I once met an old Vietnamese revolutionary in Hanoi by the name of Le Quynh Van. "My sight is poor," he told me, "because Frenchmen shone bright lights into my eyes during interrogations."
It turned out that Van led a jailbreak from Con Son island 62 years ago. It was then a penal colony, where members of the Viet Minh and later the Viet Cong were incarcerated by French colonial authorities and the South Vietnamese government, respectively. Had he been recaptured, Van would have met with Madame la Guillotine.
But a paradise lost has in good measure been regained with the recent opening of the Six Senses Resort & Spa on Con Son part of the Con Dao archipelago and set in a protected area of the South China Sea. It's unpretentious for a five-star establishment, although Tammy, my personal butler, did seem incongruously formal amid the laid-back environment of sun loungers and white sand.
Over 40 guest villas, fashioned from planked hardwood, are set beside a 1.6-km beach and are best described as minimalist Nordic chalet meets jet-set jungle lodge. The combination works well, with the properties melding into the granite and greenery of Elephant Mountain behind. Every villa has ocean views and an infinity pool. The swanky interior appointments include a fully stocked wine fridge.
Dining is critical for the success of any resort and here it does not disappoint. "If a guest has a favorite dish, I will prepare it, providing I can source the ingredients," says British executive chef Richard Lee. Fish and other seafood, as you might expect, have star billing on the menu of the resort's beachfront restaurant.
If you fancy seeing the living variety, the diving around the local reefs is superb. Underwater visibility is best from March through July, and marine life includes reef sharks, rays and hawksbill turtles. In short, Con Son has gone from being the sort of place that people would risk their lives to escape from to being the kind of blissful idyll that you would never wish to leave.
Rates begin at $690 per night. See www.sixsenses.com.
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