CASA DEL MAR 

Feature Story by Kamila Delart

See also SHORT PORTRAIT

A charming boutique resort built in style of a Spanish Hacienda directly on the coast of the Andaman Sea, Casa del Mar keeps collecting such raving reviews on TripAdvisor, I cannot wait to reveal the secret behind the great reputation of this tiny property.

As I open the trunk of my car to pull out my luggage, a friendly Bell Boy hurries to escort me to the reception lounge, insisting that he will take care of everything else. Seated in a comfortable chair to fill out the arrival form, I’m treated to home-made ginger lemonade, pleasantly surprised about the enclosed note with ingredients. What a lovely touch…

Chaperoned to my suite, I look around, taking in the resort’s charming atmosphere: Painted in warm terracotta hues, the two storey buildings enchant with Mediterranean inspired pillars, arches and alcoves, rustic wooden gates and artistic inserts of black wrought iron. Each of the ground floor suites has a private courtyard with a large outdoor sofa while the sea-view suites on the first floor boast spacious balconies with hammocks. I like the way the sea theme is carried throughout the entire resort: on the bottom of the free-form swimming pool is the image of a seahorse, the beach towels and the upholstery of the daybeds in patios are in turquoise and blue shades. And as I enter my beachfront studio suite, I see the color scheme repeated on the couch and bedspread.

Having unpacked, I wonder what to do next. This is usually the time when I set out to explore a resort. But with Casa del Mar’s petit size, just walking towards my room, I pretty much got to see all there is. Far too restless to sprawl out on one of the beach loungers with a lifestyle magazine, I page through the glossy resort brochure, looking for some interesting activities: There is a complimentary mountain bike rental; one can explore the nearby islands on a kayak or with a 14ft hobby-catamaran. I could join a nature trip or explore the magical archipelago on the board of Capricorn II, Casa del Mar’s 42 foot Grand Banks motor boat…

A luxury cruise with a gourmet picnic on one of the picturesque deserted islands? Very tempting! I make a mental note to enquire about the details when passing the reception, and decide to go for a walk along the vibrant Cenang Beach first. 

Strolling along the coastline, I watch the cheerful hustle and bustle with Jet Skis and banana rides, and listen to the upbeat summer tunes that keep changing as I pass tiny seaside restaurants and laid-back beach bars. Taking a turn, I walk along the main Cenang road flanked by colorful market stalls. A dangerous terrain… With ethnic jewelry, batik summer dresses, fancy beach bags and flip-flops in hundreds of colors and designs wherever you look - who can really blame me for taking twice as long on my way back, and returning with my purse half empty…

Finally in a relaxed mood, I begin to notice all these thoughtful details that make Casa del Mar so special. Rather than being numbered, each of the suites carries a poetic name: Angin for wind, Cahaya for lights, Embun for morning water drop… Longing to put my feet up, I look for the ‘do not disturb sign’ and find instead an adorable wooden platelet with a carving of an open eye on the front and a sleepy eye on the back. What a charming idea! 

Washing away the heat of the day, I enjoy the streams of water falling from a rain shower, inhale the delicious cinnamon fragrance of the home-made soap bar, and pour into my palm shampoo from an artfully crafted ceramic flacon. 

I make myself a cup of tea, insert into the DVD player one of the latest Hollywood movies I found in Casa del Mar’s well-stocked library, and cuddle up underneath the soft airy sheets. I do my best to ignore the jar with home-made polenta cookies on the nightstand… Just to convince myself when the third one melts in my mouth that failing to resist the marvelous buttery taste is a substantial part of my research. After all, how could I possibly capture the essence of Casa del Mar if I skip all the guilty pleasures?!  

I wake up really late next morning, wondering whether it may have something to do with the exquisite bedding. There are soft feather balloon pillows, anti-allergen microfiber gel cushions, compartment pillows that keep down from flattening, and the classical fluffy feather cushions… With all these choices, of course, one gets to sleep like a baby…

It seems I’m not the only one who enjoyed a good night’s rest. When I arrive at the La Sal restaurant around 10.30am, quite a few other guests are still enjoying their leisurely breakfast. There is a semi-buffet with a wide selection of fruits, cereals, home-baked pastries, and platters with cheese and ham. But being on holidays, I decide not to take any shortcuts, and look at the a la carte breakfast menu. I’m tempted to order the French toast with banana, mascarpone and strawberry compote or the raisin oatmeal with coconut flakes, cinnamon and star anise, but  follow in the end the lovely recommendation of a waiter - ordering the popular Eggs Florentine on toasted wholegrain with cured salmon, fresh spinach and hollandaise. Accompanied by a creamy latte and freshly squeezed orange juice - a wonderful start of the day…

The fidgety I from yesterday seem to have departed over night. Completely in a chill-out mood, I grab a book from the library; pack a fluffy towel and the in-house blended beach spray with refreshing essential oils, and head towards the beach. Sprawling out on a lounger, I listen to the soothing melody of the sea and enjoy the warm sunrays on my skin. Far too relaxed to even attempt opening my book…

Not that I need to feel guilty about lazing around. Beach pampering seems to be part of the Casa del Mar experience. Or so I figure as I get a cold towel scented by peppermint, a large jug of lemon ice water and juicy papaya & melon skewers - served directly on my sun bed.

