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South Pacific touch comes to the Reap


They’re the family behind one of Siem Reap’s favourite restaurants, and they about to open one of the town’s newest deluxe resorts.

Manfredi De Lucia, Maddalena Morandi and Giovanna Morandi, the husband, wife and sister team responsible for Italian hotspot Il Forno, will cut the ribbon on their new boutique resort, Navutu Dreams, on June 1.

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The resort, several years in the planning and one year in the making, will have 18 rooms and suites, two swimming pools, a spa, a yoga studio, a restaurant, and a fitness centre for up to 36 guests.

“The concept of our place is to make a boutique resort, with not too many guests,” explains Chiara De Lucia, Manfredi’s sister, who looks after marketing for Navutu Dreams.

She says it will be completely fully serviced like a resort but with all the privacy of a true boutique hotel.

This isn’t the family’s first foray into resort building: the trio also created sister resort, Navutu Stars, in Fiji.

The luxury resort on the private paradise Yasawa Island has in its seven year history won accolades from Conde Nast, Trip Advisor, Vogue, Johansens, The Independent and LA Times.

Chiara says that while the surroundings in Siem Reap are very different – swap turquoise ocean for emerald paddy field – the same principles have been applied to the Siem Reap venture.

But while the Fiji resort showcases local style bamboo architecture and lets the dramatic surroundings take centre stage, the Siem Reap version does play around more with design, fusing Khmer architecture with buildings that are modern and simplistic.

While the centrepiece is a giant thatched pavilion that will house the restaurant, the rooms and suites are created from white concrete with geometric lines and portholes.

“We have very, very big spaces,” Chiara says. “We think it’s important. The biggest room is 75 square metres, and the smallest rooms are 45 square metres. Space is our main thing.”

The larger suites also come with a private roof terrace for catching rays or watching the sun go down.

Inside, the rooms are gorgeous. Sinks are carved from local stone, the flooring and furnishing is immaculate, a fresh blue hue adorns parts of the wall, and Laotian carvings add the artwork.

Suites have a deep window-side bath overlooking a private yard, while even standard rooms have twin monsoon showers.

The construction itself seems close to completion, with Chiara saying the project is right on schedule.

The site, near Villa Khiara in the Salakamroeuk Commune has been built on higher ground so the resort escaped the flooding that blighted the surrounding area last October.

As for the wellness aspect of the resort, Chiara says the family have big ideas. 

“We have two spas. One will be just for massage, the other for treatments.”

Elements from the Fiji resort have been brought in.

“We want to mix Asian products with South Pacific products. We’re going to have banana wraps for the skin using coconut milk.”

As for the yoga studio, Chiara says her sister-in-law Maddalena and her are big yogis and are eager to integrate this.

Anyone who has eaten in Il Forno – which incidentally was set up as a small one-room eatery by the family, after they arrived to build the resort and found there was no decent Italian joint in town at the time  – will have high expectations for the resort’s cuisine.

But it won’t be all pizzas and pastas, says Chiara, “It will be 60 per cent Khmer cuisine, 20 per cent of the Italian kitchen, and the rest the normal kitchen that you find in hotels.”

But the family is eager to develop a love of seafood by introducing southern Cambodian flavours.

“We think the south of Cambodia does very good food, with dishes you cannot find here in Siem Reap. So we are thinking of maybe having one chef from somewhere near the beach.”

Hiring for about 70 staff has already begun, while the first booking has already been made for July. There is also buzz within the travel industry with Navutu attending expos abroad and inviting travel companies to view the site.

“They’ve responded very well. We’ve already signed three or four contracts. I don’t think we’ll have a lot of problems. We’re doing very strong marketing online which is important.”

Despite the facilities at the resort, the prices are from $175+ per night, still relatively low compared to its counterparts around town.

Navutu Dreams looks set to draw more of the refined breed of tourist to Siem Reap, and come June 1, there’ll be a new contender among Temple Town’s luxury havens.

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