Tanjong Jara, Malaysia
The east coast of the Malaysian peninsula is washed by some of the most pristine waters in the region, containing spectacular marine parks, turtle hatcheries and coral reefs. Tanjong Jara, the jewel in the crown of the luxury YTL Resorts group, is the only hotel for hundreds of miles to match natural with man-made splendour – the quiet state of Terengganu has not yet made it onto the mass-market tourist map.
First opened in 1979, Tanjong Jara was bought, then comprehensively refurbished and renovated by YTL a decade ago, its design based on the 17th-century palaces of the Malay sultans. It was way ahead of the trend for incorporating local rather than international style into its design and won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Although the steep pitched roofs, gables and intricately carved fretwork echo the heyday of the Malay rulers, it is doubtful that they ever lived as sumptuously as guests at the hotel do now, especially so after the resort opened its award-winning Spa Village. Here, traditional Malay treatments all begin with being bathed and blessed seven times with Mandi Bunga water, which is paraded to the spa in jars with trays of flowers each morning, accompanied by a slow drum beat which was originally part of a sultan's coronation ceremony.
This procession happens just around the time late-risers finish breakfast, and is about the only sound to break the silence of a resort where the tempo is determinedly slow, the evening lights are dimmed, and the only drama comes from the occasional tropical storm.
Visitors (such as the actor Sam Neill, who was there when I stayed) who are content to laze at such a pace may have to stir themselves from the shade of a beach-front sofa or pool-side lounger, so beguilingly calm is the atmosphere. Watersports, a gym and tennis courts are there for the active, although few availed themselves of these on my visit. Most took it easy with a book by the two pools, the larger of which has a built-in Jacuzzi and easy access to the fresh catches and grilled meats served at Nelayan (Malay for fisherman) restaurant.
At the other end of the sprawling site, by the main entrance, Di Atas Sungei is built over a river channel. Here you discuss your dining requirements with a "talking menu" waiter (you can have pretty much anything you like, cooked however you want it) as the sound of the gamelan drifts over from the poolside Teratai Terrace bar. The only slight annoyance is the lack of a proper room service menu for those too relaxed to walk to a restaurant.
Tanjong Jara is eight kilometres from the coastal town of Dungun and one hour's drive south of Kuala Terengganu airport, which is a 45-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur. Set between tropical rainforest and the South China Sea, the resort has no neighbours; sandy beaches stretch to the horizon to the south, while a small promontory marks its limit to the north. For those who choose to explore, there are plenty of diversions: the chef accompanies visitors to the morning fish market in Dungun, a nature cruise travels up the nearby Marang river, and trips are available to the 200m-high Chemerung Waterfall, to the traditional artisans and shipyard in Kuala Terengganu and to the fabulous coral gardens at Tenggol Island, 45 minutes away by speedboat.
The low-lit rooms echo the colonnades of the main reception, with a series of dark wood arched panels covering the white walls of the main bedroom. A large double bed faces a TV and sound system built into a wooden pillar. Behind that, almost separating the room into two, is a lightly draped four-poster day bed, desk and chair. The wardrobe is a room in itself and the bathroom is enormous, fitted out with two washbasins, separate shower and large bath. Most of the hotel's 99 rooms are in two storey wooden chalets. Serambi rooms come with private verandas, Bambung without; single storey Anjung rooms have sunken baths and their own garden and the vast Anjung Suite has a bar and powder room.
Tanjong Jara, Batu 8, Off Jalan Dungun, Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia (00 609 845 1100; tanjongjararesort.com )
Double rooms start at $403 (£268), room only.