160 BLUE LAGOON
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