Review — Kurumba’s Veli Spa revives authentic traditional medicine

Review — Veli means sand in Dhivehi and indicates Kurumba’s commitment to incorporating essential local ingredients such as coconut oil and indigenous herbs into its spa treatments at Veli Spa. “We are the first spa in the Maldives to use traditional medicine in its most authentic form as a base for our treatments,” says Spa Manager Aishath Zulfishan, or Xubba, as she prefers to be called.

Spa Oils, Veli Spa, Kurumba Maldives
Spa Oils at Veli Spa. Photo Credit: Kurumba Maldives

Kurumba is the Maldives’ first resort and it’s refreshing to see that it continues to be a pioneer in the industry. Using ancient Maldivian medicine in its treatments, is an important step in preserving a unique element of local culture that has been passed on from generation to generation.

It took Xubba eight months to learn Dhivehi Beys, traditional herbal remedies, from one of the most respected local herbal healers. Her proudest moment was to invite her teacher to Kurumba and offer him a treatment at Veli Spa. “He was speechless. He had no idea that this is what we are doing. His words mean more to me than anything,” she says.

Maldivian traditional medicine dates back to a time before doctors. It is based on local herbs and medical knowledge and secrets travellers from faraway shores have shared with the local people over centuries. “Unlike medicines one buys at the pharmacy, herbal medicine is not a quick fix but a life long solution,” Xubba says.

Using traditional remedies and local ingredients is part of the holistic approach to wellness at Veli Spa. “We all lead busy lives, and muscle tension is often the result of mental tension and stress,” Xubba says. “A spa treatment is a journey, we assist guests to foster a positive outlook and embrace self care.”

For my aching writer’s back she prescribes Akarakaraa Theyo Dhemun (Spirit of the Maldives), a signature full body massage, that was especially created for Veli Spa and can be tailored according to needs.

Spa Treatment Room at Veli Spa. Photo Credit: Kurumba Maldives
Spa Treatment Room at Veli Spa. Photo Credit: Kurumba Maldives

I ask my masseuse Made, who hails from Bali, to apply strong pressure. Her nimble hands spread signature oil – healing local herbs and coconut oil – in relaxing strokes and apply pressure point work in all the right spots, loosening my tight muscles. I soon drift off, lulled by the rhythm of her hands and the soothing scent of the herb-infused oil. My massage is finished with the application of heated sand poultices, which feel so much more comfortable against my body than hot stones, which are commonly used in other forms of massage to warm up tight muscles.

Veli Spa, Kurumba Maldives
Veli Spa. Photo Credit: Kurumba Maldives

Supple, relaxed and feeling nourished, I float over stone steps and across landscaped water features to another treatment room where Sri, also from Bali, indulges my feet in an hour-long treatment.

Pedicure, Veli Spa, Kurumba Maldives
Pedicure at Veli Spa. Photo Credit: Kurumba Maldives

She soaks my callused feet in warm water enriched with purifying sea salts. Whilst I sip a glass of complimentary champagne, Sri gently works away on my feet – scrubbing, buffing, shaping, exfoliating and massaging. A shea butter and mango wrap leaves my feet and calves feeling deeply nourished; skillfully applied metallic red nail polish makes my feet look great for weeks to come.

Resting in the spacious and tranquil relaxation room post-pampering, I reflect on how lucky I am to have been given a taste of Dhivehi Beys at Kurumba’s Veli Spa. Saying farewell to the enthusiastic Xubba, the country’s first Maldivian Spa Therapist, I feel hopeful that these traditional remedies will continue to be passed on from generation to generation. Kurumba Maldives is once again leading the way of innovation and preservation.

Lounge, Veli Spa, Kurumba Maldives
Lounge at Veli Spa. Photo Credit: Kurumba Maldives

Gili Lankanfushi Maldives wins 2016 Condé Nast Johansens Spa Awards for Excellence

We are proud to announce that Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives has won the 2016 Condé Nast Johansens Spa Awards for Excellence in the Best Newcomer category – Africa, Indian Ocean and Middle East.

“The Eden of the Indian Ocean, Gili Lankanfushi is a favourite with spa aficionados and stressed-out professionals seeking pampered solace. With sunrise yoga, on-site Chocolatiers, world-class diving and a “Mr/Ms Friday” (butler) service, experiences at this extraordinary resort range from the exceptional to out-of-this-world with a firm focus on indulgent relaxation” – Conde Nast Johansens.

Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Organic Seaweed Leaf Wrap, Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Organic Seaweed Leaf Wrap, Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi

Created to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across the featured spas in their Luxury Spas Guide, the annual Conde Nast Johansens Awards for Excellence are a trusted mark of quality, recognised by luxury consumers and travel professionals alike.

Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi
Meera Spa, Gili Lankanfushi

Gili Lankanfushi™, Maldives is an intimate coral island in a sparkling lagoon, with jetties threading across the water out to spacious villa accommodations. Gili Lankanfushi™ is set on the private island of Lankanfushi in the North Malé Atoll. This luxury resort is just a 20-minute speedboat ride from the International Airport at Malé, the capital of the Republic of Maldives. This 5-star resort is set on the private tropical island of Lankanfushi in the Malé Atoll, one of the 19 atolls that stretch over 800 kilometres through the Indian Ocean. It is one of the 1190 islands that make up the Maldives.

Anantara Kihavah Villas brings San Pellegrino’s Fine Dining Lovers Guest Chef Series to the Maldives

Anantara Kihavah Villas welcomes Chef Tim Butler in a guest appearance at Sea Underwater restaurant for two nights. In association with Fine Dining Lovers, the event marks the launch of an exclusive series at Anantara resorts across the Maldives, which will feature culinary collaborations with San Pellegrino’s annual list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Chef Tim Butler
Chef Tim Butler

To mark this exciting alliance, bringing #25 from this year’s 50 Best list, Tim Butler from EAT ME restaurant in Bangkok will appear for two nights at Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas. Likeminded food lovers will gather in the sublime ambiance of Sea underwater restaurant for an evening of exotic flavours and shared conversation on November 28 and 29. With seating limited to just 18 places each evening, it promises to be a rare and intimate opportunity, paving the way for future events in 2016.

“I have always wanted to go to the Maldives and I am delighted to share Anantara’s exemplary vision of guest experiences with our discerning diners and travel enthusiasts,” says Chef Tim Butler. “When I heard that my dishes will be served in Anantara’s own award-winning underwater restaurant, I could feel shivers of excitement at just the very thought of such a magical combination. I can’t wait to get there and work with everyone for two very special evenings.”

Anantara Kihavah Villas
Anantara Kihavah Villas

At the world’s only underwater wine cellar and restaurant Sea, Chef Tim will indulge guests with the wonders of his dishes that bring a mix of global ingredients, while his creativity brings a fresh, progressive feel to the menu. “The team at Anantara Kihavah is excited to welcome Tim to the Maldives and to mark the first of many exclusive Guest Chef events and collaborative guest experiences with San Pellegrino and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants,” says Kihavah General Manager Jean-Marc Ma-Poon.

Among the signature dishes showcasing just why Chef Tim is ranked #25 in Asia, the seven-course menu will include KUMAMOTO OYSTER (sea urchin & yuzu), SHIMA AJI TARTAR (osetra caviar & blood orange), SEARED SCALLOP (white truffle & charred cauliflower) BLACKMORE WAGYU TATAKI (miso & wasabi), FOIE GRAS “TORCHON” (rabbit rillettes & black truffle), WOOD PIGEON (morel mushroom & egg) and CHOCOLATE & CHILLI (praline & whiskey). Additionally, a menu of the finest spirits and wines will be selected by Kihavah’s Master Wine Guru, Nilesh Bootun and Executive Chef Gaspare Greco to complement the exclusive fine-dining event.

Anantara Kihavah Villas

Anantara Kihavah Villas

Anantara Kihavah Villas

“As part of our strong partnership with Anantara, we are truly excited about this opportunity for one of our top Bangkok-based chefs from the prestigious list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, to cook this amazing Fine Dining Lovers event in the Maldives”, says Filippo Cassabgi, Area Manager for San Pellegrino.

Anantara Kihavah Villas
Anantara Kihavah Villas

Available to guests at Anantara Kihavah Villas as well as those staying at other resorts in Baa Atoll, this month’s one-of-a-kind offering can be booked by calling Anantara Kihavah Villas directly at +960 660 1020.

