A world away at The Sanchaya

It is only a 50-minute ferry ride away from Singapore where The Sanchaya sits beachfront – and yet it nearly feels like worlds apart. It is, in many aspects, in a position on its own.

This out-of-the-ordinary estate is the vacation home of an affluent Russian lady who, when residing in her Singapore home, felt that she had nowhere to go with her friends to spend a weekend out of town. And she wanted to design it to be “a gathering point for wanderlust travellers and wide-eyed explorers in search of a new kind of luxury.” And with residential spaces that evoke the charms and graces of a time gone by the estate she has created is sometimes hard to even describe in words. Its architecture resembles only a handful of other hotels also based precisely in the Straits or other formerly colonised countries of Southeast Asia (those with a nod to it or the ones that – often renovated or brought back to former glory – actually constitutes the region’s hospitality heritage). The Sanchaya presents as a unique interpretation of the cultures and histories of this region, where salon and outlet is a marvel in design.

And – good news for all – being a Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) property, you can too be a guest at this stunning, villas-and-suites only, estate! Also, at the helm to welcome you, there is no other than the Swede Mr Magnus Olovson, and his team of artisans!

General Manager The Sanchaya, Mr Magnus Olovson. Photo: Photographer: Maneewan Jantarasaka.

“The Sanchaya reflects 100-year-old colonial architecture and plantation estates with very large common areas, vast gardens and this typical Singaporean black-and-white design,” is how he puts it into words.

Even if only going for a few nights to the extraordinary The Sanchaya on Bintan Island (Indonesia), it is worth the small extra effort – and worth its premium price tag. The 500 USD per night for a stay is justified. As for the rest, yes can you also have a 750 USD Cuban cigar, savour the world’s most expensive wines served by the sommelier – or opt for something more affordable.

Few places can blow one’s mind away as The Sanchaya when it comes to exclusivity, setting and individual character. Once arriving, one will immediately feel entitled – especially also thanks to the superb hospitality – to reward oneself with a stay there, and preferably switching off the outside world entirely and focusing on just being in the eminent moment. And think: “Why haven’t I done this before?!”

As Magnus suggests, it is also the perfect combo with a Singapore visit: “If you live in Hong Kong or Thailand or so, everyone travels at least once to explore Singapore. Then you stay there for the weekend, and utilize the best hotel prices. And on Monday you continue out to The Sanchaya and get some exclusive rest and the best prices also here in the process, as we are cheaper during weekdays. So, a perfect for a long weekend!”

Maldives-style, and quite apart from any ordinary five-star hotel, the experience begins as soon as one steps off the ferry, or private boat, whisked into the resort’s V.I.P lounge – an extension of the estate in terms of décor and service – and then chauffeured a short ride to The Sanchaya.

In Magnus words it’s “an exclusive beachfront estate, 29 villas and suites and a stunning private residence, with spectacular views of the ocean and unrivalled luxury, tropical glamour and world-class service.”

“At best when we are full we have 60 guests, and we are never busy; we always have time, and with ten hectares there’s plenty of space for all our guests!”

Actually headhunted to make this estate setting blossom (on Bintan Island, which is so far no enclave at all for luxury resorts) Magnus was himself blown away when he initially came down with his Thai wife from his Siam Reap upscale hotel.

“We came here as mystery guests, and it did not take long before we said: ‘We’ll definitely negotiate to close a deal for this!’ Like so many others, I fell for The Sanchaya at first sight – its people, its beauty and its immense potential. And much more than a resort it’s a unique estate! I’ve never seen anything like it. This is simply a splendid place to be, to host and to develop. Not the least, the owner, Ms Natalya Pavchinskaya, is very generous in her trust and support which is marvellous for a hotel manager,” he says.

Magnus, who has a long career within F&B, for the first part of his career in restaurants/nightclubs, entered into the hotel industry quite “late”; eventually taking his degree at Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland. Since then he has worked at various hotels worldwide.

“I worked in nightlife until I was 32, in Stockholm, Paris and New York, saved money for Hotel School in Switzerland and became Food & Beverage Director for Leading Hotel of the World Le Negresco in Nice, and, 20 years on, I am leading The Sanchaya!”

He came to Asia by coincidence and since that day he has surely staked on the region, mainly by investing in a luxury boutique resort in Siam Reap, Cambodia – Heritage Suites Hotel.

“That’s how I came to Asia; through an investment opportunity where I entered as minority partner in a small luxury hotel in Siem Reap that I later also ran for five years. I had not yearned to come to Asia, that was more a coincidence. Then, undeniably the climate is much nicer than in Paris and Stockholm, and it’s a much more dynamic hospitality world here; you cannot compare! You never become a hotel manager until you are seventy in Europe, as everyone is sitting tight on their armchairs keeping the same job position for 30 years!” says the good-humoured Swede.

Magnus profile matched and the owner wanted someone who could take ownership. “Since I was already an owner in a hotel and a partner they thought it would fit. They came and picked me up, basically, which was of course a pleasure.”

Management by example and “management by walking around” is his recipe for turning this into a renowned resort in the SLH collection. “That’s simply what I believe works. Your rank-and-file colleagues are your most important assets and you should take care of them as well as you take care of your guests. Better even, as they are the ones taking care of the guests! As for success, someone please define the word!! Finding, nurturing and sharing joy should be on everybody’s agenda, should it not? Then I try to balance a job that I absolutely love with a fun, healthy dedication to my family.”

“Most importantly is to build a strong and dedicated team. Then, the aim must be to maximise the guest enjoyment and experience while keeping it palpable and authentic. We all value a truly personalised and unobtrusive approach to service and hosting, so step by step we coach our colleagues to take the right initiatives. The end result being, hopefully, that these happy guests bring more happy guests!”

This is his working philosophy to build The Sanchaya standard.

“We want to make our guest residents feel that they are spending time in a rich old friend’s house. So they can access their friend’s library, have a stroll in their friend’s wine cellar and be treated by the artisans – we call our staff artisans because it is an art to serve.”

“And our glassed-in wine cellar, perfect for a private dinner, comes with an ocean view. I find that peculiar!” he adds. “We have, in our new profile, a very vintage aspect and a very modern aspect.”

 

The modernity is reflected for instance also in the activities: “There are loads to do for teenagers and adults. Most of our residents want peace and quiet and for those who want some activities, on our Maldivian white powder sand beach, we have new toys; blow carts (three-wheel vehicles with sail) and electric one-wheelers; like a snowboard. And we have paddleboats to take out your family at sea.”

There is also a croquet lawn and pétanque arena. As for the library it includes the most fascinating travel books from yesteryear and today. Like The Sanchaya itself those books can take you to another time and place.

 

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