Some of Asia’s favourite weekend retreats are gearing up for the best weather of the year. Summer monsoons are giving way to drier and cooler temperatures across Southeast Asia and India, while autumns in Japan are a leaf peeper’s dream.
The region’s excellent rail and air networks (and growing fleet of private jets) allow wealthy weekenders to congregate in second homes that are only a couple of hours from the office.
Here are five havens for rural opulence where the rich and famous can gather together. Soaring prices over the past decade ensure ownership in the best areas is increasingly restricted, but many also rent out their properties for at least part of the year.
1. Bali, Indonesia
Asia’s best-known holiday retreat has been enticing celebrities since Mick Jagger’s marriage to Jerry Hall there in 1992, and the island’s unique culture, wave-swept beaches and terraced rice paddies have been captivating travellers for more than a century.
The Island of the Gods is also a favourite haunt for those escaping the North Asian winter and an increasing number of retirees who wish to spend their sunset years watching the sun set into the Indian Ocean. The most coveted properties are in areas zoned for tourism where foreign owners can lease out their villas.
Land prices in Seminyak and Sanur, two of the most popular high-end beaches, cost as much as US$2,700 per square metre. Local agent Harcourts Seven Stones is asking US$4.95 million for a new 12-room villa with 45 metres of beachfront, not far from a planned Trump Hotels property.
2. Karuizawa , Japan
Just 80 minutes by bullet train from Tokyo, the mountain retreat of Karuizawa has many guises: offering golf and an escape from the sweltering capital in summer; forests ablaze with colours in autumn; and hot springs and skiing in the winter. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were regular visitors, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko first met there on the tennis court 61 years ago.
The town of 20,000 is a testament to “stealth wealth,” where design and the desire to blend with the natural surroundings trumps size or ostentation. Here you can find some of the country’s finest avant-garde architecture. A modest two-bedroom home, a short stroll from the Mampei Hotel where Lennon and Ono stayed, is on the market for US$1.3 million.
3. Alibag, India
In the time it takes to go five blocks in Mumbai’s infamous rush-hour traffic, wealthy Mumbaikars can zip by speedboat to Mandwa jetty to enjoy the rural life in Alibag.
Here the country’s top industrialists, financiers and Bollywood stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, can bump along ragged rural roads to secluded villas that seem a world away from the seething city.
In the past 15 years the area has lured rich individuals “who want a lifestyle that can be talked about”, said Shveta Jain, executive director of residential services at Cushman & Wakefield India.
Navigating the red tape to acquire land and build a villa has kept supply down. Most sites range from4,500 sq ft to 21,000 sq ft with prices from about 50 million rupees (US$686,000) to 140 million rupees.
4. Tagaytay Highlands , the Philippines
Surrounded by an urban sprawl of 25 million people, escaping the heat and grime of Manila is not easy. The answer for the city’s elite is to head to the hills. Tagaytay, at about 600 metres (2,000 feet) above sea level in Cavite province, offers comfortable temperatures all year round, and the 2½-hour drive from the capital could drop to less than half that once a planned motorway is completed.
Compared to other weekend getaways in Asia, property prices are modest, with the most expensive villa on the market going for US$1.5 million. The eight-bedroom home backs onto one of three golf courses within the Tagaytay Highlands gated community, and like many of the best properties, overlooks Taal Lake.
5. Phuket , Thailand
Off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea, the island of Phuket is a perennial favourite of Asia’s well-heeled. A burgeoning base for visiting superyachts, its steep forested slopes descend to dozens of beaches and bays peppered with the villas of expats, celebrities and billionaires.
More modest properties start at about US$1 million, but the island’s recent rise as a second-home destination has been decreasing the modesty and increasing the prices. The US$24 million Iniali Beach House built by Briton Mark Weingard has been rented to jet-setters, including Usain Bolt and the Kardashians. Rates for the entire three-villa complex and its 101 staff reach US$30,000 per night, said Tim Skevington, managing director of Richmont’s Luxury Real Estate in Bangkok.