Say Namaste to Asia Gardens
Bruce Willis and Penelope Cruz have both stayed in this exotic Asian paradise, just two hours away in oh so exotic sunny Spain
An Asian-themed hotel right in the centre of Alicante might make about as much sense as a vegetarian sausage but boy have The Barcelo Hotels Group got this recipe right. Jo over at Muddy Norfolk has only been back just two days and she’s already booked again to go back in November, this time with mum in tow.
Why? Well, not only is Asia Gardens Hotel & Thai Spa, A Royal Hideaway Hotel, a sprawling, beautiful, five-star property with loads of awards under its belt (Conde Nast Traveller voted it Best Hotel for Families this year) and a roll-call of celeb visitors (Novak Djokovic, Bruce Willis, Penelope Cruz, Bruce Springsteen…) but the customer service is exemplary, the facilities above the norm and if, like me, you’re a worn-out parent in desperate need of a holiday (but without the hassle of a long-haul flight), it’s just the ticket.
In fact, I’m so enthused about this property and all it has to offer that I’m slightly buzzing as I type – or may be I’ve had too much coffee; either way, let’s get stuck in!
Themed hotels are often a bit of a gimmick borne out of some sort of quirky décor – a bronze Buddha here; a Chinese bedspread there – but Asia Gardens is the whole kit and caboodle. From the classic Asian uniforms to the fragrant gardens, and from the waterfalls to the Thai Spa, you feel like you’re much further away than you actually are. “Wake up in Asia,” tempts the website. We certainly did.
And who can blame us… with 10,000 sq metres of pristine lawns (100% of the watering is done using recycled water); topical gardens containing 200 species of plants (80% of them from Asia, including a 200-year-old Bonsai from Japan); 150,000 planted shrubs; waterfalls; wooden bridges suspended over ponds – where expensive yellow, orange, blue and green Carp swim around – and a city backdrop view that could well be Hong Kong or Malaysia, it’s hard not to feel a world away.
Birds feel so at home here, they’ll sit still long enough for you to take several photos – one may even join you at the breakfast table. Come evening, staff light candles and float them in the water, lanterns line the wobbly wooden bridges and the pools are illuminated.
Every time I walk around the hotel, I come across something that’s worthy of a photograph, and find myself fishing around in my bag for my phone. Check out this ornate sky light.
The staff are all drop-dead-gorgeous too – kind, knowledgeable, respectful and friendly, they call you by your name, place their hands together and bow whenever they address you and speak a command of the English language that’s as polished as their smiles! I got lost more than once (take a map everywhere you go, seriously), and was surprised on one occasion when a kind waiter didn’t just show me the way, but guided me all the way to the correct lift despite being on a lunch service. Over and above…
The resort is several buildings in one – all attractively-clad in bright red terracotta with traditional thatched roofs. The main building is a smart glass apex; head through the double doors and marvel at the triple height reception, made possible through different lifts taking guests to separate sections of the building. The ceiling is all bamboo and rattan; Asian ceiling fans sway backwards and forwards above, while fish swim below. And what’s that gorgeous aroma? It’s hundreds of pink lillies beautifully displayed on every available surface.
The resort has 311 rooms and suites in eight categories; suites named after Asian places (Jakata, Langkawi, etc). Some have hot tubs and lounges bigger than your average flat; all have outdoor terraces.
Check out the lounge and the terrace of the Presidential Suite – quite something eh?!
My deluxe room is the lowest grade but feels really superior, with its spacious 30-sq metre configuration and private terrace with terracotta roof adorned with ivy. Every time I head out, I hear birds tweeting and water trickling below.
Inside, our room has a kingsize bed with pressed white sheets, a huge flatscreen and a bathroom with separate tub and shower cubicle hidden behind sliding bamboo doors. Open them and take a bath while keeping an eye on your children; close them for privacy. Genius. Not to mention classy. And stylish.
Amenities are from The White Company. As soon as I see them, I curse myself for not remembering my daughter’s shampoo but no fear: the next morning we return from breakfast to find kids shampoo and a bar of green soap shaped like an alligator on the bathroom counter (had I been talking in my sleep?).
Asia Gardens Hotel & Thai Spa has seven (yes, seven) swimming pools, each with Asian names – four heated to a balmy 29 degrees all year round. Thanks to its shallow waters (and, if I’m totally honest, proximity to the kids’ club), we spend our first day in and around the Zen Pool, with its pleasant water temperature, Jacuzzi with cold jets (meaning kids can get in), copious comfy loungers, snack bar and waiter service.
The lifeguard doubles up as a general all-rounder, handing out towels in exchange for plastic cards (given out at check-in) and straightening said towels out when you’re in the pool.
The water is shallow enough for children, and my daughter spends all day jumping in and swimming underwater while I sit on a lounger and read a book – she’s so close, this seems to be acceptable behaviour (and all parents are doing it).