Celebrating Festive Season At Six Senses Laamu

Six Senses Laamu is ready to welcome the 2015 Festive Season with special events and out of the ordinary experiences for everyone to enjoy. Special celebrations for guests of all ages will be taking place between December 23, 2015 and January 3, 2016 and these include the following holiday highlights:

Six Senses Spa experts suggest to start the day with a laughing yoga session or a Six Senses Mindfulness Meditation. A variety of classes and workshops have been added to the extensive range of signature treatments. For those seeking to discover yoga, aerial yoga, asanas, yoga nidra, pranayama and many more sessions will be available to choose from. The spa is also delighted to have Dr. Gopal, a naturopathic doctor and yoga expert from India, back. Dr. Gopal specializes in Ayurveda, wellness, and nutrition and will be offering, among others, Ayurveda workshops, royal Indian head massage and Chinese acupuncture.

Six Senses Laamu
Treatment Room, Six Senses Laamu
Ayurveda Aromatherapy – Abhyanga, Six Senses Laamu
Six Senses Laamu

Chef Martin and his team offer various culinary suggestions for this season; from a wine journey around the most famous vineyards of the world to an evening of authentic curries and spicy dishes from India and Sri Lanka or a Thai street market experience setup on the beach. And for more culinary adventures, the chef will be hosting another sought after pop-up dinner. While the details of the pop-up will remain a surprise until the actual start of the dinner, be assured that the pop-up will be Festive!

Six Senses Laamu
Six Senses Laamu

Making marshmallow snowmen, sandcastles and decorating festive ornaments is not an easy job for younger guests. A variety of creative, educational and sports activities will be organized by the resort’s hosts for children of all ages, along with a pirate snorkeling adventure.

Des Mitchell will be adding a soul twist to our sunsets on the decks of Chill Bar and Sip Sip and he will be jazzing it up with his good friend and fellow performer Sara France.

Everyone will be wishing Maruhaba aa’aharu, (Happy New Year) in the local language, in a locally-inspired New Year’s Eve setting. Des Mitchell will be hosting the New Year’s Eve party on the beach, inviting all to dance the old year away and to welcome a prosperous new year.

Six Senses Laamu
Six Senses Laamu

For those setting out for an adventure, there are plenty of excursion options available. Whether it be hopping on a boat to experience life in Maldives by visiting a nearby local island or  having a deserted island to yourself for a day, boat captains are ready to take guests there. It is a great time for families to get together and spend some quality time.

But not everything happens on land. Discover the colorful underwater world of the Laamu Atoll with diving and snorkeling excursions or try the skills in your favorite watersports. The hosts are ready to be challenged in volleyball, football, water polo and other sports activities and games.  Clear and starry skies away from the city lights are truly beautiful, so if you are fascinated by the universe with its stars, planets, comets and moon, join astronomer Dr. Parag for stargazing sessions on the beach at night. He will also be offering sun gazing sessions in the mornings.

Nooraanee 2

Nooraanee 2 is a multi-purpose liveaboard vessel in Maldives. It is specialised for big game fishing and cruising as well as surfing trips.

Nooraanee 2  caters well to fishing safaris, with a low stern and 6 rod holders installed. The crew has excellent knowledge of the local fishing grounds, and a fish finder is installed.

Surfing and Cruising safaris are offered as a norm, and Diving is arranged on request.

All rooms onboard are air-conditioned and furnished with two bunk beds (one single & one double) and have attached toilets.

6 Cabins (All cabins are with Double bed and a single bed, Air-conditioned and attached toilet with hot/cold water)

New Logo Unveiling Ceremony at Bandos Maldives

The management of Bandos Maldives is proud to unveil a new logo that replaces the iconic logo which represented the island for over 30 years. Developed as the second resort to open in the Maldives, Bandos is one of the pioneer resorts in the industry.

Bandos Maldives
New logo unveiling ceremony, Bandos Maldives
Bandos Maldives
New logo unveiling ceremony, Bandos Maldives

The new logo encapsulates the spirit of its predecessor by reflecting the main three elements of the Maldives that is the sun, sea and nature. By embracing the spirit of Bandos Maldives, the aim of replacing the logo reflects the need to change with the times and be versatile.

