Rupert Murray reviews the latest openings in the Maldives
Underwater spas, restaurants and discos. Overwater villas with glass-bottomed baths. Salt sommeliers. Sunshine butlers. And you thought the Maldives was just about sun, sea and sand.
The hotels in these Indian Ocean islands don’t sit around lazing on the terraces of their pool villas. Although it’s only 40 years since tourism here began – with Kurumba, a hotel still going strong today – the properties now offer weirder and more wonderful new experiences than many in much longer-established destinations.
The Maldives is never free of gossip about what might come next, and big hotel brands are swarming to have a presence. Dusit Thani Maldives launched last month and Per Aquum opened Niyama on February 29. It’s got an underwater club, a floating restaurant and a retro arcade game zone. To come, if current rumours are to be believed, are an Armani Island, a Louis Vuitton Island, in the shape of a high heel, and Blonde Island, staffed only by the golden-haired.
Rather than speculate on the likelihood of any of these being built, we’ve brought you something rather more useful – three beyond-the-brochure, in-depth reviews of new properties you can sell to your clients, plus a short glance at three of the destination’s old favourites.
ANANTARA KIHAVAH VILLAS
Where is it? A 30-minute seaplane ride from the capital, Male.
What’s it like? The marketing men at Anantara like to use the word ‘pristine’ when describing this property, which opened in February 2011. Unlike many other islands, the trees were left almost untouched in the construction. Just 15 were affected and they were all replanted. This means that while the restaurant and bar areas are worthy of the most funky of establishments, full of cutting-edge designer furniture and endless glorious feng shui lines, the stroll back to your beach or overwater villa is a relatively wild one.
The villas are nothing shy of stunning. Designed by a local architect of some note in the style of an upper-class Maldivian home, the sliding walls open you up to the marvellous elements. The bedroom and bathroom flow to the pool and on through to the sun deck, daybed and the ocean with such grace that the villa feels like a work of art – and one that demands viewing from every angle.
Book clients into water villas rather than beach villas if you can. The former are dominated by the sea, giving direct access to the ocean and the chance of watching dolphins and rays swim by from the deck. They also have one of the more outrageous invasions of mankind into the Indian Ocean – a glass-bottomed bath.
What makes it special? Alongside six restaurants and bars, free iPads, a library and the longest pool in the Maldives, the resort has some more unusual services. There are 65 types of tea, 19 types of salt (and a salt sommelier to help you choose), a kids’ spa menu and sunshine butlers who prevent unsightly burns by following you around with a tool belt filled with sunscreen sprays and lotions. The underwater restaurant, the second in the Maldives, is likely to make every meal last twice as long, as so much time is spent gawping out of the window at a beautiful array of fish.
Sample package: Sunset Faraway Holidays offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast in a Beach Villa at Anantara Kihavah Villas from £2,799, including flights with Etihad, and seaplane transfers, for travel from May 1 to June 30.
020 8774 7100
Where is it? A one-hour domestic flight and further hour speedboat transfer from Male – just 18 miles from the Equator.
What’s it like? At the larger end of the island scale, with 112 villas, this hotel is a more manicured resort with lush lawns and orderly flora and fauna galore. It is one of just three luxury resorts this far south – although more are in the pipeline. It is the first from its Turkish father company and influences from its Ottoman homeland are evident in subtle ways in the decor, and less subtle ways in the spa – the biggest in the Maldives at 3,500sq metres – thanks to its hammam.
At the time of review it had been open just two weeks and still in the soft launch phase, but other than a bit of spit and polish in some areas, it already runs with maturity.
Many resorts talk about privacy and you can have that at Ayada, but it has a far more communal feel with relatively busy public areas, such as a Turkish bar that offers shisha pipes.
The rather grand White Room will host wedding services (not legal, none are in the Maldives) and has a large lush lawn – rare in the islands – that will be used for banquets and an open-air cinema.
What makes it special? This is one of the best hotels in the Maldives when it comes to facilities for children, with table tennis, pool, bikes, football, tennis courts and volleyball, fusball, child-sized sunloungers, and kids’ menus. Adults will love the Wine and Cheese Island, which is sadly to be renamed at some stage, but this overwater restaurant offering fine wines, cheeses, chocolate and cigars is a lovely touch.
Sample package: Mosaic Holidays offers seven nights’ half-board in a beach villa at Ayada from £2,699, including air and speedboat transfers and Emirates flights departing on May 17.
020 8574 4000
PARK HYATT MALDIVES HADAHAA
Where is it? At the far south of the Maldives, a one-hour domestic flight and a further one hour speedboat from Male.
What’s it like? Hyatt took over the resort from Alila in April last year, and are already far along with their upgrading and reshaping. Many rooms are finished, and the bar and pools are due to be completed by the end of November.
The resort took five years to build and was put together, according to the resident marine biologist, with rare caution and sensitivity to the coral reef that surrounds it. It has what is considered to be the best house reef of any resort in the Maldives, and as a result, the snorkelling and wildlife on show are the best I have experienced by some distance. The resident marine biologist tells you all about the fish and wildlife before you go, which really adds to the experience.
There are no overwater villas as it would go very much against the vibe of this most Robinson Crusoe of islands, but the rooms are beautifully laid out and every one has private beach access. The hotel grows some of its food and wants to work with local people to become as reliant on local and self-grown produce as possible.
What makes it special? Given that every resort in the Maldives sits on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean it feels rather ridiculous to say that this one feels genuinely remote, but nevertheless it does. The rooms are not visible from the sea and public areas are kept to a minimum, with private dining anywhere they can fit a table encouraged. With no motorised water sports, the silence is only ever broken by arrivals, and the rustle of people turning the pages of their books.
Sample package: Ampersand Travel offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast in a Park Villa at the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa from £2,900 including British Airways flights and transfers. Price valid for travel in May and June.
020 7289 6100
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