Unveiling the essence of Asia

Secret Retreats’ Captivating Hotels and Their Visionary Founders (Part 3)


Meet the Visionary Founders (Part 3)

In celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this month we are putting the Visionary Founder’s focus on some of our amazing female founders who have followed their passion and created wonderful hospitality experiences here in Asia.

As Secret Retreats grows, we feel blessed to join and work with a growing number of inspirational and passionate hospitality visionaries – the founders and owners that join our community. These are people who would like to share an inherent passion for their land and culture with the travellers seeking a mindful uncluttered stylish luxury, enriched with the destination’s culture and traditions, all couched within a warm, generous and attentive service style. Travel within the Secret Retreats community shares with the traveller a different way to see the world. Conveying the beauty of life in simple thoughtful moments, with no artifice or cliches, our environmentally sensitive retreats are places to take a break, slow down, and enjoy some distance from a busy life while immersed within stunning scenery and fascinating cultures.

Let’s unveil more of our captivating retreats and their visionary founders in this week’s newsletter.

Narisa Chakrabongse
Chakrabongse Villas – Bangkok | Mekong Villas – Bangkok, Thailand

Having grown up in the main house at Chakrabongse Villas in the shadow of the glistening spires of the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun, Narisa Chakrabongse’s dream is to share her love for her historic home with guests. Her paternal grandfather was Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, a favourite son of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) of Siam and who amongst many other achievements is seen today as the father of the Royal Thai Air Force.

In 1908, Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath built a private villa on the eastern bank of Chao Phraya River as a retreat away from palace life. The villa has since been handed down to his descendants and today rests in the hands of Narisa. Under her guidance and influenced by her passion, the villa is the apogee of a heritage boutique hotel, while still very much a family home. A stay at Chakrabongse Villas, or their Mekong side home, Mekong Villas, allows guests to experience a privileged lifestyle of a bygone era that has largely disappeared from modern Thailand. Chakrabongse Villas beckons all to come stay a little while and enjoy its tranquil and cultural aspects and explore the wonderful historical heart of old Bangkok where the property is perfectly located, riverside on Rattanakosin Island, the beating heart of Thailand.

The riverside restaurant terrace is not to be missed with its million-dollar view of the River of Kings and the Temple of Dawn opposite. Serving incredible Thai cuisine, their unique set menu draws inspiration from old family recipes of the royal household, truly Royal Thai Cuisine.

Narisa also fell in love with another wonderful riverside location and created a country retreat of her own on the banks of the Mighty Mekong River near the peaceful village of Pak Chom, northeastern Thailand.

Mekong Villas is situated on a promontory overlooking the Mekong, in Loei Province. Reflecting the area’s unspoiled beauty and enjoying panoramic views of the Mekong and Laos across the river, the 3 villas sleep 12 people in 6 double rooms. Guests can enjoy simple treks to an old communist stronghold on Phu Tok to marvel at magnificent views over the Mekong, or canoe in the early evening on the 6th longest river in the world for a magical experience. The tranquil Historical Park of Phu Phra Bat is only an hour and a half away, while Chiang Khan, 30 minutes away, has restaurants and gift shops nestling within a street of attractive ancient traditional teakwood houses.

As with most visionaries, Narisa has many strings to her bow and is constantly creating and developing ideas. The visionary, and owner, behind the hospitality experiences of both Chakrabongse and Mekong Villas, she is also the founder and CEO of River Books publishing house, and the founding president of Green World Foundation (GWF), an environmental campaign organization that promotes education and awareness about issues relating to the environment in schools. A well-known media personality in Thailand, she is also on the board of The Anglo-Thai Society, promoting good relations and cultural interchange between Thailand and the UK.


Aarya Bhupanidtha
Vana Som | Terra Restaurant | Mollisol – Chiang Mai | Indochinoise Residence – Bangkok, Thailand

Aarya is a woman with a mission. After 30years developing hospitality businesses in places as diverse as the UK, South Africa, Indonesia and Singapore, she has returned to her roots with her latest ventures back home in Thailand.

Passionate about quality hospitality, good food and dining experiences, the freshest organic produce is a must and the fertile lands near her home in northern Thailand inspired Aarya to work directly hand in hand with local farmers, and to establish her own farm, thereby ensuring quality produce for all her ventures.

Starting in Thailand with the Vana Som Villa in the hills above Chiang Mai she developed a delightful restaurant, Terra, to support this country retreat. Sourcing produce directly from local farming communities, Aarya and her team work hand in hand with the farmers, very much a fair trade arrangement, to ensure the farming community is well supported, the produce is of the organic quality she requires and dining at the Terra Restaurant is truly farm to table.

Aarya’s vision is beautifully connected from the nurtured soils of the farms, where the journey starts, to the wonderful pop-up dining events in the northern Thai hills replete with classical music performances by some of Thailand’s top musicians and opera singers, and the pleasing interior design of her restaurants and hotel rooms, where you would swear the colour palette has been inspired by the light and colours of the seasons from a picture postcard countryside scene. Every corner and every setting is pleasing to the eye in the most natural way. Her interiors are imbued with an old-world charm that is normally only found in seasoned old country houses. A warm inviting homely atmosphere that inspires the sort of nostalgic slow-life contemplation of simply enjoying the moment that we all crave these days – this is her art.