Bandos Maldives
New logo unveiling ceremony, Bandos Maldives
Bandos Maldives
New logo unveiling ceremony, Bandos Maldives

The change does not only end with the logo, in the past year there have been several refurbishments carried out on the property which include an uplift of the reception, Sea Breeze Cafe, Huvan and the swimming pool to name but a few. In the next year, there will be more changes to the island which include both refurbishment and enhancements in the services offered to customers.

Bandos Maldives
New logo unveiling ceremony, Bandos Maldives

As always, Bandos Maldives strives to be the Island of Hospitality.

Sun Aqua Vilu Reef launches in The Maldives

The visionary Sun Aqua brand is delighted to announce the opening of its second property, the Sun Aqua Vilu Reef, a stunningly refurbished resort found on the beautiful bite-sized gem of Meedhuffushi Island in the heart of the South Nilandhe Atoll. The property is the second addition to the group after the Sun Aqua Pasikudah which opened earlier in 2015 on Sri Lanka’s North East coast.

Originally opened in 1998 Vilu Reef is proud to take on new colours and sit as the flagship Maldivian property for the Sun Aqua brand which plans to continue its international growth over the coming years. At Sun Aqua resorts, guests can enjoy perfectly relaxing experiences led by simple luxuries, sensational food and warm, dedicated service and as it stayed open to guests during its refurbishment it continues to welcome new and repeater guests that have grown to love the property and island, year after year.

Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
Sun Aqua Vilu Reef

On 28th October 2015, the original date of opening in 1998, the property officially re-launched to a fanfare of celebration with official ceremonies followed by a beachside feast, dancing and live music held throughout the evening.

Property & Accommodation

The Sun Aqua Vilu Reef is easily accessible from Malé and the International Airport via a 40 minute seaplane ride. The Sun Siyam Family Lounge at the seaplane terminal bids an immediate start to the holiday offering refreshments and massages to help settle guests into the Sun Aqua spirit. The property has gone through a complete revival and been refurbished to an extremely high standard creating five different categories of rooms including 15 NEW Sun Aqua Pool Villas. Splashes of colour can be found throughout the property impressing the Sun Aqua brand into the new future of Vilu Reef.

Beach Villas

Hidden amongst the foliage are 62 shell shaped bungalows, (14 Beach Villas, 18 Deluxe Beach Villas and 10 Jacuzzi Deluxe Beach Villas, 5 Deluxe Beach Villas with Pool & 15 Sun Aqua Pool Villas) some now with lava-stone pools and whirlpool bathtubs. Rooms are now all 20% larger than before and offer private sundecks, re-fitted bathrooms and day swing beds.

Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
Sun Aqua Vilu Reef

Water Villas

A further 41 Water Villas (20 Reef Villas, 9 Sunset Reef Villas, 6 Aqua Villas with plunge pools, 5 Aqua Suites now with private swimming pools & 1 Grand Reef Suite) complete the accommodation offering with a select few even hiding inviting over-water hammocks. All water villas offer incredible vista views across the Indian Ocean and a true Maldivian experience.

Dine & Imbibe

One of the best parts of any journey is the adventure into exotic flavours. Guests can be selective at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef and explore the spice and warmth of home style Maldivian cuisine, feast on gourmet organic and free-range produce grown on the resorts private Farm Island, sink their teeth into freshly caught, barbequed seafood or dine under the stars with the properties destination private dining experience.

Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
Sun Aqua Vilu Reef

The Aqua is the resorts main restaurant sat over the water, producing freshly prepared western and international cuisine served in a buffet style and is also the resorts beautiful breakfast spot. The Well Done, the island BBQ grill on the beach serves freshly caught fish and seafood as well as being the home to the islands impressive glass enclosed wine cellar, featuring the finest wines from around the globe, creating a sophisticated backdrop for any evening. The resort also features a boutique pizzeria creating handmade pizzas topped with authentic seasoning and fresh ingredients. Destination Dining offers guests the chance to dine in private away from other guests on any spot on the island accompanied by their own private chef and waiter.

Before and after dinner guests may enjoy the chance to visit one of the island’s two bars. The Nautilus is the resorts beach bar offering a cool, rustic hideaway where one of the bartender’s cocktail’s will help liven up a night of dancing or an exhilarating game of crab racing. Positive Energy, set beside the pool serves an array of refreshing juices, cocktails and signature tropical fruit punch either under the cool of the coconut tree or on a lounger with views of the lagoon and pool.

