With its focus on ethical initiatives, sustainability workshops and protecting the local land and culture, Six Senses Con Dao is Vietnam’s answer to luxury eco travel.
Once famously booked exclusively by Angelina Jolie for a private family getaway, Six Senses Con Dao certainly knows how to lay on a luxury experience.
Award-winning spa? Check. Private whitewashed beach? Naturally. Gourmet food, expansive overwater ocean villas, slick fitness studio… yep, you get the picture. But it’s the secluded resort’s impressive dedication to making soulful stays as green as possible that has piqued my interest.
Perched beachside on one of the largest Con Dao islets (of which there are 16 ) off the southern coast of Vietnam, Six Senses’ sympathetically styled hideaway is designed to resemble a traditional Vietnamese fishing village and fringes a dense natural forest national park that spans 98 per cent of the island. Up to 9,000 locals live in the remaining two per cent, employed by either Six Senses or the military, and villas are decked out with local materials, such as reclaimed teak and bamboo.
Alongside the usual kayaking and massage offerings, activities include sustainability workshops, where you can learn how to handcraft your own essential oils and coconut balm at the Alchemy Bar; discover ‘Aqua Microgreening’ (a scientific spin on growing cress); and explore how to upgrade your composting back home with a few hot hacks from the team’s sustainability experts.
It goes without saying that dishes are made using as much local produce as possible and guests are encouraged to wander round the hotel gardens, weaving their way between the mint, basil, hens and mushroom houses to get a real feel for how much time and effort gardening staff here go to to ensure the menus offer an authentic take on farm to fork.
It’s not all stripped-back efficiencies and rustic charm, though. Alongside the laudable eco-conscious efforts (hello, solar panels, weekly beach clean-ups and coral regeneration programme), Six Senses Con Dao also delivers first-class accommodation and contemporary design details.
Vast ocean villas appear to cling to lush, emerald hillsides, offering swanky stilt-perched infinity pools, cream-linen-clad four poster beds and enormous decks that seem to hug the horizon after one too many G&Ts. (Sundowners here aren’t exactly mandatory, but they’re certainly advised.)
Ocean front villas, meanwhile, are ground level, which means they offer more direct beach access and less of a hike to the main resort action. If you’re travelling with a larger group of friends or family, book one of the three- or four-bedroom residences, complete with separate lounge and dining facilities, plus private pool.
Championing local flavours and authentic Vietnamese dishes, breakfast, lunch and dinner is a voyage of discovery. Hit By The Beach for a buffet of dreams with archipelago-view vistas. Boasting a dedicated fresh juice station, homemade breads, a cold room housing fresh meats, fish, cheese, fruits and mueslis, plus a series of concept market stations serving a changing selection of regional delicacies (cue pho, rice pancakes and sticky rice balls), you’ll be blown away by the sheer diversity of dishes on offer.
Wash down your first meal of the day with a locally roasted Vietnamese coffee or three (strong doesn’t even begin to cover it), then indulge in a table-side hand massage. (No, that’s not a euphemism – they really do serve mini spa treatments at breakfast.)
For a more laid-back, street-food-style lunch or dinner affair, look to Vietnamese By The Market, which serves up seasonal specials and local delicacies prepared by island native, Chef No. Our tip? Try the Pho Bo beef noodles and Banh Xeo Tom – a sensational Vietnamese rice crepe commonly filled with vegetables and spiked with colourful spices.
Wellbeing is king here and guests are offered one-to-one wellness screenings on arrival to determine which treatments, plates and activities will benefit them most during their stay. Here’s how it works: a naturopathic doctor checks your blood pressure, body fat index, bio imbalances and skin oxygen levels to determine your overall neuro health. It sounds extensive because it is, yet the whole process takes less than 10 minutes and the results can reveal everything from your stress levels to thyroid irregularities. Treatments are then targeted to ensure your stay is as restorative as possible, with doctors regularly prescribing daily yoga sessions, a customised detox diet or series of spa treatments.
Thankfully, I fall into the latter, enjoying a blissful Vietnamese massage, utilising local herbs and cupping practices. The spa itself – a serene, light-flooded space surrounded by rippling fountains and aqua pools – is also a hotspot for picking up last-minute gifts. From homemade signature oils to premium-label balms and candles, it’s worth saving room in your suitcase for a few ‘essentials’ from the outset.
What to do
On-site, there’s the usual bevy of paddle boarding, snorkelling, kayaking and island-hopping boat excursions to enjoy, as well as an optional hike deep into the national reserve for those with a head for heights and adventure. You can also sign up to help hatch baby turtles – the resort runs a special programme to help protect the island’s population of green and hawksbill turtles, who often select to lay their eggs in the marine park from May to October.
Keen for a dose of local culture? Head out into the nearby town of Con Dao for a tour of the lively food market, live-music-soaked cafes, breathtaking viewpoints and traditional temples. The Buddhist Van Son Pagoda, in particular, with its opulent shrine, fluttering sun-bleached flags and roving long-tailed macaque monkeys, offers a peaceful pause from buzzy island life.
Rates start at approximately £635 per night for a double room, including taxes, based on two people sharing. The closest airport is Con Dao, 5km away (a 20-minute ride to Six Senses, in the hotel’s car). Direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) are offered by Vietnam Air Services Company from approximately £850. Ho Chi Minh City is the closest international airport and a 45-minute flight from Con Dao.