The magnificent vistas and sunsets over the property’s private farm make for an intimate and remarkable experience and her pop-up dining events are not to be missed. Watch this space for news of her latest vision in hospitality soon to be realized in Bangkok, the Indochinoise Residence. Or head to the hills for a stay at her country residence, the Vana Som Villa, from where you could take a picnic at the farm while enjoying the incredible sunset over Thailand’s highest mountains on the horizon from your hilltop vantage point. All of Aarya’s creations, Vana Som, Terra Restaurant, the Mollisol Soil & Agriculture Station and the soon to be Indochinoise in Bangkok, celebrate the good life and share the experience of the region’s culture, hospitality and cuisine.


Diana von Cranach
Puri Ganesha Homes by the Beach – Bali, Indonesia

Puri Ganesha Homes by the Beach is situated off Bali’s beaten path on the unspoilt north coast near the quiet Balinese fishing village of Pemuteran. A stunning drive across the spectacular scenery of Bali’s interior passing aromatic coffee plantations, rice paddy terraces clinging to hillsides, awesome volcanoes and through traditional villages and towns will take you far from the hustle bustle that Bali is well known for, and into a beautiful tranquil haven on the northern shore, that was created and built by a remarkable lady, Diana von Cranach.

Diana is an incredible lady, with an insatiable passion for life – life is never boring around Diana. One of those rare individuals who you know could turn their hand to anything and be successful, Diana has packed more into her life so far than most of us mere mortals could pack into 20 full lifetimes. A writer, a whizz in the kitchen, a food visionary, an Egyptologist, an interior designer and a hotelier, if this woman ever slows down be sure to try and sit and share a cocktail with her as she could add raconteur to that list of skills too.

Her vision of hospitality is realized in Bali with Puri Ganesha Homes by the Beach. Here, she has created 4 wonderful ‘homes away from homes’ in the form of 2-storey luxury pool villas that very comfortably accommodate from 2 to 6 people. Diana has decorated each of the spacious villas with colonial flair and art and antique pieces collected on her many travels. With private pool and bale (shady Balinese pavilion) each villa is also provided with staff to care for guests every need. The beachfront here includes a sea-turtle hatchery and busy, colourful reefs just offshore are wonderful for snorkeling. Mealtimes (a raw-food menu that changes daily) are always fun and jovial gatherings at Puri Ganesha.

Diana is a Cordon Bleu trained chef who always thinks outside the box and has always forged her own culinary path in Asia, inspired by her love of Asian flavours and the enormous variety of beautiful fresh produce, herbs, vegetables and fruit.  She’s an internationally acclaimed raw food chef and health cuisine consultant and has written and produced a book championing raw food that was very well received – Rawfully Good: ‘Living’ Flavours of Southeast Asia. Book your stay at Puri Ganesha Homes by the Beach and be inspired by this incredible woman who provides a hospitality experience that is good for you from the inside out, and a pleasure for all the senses.


Veronika Blomgren
Alexa Cruises: Alexa – Raja Ampat, Indonesia | Alexa J – Maldives

Named as one of the “Iron Ladies of the Russian Luxury World” by Vogue, Veronika was one of Russia’s most in-demand interior designers by the time she was just 28years of age. Opening her own private design studio in Moscow in 1999 she championed the craftsmanship of Asian art and design to the Russian market, which was no doubt the start of a journey that would bring her eventually to Asia. Passionate about architecture, art and design she also co-founded Russia’s preeminent interior design school, “Details The School of Interior Design” in 2000.

In 2008 Veronika moved to Bali and opened her first boutique hotel, OAZIA Spa Villas, which very soon started to scoop up every design, spa and hospitality award going. She has since developed the brand into one of the regions premium lifestyle brands adding a boutique hotel, property developments on the Indonesian islands of Flores and Sumba, OAZIA Design Studios, OAZIA Spavodka Lobster Bar, OAZIA Fashion Gallery, OAZIA Luxury Resort Wear, and luxury private cruises with ALEXA Private Cruises.

Veronika, working with her son Alexander Blomgren the co-founder of Alexa Cruises, bought and restored 2 Indonesian Phinisi, traditional sailing vessels, converting them into the unique and luxurious yachts they are today, the Alexa and Alexa J. 

Alexa began life as a phinisi cargo vessel shipping spices from one Indonesian isle to another. This 31m yacht retains her phinisi charm but exudes new levels of understated luxury with raw linens, turquoise accents, Balinese antiques, and aged teak. Cruising Indonesian waters, this luxurious 1-cabin yacht is the perfect choice for a romantic getaway or an incredible honeymoon. Guests are cocooned in world of elegance and refinement, and attended to by an expert crew including a cruise director, chef, massage therapist and dive guide.

Alexa J also started life as a traditional Phinisi. A larger boat than her sister ship, at 38m Alexa J offers the feel of a superyacht with all services provided and tailored to cater for just 1 couple, or a small family. Veronika and Alex really raised the bar on yacht design with what they did with this yacht. With 1 master cabin and a lower deck cabin that can convert to accommodate 2 children yacht, Alexa J offers the height of luxury sailing with the beautifully appointed master cabin commanding panoramic views from its large windows and crewed by a team of 6 including a private chef, dive instructor and a spa therapist the experience is one of a floating 5-star resort.

Sailing the Maldives, Alexa J is in one of the regions in Asia that is now open for bookings without the need for quarantine for international travellers. What are you waiting for? You know you deserve a holiday, contact the Secret Retreats Concierge and book the ultimate in private luxury sailing now.


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