Spa & Leisure

One of the biggest developments at the resort has been the creation of a full holistic spa offering. Now a major focus of the resort the Sun Aqua Spa consists of six private treatment pavilions each with open air flower baths, open showers, a hydrotherapy area and double treatment beds. On offer will also be a salon, manicure/pedicure and a beautiful relaxation area. Encompassing the Five Element Theory; Wood, Fire, Metal, Earth & Water the spa will offer a lengthy menu of Ayurvedic wellness rituals, pampering beauty therapies and massage techniques from around the world. It will also offer a selection of signature therapies to help renew body and mind including a rich scrub of coconut or coffee, a herbal Udavarthanam detox or a relaxing, fragrant flower bath.

Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
Sun Aqua Vilu Reef

In addition to spa the Sun Aqua Vilu Reef also offers plenty of leisure activities to keep everyone entertained, relaxed and enjoying their time on the island. Diving is a big part of the culture in the Maldives in general and at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef in particular. The 5* Gold Palm PADI / SSI Diamond Dive centre brings together an exciting array of diving and snorkelling programmes and a chance to explore the sea life and reefs that litter the warm and extremely clear waters. The property hosts one of the best house reefs in the region, located just 30 meters from the shore, offering snorkelers an unrivalled experience. Watersports are also a big part of island life and guests at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef can enjoy windsurfing, canoeing and sailing as well as a range of motorised watersports such as jetskis and water-skiing.

Review — Discover Maldives off the beaten track at Holiday Home Kelaa

Review — Since the first guesthouse opened its doors on Maafushi Island close to Malé in 2010, you can now have a tropical budget holiday on a local island in just about every one of the 26 atolls across the Maldivian archipelago. But getting to the remoter atolls involves costly transfers by speedboat and/or domestic plane and you might wonder whether it’s worth the extra expense.

If you want to experience the real Maldives, if you want empty beaches and authentic experiences, the answer is yes, and yes!

Holiday Home Kelaa in far-flung Haa Alifu Atoll makes visits to the Maldives’ remote far north affordable, by arranging discounted domestic air transfers for its guests.

Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Kerstin Pilz, Holiday Home Kelaa

Wheeling our bags from the quiet and modern arrival hall of Hanimadhoo airport to a wooden pier beyond which stretches a turquoise lagoon as far as the eye can see, we feel as if we have stepped into a Photoshopped brochure of an undiscovered tropical paradise few foreigners have come to visit. A speedboat, aptly named Gaze, whisks us to Kelaa Island, and we gaze in silence for 35 minutes at the incredible colour spectrum.

Holiday Home Kelaa guesthouse manager Morsz, who has come to welcome us, apologises for not having been able to meet us at the airport. There really was no need we say, but it is reassuring to be in the hands of such an enthusiastic and caring manager who makes us feel instantly as if we are part of the family, and indeed of the wider island community.

Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Holiday Home Kelaa
Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Holiday Home Kelaa

We have arrived just in time for the annual Eid al-Adha holiday that celebrates the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. “It’s a bit like Christmas in your country,” says one man who hasn’t been back to his local island in eight years. “It’s when we get together to visit family and childhood friends to celebrate, relax and eat lots of good food.”

Kelaa is this year’s official Eid island and Holiday Home Kelaa is hosting Vice President Adheeb and his entourage. For us, that means spending the first night of our holiday in the vacant home of a local family who, like so many, no longer live on the island. It adds to the sense of this being a trail blazing adventure into the real Maldives.

For the next three days we are the only white foreigners on Kelaa and the welcoming locals show us a form of genuine hospitality that I have rarely experienced. Before we can even put our bags down, we are invited to our neighbor’s house for sweet black tea and traditional bondibai, followed by an invitation to the home of Nasiya, the cook of Holiday Home Kelaa, for a late morning breakfast of rosewater flavored sweet bokiba and savoury bokiba of grated coconut and tuna.

For the next four days it’s party time on Kelaa. Photographers and cameramen have come from the capital Malé to live broadcast the colourful display of traditional dances, Bodhuberu drumming and energetic Bollywood performances by the local youth group Temperature and cover tunes by the 9-piece band The Olympians from Male’.

