The Great Pyramid of Giza is surprisingly smaller than imagined. Burma is crawling with tourists. And the Mona Lisa doesn’t crack the top ten of the most impressive paintings at the Louvre. Some bucket-list spots simply don’t live up to the hype.
Fortunately, the Maldives does. And Anantara Kihavah , a Maldivian resort in Baa Atoll that made Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Hot List, is even more stunning than the images on these pages suggest.
Staying in a water villa is the quintessential Maldivian experience. And though you’ll find this style of accommodation sprouting up everywhere from Borneo to Burma, the Maldives – with its see-it-to-believe-it crystalline waters and white sand beaches – is the place to book one.
At an impressive 259 square metres, Anantara Kihavah’s over-water villas are super-sized structures sporting vaulted archway entrances, hardwood floors and infinity-edge pools. A mix of Thai and Islamic architecture, the villas epitomise comfortable luxury. The bathrooms have chaise longues, indoor and outdoor showers and oversized glass-bottomed bathtubs with a view to the ocean below. And, like in the bedroom, floor-to-ceiling glass walls slide open to allow for gentle sea breezes and unobstructed ocean views.
There is nothing worse than dubious photography disguising ageing – or worse, cheap – décor. Anantara has neither. Less than two years old, the villa is decorated with beautiful dark wooden furniture highlighted with intricate carvings, leather accents and Thai silk soft furnishings. The villa centrepiece – an elegant, two-poster king-sized bed – is flanked by marble bedside tables, and a Bose iPod dock plays soft music in the background. It’s expected that guests will spend most of their time in their rooms, so appropriately there are plenty of places to relax: an outdoor table and chairs, daybeds, loungers, an over-water hammock and a jhoola swing on the sundeck, to name a few.
His and hers changing areas are the key to marital harmony. He isn’t reminded that she brought a suitcase filled entirely with shoes, and she can’t see his dirty clothes piled high on the floor. If there is one area that shows wear-and-tear in a hotel, it’s here – specifically, the walls surrounding the suitcase rack. But these didn’t have a scratch on them. I envision a guy with a paintbrush coming in to touch up the walls after every guest departs. It’s a piddly detail, maybe, but one that shows an unusual level of care.
Sea is Anantara’s famed underwater octagonal restaurant and wine cellar, located in the ocean (yes, in the ocean). Two levels below the sea bed, on the edge of the coral reef, my husband and I feast on a four-course lobster lunch while surrounded by schools of tuna, giant clams, bladelike flutemouths and an endless array of beautifully patterned fish. It’s the anti-aquarium experience – here, we’re the ones enclosed in glass.
Though sugar gets all the attention these days, it’s salt that packs the power to boost flavours in virtually every dish on the menu. Anantara’s Salt restaurant capitalises on this, offering up an education – and a taste – on 19 salts from around the world. Here we dined on beef massaman curry with Himalayan pink salt, and local white snapper with candied lime, soft pumpkin mash and hiwa kai, a Hawaiian sea salt. Some dishes, like the snapper, are served on a heavy brick of Himalayan salt, which makes for a fabulous presentation without altering the dish’s taste.
Located within the same dining enclave is Fire, a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant shaped like an Edo period Japanese hat, and Sky, an over-water lounge with a row of rocking chairs poised and ready for sunset.
The three-hour time change between Singapore and the Maldives works in our favour. We show up for 6am beachside yoga after sleeping in later than we have in months. Waking this early brings other benefits – the breakfast area is largely deserted, allowing us to enjoy Maldivian tuna curry, fresh tropical fruit and wheatgrass juice in relative seclusion.
A friend once said that there are two kinds of resorts in the Maldives: those with on-site dive centres and those without. (She only stays in the former.) Here, an onsite “experience club” lets guests snorkel, dive, surf, sail and fish, or simply be a spectator to the turtles, dolphins, mantas and whale sharks that call the Maldives home.
Hubby and I board a boat with two young Maldivian staff members. Twenty minutes later we are cruising alongside a pod of spinner dolphins that are so close we can reach out and touch them (though we don’t). Swimming with incredible synchronicity, the dolphins leap – often in pairs – high above the water. The thrill of witnessing wild creatures in their natural habitat – especially ones as intelligent and acrobatic as these – is truly exhilarating.
Guests who book rooms on land can get a small taste of an over-water experience at the spa. Here, treatments are carried out in one of six water villas, each with glass floor cut-outs beneath the massage tables. You never know when something interesting will swim by – we spot a huge manta ray and a baby shark just before our massages begin.
On the last evening before our departure, we attend a cocktail hour held in the 2,736-square-metre, three-bedroom presidential beach residence. Guests who have stayed here include the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Roger Federer and super-wealthy sheiks from the Middle East. Here, we mingle with the management and senior staff, a friendly bunch comprising over 20 different nationalities.
Each villa has its own “villa host” – ours, a charming gentleman from Marrakesh named Houssam – who is on call to answer questions, make arrangements and usher you around the island via private cart. Each dawn, we watch as workers comb the beaches, not leaving so much as a footprint behind, so that guests can rise to a spotless coastline by breakfast. Turndown service includes the usual tidying and bedside slippers, along with extra touches like homemade cookies and lit candles. Expect to find bottles of your favourite wines and Champagne in your wine fridge – figuring out these details is all part of the prep work done before you arrive.
Practically none. The Maldives is the perfect destination if you’re short on time for holiday preparations. Book your tickets to Malé, and Anantara Kihavahhandles the rest.
It’s a four-hour flight from Singapore to Malé. Upon arrival, an Anantara representative will escort you to the 35-minute seaplane flight to the resort. This transfer can be pre-paid or settled with the resort before you leave.
Seaplanes require light to fly, so often the last flight for the day is around 3pm. If you have a late return flight back to Singapore, Anantara staff members can arrange a guide to show you around Malé for a few hours of sightseeing and dinner before your flight home.