So much has been said and written about the beauty and tranquility of the Maldives that my wife Simone and I decided to experience firsthand what the fuss about this tiny archipelago was all about. After considerable research on luxury resorts we honed in on the One&Only Reethi Rah and flew into Male where a gleaming yacht waited to whisk us to what promised to be four days of sheer bliss. Attentive staff in crisply-starched uniforms proffered refreshments, cold towels and even a travel pillow as we sped through cerulean waters. First impressions count for everything, and this was undeniably an impressive start.
Fifty minutes later, we alighted at Reethi Rah, which is ‘beautiful island’ in the local language, Dhivehi. It’s obvious why the resort is so named: idyllic ambience, lush vegetation, a riot of orchids, spotless white-sand pathways…it was just what we’d expected from a picture postcard tropical paradise.
What we hadn’t expected, and were pleasantly surprised by, was the sheer size and opulence of our stunning, beachfront villa. There was a cathedral-like quality to the interiors with the high, vaulted bamboo ceilings that inspired awe and instilled a sense of serenity. The services of a Villa Host came with the room and the beatific Adi soaked and massaged our feet with bath oils upon arrival and was available 24 hours at our beck and call. From unpacking our luggage, to cleaning up after us, to dusting our sandy slippers, to drawing luxurious aromatherapy baths, Adi was our ever-smiling, ever-efficient Jeeves.
We are no fans of community wading and appreciated having a private infinity pool attached to our villa where we could swim, sip drinks and idle any time, night or day. There are only 130 villas dotted across 12 different beaches at this resort and since our stretch of sandy white was invariably deserted, we could snorkel, swim or take a stroll in splendid isolation.
With options to windsurf, parasail, jet-ski, scuba dive, golf, play tennis or simply lounge in a shaded cabana and contemplate the turning of the earth, it quickly became apparent why tourists fly in from around the world and are willing to pay top dollar for the privilege of being transported to a state of such ataraxia. If this wasn't enough, we found ourselves pampered silly at the spa where tranquil therapy villas extend into the azure waters.
Most luxury resorts in the Maldives can provide great villas and vistas, but friends who know what diehard foodies we are insisted that we choose the One&Only because of the high standards of the dining experience. We had to concede the place was a feast for the senses and were spoilt for choice between the chic Tapasake, which gives Japanese cuisine a contemporary twist and the bohemian Fanditha with luxurious day beds where we lounged al fresco, quaffed cocktails and witnessed molten Maldivian sunsets.
A stringent criteria we apply in judging the food and beverage standards of any establishment is to evaluate the quality of the bread served, be it croissants at breakfast, pastries at tea or the evening’s dinner rolls. So imagine our delight when the bread basket at the all-day restaurant featured a fantastic filo-based grain bread that was at once flaky, crunchy and seriously delicious. As it transpires, the gregarious pastry chef has worked at some of the top hotels in the world and is now baking little morsels of delight in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
During our stay we learnt that the Maldives face the threat of being inundated if the sea level rises by so much as a metre and its helpless citizens are in danger of becoming climate refugees. Incredibly, everything on these emerald isles is imported from elsewhere: thatched cottages from Bali and flowering plants from Thailand, even the spotless white sand is from neighbours like India and Bangladesh. Most resorts generate their own electricity and even distill their own drinking water through reverse osmosis.
On our final evening, the master sommelier put together an intimate, intoxicating wine pairing dinner for us where we savoured and swapped notes on some of our favourite Italian whites and reds – Lacrima Christi, Soave Classico, Tignanello, Montepulciano….
As we sipped our wine and basked in the afterglow of a truly exquisite meal, we came to appreciate why these resorts charge upwards of a thousand dollars per night. Guests ostensibly pay for a slice of paradise but the behind-the-scenes effort and resources involved are simply staggering.
Later, when we returned to our villa, we saw that the indefatigable Adi had drawn us an aromatherapy bath, lit a dozen candles around it and arranged all the sea shells that we had picked from the beach into a beautiful formation by the bath tub.
God, as they say, is truly in the details.