By Dian Hasan | July 6, 2010
Remote travel destinations that maintain a pristine condition in keeping with its immediate (yes remote) environment always fascinate me. As the rate of urbanization spreads across the globe at an all-too-fast rate, our thirst for earth in its natural state increases.
For a country like Indonesia, which is the world’s largest archipelago, there’s still plenty of uncharted territory, untreaded paths, and well… remote areas. For the intrepid traveler who seeks adventure, such locations promise solitude, tranquility, back-to-basic facility, and a potential to appreciate unspoiled nature.
What fascinates me even more is the length some people will go to chase their eco dreams. Not only the travelers, but those who have come before them from faraway lands to seek their inner peace and idea of leisure. For they have given in to Indonesia’s allure, falling under her magic spell, and come across their piece of paradise.
I’m talking about a slew of foreign nationals who consciously have pursued their eco dream, long before it became the trend it is today.
So, allow me to help paint the idyllic setting for you. A tropical isle, close by a major Indonesian city, but far enough to enjoy your own private island, you are having an al-fresco dinner under the stars after an energetic day of diving, snorkeling and exploring the neighboring islands. Your dinner choice is Indonesian and Asian cuisine, mainly fresh catch from the local fishermen, brought together in a decidedly Italian style. Accompanied by a Pinot Grigio selected by the proprietor. As the sound of rhythmical crickets add natural soundtrack to a background music of brazilan bossa nova from the resort’s iPod. And the chatter from other guests is a combination of Italian and French, with nary an English word. Guests showing off their newly-acquired bronze tan, in their billowing white linen shirts and kaftans. Is this Liguria, Capri or Sardinia?
That place is Paradiso Village, and it’s not imaginary. A tropical isle resort run by Italian couple, Nanni & Federica Casalegno, who left their Italian urban life almost two decades ago in search of tropical bliss. They found it on an Cubadak Island just a short boat ride off the coast of Padang, capital of West Sumatra province in Indonesia.
As for the French connection, there’s Marco, who’s in charge of the PADI-licensed diving operation, and Dominique, who runs all matters pertaining to marketing and hotel management. Together, they mainly cater to the Italian and French markets, with these travelers flying in from Europe to Padang via Singapore.
Their unique story has been featured Time magazine. I’ve taken the liberty of reposting it here.
The slurping of homemade pasta, the soft pop of a cork from a bottle of Pinot Grigio and the lilt of Italian conversation are not typically heard off the coast of West Sumatra. But then the coast of West Sumatra is not, as a rule, home to people like Nanni Casalegno. The 62-year-old Italian quit his job and left his home in Turin in 1991, after finding his heaven on earth in Indonesia. In the 15 years since, the former insurance broker and his wife, Federica, have turned 0.9 km of pristine beach on the remote island of Cubadak into Paradiso Village — the best diving resort in the area, and a bucolic getaway for anyone seeking to escape the harried pace of urban life. “On Cubadak, we are all about nature,” says Casalegno.
Paradiso’s feeling of spectacular isolation is belied by its relative accessibility — a fact that has made it an open secret not only to [an error occurred while processing this directive] repeat visitors from Europe, but regional and domestic tourists, expats, dive fanatics and anyone seeking an alternative to the usual Indonesian destinations of Bali and Lombok. Tabing Airport, located at the West Sumatran capital of Padang, is just two hours away, and can be reached via direct flights from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta. From Tabing, a 90-minute drive and a gentle boat ride take guests to Casalegno’s virtually uninhabited isle (the resort’s capacity is just 27, and besides these only a handful of fishermen live on Cubadak).
Accommodation comes in the form of 13 two-story huts and one “deluxe suite” (actually a bungalow) — but appointments are basic, with rattan chairs and tables, and mosquito nets draped over the beds. Running water is piped in from the lush mountain range behind. “The mountain water is so clean we actually thought about bottling it,” says Casalegno as he gestures up the forested slopes. Nobody seems to mind the rustic conditions — after all, the region has spas and resorts aplenty for those who can’t live without dvd players, martini lounges and business centers for a week. And besides, after a day’s diving, waterskiing or canoeing, you’ll be happily tired and probably unwilling to venture further than Paradiso’s tiny waterfront restaurant and its menu of locally caught seafood, prepared Italian or Sumatran style.
Another highlight of a stay on Cubadak is the cost. Nightly rates start at $80 including full board, airport transfers, trekking tours and use of snorkeling equipment, while rental of diving gear is a mere $45 a day. “If you want complete tranquillity, a home-cooked meal and spectacular diving, you will find it here,” says Casalegno. Not to mention an abundance of Italian charm.