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A Glimpse of Paradise by Irina von Gagern | 29th February, 2024 | Travel

Imagine an island where you can enjoy true solitude, picnics under palm trees and sundowners around a campfire followed by fine dining. Welcome to Elang, part of the Bawah Reserve. It belongs to the Anambas archipelago in the South China Sea, a cluster of 250 islands between Malaysia and Borneo far off the beaten tourist track.

The experience is quite unique and feels more like being the guest of an exceedingly generous host – one who has ever so kindly given mepermisson to stay on his privateisland with its stunningly beautiful villa. It not only includes a butler, but also a personal yoga instructor, gourmet chef, masseuse, facialist and the captain of his sizable fleet of boats.Welcome to Elang. My absent host is Tim Hartnoll.
The British businessman, who lives in Singapore and made his fortune in container shipping, discovered the main island Bawah and its five neighboring islets 16 years ago during a long and leisurely sailing trip. What makes this archipelago so enticing is the lagoon around which the islands are grouped, providing the perfect landing place for seaplanes and making the cluster supremely accessible for low-impact luxury tourism.Hartnoll spent six years building on Bawah to the highest eco standards, hiring Sim Boon Yang, an architect and designer from Singapore who specializes in sustainable building projects. He carefully integrated the 35 villas into the surrounding landscape and built them using sustainable regional materials.In 2020, six additional villas were added on the tiny island of Elang. Originally, Tim Hartnoll intended to use this as a private holiday retreat for himself and his family, but during the pandemic he changed his mind and decided to make the island residence available as an exclusive buyout for groups.The landing is spectacular. The pilot of the seaplane, who flies barefoot, treats us to an extra circuit of the six islands. I spot palm-thatched roofs, long stretches of pristine sandy beaches, turquoise water through which corals shimmer before the plane touches down on the calm water of the lagoon and we glide smoothly towards the jetty on the plane’s floats.I am welcomed by manager Raymond Saja and my butler Danu, before being whisked off to a motorboat and over to Elang, an island that is roughly the size of 14 soccer fields and covered with thick jungle vegetation.My bright and airy villa, beautifully furnished with natural materials, perches on a cliff top with spectacular views over the ocean. The jungle starts directly behind the house; a path connects the villas with the sandy beach, the clubhouse with its spacious dining room and breakfast terrace, the saltwater pool, the spa, and a breezy yoga pavilion.I have hardly any responsibilities in this idylic place. All I’m expected to do is decide when, where and what I want to eat and pick a time for my choice of the many spa treatments on offer. From there on, everything else is expertly taken care of by Danu the butler.On my first evening I take a sunset cruise to explore the six islands of Bawah. As the sun sinks languidly into the South China Sea, I nibble on an appetizer and sip a glass of chilled wine. Then it’s off to a candlelight barbecue on the beach. Back at my villa, I fall into a deep sleep with the soothing soundtrack of the jungle in the background

Next morning starts with a yoga session in the open-sided pavilion on a flat rock in the sea. My South African yoga instructor Philippa guides me through an energizing yoga flow. The only distraction is the flying fish that pop in and out of the water around us.

Lunchtime brings the next highlight: A boat takes me to Coconut Beach, a remote beach on the main island Bawah. As we approach, I take in the literally picture-perfect idyll: Gleaming white sand, graceful palm trees, turquoise water and not a soul in sight. The only thing here is a temptingly laid table, a couple of sunshades and a cooler box packed full of delectable food. After my picnic, I have a swim and immerse myself in the deluxe ambiance of my Robinson Crusoe experience.

The days fly by as I spend my time ­snorkeling with schools of colored fish and sea turtles, paddling across the lagoon from island to island in a kayak, and marveling at the blue and red corals visible in the water beneath me.

In the evening the Canadian head chef ­Michael Pataran pampers me with multi-course fine dining menus created with local products. He serves fresh, locally caught fish, produce from Bawah’s lush vegetable plots, meat and dairy products from the neighboring islands.

Pampering is writ large here: Every day, I enjoy a spa treatment, which is included in the stay at Elang Private Residence. The first few days, my treatment takes place in the Kayu Spa on Elang, then I move to the main island Bawah where the treatment space is in a luxurious treehouse surrounded by dense jungle.

My personal highlight is the Batu Tokong Spa Explorer treatment: A boat picks me up and takes me to a flat rock jutting out into the ocean close to Coconut Beach where I am massaged into pure bliss by my spa therapist Dayu.

When I finally open my eyes, I drink in the endless horizon with its myriad shades of blue and think to myself: This is what paradise must be like.

booking: Elang Private Residence (Elang island) is available to book exclusively for groups; rates for up to ten guests start from $18,000 per night. The island can accommodate up to 19 guests; at maximum occupancy the price per night starts from around $28,500 including meals and non-alcoholic drinks as well as one spa treatment per day for each adult, yoga, Pilates and meditation classes.How to get there: Take the ferry from Singapore to the island of Batam. From there, the flight to Bawah-Elang takes just under 80 minutes. On your return journey stay at Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The legendary grand hotel (built in 1887) is ideally located for exploring the city and is the best possible way to ease back into the inhabited world.
IssueGG Magazine 02/24
PhotographyBawah Reserve