Swing Low Sweetly: The Maldives
I suppose it is a legitimate concern. Only 200 of the 1,192 Maldivian islands are inhabited. Simultaneously, it’s one of the world’s most dispersed countries and the smallest country in Asia, in terms of population and landmass.
To add a bit of a brain twister to the equation, the Maldives has the Earth’s lowest highest point: 2.3 metres is as high as it gets. And it carries the title of lowest country on the planet, with an average ground level of 1.5 metres above sea level. So it’s probably not worth packing your hiking gear.
“And I couldn’t possibly spend a week lying on the beach,” they say. “Who are these cretins?” you might be thinking. I, for one, can think of worse ways to spend a week than lounging by one’s own private infinity pool.
But, if you are of the proactive, non-lounging school of thought, then here are a few things to do in the Maldives: take an art lesson, visit a local island, play a spot of tennis, do a yoga class, have a massage, learn how give massages, go yachting, diving, dolphin or turtle spotting, dabble in a spot of underwater wine tasting, or take a cocktail making class.
When I say these are a few things on offer in the Maldives, I mean specifically at the new Anantara Kihavah Resort.
Although open just a few months (the official opening was at the end of March) Kihavah has already sent ripples through the calm Indian waters. Within weeks the resort was seeing repeat visitors, and the apparently impossible was happening: Kihavah had walk in guests.
Walking on water is not widely accomplished outside the realms of fiction, but Kihavah was witness to the island equivalent of the biblical miracle as guests were sailing by, catching a glimpse of the new resort, and booking in then and there.
So, what caught their maritime eyes? Well, sailing past they may have spotted the residence overwater villa, the creme de la creme of its category with uninterrupted views, private dining areas, a 14-meter pool and a personal Thai massage pavilion. The residence has already had the Abramovich seal of approval; the Russian businessman was one of Kihavah’s first guests.
Circumnavigating the island, it would be hard not to notice the longest pool in the Maldives, glistening in all its 49-meter glory. And anyone who jumped off-board for a quick swim might have seen Kihavah’s underwater treasure: the wine cellar. The first of its type in the Maldives, the cellar is stocked with over 6,500 bottles and 320 labels from 14 different countries which you can sample as you watch fish (and perhaps snorkelers) swim by.
Another thing that sets this pear shaped island apart is its lush vegetation, coming onshore you will appreciate the winding tree-covered paths and shady canopies. The island was converted in to a luxury resort without cutting down a single tree, an effort that was rewarded with a Green Globe Certificate. On closer inspection you will notice that some of the buildings curve to make way for trees, whilst others simply accommodate coconut trees which come jutting through the wooden floors creating a natural, treehouse-like feel.
For the more conventional guest, the resort is 35-minutes by seaplane from Male International Airport. Flying in provides great views and gives you a feeling of just how remote and uninhabited this part of the world is. On arrival, guests are welcomed and refreshed with the ubiquitous Anantara cool flannel, before being scooted off in buggies for in-villa check-in.
Kihavah has a total of 78 villas, all with private pools, wooden sundecks and swinging daybeds, ranging in size from 260 to 860 square meters. The big choice is whether to go for an overwater villa looking straight out to the sea, or a beach villa where you can wander out onto the golden sands. Both options come complete with a personal housemaster who will see to your every need 24-hours-a-day.
After safely delivering me to my overwater villa (passport details given, foot ritual completed and pillow menu discussed) my housemaster departed. If the word “housemaster” makes you think of fagging, midnight dorm atrocities and a lifetime of recurring nightmares, well think again, this is beyond the wildest dreams of any schoolboy.
The delivery of guests to villas can evidently be a one-way process; room service carts trundle back and forth delivering food and refreshments to those who can’t quite muster up the will-power to leave their swinging day beds, private infinity pools and sun loungers. The overwater villas also have three hanging hammocks suspended from the front of the decking. Sinking into one of these with a book is a one-way ticket to an afternoon nap you’ll never forget. Well, you probably will. But you take my point.
The choice of showers alone is enough to keep you villa-bound.
For evening bathers there’s a light below the bathtub which illuminates the sea below. This creates an incredible feeling of being in a fish tank on the sea. Since a view of sand isn’t quite as exciting as sea, the beach villas veer away from glass-bottomed baths and have outdoor bathrooms instead. With fauna creeping over the walls and coconut trees above, they even have built-in wine coolers.
The villas are decorated with contemporary interiors, mainly whites and blues, but with hints of local fabrics, too. All the villas have free internet: a nice touch since even the smartest hotels can be known to charge for such “extras”. Another example of the Anantara attention to detail is the choice of books in each villa, which is tailored in terms of language and subject to suit its guests.There is also an island library with a large selection of reading material, as well as films and iPads (you simply check-out an iPad in the same was as borrowing a book) though the thought of staying ‘in’ when you’re in Paradise does seem a tad disappointing.
Exploring Kihavah’s weaving paths, you might come across the tennis court or spot the bicycle shed. Guests can use bicycles at their will, but a warning: cycling on sand is not easy. I fell off twice within two minutes.
In terms of activities, there is an array of diversions on offer. Learn how to play the Bodu Beru drums, take an art lesson from the resident artist, or join a Maldivian dance class. For families with children the Thiththi Boli Kids Club offers daily complimentary activities for guests of 12 years and under.
Or, if you want a taste of Maldivian life, visit nearby Kudarikilu Island where a local chief has set up a museum and, if you’re lucky, he might tell you a thing or two about the age-old star-gazing method of fishing.
Exploring the Indian Ocean can be done in several ways. Highly recommendable is the dolphin excursion, taken by Kihavah’s resident Marine Biologist who knows a thing or two about where to find a dolphin pod. There is also the 25-meter Ocean Whisperer yacht, popular for weddings and honeymooners but also great for slow pace island exploration or a romantic dinner on the ocean.
For those who don’t mind getting a wee bit wet, there is wave skiing and wake-boarding behind Velocity and Impulse (the aptly named speedboats), or you parasailing on Freebird, the (also aptly named parasail boat).
And, of course, there are the underwater options. Both scuba diving and snorkelling afford great views of the coral reefs, home to everything from planktonic organisms to sharks, crustaceans and sponges to dolphins, turtles and whale sharks.
So you see, there are a few things to do in the Maldives, and we haven’t even got to the spa yet. But all this talk of action is enough to make anyone hungry. Kihavah has no less than six restaurants and bars, each with a distinctive setting, menu and ambience. Let’s start with breakfast, and the selection on offer is second to none. Plates is a sand floored dining hut with an alfresco deck on the beach. This is the sort of buffet breakfast that makes you genuinely distressed over what to have, so you end up eating everything from pancakes, pastries and omelettes, to Maldivian stews and curries.
After a breakfast such as this there is only one way to spend the morning and that is hovering over the pool on a carved swing bed, or lying back on a retro-style sun lounger being attended to by “Sunshine Butlers” who deliver water, fruit skewers and, of course, cold face towels.
As for lunch, salads and pasta dishes are served at the poolside Manzaru Restaurant. In the evening the upstairs part of Manzaru comes to life offering Italian food and regional specialties.
The signature dining experience, however, sits on stilts and is an under- and overwater affair called Sea.Fire.Salt.Sky. The underwater wine cellar doubles up as Sea Restaurant, where you can indulge in a wine-pairing degustation menu. Situated at the edge of a reef, guests at Sea look out of underwater windows as schools of multicoloured fish swim past. “Guests often sit in complete silence, just watching,” laughs the sommelier.
Back up above sea-level, teppenyaki is the name of the game at Japanese-inspired Fire. Perching along the bar, diners watch cooking displays whilst tucking in to rock lobster, wagyu beef or the catch of the day. Fire is most distinctive by its roof which is formed in the shape of a cuttlefish bone and influenced by an ancient Japanese helmet from the Edo period.
Salt is more generically Asian and is memorable for its sea views. Oh yes, and for the massive fan that takes centre point and stretches across the whole restaurant. Lastly, Sky is a double storey bar in Thai style with large rocking chairs, perfect for watching the sun go down. This is the place to come for pre-dinner cocktails and perhaps the odd spring roll.
If you feel you need to work off your excesses, the fitness centre will not disappoint. The large windows give it a jungle feeling, and there’s even an outside deck for yoga lessons au natural. For retail therapy, Kihavah has an onshore gift shop and there’s a boutique at the overwater spa. The spa is unmissable, not only for its treatments (which I’ll come back to) but also for its lounge area which has plunge pools and a Jacuzzi. You can also order healthy snacks here and sip detoxifying ginger tea.
My Thai massage left a lasting impression. I was welcomed by a delicate voice: “Hello Miss Gabriel, my name’s Ryan”. I had met my Thai equivalent: a fellow female with what is widely considered a bloke’s name. Luckily, by the end of the treatment, I felt as light as a feather and was so relaxed I couldn’t remember either of our names. In fact, it’s fair to say that the entire Maldives experience will render you so assuaged of stress and worry, you may well casually forget your way home.
Gabriel O’Rorke stayed at Anantara Kihavah Villas and Anantara Dighu Resort, for more information visit anantara.com or call +960 660 1020. For booking flights on Oman Air visit omanair.com or call +44 (0)8444 822309.