At 7pm, the loungers are replaced by tables and chairs for dinner, each with its own Champagne bucket. This is where the Spanish come on holiday – you won’t see Brits knocking back beer after beer by the pool here, but long-limbed, tanned beauties sipping fresh juices on their loungers. They play catch up in the evening though, several bottles of fizz being ordered as a pre-dinner tipple. It’s a pattern I could get used to.
The Island Pool is much larger, with its own poolside snack bar, kids’ section and separate ‘islands’ with day beds.
While The Langkawi Pool (pictured below) weaves between the red buildings, several sections joining up to make it feel exclusive despite its size.
There’s also a pool just for adults, as well as one just for guests staying in the suites.
Despite the hotel being at full capacity during our stay, we never have to battle for a lounger, queue for the kids’ club or wait for a drink, meal or piece of information. In fact, it’s so peaceful and quiet during our stay you would think it’s February, not the middle of the school holidays.
The number of restaurant choices at Asia Gardens will come as no surprise: there are nine, each named after a place in Asia, plus a Champagne Bar (of course).
Each drink you order – be it poolside or to your room – comes with little Asian snacks, while most of the restaurants have their own kids’ menu with freshly-made pizzas, chicken nuggets, burgers and ice-cream. Everything is large too – check out my iced coffee!
Breakfast is a marvellous affair – a buffet with an omelette/pancake/waffle station, fancy yoghurts, an entire section of freshly-baked pastries, a whole area of fresh fruit, and Champagne to help yourself to. There’s loads of juices too – try Champagne with a dash of Papaya juice and start the day off with a zing. Sit outside and watch birds flit from table to table.
Celebrating an occasion? Book into In Black – the only restaurant without an Asian name, and the only one where children aren’t allowed. The menu is Asian fine dining and the restaurant intimate and romantic.
We eat at Udaipur close to reception, with its outdoor rattan seats so close to the water that I have to hold onto my daughter’s skirt to stop her swimming with the fishes, and rows of flickering candles. We start with nachos and spinach & cheese croquettes to share, which are so large it would have done us for dinner, followed by a lamb burger for me and chicken nuggets and chips for her.
Other restaurants include Palapa (Mediterranean cuisine with pool views), Koh Samui (Oriental cuisine), The Island (a poolside barbecue), Lombocci (exclusive Italian cuisine) and the Bonsai (lounge and snack bar).
The Thai Spa & Golf Course:
Even the spa is worth writing home about. Most decent hotels have spas these days – you’re not worth your salt (room) unless you do – but the Thai Spa at Asia Gardens is outstanding. There’s an indoor, candlelit pool which runs outside; a Turkish bath, seven stilted cabins for treatments (massages, wraps, facials, you name it…), a solarium terrace, a relaxation area with help-yourself herbal teas and a comprehensive gym that, as far as hotel gyms go, isn’t too shabby.
Here you can also do Tai Chi, Qi Qong, Yoga and Meditation or participate in a traditional Asian tea ceremony.
To conclude the leisure facilities, there are two pristine golf courses, where many a famous golfer has played.
The Kids’ Club:
There aren’t many hotels in Alicante with kids’ clubs – believe me, I’ve done the homework (in fact, I think there are two) – so to find one at all is a bit of a ker-ching moment, but to find one that will entertain your children from 11am until 11pm each day (do the maths people, that’s 12 hours!) for F-F-Free is pure gold. In fact, sod the gold – give me this instead. Because this gift of a facility not only turns a break into an actual holiday (I read a book from cover-to-cover for the first time in five years) but you’ll get to know other parents.
Not only that, but the club is bloody big, with an inside area where they draw, dance and generally play, and an outdoor area that’s beautiful. There’s a wooden play area shaped like a pirate ship, swings and plenty of grass for them to run around on.
There’s a programme of wonderful activities, from going round the hotel feeding the fish to face painting, and options for them to stay for dinner for a small fee (romantic dinner a go!). On our first evening, there was even an Indian Camp, where the club set up wig-wams outside and the kids pretended they were camping.
With most of the children at the club Spanish, I was worried about my daughter not understanding a word, but the staff asked the other kids to speak English where possible. Most of them did (and could, rather embarrassingly).
We drifted into a wonderful routine of two hours together, two hours apart, lunch. Two hours together, two hours apart, dinner. It was the best of both worlds. On one occasion, the club blew up a massive crocodile bouncy castle and sprayed water on it – she didn’t want to come with me at collection time, unsurprisingly. The hotel also has a babysitting and a nanny service, should you require some in-room childcare.
Of course, a hotel of this calibre isn’t cheap, but there are some amazing deals up for grabs: book four nights in advance and get 15% off; stay five nights and get a free airport transfer (its 40 minutes from Alicante Airport). What you pay for is Asia in glorious short-haul form, like taking your favourite far-flung destination and bringing it nearer: no expensive fights, no visas, no jabs, no jet-lag, no malaria. Just happy, happy holiday-makers. And that, as they say, is priceless. See you in November, Asia Gardens.