DESERT IS­LAND PICKS

Mal­dives-bound travellers are spoilt for choice as more five-star rooms are be­ing rolled out, re­ports April Hutchin­son

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents -

When the Mal­dives first made it onto the tourist map 45 years ago, it was all rus­tic huts and rough-and-ready live­aboard dive trips. But fast for­ward to 2017 and you will find su­pery­achts, ice rinks, lux­u­ri­ous over­wa­ter vil­las with but­lers, ex­pan­sive spas, great chefs and feats of en­gi­neer­ing, such as the world’s largest un­der­wa­ter restau­rant.

The Mal­dives has diver­si­fied its ac­tiv­ity hol­i­days too. Pro surfers have tack­led the waves around the Four Sea­sons Re­sort Mal­dives at Kuda Hu­raa, which has its own an­nual surf com­pe­ti­tion and a Trop­ic­surf school. Trop­ic­surf also op­er­ates out of re­sorts such as Anan­tara Dhigu, Como Maal­i­fushi and Gili Lankan­fushi, while over at Four Sea­sons Pri­vate Is­land at Voavah, there’s a mo­tor yacht that can sail you to a num­ber of secret surf breaks you’ll most likely have to your­self.

When it opened at the end of 2016, the sev­enbed­room pri­vate is­land of Voavah was billed as the world’s first ex­clu­sive-use UNESCO hide­away, given its lo­ca­tion within Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Bio­sphere Re­serve since 2011. But if all that pri­vacy gets bor­ing and you want to be more so­cia­ble, you can use the ho­tel’s mo­tor yacht to cruise over to the nearby Four Sea­sons Re­sort Mal­dives at Lan­daa Gi­raavaru and hang out.

At the Four Sea­sons you can put your name down for “Manta on Call”, a ser­vice that con­tacts you wher­ever you are in the re­sort and whizzes you by speed­boat to manta ray sight­ings. Since 2006 the re­sort has been the home of the Mal­di­vian Manta Ray Pro­ject, and through its ini­tia­tives such as Manta Re­searcher for the Day and pri­vate manta “sea­faris”, you can get to know more about these in­cred­i­ble crea­tures. They es­pe­cially love Han­i­faru Bay, tempted here – par­tic­u­larly from May to Novem­ber – by the huge amounts of krill and plank­ton. If you hap­pen to be there around full moon, you could see as many as 100 man­tas con­gre­gat­ing.

If ma­rine life is what fas­ci­nates you, you’ve clearly come to the right place. The whale shark is the world’s largest fish, and plenty of these gen­tle gi­ants are res­i­dent in the Mal­dives year-round. May to Septem­ber is their most ac­tive time, and one of the best places to see them is South Ari Atoll. Ex­cel­lent re­sort op­tions around here in­clude Con­stance Moo­fushi – which also of­fers a great all-in­clu­sive plan. There is also the W Mal­dives; su­per-cool Lux South Ari Atoll; and the ex­pan­sive Con­rad Mal­dives Ran­gali Is­land, which boasts Ithaa Un­der­sea Restau­rant, the world’s first all-glass un­der­sea restau­rant.

Pre­mium op­er­a­tors are con­stantly look­ing at ways to max­imise the Mal­dives ex­pe­ri­ence. Amilla Fushi

has a ‘Rich Ex­pe­ri­ence’ based around a four-night stay which in­cludes a pri­vate cruise aboard Sloop John B (with F&B) and stay­ing in four-, six- and eight-bed­room res­i­dences (pri­vate Manta cruises are another op­tion). Other high­lights in­clude a spa day with sun­rise yoga, break­fast, spa treat­ment, beauty treat­ment in­clud­ing hair/nails with one glass of cham­pagne and straw­ber­ries at a spa lunch, and a spe­cial de­gus­ta­tion menu at Feel­ing Koi, the re­sort’s sig­na­ture restau­rant. Each res­i­dence comes with bikes for free­wheel­ing around the is­land and ‘pes­on­alised buggy’. Prices are from $28,531 per res­i­dence for four nights and spe­cial rates are avail­able for ad­di­tional nights.

Health and well­ness is another growth sec­tor. Dr. David Alessi of the Alessi In­sti­tute for Fa­cial Plas­tic Surgery, Bev­erly Hills, will work his "non-in­va­sive magic" with a se­ries of fillers, Bo­tox and Ky­bella at Niyama Pri­vate Is­lands this fes­tive sea­son. In the new year, Ger­man chef Jo­hannes King jets in to host two ex­clu­sive five-course din­ners on Jan­uary 29 and Fe­bru­ary 2. Owner of the Miche­lin-starred Söl’ring Hof, Chef Jo­hannes will serve mod­ern Euro­pean cui­sine paired with a se­lec­tion of wines.

IN WITH THE NEW

With 1,200 is­lands dot­ted around 26 beau­ti­ful atolls, there’s al­ways a new re­sort just opened in the Mal­dives.

These in­clude St Regis Mal­dives Vom­muli Re­sort, where the lux­ury starts as soon as you ar­rive at Malé In­ter­na­tional air­port. Suite guests are col­lected by the re­sort’s Bent­ley, lux­ury SUV or multi-pas­sen­ger van, and taken from the air­port to the sea­plane ter­mi­nal.

