160 BLUE LA­GOON

Town & Country (UK) - - CONTENTS —WINTER 2017 -

Lucy Half head dives into the sparkling cerulean wa­ters of the Mal­dives

Lucy Halfhead is en­chanted by the iri­des­cent wa­ters of the Mal­dives, whether div­ing their depths in search of marine life or watch­ing them lap against the wooden stilts of her villa

That af­ter­noon we passed the most beau­ti­ful palm is­lands I have ever seen. With the sun low on our star­board side it threw a glow­ing side­light on the tiny islets, which seemed to float by like flower bas­kets…’ Thus the ex­plorer Thor Hey­er­dahl wrote about his trip to the Mal­dives. It was with sim­i­lar won­der that I sat with my nose pressed up against the win­dow for the 40-minute flight to Che­val Blanc Rand­heli, mes­merised by the oth­er­worldly panorama be­neath us.

Che­val Blanc Rand­heli is one of three maisons in the lux­ury-fashion group LVMH’S pres­ti­gious ho­tel col­lec­tion. Lo­cated in the se­cluded Noonu Atoll, on the north-west of the Mal­dives ar­chi­pel­ago (the other prop­er­ties are in Courchevel and St Barths), it pro­vides a de­gree of pri­vacy that per­suaded the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge to leave baby Ge­orge at home with the in-laws while they recharged their bat­ter­ies on a sec­ond hon­ey­moon in 2014.

As well as its dis­cre­tion and utopian set­ting, Che­val Blanc Rand­heli of­fers ev­ery­thing you would ex­pect of LVMH’S high stan­dards of crafts­man­ship and qual­ity. Upon land­ing at Malé International Airport, we were whisked to the ho­tel’s pri­vate lounge, which has been dec­o­rated in the brand’s sig­na­ture shades of taupe and so­lar yel­low. There, charm­ing staff dif­fused the strains of the long-haul flight with flutes of icy cham­pagne and an ar­ray of tempt­ing snacks, be­fore ush­er­ing us aboard the re­sort’s pri­vate nine-seater De Hav­il­land Twin Ot­ter sea­plane, with its plush leather seats and scented cold tow­els.

Rand­heli’s wildlife was equally wel­com­ing; from the mo­ment we stepped onto the is­land, scrunch­ing the vel­vety sand be­tween our toes, it felt as if we were star­ring in our very own episode of Planet Earth. Translu­cent ghost crabs darted along the shore­line, white-tailed tropic birds swooped low across the jun­gle paths and, as we made our way down the wind­ing wooden walk­ways to our villa, shoals of needle­fish shim­mered in the ocean be­low.

The re­sort is within easy reach of some of the best div­ing spots in the Mal­dives, and its fleet of boats will take you to reefs fre­quented by ex­tra­or­di­nary crea­tures in­clud­ing the spin­ner dol­phin. We spent a dream­like hour in the calm, clear water, sur­rounded by glit­ter­ing mul­ti­coloured fish and co­ral as in­tri­cate as lace em­broi­dery. From the ter­race of our villa, we spot­ted a pair of reef sharks pa­trolling the edge of the la­goon, and at dusk one night, an in­quis­i­tive tur­tle bobbed into view.

There are 45 vil­las at Che­val Blanc Rand­heli – some, like ours, built on stilts above the waves, oth­ers on the fringes of the beach – de­signed by the French ar­chi­tect Jean-michel Gathy, who is also re­spon­si­ble for the Se­tai in Mi­ami and Venice’s Aman Canal Grande. These mag­nif­i­cent struc­tures have cathe­dral-like ceil­ings made from bam­boo, and glass doors stand­ing a stag­ger­ing seven me­tres high, which add to the feel­ing of lim­it­less space. Vi­brant yel­low fea­tures here too, on the huge ce­ramic pots that bor­dered our sleek in­fin­ity pool, and in the ‘Is­land Chic’ can­dles cre­ated es­pe­cially for the re­sort by François Demachy, the nose of Chris­tian Dior.

But there was much more to ex­plore out­side the walls of our lux­u­ri­ous abode. We had come seek­ing the restora­tive pow­ers of the re­sort’s tai­lor­made Well­ness Jour­neys, for which a team of aptly named Al­chemists were on hand to or­gan­ise our three-day ex­pe­ri­ence (you can also do one or five days) with be­spoke spa treat­ments, fit­ness ac­tiv­i­ties and a healthy menu of low-sodium, Pa­leo and vegan-in­spired dishes. Each morn­ing, with child­like ex­cite­ment, we would com­mute to break­fast on white bi­cy­cles, our bas­kets filled with sun cream and read­ing ma­te­rial for the day ahead. Vis­it­ing the spa is­land in­volved a cap­ti­vat­ing jour­ney of its own – sail­ing across the bay on a wooden dhoni (a tra­di­tional Mal­di­vian boat) to a cool, serene sanc­tu­ary where ex­cep­tional Guerlain treat­ments re­laxed both body and mind. This was where we also en­joyed sun­rise yoga over­look­ing the end­less blue, and a se­cluded din­ner on the beach un­der a swirling pas­tel sky, where we ate de­li­cious fish mar­i­nated in myr­iad spices.

The four restau­rants de­lighted our taste buds in equal mea­sure. The Dip­tyque is a live-cook­ing theatre that serves the finest Ja­panese cui­sine, and the Dee­lani spe­cialises in seafood, in­clud­ing a sen­sa­tional lan­gous­tine prosecco risotto. Then there is Le 1947, named af­ter Château Che­val Blanc’s most sought-af­ter vin­tage, which cooks up fab­u­lous French fare, while the White hosts a lav­ish buf­fet. It is here that a Manuel Merida le­mon-yel­low art­work hangs – a gi­ant disk filled with sand, which slowly, al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly, ro­tates as the weight of the grains shift within it, and from which it is dif­fi­cult to tear your gaze; much like these be­guil­ing is­lands them­selves. Che­val Blanc Rand­heli (+960 656 1515; www.cheval­blanc.com), from about £1,310 a villa a night B&B, based on two peo­ple shar­ing.

left: a water villa at che­val blanc rand­heli. op­po­site: the ho­tel’s spa is­land

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