I always tell my children, most people like 20% of their job and hate the other 80%. Luckily for me, I am now at a stage where I love it 80% of the time. However, such reward doesn’t come without a lot of hard work and it hasn’t always been plain-sailing.
When I first took over SLH in 1991 there were 75 hotels in the brand, today we stand at 500 hotels in over 75 countries. The growth of the brand has been due to a number of factors: the increase in demand for the small, independent boutique hotel, the advent of low air fares and the unbridled success of the internet as a reference and research source as well as a direct booking channel.
However, most importantly it has been due to a tremendous amount of effort and I still remember the nights toiling away until 3am, smoking cigarette after cigarette and hoping that it would all come together. It has, of course, also been down to the fact that I am lucky enough to have a very talented crew; pardon the pun.
So if you spend your working hours in luxury hotels what do you do for a holiday? You take up sailing! I discovered sailing eight years ago and I find it such a liberating experience. I love to travel, yet I don’t really like schedules or airports. With sailing there are no queues, no delays and no lost baggage and I suppose the only schedule is that determined by gravity, the tide.
For me the enduring appeal of a sailing holiday is that there is something timeless about making a journey by means of just the wind and the sea; the days feel much longer and afford a greater opportunity just to think and to relax which is something hard to find the time for. This is why you’ll never catch me on a gin-palace in Monaco!
Our last family holiday was to Thailand and we sailed from Phuket to Langkawi stopping off at some of the truly outstanding SLH properties along the way. It was a fantastic experience. We started off at Aleenta Resort and Spa Phuket. It sits on the edge of Pilai Beach, a long stretch of pristine white sand. The sunsets are amazing and the hotel is very tranquil, so perfect for easing you in to “holiday-mode.
The next day we set sail for Ko Racha Yai, an island 15 miles south of Phuket, where another SLH hotel, The Racha, is located. The island is popular with divers who come for the spectacular crystal-clear waters, hard coral forests and varied tropical fish. Ko Racha Yai literally means “big king island” and in Paul’s eyes it is definitely “a king of resorts”.
The Racha embodies what the discerning traveller is seeking from a resort today – pristine and chic yet surrounded by natural beauty and operating on ecologically sound principles. And, of course, with a holistic spa and a choice of exciting restaurants.
People want to go somewhere exclusive and private where they can relax. Resorts on islands, which are accessible only from the sea, are the ultimate embodiment of this concept and arriving by yacht makes it seem all the more of a hideaway.
However, if you yearn to emulate Robinson Crusoe and get away from it all in slightly more traditional surrounds I recommend Zeavola, the only luxury villa resort on Phi Phi Island. Set on the beach it is easily accessible by dinghy.
Although you have to watch the corals, this is an enchanting eco resort with traditionally-styled teakwood villas. For dinner here we ate on the beach underneath the stars and the understated, natural setting made the experience even more magical.
Some of the best moments on this holiday were on the journey getting to the resorts. Simply being able to drop-anchor off an uninhabited island and snorkel or enjoying a deserted island is very special. By taking a yacht even the travelling part of the holiday becomes such an incredible experience. I also think that people today are much more restless and whilst they want to relax at a luxury resort they also want adventure.
So, if you want a varied and luxurious sailing holiday SLH’s award-winning collection of hotels scattered over the islands in the Andaman Sea offer the perfect opportunity; each hotel is unique yet each upholds the international standard of luxury which is the underpinning philosophy of the SLH brand. Meandering between such exquisite properties by yacht is the perfect way to island hop.
The family and I visited: