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Friday, June 1, 2012

Off-duty stars, natural wonders and blissful beaches in marvellous Malaysia

No one recognised Charlize Theron when she booked into the Langkawi Four Seasons hotel last year. It’s that kind of place.
Megastars go off-duty, recharge and escape. Langkawi, part of Malaysia, is an archipelago of steamy crags 20 miles west of the Malay peninsula in the Straits of Malacca, roughly where Malaysia joins Thailand.
Lazy days: Langkawi is an archipelago of exotic isles west of the Malay peninsula
A community of farmers and fishermen shares it with exotic fauna, fish and birdlife. Columns of limestone soar vertically from the sea. Wildlife gives Langkawi its name, which comes from the Malay word for eagle.
It’s home to southeast Asia’s first Unesco ‘geo-park’, an area of prehistoric rock formations and was where scenes from Anna And The King were shot.
The human side is devoted to padi fields and meadows grazed by mud-caked buffalo whose milk produces mozzarella.
Charlize Theron
Megastar territory: Charlize Theron has been to the Four Seasons in Langkawi to unwind
‘Langkawi is what Phuket and Bali were like 40 years ago before the concrete mixers moved in,’ one local told me (although Lafarge does have a cement factory here).
Protected by the Malay peninsula to the east and Sumatra to the west, the archipelago has a tropical climate that suits year-round tourism — about 30c by day and 28c by night.
An island-hopper’s tour of the region would take in Phuket in Thailand for all-night parties; Penang for exotic food and architecture; and Singapore for a throbbing metropolis.
These lie within a few hundred miles of Langkawi, yet it maintains an out-of-the-way feel and has been spared the great urban biomass.
‘Five cars is a traffic jam,’ one local told me. The Four Seasons gazes northwards across the Andaman Sea towards the Thai island of Ko Terutao.
Its 48-acre grounds are Langkawi’s answer to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: acre after acre of pool, lawn, incandescent flowerbed and an arboretum of palms, frangipani, tamarind and wild mango serve as playground and larder for squirrels, monkeys and fruit bats.
A pair of friendly monitor lizards and several cats take care of pest control, while 70 gardeners look after the rest. Ninety-one ‘unique accommodations’ — 68 private pavilions, 23 villas — are strung out along one mile of beach.
Unlike in the Caribbean, you never feel you’ve stumbled into a catwalk show or crashed a horrific cocktail party from Surrey.
It takes time to acclimatise to the beauty of the place — and with 400 staff, you will want for nothing. You could easily feed a family on the fresh fruit and nibbles that kept appearing in my villa.
However, even with the beach bar cocktails and the sublime Malaysian food, keeping in shape is not a problem: there is a gym and tennis court, and the grounds are so expansive and beautiful that you can keep fit and in shape simply by cycling around the tropical gardens.

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