Putri Zanina finds a green haven which is a short drive from KL
IT’S 7am. A heavy mist blankets the valley, the surrounding rainforest and the rolling hills beyond. Only the green canopy of trees, about 10 paces away, are visible from my upper level room balcony.
A cold wind blows and the mist slowly clears, revealing the silhouette of the forest edge against the jagged outline of the hills.
A sudden sound from a tree nearby disturbs the quiet scene. A long-tailed bird with shiny blue feathers is flitting among the leaves, which rustle just a little. Then I hear a cicada in the distance — its siren-like sound piercing the quiet of the morning.
It had rained the night before, several hours after we arrived at Casabrina Vacation Villas. Perched on a hill in Raub, it’s a world away from vehicle noise and the many irritants of modern life. Yet, it’s only 1½ hours’ drive from bustling Kuala Lumpur.
Casabrina is remotely quiet at 360m above sea level on the eastern foothills of Pahang’s popular hill resort, Fraser’s Hill.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a misty morning sky as closely as I am doing now. The rising sun and the hill playing hide and seek behind the thick veil of mist, is completely mesmerising. I lie on the lazy chair in the open balcony for two hours, alternating between reading a novel and watching the smoky whiteness of the mist enveloping the changing scenes — one minute I see nothing but the mist, and the next, the pale sun shining over a vast expanse of greenery. This immersion in the tranquil play of nature makes my mind reach deep within me. I can even hear my own breathing. My thoughts are profound, my feelings absolutely calm.
Standing up a while later, I stretch — a stretch leads to a few bends and twists and before I realise it, I am exercising — something which I have been meaning to do but have never come around to doing. Here, it seems so natural like a bird flexing its wings.
Soon I am out the door, wearing my track suit and walking shoes and heading for a narrow road that winds its way uphill. Several minutes later, my heart is pounding, my skin burning. It isn’t even a fast walk but the hill incline — maybe 20 or 25 degrees — is making my legs turn soft as jelly. Beads of sweat trickle down my face. I feel hot and cold at the same time, for when the wind blows, the air is chilly and absolutely fresh and crisp. It makes you want to breathe in deeply and feel yourself becoming so alive... and happy! To be one with nature, and simply “being”.
I am beginning to feel more of the magic of being here. More so when I realise that this spot fringes the Titiwangsa Range, surrounded by rainforests that date back 130 million years ago. In the past, the land where Casabrina stands, was a rubber plot and the jungle nearby was once the hideout for members of the Communist Party of Malaya.
The main vacation home, Villa Amertani, stands today on the very place where the former land owner, a rubber planter, had his lunch every day for the past 30 years! It must have been the best spot with the nicest view. The story has it that he sat on a huge log to eat.
And it is also exactly the same spot chosen (unknowingly then) by the resort architect, AA Yoka Sara, when he first conceptualised the home. It took the well-known Balinese architect many days and nights to choose the best spot for the vacation home of his client, the current land owner and developer, Felix Tee.
Only after many painstaking hours of watching how nature worked in the area — where the winds blew, where the sun rose and set, and more — did Yoka begin designing the home. This was some 13 years ago, and I can’t help the feeling that I must have been sitting at the very same spot where Yoka found his inspiration.
Yoka went on to create a little Bali in Raub, a place of escape for Tee who was inspired by the Aman Resort in Bali, which stole his heart when he was vacationing there. When he came home, he wanted to have his own little slice of Bali, hence Villa Amertani was “born”. It was at first his private sanctuary in the forest, to get away from everything that was stressful. He was a corporate high flyer who owned large businesses — these made him rich but the stress that came with it all took a toll on his health. While he nursed his health within his private abode, Casabrina grew from a little retreat to become a six-star luxurious resort.
The name is a fusion of two words — casa (Spanish for home) and Sabrina (the name of Tee’s only daughter, the apple of his eye).
BEAUTY IN SERENITY
My room goes down stone steps from a private, side entrance. On the wall are Balinese-style stone carvings with leafy motifs, softly illuminated with wall lights.
The ceiling has rustic panels of rattan strips. Soft, flowy brownish gold curtains hang almost from the ceiling to the timber floor. Pillars and most furniture are made of roughly hewn wood that blend well with the rainforest. Interesting bric-a-brac are everywhere — paintings of birds, framed-up jewellery, abstract woodwork, fishing net and even tree stumps have become a work of art or functional stools.
The bathroom, with a gorgeous long bath, is truly inviting. You can bask in it with the shades down. Pull them up and you’ll see plants in the verdant garden outside. The leaves seem to dance in the wind outside but from the inside, they look as if they are moving to the soft, melodic tune of Balinese music that fills the air.