The highlights are a waterfight between young and old kids armed with huge fluorescent waterguns and the traditional Kadhamaali parade, of males of all ages dressed up in costumes to represent maali, evil spirits and ghosts, banging on drums and kadhaa (a copper instrument). It’s a bit like Halloween in the tropics.

Once the holidays are over, the island quickly empties, as people return to their jobs in the capital and in the many resorts across the archipelago, and we fall into the daily rhythm of island life and the laid-back pace of Holiday Home Kelaa.

Our spacious room with ensuite is part of a freestanding, self-contained, two-bedroom house that is popular with families; we are lucky and have it to ourselves. It sits on the far side of the large and shady yard that serves as a giant sand-floored outdoor living room. Back and front seating areas mean we almost forget to go to the beach, spending lazy mornings between the shaded privacy of the traditional undhoalige – a thatch covered wooden hut with a bed-sized swing, that used to afford ventilation in pre-a/c days – the hammock and traditional jolie [confirm spelling] chairs in the courtyard.

In addition, there are two adjacent double deluxe rooms with private porches and a shared private courtyard. The up-stairs deluxe suite with its private balcony is the jewel in the crown of Holiday Home Kelaa and becomes the honeymoon ‘penthouse’ of a Spanish-Italian couple and their adorable toddler Ambra, who instantly takes our place as the foreign attraction on the island.

Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Holiday Home Kelaa
Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Holiday Home Kelaa

The honeymooners say that they have chosen to ad a domestic flight to their international flight for the privilege of spending their honeymoon on an empty and endless paper white sand beach in an authentic setting. The fact that it will be an alcohol-free honeymoon, does not worry them.

You have chosen well, we say, pointing at the large and shallow lagoon, which is ideal for their toddler and spectacular for romantic sunset watching. The long wide beach, offers several separate patches of ‘bikini beach’, all discreetly hidden amongst shiny lime green shrubbery, complete with deckchairs and beach umbrellas. It makes us all feel as if we are alone on the beach; and as if we are all on honeymoon.

Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Holiday Home Kelaa

I am surprised to discover that there is plenty to do and see on Kelaa after the excitement of the Eid holidays has finished. Exploring the wide lagoon in one of the guesthouse’s kayaks ensures we work off some of the Eid treats we’ve indulged in. At night we try our hand at billiard, table football and darts, none of which I am good at, but it’s fun all the same. Morsz, ever the enthusiastic host, takes us on a snorkeling trip and when we pass on the sunset fishing trip – we are simply too chilled to move – he finds a freshly caught fish all the same and together we prepare a traditional BBQ over coconut shells.

Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Holiday Home Kelaa

On bicycles we explore shady coconut groves, ride through fields of watermelons, pumpkin and eggplant and find our way to a mangrove swamp. At night we sit with Morsz and two of his friends on the beach under a sky full of stars, chewing areca nuts and chatting about the differences of our lives. We continue our chat the next day during a spontaneous excursion by boat to Utheemo Island to visit one of the country’s few ancient monuments, the palace of the national hero, Al-Sultan Ghazi Muhammad Bodu Thakurufaanu, who liberated the Maldives Islands from the Portuguese at the end of the 16th century.

We feel so relaxed and at home, we extend our stay and return to Malé on the weekly supply boat that also serves as a weekly passenger ferry. The Arafa Express is cheap and cheerful and as quintessentially Maldivian as it gets. The 18-hour trip across a handful of atolls on a calm ocean, amongst friendly locals many of whom recognize us, is the final highlight of one of the most memorable holidays I can remember.

Holiday Home Kelaa
Photo credit: Kerstin Pilz, Holiday Home Kelaa

Soneva Fushi pairs Robinson Crusoe fantasy with Intelligent Luxury

Soneva Fushi

“May I take your shoes?” asks Xain our personal Mr. Friday. Our sandals disappear into a cotton bag, where they will remain for the duration of our stay. We have arrived by seaplane at Soneva Fushi ‘international airport’, a small pontoon in the UNESCO-listed waters of Baa atoll, and are whisked by speedboat to Kunfunadhoo Island. Stepping ashore barefoot feels like an initiation rite into the Soneva Fushi SLOW LIFE ethos.

I have come with my 17-year-old niece, who loves bling bling, make-up, fancy clothes and, like most teenagers, needs her daily dose of wifi. I am curious how she will take to the ‘no news, no shoes’ policy of Soneva Fushi where wifi access is restricted in public areas, phones are discouraged, and understatement is the order of the day. There is an unspoken ‘dress down not up’ code; think classy bohemian – simple linens, ethnic robes, yoga attire, cotton bags stamped with your local bookshop’s logo instead of expensive designer handbags.

Soneva Fushi

Opened 20 years ago by the innovative husband and wife team, Eton-educated Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmstrom, a former Swedish high fashion model, the resort is a flagship of their unique brand. The award-winning resort has pioneered many concepts that now define the Maldivian tourism industry, including barefoot luxury on a castaway island. Today this concept has matured into what they call ‘intelligent luxury’. “Our belief in luxury is about combining the traditional opposites of sustainability and wellness with luxury,” says Sonu. “We believe that these things actually complement each other.”

Sustainable luxury begins by sourcing responsibly grown materials to achieve the resort’s signature Scandinavian-design-meets-the-jungle aesthetic of blond woods, driftwood features and bright colours that bring the natural environment inside. “We avoid teak and favour bamboo and eucalyptus: both fast growing trees that we grow in plantations and that are just as beautiful as rarer materials,” says Sonu.

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi
Bar(a)Bara overwater bar

Driftwood straight off the beach and recycled woods artfully assembled into beautiful functional items, give the resort its Robinson Crusoe look. The mosquito net over my bed is held up by a driftwood frame and promises dreams of being stranded on a desert island; slabs of driftwood combine into a giant mirror frame in our enormous, jungle-clad outdoor bathroom; the toilet paper is dispensed from a miniature bamboo ladder; and the chairs and tables in the main lunch and breakfast buffet area look like they could indeed have been made by Daniel Dafoe’s fictional Mr. Friday.

“Sustainability is in the DNA of Soneva,” says Kevin Christison, curator of Soneva Art and Glass. Soneva’s Glass Studio is the latest edition of Eva and Sonu’s innovations that push the limits of sustainability on a tropical island. “Traditional ways of dealing with glass waste, has a huge carbon footprint,” says Kevin, who is a long-term collaborator working with chief designer Eva. “So we thought, let’s do it at the source, let’s up-cycle, not recycle.” A prototype range of plates, bowls, and glassware is being designed in collaboration with the chef of Fresh in the Garden, to match function with form. It is due to be rolled out officially for Soneva’s big 20th birthday party on November 21st of this year.

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi also employs a full-time Waste to Wealth manager, Gordon Jackson, who takes us on a tour of the Eco Centro recycling station. All of the resort’s food waste is recycled instead of dumped in the deep sea, as is common practice in the Maldives. Some of the compost, which sits heaped into gigantic mounds, is sold to other resorts for landscaping. There are plans to build a regional composting centre, he says, which would allow all of the resorts in the atoll to produce their own compost instead of buying it from Sri Lanka.

Getting rid of plastic bottles seven years ago, in favour of water bottled on-site (sparkling and still), now practiced by an increasing number of resorts throughout the Maldives, was a no brainer says, Gordon. He points to a patch of soil baking in the hot midday sun, where the resort’s second batch of solar panels – the first and biggest of its kind in the Maldives at the time was installed in 2009 – is about to be installed, to further reduce its reliance on diesel energy consumption. Another no brainer, it would seem.

Soneva Fushi

Gordon leaves us at the Organic Vegetable Garden, one of two gardens where much of the resort’s fresh produce is grown. Lunch is a delicious sampling prepared by a Sri Lankan chef in a pop-up restaurant, right there in the garden. Our favourites are the eggplant and pumpkin curries and the simple fresh green garden salad, which actually tastes as a homegrown salad should.

On our way back to our villa we get lost on the 1.4 km long island, which is large by Maldivian standards, and come out at the construction site of the new Children’s Den. More like a resort within a resort exclusively for kids, this 5-star adventure wonderland enveloped in the jungle makes me want to be a kid again.

And that seems to be the point of this resort. Roaming barefoot through tangled jungle on old-fashioned black bikes, that look like they too have been recycled, takes me back to the carefree days of my childhood.

