THE DANNA

Feature Story by Kamila Delart

Read also: Short Portrait

A large, square building with an urban feel - set on a tranquil beach with the backdrop of wilderness... Sticking out from the surroundings rather than naturally blending in. Conveying from the outside a slightly austere atmosphere... But above the entrance is a marquee with ornamental grills made of black wrought iron. Dainty and filigree like a beautiful ribbon on a parcel. Making one curious to find out what’s inside. The word DANNA translates in English as GIFT. And so - eager to unwrap the present - I walk towards the foyer...

Not making it very far! The grandeur of the place is so striking; I have to stop to take it all in: glass and marble against dark wood. Soaring high ceilings, towering pillars, large mirrors and sparkling chandeliers... Exquisite colonial furniture. And the strategically placed arched gateways lead the eye through the lush green courtyard towards the turquoise infinity pool, and all the way to the sea. A breathtaking vista!

Still processing the unexpected view, I’m seated on a comfortable sofa and as I wait for my check-in to be processed, I’m treated to a delightful shoulder massage and a refreshing welcome drink of apple, lime and cloves. 

The cool air is infused with a subtle fragrance of jasmine and lemon, and as the tension in my shoulders melts away underneath the gentle touch of the therapist, I begin to suspect that I may not want to leave at the end of my three days stay...  

A guest ambassador dressed in classy white trousers and light blue shirt gently bows, pressing the right palm against his heart. A long forgotten Malay tradition I simply love. There is something so natural and universal about this gesture of respect and genuine warmth, I feel truly welcome. Escorted to my room, I pause a few times to admire the black and white photographs on the walls that capture images from the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century: grand colonial buildings, magnificent railway stations, horse-drawn carriages, gentlemen wearing elegant huts. The glory of a bygone era, a sentiment of nostalgia... So present, I feel as though I passed through an imaginary tunnel of time...

This impression grows only stronger once I enter my extravagant suite. Gleaming marble bathroom, colonial four-poster bed with delicate embroidered beddings, subtle accents of Malayan handicrafts... But what truly takes my breath away is the view: turquoise infinity of the Andaman Sea, lighthouse and marina with splendid yachts - reviving the memory of seafarers and adventurers who left the Old World and challenged the seas in quest of gold and spices.

In a discovery mood, I set out to explore the property. The moment I step out of my room, I notice the calming sound of running water. There is a fountain in the courtyard, surrounded by lush tropical greenery, sprinkled with the flaming red of ginger flowers and the pink of frangipani blossoms. 

And on the floor below me is a long pond teeming with yellow, orange, red and black spotted Koi Carps that symbolize wealth and abundance. An enchanting view!  

 

Reaching the ground floor, I stop at a boutique with an exquisite selection of jewelry, textile and home accessories, and am about to pass the entrance of ‘Straits & Co.’ But taking in the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked pastries, I decide on the spot to have a closer ‘look’. With old school tiles, white marble-topped bistro tables, shiny coffee machine and jars and jars filled with home-made cookies, the place has such a charming atmosphere, I linger around - finally giving into the temptation. The creamy latte and rich carrot cake are far too delicious to feel guilty about! 

To offset the unexpected calorie intake, I head towards the magnificent 3-tiered infinity pool. Enjoying the calming blue and the endless space, I completely lose myself in the motion - realizing how long I must have been swimming only once I notice my pruney fingertips.

As the sun goes down, I return to my suite to get ready for dinner. Although The Danna is a beach resort, guests are encouraged to dress in style when joining the evening meal. I like the fantasy of skirts swaying to a piano music and diamond earrings sparkling in the light of chandeliers - bringing to life the memory of lavish banquets of the colonial era. And so I put on a silk dress in coral hue, add matching accessories and a little make-up - loving the admiring glances I catch while escorted to my table!

Being a woman, I tend to be a little indecisive when facing a variety of culinary options. So I am delighted to discover an Oriental degustation menu, and follow the recommendation of my charming waiter, Amirol, ordering the fruity Chablis white wine. The entree is simply delicious! Hummus, tabouleh, Greek salad, Lebanese olives, curried potato samosa and a kadi-style tandory & spiced chicken roll - accompanied by lime pickles, onion relish, mint chutney, cucumber raita and crispy papadam bread... The portions are far too generous to even contemplate proceeding to the main course. But I do find a little space for a dessert and indulge in a homemade baklava with honey, nuts and vanilla ice cream on site. A symphony for the taste buds!

Back in my suite, I sit for a while on the balcony, looking at the dark sky adorned with hundreds of stars, listening to the calming sound of the sea. It’s so peaceful and beautiful! On my nightstand is a plate with two chocolate truffles and a signature Danna bookmark with one of Langkawi’s enchanting legends on it. With my eyes already half closed, the story of the princess Mahsuri is as much as I manage to read prior to falling asleep, blissfully snuggled up in the soft sheets. 

I wake up unusually early the next day. Still in my morning gown, I sit on the balcony; sip my coffee, and watch the sun slowly rise. And then a ‘miracle’ happens! I’m actually in the mood for a morning run! Something I have been contemplating for years - conveniently postponing my resolution over and over again... I’m not sure whether it’s the energy of the rising sun, the sails of the yachts bloated by wind - ready to embark on their journey, or the idea of leaving my footprints in the pristine sand of the beach, but I’m really looking forward to my run.

Before the magic of the moment passes, I put on my running shoes and bolt out. The sand underneath my feet is soft, the morning sun gently caresses my skin, and I jog along the shore all the way towards the primordial boulders at the end of the beach - savoring every minute of it! On my way back to the resort, I take a shortcut through a grove, enjoying the shade of casuarina trees. There is a family of long-tailed macaque monkeys joining me for a while - mainly to make fun of me as I gasp for breath. It’s so adorable; I know I will be back tomorrow morning again!

After a quick shower, I head for my well-deserved breakfast - and love how it begins! Amirol brings a tiny glass with an ‘Eye Opener’, a healthy delicious drink made of pink guava, lemon and yogurt. It turns out, there is a different blend for every day of the week, and I wonder whether that alone may constitute a valid reason for extending my stay. A very tempting idea! But distracted by a glass of chilled sparkling wine and delicious pastries, I forget to ask...

After a leisurely hour at the breakfast table, I take a lift all the way to the fifth floor to the Danna Spa. To relax my muscles, I first opt for a steam bath. - Delighted to find a cabin designed for one person only, offering a true privacy.

Escorted to my treatment room, I enjoy a rejuvenating foot bath, taking in the atmosphere of the space: floor to ceiling windows offering enchanting views of the marina, colonial furnishings with contemporary twist, large Jacuzzi, plush towels in a purple hue - adding a royal touch...

Lying face down on a massage table, I look through the facial cradle to see a lovely arrangement of sea shells and beach stones that make me recall my lovely morning run. But it takes only a minute before I close my eyes in delight.  

 

After twenty years in the Spa Industry, I can tell the moment somebody touches my body, what the treatment will be like. There are Therapists capable of perfectly executing each treatment step, others that have a gift to truly connect with a guest. And then there are a few born to be a Therapist!

Hera’s hands radiate such a serene energy! And as she glides along my body, altering the pressure without me having to say a word, with her fingers finding the deeply seated knots in my shoulders, making them melt away - I exhale in bliss! When turning around, I briefly clear my through - just to be immediately offered a glass of water. How much more in tune with my needs could a Therapist be! 

With my eyes covered with a cooling pillow filled with lavender, I inhale the calming fragrance, listen to the mellow music, and drift away, not even noticing the transition from massage to a facial. Utilizing Biossentials aromatherapy skin care with exquisite floral waters and nurturing lotions and creams derived from fragrant healing plants, the treatment works miracles - making my face glow. Leaving the Danna Spa three hours later, I’m so relaxed, I can neither recall my room number nor the date when filling out my comment card.

It’s close to 3pm - time for my Afternoon Tea at ‘Straits & Co’. Introduced by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 1840’s, and celebrated during the colonial times, I’m intrigued to experience this wonderful tradition first-hand. Selecting a delicious blend of the Dilmah Tea, I’m presented with a three-floor étagère filled with French pastries, sandwiches with cheddar cheese and smoked salmon, chicken sausage roll, local spices chicken and samosas, freshly baked scones with clotted cream, homemade strawberry jam and marmalade... Pure indulgence! No wonder the Duchess was a woman with curves in all the right places...

Realizing that in only a few hours, I’m invited to a dinner, I decide to explore the surroundings - hoping that a long walk will help me to make a little space for the upcoming culinary delights. 

Following a path along the shore, I admire the docking yachts and watch local fishermen getting ready for their nightly catch of shrimps - adjusting the silver lamps on their blue, green and red striped boats. Enchanted by an abandoned garden palace enclosed by stony, artfully sculpted fence, I enter - wandering around... The shooting location of the famous movie ‘Anna and the King’ may have lost its luster. And yet - when I run my hand along the once magnificent pillars, I can still sense the romance - forever ingrained in the stone. 

Resuming my walk, I soon reach the Light House. The door is locked and so I look inside through a window and imagine walking up the winding stairs all the way to the sightseeing platform, taking in the magnificent vista of the surroundings. It must be a dreamlike view from up there!

Despite the long walk, I’m not really hungry yet. Then again - at The Danna, it’s all about giving into temptation, so I’m sure to lose the battle anyway. Tonight, I’m dining at ‘Al Fresco’. I love the cozy, private atmosphere of my gazebo, and the sound of surrounding fountains mingling with a sonata of frogs. As the evening begins to set in, Amirol lights candles on my table and I begin to feel all dreamy, wishing my boyfriend was sitting across me, with his dark eyes mirroring the romantic mood.

Following the Chef’s recommendation, I enjoy Malay Tiffin - a selection of home-style local delicacies from beef rendang and deep fried chicken with indigenous spices to sea bass asam pedas and prawns with shrimp paste. I savor the delicious taste, imagining how people in colonial times must have felt when sampling for the very first time the exotic, spicy flavors unknown in the Old World. When I see Amirol bringing over my dessert, I’m about to protest.  But once I taste the sago pearls soaked in creamy coconut milk with rich palm sugar syrup, I happily surrender.