Adding to the music are the chirping tunes of birds and the purring sound of water cascading from the edge of emerald-blue swimming pool just outside. The glistening water seems to merge with the green forest and blue sky beyond.
This villa is the very same place where some eminent guests have stayed. One of them was Kuwait Embassy diplomat Sheikh Meshal Al-Sabah who found the place so relaxing that he stayed for six months. Shoe couturier Datuk Jimmy Choo had stayed here too.
The four rooms in this villa have inter-connecting paths that are seamless. There’s no main door — one entrance leads to another. A turn here, you see the sauna and open bath tub, and a turn there, you get to a garden. And yet at another turn, you find a Balinese bale or outdoor four-poster wooden pavilion with comfy cushions, making it a nice shady spot for daytime snoozing.
A small stone path leads to the lower level open-air dining area that also comes with the refreshing view of the forest.
Villa Amertani’s towering timber pillars seem to stand guard over the swimming pool. Seen at an angle from the top level balcony, the pool edge takes the shape of the letter “s” for Sabrina.
Floor to ceiling glass panels in the spacious living area reveal the surrounding wilderness. The man-made structures have been cleverly and painstakingly designed to blend with nature.
In such a serene setting, even the sound from the television is an intrusion here. Nature plays some of its best symphonies at Casabrina, and that’s pleasurable enough for me so the TV in my bedroom remains switched off.
LUNCH ON PLATEAU
Just outside the bedroom is a stone path lined on both sides by wild ginger plants, pretty heliconia and other plants. There are even fruit trees including rambutan and jambu air (rose or waxed guava) which you are free to pick and eat.
In the evening, lighted candles adorn the pathway. During the day, the sunrays peek through the thick canopies shading the path, which leads to a grass-covered plateau overlooking a village in the sprawling valley below.
I have asked to have lunch on the plateau. My maids-in-service (how’s that for personal attention?) choose a shady spot under a tall tree to set the table. It comes complete with white linens, table cloth and gleaming cutlery — very nice indeed.
Coming from nearby kampung, the girls’ demeanour is simple and sweet, and their service pleasant. They stand a discreet distance away, watching with the corners of their eyes, and ever ready to replenish our plates with rice or to fill up our glasses.
Meals are “bespoke”, meaning there’s no menu. You discuss what you want with your “maid” or the chef. Ask for local fruit in season or local kuih made by the kampung makcik, if you wish, and the maid will get it for you.
I prefer the chef’s recommendations. To my delight, he whips up steamed gulai patin with light soya sauce, and sprinkled with lots of chopped garlic. Patin is a freshwater fish that Raub is famous for. In fact, Raub is dubbed pekan ikan air tawar (literally, freshwater fish town). The fish is sweet and springy. I love it.
We are the only guests then. The place is so private, so quiet, and the lunch is lovely. There’s a fairly strong breeze that rustles the leaves, making natural, beautiful music on a hot afternoon.
Besides Villa Amertani, Casabrina now has one other villa, Villa Aranya, which has only two rooms. More secluded and romantic, this villa is surrounded by a luxuriant garden that’s so close to the rainforest. It has a split level with the larger bedroom and balcony on the upper level. Lying on the bed, you’ll see the natural canvass of a luxuriant deep green forest with a burst of orange, yellow and red blooms here and there, and if you look closer, there are birds pecking among the leaves.
The graceful movement of fish in a small pool just next to the villa’s entrance can be hypnotic too, as does the sound of cascading water from water-spouts, fountains and the swimming pool. The pool water cascades over the edges with the sides shaded by frangipani trees. Fallen flowers glide with the rippling waters that make a sound so soft and rhythmic, you’ll be lost in its magical spell. This in itself is healing, cooling and calming.
The whole place is therapeutic — the lush green rainforest, the cool mist, the stillness. It spurs self-healing from within. Being one with nature is, I think, a more lasting kind of therapy.
Current promotional rate: From RM700 nett per person per night (twin sharing) with breakfast. Also included are maid-in-service, child minder, housekeeper and a cook.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take the Karak Highway towards Kuantan, Pahang. Exit at Bentong toll plaza. Turn left and drive past Bentong town. Follow directions to Raub. Watch out for a signboard that says “Ke Bukit Fraser, Tras, Sang Lee”. Turn left after this signboard. Drive past Sang Lee Village. Soon you’ll see Casabrina’s gated entrance on your right hand side. Casabrina Vacation Villas is at 1460, Jalan Tras, 27600 Raub, Pahang.
GPS location: N3* 39”.959’, E101* 50”.658’
Tel: 016-980 3222/019-772 5819