Longing for a refreshing dip, I walk over to the outdoor Jacuzzi and enjoy a blissful underwater massage. Allowing my body to relax, I lean dreamily back, look towards the sky and see a huge swarm of dragonflies that twirl around with their transparent wings shimmering in all colors of the rainbow. What an enchanting sight!  If one believes the local legends - it’s also a good omen promising fishermen a plentiful catch. I will have to find out whether the myth holds true.  

Returning to my room, I insert my iPod into the provided speakers, and make myself a coffee - delighted by the large cup and fresh milk in a lovely glass bottle. Inhaling the sweet fragrance of a frangipani tree that grows in my patio, I stretch out on the launcher, listen to my favorite songs, and - enjoying my coffee just the way I like it - I have to admit that Casa del Mar could not have chosen a more suitable name. It really feels like a HOME by the Sea…

Checking my watch for the first time today, I recall the lovely invitation to a Management Cocktail. Sun-kissed after a leisurely day on the beach, I don’t feel like putting on any make-up. So I just slip into my favorite turquoise dress, put on flip-flops adorned with tiny sea shells, and walk towards the Pool Bar.

The tropical hut with a thatched roof is already surrounded by other guests, and so I join the crowd and enjoy a glass of bubbles, taking in the breathtaking sunset on the horizon. Once the colorful spectacle is over, the General Manager, Tom Blachere, raises his glass to wonderful holidays. And as he relates to his own vacations, recalling how the tiny details make or break the overall experience, his toast does not sounds like a worn out phrase but rather as promise…

After more than three years in Langkawi, Tom knows the island by heart. And so he shares with us his favorite spots and most memorable adventures. - So full of enthusiasm, half of the restaurant tables are likely to remain empty during lunch tomorrow - with majority of guests exploring the island.

But Tom’s engaging speech does more than just spark interest in the magnificent nature of Langkawi. Having arrived at the Pool Bar as strangers - the people around begin to mingle, sharing stories from back home, and making plans to go on a trip together… And when Tom introduces some of the team members - matching faces with the delicious meals and the sparkling clean rooms - we all begin to feel like one big family. 

What a shame I cannot stay a few days longer! As any other resort, Casa del Mar is about to celebrate annual Staff Party with afternoon volleyball match, BBQ on the beach and dancing until late night. What’s unique - the bash will take place at the premises of Casa del Mar. - Allowing the imaginary borders between locals and visitors to completely dissolve in a joint celebration of this wonderful tropical hideaway... 

Still immersed in my thoughts about the unique culture of this resort, I walk towards the sea to enjoy a candle light dinner at the beachside coconut grove.  I strip off my flip-flops, savoring the sensation of warm sand underneath my feet, and take in the mesmerizing view of the dark water surface that mirrors the starry sky above.

I page through the menu, struggling to choose among the many enticing choices. So when the Restaurant Manager, Robert, suggests his personal favorites, I happily follow his recommendation. An excellent choice! The Tuna Tartar with fresh Goats Cheese & Black Truffle Vinaigrette is simply delicious. And the Salmon on Lemon Thyme Polenta and Ratatouille literally melts in my mouth. As I wait for my chocolate caramel tart with mascarpone, I look around, taking in the delighted faces of guests on neighboring tables. And then I glance towards the coastline…

There is a beautifully set table, surrounded in a magical circle by burning torches - waiting to enchant a couple celebrating their love. La Luna dining with seven course degustation menu and paired wines… Looking at the romantic setting - how could Her answer be anything but ‘yes’ when He reaches out to slip a ring on her finger…

Already in a dreamy mood, once I reach my room, I find on the pillow a scented bookmark - a little gift from The Spa. I inhale the warm, earthy aroma of Cedar wood, wishing I would have booked an appointment. The signature spa ritual ‘Soul of Casa Del Mar’ sounds so alluring: A body scrub with a blend of tamarind, honey, turmeric and sesame seeds followed by traditional Malay massage and a romantic flower bath… Just one of many reasons to come back…