On the way back to my suite, I hear music, and spontaneously change my plans - steering towards ‘The Verandah’. I briefly glance into the ‘Drawing Room’ with gentlemen sitting in heavy leather chairs, smoking cigars and sampling exquisite wine from the adjacent wine cellar, just as in old colonial times. Walking over the plush carpets, I take a seat in one of the cozy chairs, and sipping a pink mojito, I listen to the romantic ballads until long after midnight. 

The moment my alarm clock goes off, I’m widely awake - already looking for my running shoes. The tide is low, revealing rocks with petite water mirrors in-between that reflect the morning sun. 

The beach is alive with tiny crabs, and as I run towards the horizon, I spot a couple riding horses along the shore. United in the rhythm of the motion, the horse mane blowing in the wind… It’s such a dreamlike picture; I decide to go for a ride myself one of these days. The Island Horses are based only fifteen minutes walk away, so it sounds like the perfect plan!

In a mood for some adventure, I head after another delicious breakfast towards the beach and rent for an hour a Jet Ski from Mega Water Sports, one of the most established and fully licensed providers on the island. I glide slowly between the docking yachts, passing the tiny offshore islands to finally reach the open sea. Twisting the throttle, I bring my Jet Ski to speed, loving the feel of wind in my hair and the salty taste on my lips. When I turn around at some point, I get to see The Danna from an entirely new perspective. White and glorious, it stands out against the dense green foliage of the rainforest and the spectacular mountain range of Gunung Mat Chincang with craggy peaks that point towards the sky for more than 450 million years. A world of luxury just next to the natural wonders of the island! 

Back at the resort, I enjoy a lovely salad with salmon, with no other plans for the afternoon than lazing around the pool. I stretch out on one of the loungers placed in shallow water, let the crystals of a Frozen Margarita melt on my tongue, and savor the tranquil scenery of turquoise and blue with white dots of frangipani and jasmine flowers, sun umbrellas and the sails of yachts in the distance. Just in front of my lounger is a row of petite fountains, dispersing hundreds of tiny water drops that sparkle in the sunlight like tiny diamonds. 

Escaping the tropical heat, I dip into the pool-integrated Jacuzzi. With just my head sticking out, the entire perspective shifts. The narrow strip of land nearly disappears and the pool, united with the sea, seems truly infinite. The jets gently massage my shoulders and lower back and I wonder how much closer one can get to a complete state of bliss...

Walking towards the beach, I snuggle down in one of the orbit loungers. Bedded on soft cushions, underneath the shade-giving canopy of a foldable roof, I feel like a butterfly in his cocoon. It’s sooo cozy! And as I find out, I never have to leave my hideaway. Anything I may possibly need is miraculously delivered without me having to say a word:  ice water, cold scented towels, snacks... Even my sun glasses get cleaned and I get spoiled by a wonderful foot massage!  If that’s the kind of indulgence people used to enjoy in colonial times, I wish I was born a century earlier!

With my last evening at The Danna quickly approaching, I get a little melancholic. How come, the best moments always seem to pass so quickly! But there is still something to look forward to. A BBQ dinner on the beach! 

Seated in a cabana directly on the sea shore, I enjoy the sensation of warm sand between my toes, and sipping a chilled sparkling wine, I watch the sun go slowly down. Initially, there is just a golden glow on the horizon. But then, the entire sky explodes in colors - presenting me with fireworks of orange, crimson and blood red. A breathtaking view!

I break off a piece of warm bun and dip it in olive oil and the signature blend of 7 type of nuts, finely ground and mixed with poppy seeds and black pepper. With the private grill placed only a few steps away, I watch Rozaimi prepare my BBQ, and savor the tantalizing aroma of grilled seafood. The Caspian squid, sea bass, king prawns and coral lobster seasoned with lemon and butter sauce are simply delicious! 

 It’s meanwhile dark outside. My table is illuminated by candles placed in tiny glasses filled with sand and surrounded by sea shells to match the theme. I watch the gentle movement of the sea in the twinkly light of beach lanterns, and intoxicated with romance; I cannot help but think what a perfect setting for a proposal this would be. Rozaimi should really stop refilling my glass…

Thankfully, my thoughts are interrupted by the second course: marinated lamb, steak and chicken with pepper and BBQ sauce, roasted corn and potato with bacon and sour cream. - A symphony of textures and flavors completed by an assortment of juicy tropical fruit… What a wonderful, wonderful evening!

Waking up all rested, I enjoy my last breakfast at ‘The Planter’s’. Savoring a creamy latte and pandan leaf muffins, I listen to the live piano music and watch a large white butterfly twirling in the high space above our heads as if dancing to the dreamy melodies. Moving as gracefully as all the waiters around…

Upon check-out, I receive a tiny silver box. Square and unadorned. But after my amazing stay, I don’t get fooled by the classy but prosaic packaging - not surprised at all to find inside exquisite chocolate pralines with rich filling, that melt on my tongue, making me crave for more...