Not many hotels have a resident cultural and spiritual manager, but while waiting for my morning banana and peanut butter smoothie, I met Earl Regidor, who is just that for the Four Seasons Hualalai at Kona on Hawaii's Big Island.
"People come here and feel drawn to the island," he said. "They think it's the welcoming locals, or the weather or the ocean, the architecture, the scents even. Actually it's a combination of all those elements. Hawaii is a very special, magnetic place and once you realize that, your vacation will mean more than just lattes and cocktails."
Powerful words for 6 a.m.
But as I strolled to the beach, the sun rising over the turquoise water, I took my first-ever paddle-boarding lesson, swam past a giant turtle and then, once I'd gotten out, thank God, saw a black-tipped reef shark weaving it's way along the shore. It dawned on me how right Earl was. I'd just finished five months of back-to-back filming, a brutal schedule that left me in dire need of sleep, peace and a little serenity. Being out on the water or your room's balcony at this resort, when the dawn is still coming up, has got to be one of the most tranquil feelings in the world.
The Four Seasons Resort at Kona is a series of rustic, low-rise suites and rooms nestled into palm trees and jasmine bushes, dotted along the black sand beach. Lava rocks pepper the lush green landscape, which boasts a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, four restaurants with epic views, seven pools and a spa with indoor-outdoor treatment beds. The spa even offers an extremely chic apothecary-style wall where you can hand-pick the ingredients with which the therapist will mix up your oil or scrub.
Two boutiques -- unlike any hotel store I've ever seen before -- are on-site, selling everything from art to interior design to, of course, clothes. The brands on offer are pretty much all my favorite names: Melissa Odabash and Miguelina Kaftans, Kara Ross and Irene Neuwirth jewelry, James Perse cottons... I was in shopping heaven!
The Four Seasons is a brand of hotel that thinks of everything: a lady sporadically parading the beach with ice-cold damp towelettes, Evian face spray, fresh melon scewers and an offer to clean your sunglasses. The food is very American, but delicious, meaning turkey burgers, mahi mahi tacos, chopped Cobb salad and red snapper steak. One dinner by tiki torch at Pahu I'a blew all our other evenings away though.
It was one of my most memorable meals ever. As a local Hawaiian dude with long hair and tattoos covering his body sounded the conch shell to signal the sun-setting, a chef prepared fresh sashimi with local herbs and spices at our table. My date ate a lobster curry I had major food envy over, and we finished off with a delicious chocolate and banana desert, washed down with light, tangy, lemon and basil gin cocktails. The word special doesn't cover it. Little wonder rumour has it Jennifer Aniston owns a residential property here -- there are homes for sale at the edge of the resort -- and that families return without fail, year after year.
A short plane ride away lies a much tinier, greener island, named Lanai. With a population of just 3,000, the expanse of hills thick with pine trees behind Manele Bay, the Four Seasons' beachside hotel here, feels very isolated and tranquil. In fact, you're forced into relaxation because lights tend to all be out by about 11 p.m., and there's even a guy poolside who will take your gadgets and electrical distractions away from you for a few hours and charge/clean them. Genius -- and bliss!
Staff greeted us with leis and mai tais upon our evening arrival, and we sat on the deck of our room listening to the waves in complete darkness. The next morning, a couples massage overlooking the beach was possibly the best start to a morning I've ever had, but then, it got better. To describe the breakfast buffet as extravagant, doesn't come close. The amount and quality of food on offer here is stupendous. You could easily spend 20 minutes just choosing.
Our special of the day was banana and macadamia-stuffed French toast with a slosh of coconut syrup, I mean, it would have been rude not too right? The sweet coconut-soaked bread melted in my mouth, while the madamia crunched against the squishy ripe banana. The blueprint for delicious decadence. Half a papaya, one spinach and avocado omelette and one freshly baked blueberry muffin later, you pretty much had to roll me down the steps to the azure pool. Time for a nap.
A little later, a wonderful lady called Katie spent a good hour with us, mixing bespoke perfumes to the tastes of my partner and me. I have to say this was an unexpected but incredibly special and fun experience. Katie wafts about 30 scents under your nose and sees how you react to each one before blending your tops favorites, or "notes" as they are called, into a fragrance. The power of scent and its association with emotion is so strong that this turns into a wonderfully unique way to remember our vacation. The hints of sandalwood, apricot and Hawaiian jasmine I now dot onto my wrists and neck every day take me back to lying on the sand and hearing the waves at Lanaii's Manele Bay.
If you're interested in having your own perfumes created, the hotel uses products from California-based creator www.ajne.com.