is a state of being.
We touch down at Sihanoukville International Airport and are immediately swept up into the luxe Alila life. We spritz our travel-worn faces with an Alila face mist smelling of refreshing lemongrass and ylang ylang while nibbling on homemade chocolate chip cookies. A 10-minute drive takes us to the spa-like Alila Jetty on the edge of Ream National Park, elegantly minimalistic, a tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come.
Meaning “surprise” in Sanskrit, an Alila stay is all about serendipitous moments, and another soon materializes in the form of chilled champagne aboard the 10-minute speedboat ride to Russey Island. Once there, we check in at the Welcome Sala with its clean, geometric lines, a contemporary interpretation of the uber-utile Khmer krama scarf, which we also receive as a keepsake.
We settle in to our Garden Pavilion, one of 63 low-rise villas and pavilions that make up the environmentally friendly resort. No higher than the trees, Alila Villas Koh Russey seamlessly blends in with its surrounds. Just opened in November 2018, the resort is already EarthCheck certified for its impressive efforts to minimize its environmental footprint while maximizing the guest experience. Earth-friendly initiatives include everything from working alongside the local navy to clean up the beach and raising awareness with schoolchildren to constructing a water bottling plant, collecting and reusing gray and rainwater for irrigation, and using reclaimed materials.
Our lovely pavilion is done up in earthy materials such as rattan, stone, and dark wood, while the floor-to-ceiling windows allow Nature to be a part of the décor. Here, Nature isn’t an embellishment, it’s the centerpiece, with a scant 15 percent of the property planned for development and the rest left to Nature.
A symbiotic marriage of Man and Nature finds its way into the design of almost every space here, as in the recycled timber feature wall and woven textured panels of Horizon, the resort’s main restaurant. We enjoy breakfast here, selecting from a gourmet la carte menu that changes daily, offering delightful items like Mexican-style egg molletes with authentic refried beans.
Breakfast is a leisurely affair as we enjoy the ocean breezes let in by the floor-to-ceiling doors, overlooking the infinity pool with its terraces modeled after the layout of Angkor Wat. We return one evening for jovial Chef Christoph’s special menu, and are taken pleasantly by surprise by the delicate presentation of the German chef’s starter—a garden of thinly sliced avocado wrapped around shrimp carpaccio and shiitake mushrooms for a bit of earthiness. The plating is beautiful and whimsical with slivers of mango around tiny edible flower bouquets. The resort’s new Executive Chef is putting his own spin on the menu, embracing locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible. We see this in the main, a lovely grouper from the surrounding Gulf of Thailand served atop a local fennel risotto with a bite provided by radish and watercress. Dessert is “pinechee”, a refreshing granita of tropical pineapple and lychee flavors over a crunchy chocolate cookie base, that offers a lovely chill against the warm evening air.
We also see Mother Nature’s hand in the Beach Shack, the resort’s contemporary casual restaurant overlooking the sea. Here, you’re not only steps from the beach, you’re actually still on the beach. Covered from the elements by a chic wooden overhang, the sand reaches up all the way to the tables and the comfy upholstered chairs. It’s the very definition of indoor-outdoor living, co-designed by the elements. We spend a lazy lunchtime here, soft lounge music and ocean breezes rustling through the leaves providing the soundtrack for a plate of gorgeous fish tacos.
We experience Mother Nature in her full glory one afternoon on a destination picnic on the far end of the resort’s spectacular 1.5km-long crescent beach. Under the shade of a large umbrella, we sip chilled wine and feast on delicious wraps and sandwiches. With no one else around, the crystalline water lapping softly on the shore, it’s an Alila moment in an island getaway full of unforgettable surprises.
Rates start from USD315 ++ per night, including breakfast and return island transfers. Now through October 31, 2019, enjoy the Stay 4 Pay 2 offer based on two people sharing a Garden Pavilion. For more, visit www.alilahotels.com
Images Provided by Alila Villas Koh Russey