Take one long beach on a quiet tropical island, add a collection of low-key villas, each decorated with a modern take on Thai design, and mix well among lush, colourful gardens.

What you have is the recipe for an utterly luxurious yet simple holiday; a place to unwind, relax, and recharge. Welcome to Pimalai Spa and Resort, on Krabi’s Ko Lanta Yai.

“Wow. Wow. Wow.” That’s the most common comment given by guests to Pimalai, reckons general manager Franck de Lestapis.

I think he’s telling the truth. If I had to think back to the first three words that sprang to mind on my arrival – between disembarking on the resort’s private boat and being whisked to reception in an electric cart — they wouldn’t be far from those.

Pimalai is designed to harmonise with the surrounding environment – sandy beach and turquoise waters below, thick green national park above. The resort itself is tastefully spread out over 100 acres, with 79 single or two-storey wood- trimmed villas, each a sumptuous tropical haven, nestled in a blend of the original landscape, and semi-manicured gardens. The gardens are young at the moment – the resort opened its doors in November 2001 – but within a year they are likely to be quite fantastic.

The concern for the environment extends to water supply and treatment, often a problem in tourist regions. The resort has built its own reservoir, and installed treatment plants, so wastewater is effectively recycled and used on their own gardens. “I think the resort is a pioneer when it comes to environmental issues. The owners really want to show other people in the industry that preserving the environment is possible,” says Franck.

In the rooms and suites, the emphasis is on simplicity and elegance, rather than ostentatious extravagence. Think teak floors, sleek wooden furniture, bamboo-style curtains and blinds, crisp white bed linen — complete with fluffy quilt, not blankets — and Chiang Mai cottons.

It’s the subtle details at Pimalai that remind you it’s a boutique resort. There’s the handmade “make up room” or “do not disturb” signs, represented respectively by a tiny broom and a person sleeping. Then there’s the little wooden turtles hiding under the shelving in the open-air lobby area, and the showers by the pool and beach, which have square stone shower “heads”. Even the various natural-fibre light fittings – in the public bathrooms, the spa – are monuments to Thai style.

Besides the visual beauty, there’s an abundance of old- fashioned peace and quiet at Pimalai. Take a nap by the pool to a soundtrack of trees swishing in the breeze, melodic bird calls and water gushing in various fountains and human-made falls. A far cry from many Thai beaches, I could have counted on one hand the number of longtail boats I heard pulling into and out of the beach, and even fewer speeedboats passing in the distance.

Although you never actually have to drag yourself away from the beach (there’s a beach restaurant) or your room (there’s room service) to eat, the view over the ocean and the “infinity edge” swimming pool from the elevated main restaurant might tempt you to do so. Franck says the menu seeks to provide simple, fresh food. With the bulk of guests being either busy executives getting away from it all, or honeymooners seeking something romantic but understated, the kitchen wanted to steer away from concepts of fine dining. “We want to offer something fresh, simple and relaxed – just a little bit trendy,” he says.

Being from France – in fact, Bordeaux – Franck is keen to establish a cellar of depth. “We have around 100 different labels at the moment, and we would like to grow,” he says. He’s not francocentric either, which will please New World wine lovers – some 20 Australian labels make the grade.

There’s already a nursery underway, and within a few years Franck hopes they’ll be producing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs. The menu isn’t extensive, but seeks to please everyone. Dishes we particularly enjoyed were the tom kha gai, seafood pizza, and crème brulee.

Herbs are already a feature at the in-house spa, a must for every guest to sample. Start with a Thai herbal scrub, featuring a blend of Thai clay, rice, plai, galanga, tumeric and bergamot, followed perhaps by a traditional Thai massage with a pack of luk pra kob, a blend of aromatic Thai herbs. Complete with a Thai tamarind facial – and you’ll feel better than reborn.

Depending on the package you choose, you’ll head to one of the six or so completely self-contained sala-style bungalows with outdoor shower, or a private area with a public shower, steamroom, and jacuzzi. Either way, the setting is superb, with wooden walkways crossing a huge waterfall running through the centre.

Those with energy to burn might instead head for an elephant trek, a snorkelling or scuba diving trip, or just some windsurfing on the main beach, using equipment provided by the resort. There’s a small fitness room, and mountain bikes for keen explorers.

Or take it easy on your private spacious balcony, and watch the enraptured faces of new arrivals. They might not be saying it out loud, but their faces will quite likely be saying: “Wow.”

Pimalai Resort and Spa 99 Moo 5, Ba Kan Tiang Beach, Ko Lanta Yai Tel: 075 629 054-7 www.pimalai.com [email protected]

/ Travel