The Hamptons of Asia: Where the ultra-rich buy their weekend retreats

By FREDERIK BALFOUR

As The Hamptons empty out with the post-Labour Day exodus, half way around the world some of Asia’s favourite weekend retreats are gearing up for the best weather of the year. Summer monsoons are giving way to dryer and cooler temperatures across South-East Asia and India, while autumns in Japan are a leaf peeper’s dream.

Indeed, while the season at Sag Harbor and Amagansett lasts a few short few months, Asia’s moneyed class enjoy their holiday homes all year long, thanks to subtropical climates. Although there’s no direct equivalent to the Hamptons for most of the big financial centres in Asia, 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 popular havens for rural opulence where the rich and famous can be rich and famous together. Soaring prices over the past decade ensure ownership in the best areas is increasingly restricted to one-percenters, but many also rent out their properties for at least part of the year.

Bali

Beachfront property in Tabanan, Bali (Source: Harcourt Seven Stones)

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.

A 21⁄2-hour flight from Singapore, 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 (RM11,070) per sq m. Local property agent Harcourt Seven Stones is asking

US$4.95 million for a new 12-room villa with 45m of beachfront, not far from a large development being built in partnership with Trump Hotels.

Karuizawa

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 the 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 is some of the country’s finest avant-garde architecture. A modest two- bedroom home, a short stroll from the Mampei Hotel where John and Yoko stayed, is on the market for US$1.3 million.

Alibaug

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 on the peninsula to enjoy the rural life in Alibaug. 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, ED of residential services at Cushman & Wakefield India.

Navigating the thicket of red tape to acquire land and build a villa has kept supply scarce, so most sites range from 500 sq yards (418.06 sq m) to half an acre with prices from about 50 million rupees (RM2.85 million) up to 140 million rupees.

Tagaytay Highlands

Surrounded by an urban sprawl of some 25 million people, escaping the heat and grime of Manila isn’t easy. The answer for the city’s elite is to head to the hills. Tagaytay, at about 2,000ft (609.6m) above sea level in Cavite province, offers temperatures in the mid-seventies year round, and the 21⁄2-hour drive from the capital could drop to less than half that once a planned expressway is completed.

Compared to other weekend getaways in Asia, property prices are modest, with the most expensive villa on the market asking 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, enjoys views overlooking the spectacular Taal Lake.

Phuket

The Iniali Beach House in Phuket (Source: Richmont’s Luxury Real Estate)

Off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea, the island of Phuket has become a perennial favourite for Asia’s well heeled and well keeled.

A burgeoning base for visiting superyachts, the steep forested slopes descending to dozens of beaches and bays are 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, the ne-plus-ultra in luxury and over-the-top design, built by British owner Mark Weingard, has been rented to jetsetters including Usain Bolt and the Kardashians. Rates for the entire three-villa complex reach US$30,000 per night, complete with 101 staff, said Tim Skevington MD of Richmont’s Luxury Real Estate in Bangkok. — Bloomberg