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