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Malaysian magic

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Visitors to the archipelago of Langkawi—99 islands off the Malay Peninsula's west coast—rarely leave without hearing the tale of Mahsuri. This beautiful young woman, the story goes, was falsely accused of adultery and sentenced to death. Upon her execution, her blood ran white in proof of her innocence, and as she died she cursed Langkawi for seven generations. Legend though the story may be, Langkawi's fate has turned after a long period of relative isolation. "Certainly the curse is over because Langkawi was spared from the tsunami," says Royal Rowe, the American general manager of the spectacular—and much anticipated—new Four Seasons resort. The project took five years to build, and its opening signals more good fortune: a raising of the bar on an island already home to two glorious hotels, The Datai and The Andaman. The Four Seasons outdoes them both. With 48 acres along the Andaman Sea, the resort has 68 free-standing suites, 20 beach villas, and a number of public pavilions, all in colonial and native style with a heavy dose of Alhambranesque fantasy. From Serai, the main restaurant, you look over tropical gardens and a mile-long stretch of white sand. Paths made of river stones snake through the grounds, and at night glowing firepots light the wide reflecting pools. You almost never bump into another guest here (except at dinnertime), either because the suites are spread so far apart or because the people staying in the beach villas never leave them. Who can blame them—2,370 square feet of glass and timber right on the beach, with a separate spa room, wraparound terrace, plunge pool, and indoor-outdoor bathroom the size of most hotel suites. Still, there are at least two good reasons to venture out: Aidi Abdullah, the staff naturalist, leads a fantastic boat tour through the mangroves. And the spa, done up in celadon tile and glass, seems to float on air. Rates, $410-$3,500; 800-332-3442;

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