The other big head­liner is Soneva Jani, where 25 vil­las ex­ist in a mini archipelago of is­lands, one of which is home to the Mal­dives’ first out­door silent cin­ema. Most of the over­wa­ter vil­las have slides run­ning down from their up­per deck straight into the sea, plus re­tractable roofs – so with a sim­ple flick of a switch, you could be ly­ing be­neath the stars.

Another pop­u­lar new­comer is Mi­laid­hoo Is­land, which opened in 2016 and of­fers un­for­get­table day trips, such as a pic­nic on a sand­spit just for you – well, you and a cou­ple of mem­bers of the team to pour you cham­pagne and serve lunch. Mi­laid­hoo comes from the coun­try’s orig­i­nal re­sort com­pany, Uni­ver­sal, whose port­fo­lio also in­cludes Baros, the

third ho­tel to open in the Mal­dives back in 1973. More re­cently, in 2017, Uni­ver­sal launched the con­tem­po­rary-styled Dhi­gali.

Also “new” for this year is the re­vamped Kanuhura, an es­tab­lished Sun Re­sorts favourite that re­launched af­ter an 18-month ren­o­va­tion, given a new “gypset” (gypsy jet­set) look. High­lights here in­clude the Kokaa Spa and Iru beach lounge, set on one of the best beaches in the coun­try – here, you also get three is­lands for the price of one, in­clud­ing Je­hunuhura, the set­ting for a toes-in-the-sand lunch at grill restau­rant Drift.

Another grand open­ing in 2017 was Grand Park Kod­hip­paru, reached by a 20-minute speed­boat ride from Malé. Part of the Park Ho­tel Group, it opened in June with 120 vil­las, kids club, three restau­rants in­clud­ing the Josper grill-equipped Fire­door, and a seven-room spa by the Com­fort Zone brand.

Also now open is Fushi­faru Mal­dives, with its 49 vil­las de­scribed with lo­cal words re­lat­ing to their views, such as Maakandu (“vast In­dian ocean”) and Ethere­vari (“the la­goon”), along with three restau­rants and a spa.

ON THE HORI­ZON

And if all those just aren’t new enough for you, look­ing for­ward, the re­sort most likely to ar­rive next will be the 67-villa Lux North Malé Atoll. This of­fer­ing from Mau­ri­tian ho­tel op­er­a­tor Lux Re­sorts and Ho­tels will wel­come guests in the spring with Art Deco, South Beach Miami-style in­te­ri­ors and a rooftop ter­race on each “res­i­dence” – deemed to be a Mal­di­vian first – giv­ing them a five-me­tre van­tage point over the la­goon.

Also close to be­ing re­vealed is Ku­dadoo Pri­vate Is­land by Hu­rawalhi, de­signed by ar­chi­tect Yuji Ya­mazaki, who also en­joys the dis­tinc­tion of cre­at­ing the world’s first 100 per cent so­lar-pow­ered lux­ury re­sort – Club Med Fi­nolhu Vil­las. Slated to open early next sum­mer, adults-only Ku­dadoo Pri­vate Is­land will house 15 over­wa­ter vil­las, set five min­utes away by boat from sis­ter ho­tel Hu­rawalhi, home of 5.8 Un­der­sea Restau­rant, the world’s largest all-glass un­der­sea restau­rant.

Com­ing soon, too, is the Baglioni Re­sort Mal­dives, due to open in spring, with 96 vil­las in an el­e­gant Ital­ian de­sign re­flec­tive of the brand; there will

also be a three-bed­room pres­i­den­tial wa­ter villa. Mean­while, Ac­cor has se­cured man­age­ment of the for­mer Jumeirah Dhe­vana­fushi and will be re­flag­ging that as a Raf­fles Mal­dives Re­sort later in 2018 af­ter some re­fur­bish­ment.

Fur­ther choice, un­der the Ac­cor um­brella, comes from an ad­di­tional Fair­mont ho­tel. This is cur­rently be­ing built in front of Jumeirah Vit­taveli, which launched its US$35,000-a-night Royal Res­i­dence this year, sleep­ing up to 14 peo­ple on a five-bed­room pri­vate es­tate within the re­sort. Jumeirah Vit­taveli is a great choice for fam­i­lies gen­er­ally – and is prob­a­bly why they will be the ones to launch the coun­try’s only ice rink this sea­son. Yes – an ice rink, in a trop­i­cal paradise. There’s never a dull mo­ment in the Mal­dives.

Above: Uni­ver­sal’s Baros is­land re­sort

Clock­wise from top Left: Main pool at Coco Privé pri­vate is­land re­sort; Ku­dadoo Pri­vate Is­land; suite at the John Ja­cob As­tor Es­tate, St Regis Mal­dives Vom­muli Re­sort; Mu Beach Bar and Grill at Jumeirah Vit­taveli

Above: Four Sea­sons Pri­vate Is­land at Voavah Be­low: Amilla Fushi

Above: Coco Bodu Hithi re­sort Be­low: Sun Re­sorts’ Kanuhura

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