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi

My niece also becomes an instant Soneva devotee; the room full of homemade chocolates and the selection of 30 daily changing icecreams – available all day until late on a help yourself basis – will seduce any teenager. I watch her become a little child again, kneeling down to pet a black and white bunny rabbit – there are a dozen or so roaming wild near the vegetable gardens.

Crossing the suspended wooden bridge swaying above the treetops to reach Fresh in the Garden, an exquisite treehouse-like restaurant, we shriek like excited kids. The composting toilet in the treetops, complete with the signature driftwood aesthetic and 180-degree views of the surrounding jungle, should not be missed.

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi

Dinner under the stars above the treetops is followed by stargazing at the observatory, which is reached via another wooden bridge above the treetops. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, has looked through this same telescope on his visit, Shameem the in-house astronomer proudly points out. Like many long-term employees here, this local Maldivian speaks with more than a hint of Sonu’s Eton accent.

Soneva Fushi
Fresh in the Garden
Soneva Fushi
Fresh in the Garden

We cycle back to our villa through the jungle. Earlier in the day we’d found the wifi button and flat screen– discreetly hidden in a mock travelling trunk – but we decide to indulge our Robinson Crusoe fantasy and switch off everything, including the air conditioner. Opening up all the floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows feel like our massive coconut-wood beds sit right inside the thick jungle. We fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean, cooled by the natural breeze.

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi

At Soneva Fushi the Robinson Crusoe fantasy is paired with an extraordinary display of high-quality foods and wines. The breakfast the next morning is the best I’ve ever seen or tasted (because as hard as I try, I can’t taste all of it). The charcuterie and cheese room takes me from castaway island to Italy and France; the extensive menu of fresh juices reminds me to combine luxury with health, and the extensive coffee menu includes Eva’s Special Cappuccino. A short black with a large hood of frothed milk, it is the cup of coffee I have tried and failed to order countless times anywhere I go. This resort truly speaks my language.

We never get to meet the couple behind the Soneva ethos, who call this island home. Eva is in residence, but very busy with the Children’s Den, and Sonu left the week before, but he promptly answers my questions via email.

“Luxury is what is rare to us,” he says. “Our theory is that a new luxury is emerging based on what is now missing in everyday life: nature, sustainability, and good health.” We couldn’t agree more.

Soneva Fushi

All photos are by Kerstin Pilz

Herathera Rebrands to Canareef Resort Maldives

Herathera Island Resort, the first resort developed in Addu City has been rebranded and relaunched as Canareef Resort Maldives. This four star, 271 room property will be managed by Singapore’s Crescendas Hospitality Management Pte Ltd. Canaries Pte Ltd bought Herathera in 2014 for 33 million dollars, from MTDC, who developed the resort.

Canareef Resort Maldives
Canareef Resort Maldives

The 271 villas comprise  of 80 Sunrise Villas, 71 Sunset Beach Villas and 120 Jacuzzi Villas from sizes of 76sqm – 97sqm. Three restaurants, Kilhi, Meera, and Dhoni is served by the culinary team lead by Executive Chef Kampa. The restaurants offers International Cuisines, from local Maldivian delights, to Sri Lankan and French Cuisines. A well-equipped fitness gym is available 24 hours a day for the fitness enthusiasts who prefer exercising in the comforts of an air-conditioned environment.

Jacuzzi Villa, Canareef Resort Maldives
Jacuzzi Villa, Canareef Resort Maldives

The Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed who graced the ceremony held in Malé for the rebranding, said that this resort will open more job opportunities especially for the people of Addu City. Addressing the ceremony Chairman of Crescendas Hospitality Management Lawrence Leow announced plans for increasing the number of beds at Canareef Resort Maldives by introducing over water bungalows.

Canareef Resort Maldives
Canareef Resort Maldives

As an opening promotion Canareef Resort Maldives is offering a very low price of US$65 per room per night including breakfast for two, excluding tax and service charge. The resort offers from Dolphin Cruises to Manta Ray dives and the largest World War II shipwreck, ‘The British Loyalty’, to local Island Tours in Hulhumeedhoo for local cultural experiences. The Equator Crossing to the resort would be one of the key highlights of the domestic flight to the resort. All guests to the Island via domestic flight will receive a personalised Equator Crossing Certificate from the Captain of the airplane.