Best of the Maldives: Alimatha – Longest Reef

Alimatha - Fottheyo longest reef

While the Maldives might have limited links land above sealevel, it’s undersea world is an expansive wonderland. And the most expansive of them all is the Fottheyo reef in the Vaavu atoll

We all know that Australia has the Greatest Barrier Reef in the World, but how many of you know, which one is the Greatest One in Maldives in terms of square kilometres?! The biggest one is Fottheyo Reef in Vaavu, with its 68 SQ KM.”

Great QI challenge by Paola.

Best of the Maldives: Links Golf – Shanrgi-La Villingili

Shangri-La Villingili - golf course start

Golf is a good walk spoiled” – Mark Twain

And if you are going to “spoil” your walk, you might as well make it a great one along the coastal beauty of Maldivian paradise. According to Shangri-La Villingili (and I haven’t been able to find any examples to contradict them), their 9-hole golf course is the *only* course in the world where *every* hole is on the ocean. Of course, Scottish links are the world showcases for links play, but even the legendary St. Andrews only has its front nine on the ocean (the back nine returns inland).

I love it when Maldives resorts push their activities out to the ocean. For years, the “activities” (eg. spas, fitness centres, sports areas) were sequestered in the middle of the island. I guess this made use of this interior and they figured that people would be so busy doing their thing that they wouldn’t need breath-taking views. But the whole point of doing these activities on holiday in the Maldives is to enjoy them *with* the bonus of the enchanting ambiance. Now, the top properties put their spas and gyms and other activities right on the water which lured people to the destination in the first place.

During our Tour visit to Villingili this summer, Lori and I actually got to play a proper round of golf on this distinctive course. As I noted in my tour report, it might be just a par 3 course, but it is still a serious course – seriously laid out, seriously challenging, seriously beautiful surroundings and seriously fun. Not our best round of playing (see Twain quote above), but certainly one of the most spectacular rounds we’ve ever played.

The course does require a very precise approach game as the fairways are narrow (limited real estate) and unforgiving (eg, the big, blue ocean looming to the right of every shot). Elite golf these days is all about the approach. Everyone on Tour can drive plenty far enough with accuracy, but the birdies are made on heroic approach shots landing close to the pin or heroic putts from further away from the pin (and the former are a bit easier to achieve for a pro).

Also during our stay, I had a chance to meet one of the course designers and architect, Kai Smit, and ask him a few questions about this Olympic calibre course. As the Rio Games finish up today (including the first ever Olympic Golf Tournament), here is an in depth look at Maldives’ own tropical golf course…

• What was the inspiration to build a golf course on such limited space?

The southern tip of Villingili Island was undeveloped and the location where the Project Contractor Dormitory was located. This parcel of land was also the logistics centre for materials and equipment that had to be imported to construct the Hotel. It also served as a centre for project waste collection before shipped off the island. The Challenge was twofold, namely 1) to restore the natural habitat and environment to be consistent with the rest of the Island and 2.) try to introduce a value added recreational activity for Resort Guests without harming the environment. The orientation and scale of the peninsula lent itself to be a superb 9 hole – Par 3 Golf Course. Providing a pleasant walk at Dawn and Dusk. All Golf Holes could be routed alongside the ocean, creating 9 greens next to water and ensuring that when playing at dawn or dusk – the players did not look into the sun on the first five outward holes and the last three inward holes. The only hole that the player may look into the sun at Dawn is the signature 6th Hole that faces eastward – and what a sight that can be!

• What was the biggest challenge to building the course?

The limited supply of sand and elevation of the land . Neap tide also presented some challenges as the course is low lying and the eastern shoreline on the peninsula can experience some rough sea conditions.

• What is your favourite hole?

The signature 6th Hole with the ocean backdrop of breaking waves.

• Any tips for playing for course?

Ensure that you have enough golf balls and stay out of the ocean. Generally, the course favours the player hitting a draw as opposed to those players who like to shape the shot from left to right. Below is a photo tour of the course with the overall layout map directly below, with the individual hole layouts below that. Then following is each of the (a) tee shot views, and (b) green views.

Clubbing at its best!

Shangri-La Villingili - golf course layout

Shangri-La Villingili - golf course card

(click on picture for a zoom in)

1st HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 1 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 1 - green

2nd HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 2 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 2 - green

3rd HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 3 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 3 - green

4th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 4 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 4 - green

5th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 5 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 5 - green

6th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 6 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 6 - green

7th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 7 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 7 - green

8th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 8 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 8 - green

9th HOLE
Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 9 - tee view  Shangri-La Villingili - golf course - hole 9 - green

6 Tips for Maldives Fashion Pics

Photography in the Maldives

World Photography Day today.

A perfect day for the Maldives Complete recipe for the perfect pix, at least from a fashion shoot side. This piece is not about general photography or even just shooting in the Maldives. I’m not covering tips on some of the most popular subjects in that paradise like…

  • Underwater Photography (but make sure you have a good light and red filter for deeper shots)
  • Seascape Photography (but get yourself a polarising lens filter to bring up some of the underwater)
  • Sunset Photography (an art in itself with hordes of guests mobbing the west side of the resort island every evening)

This post is just tips for fashion shooting based on the extensive research into the Maldives Complete Fashion Base. As Insta-mania and the popularity of the Maldives as a photoshoot destination continues to grow, the bar for top shots is set even higher. When I select showcase shots, it is always about the photo itself. I do give points for profile prominence (because people do get enchanted with celebrity), but the first question I ask is “how good of a photo is it?” I find myself scrutinizing what makes one photo better than another. Same winsome models, same alluring backdrop, and yet often dramatically different quality and impact.

Here are the Maldives Complete top tips for fashion shooting in paradise…

1. Lighting, Lighting, Lighting – This is photography 101 really. First of all, avoid backlighting (see below). Either through posing the subject or through use of flash and aperture. For best results, do your shooting when the sun is low in the sky (early morning or sunset). It imparts a whole different hue on your subjects that makes them glow and fills out their features. When you have overhead sun, too often the features (eg. face) are spoiled by shadows. Most professionals do almost of their shooting in a frenzy of early morning and late afternoon.
Maldives Photography lighting

2. Take off the sunglasses – You might think sunglasses provide a “cool” look, but really they make you look detached. They are cliché and the dark spots in the middle of the bright, colourful picture doesn’t work aesthetically. They take away all the personality. They turn the subject into something cartoonish. Yes, the bright sunlight can hurt the eyes and make the subject want to squint.  First, see “Lighting” point above as the softer crepuscular light alleviates this issue.  Also, simply give the subject a countdown so they open there eyes just when you are ready to snap.  And on the subject of black eyewear, for the underwater shots, don’t choose the black mask. Choose something more colourful. Or for the truly pro shot, a mask that matches the swimsuit.
Maldives Photography sunglasses

3. Choose your sky – The backdrop is the whole reason you are shooting in the Maldives. And the ocean-counterpoint of the sky is a huge portion of your picture. In a place like the Maldives, blue skies complement the azure sea for a dazzling background. Some bright white cloud highlights are fine, but too often people do shots with grey skies in the background. Wait for the skies to clear or position the shot in a direction with fewer or brighter clouds.
Maldives Photography sky

4. Fill the frame with the person – Yes, the Maldives backdrop is unique and enchanting, but don’t forget that the human being is nearly always the most important part of the shot. Maybe your focus is the background and the person in the shot is just meant to be a small touch, but most people are more interested in the person than the backdrop. Yes, if you fill the frame with the person, one will see less background square inches, but actually you will still get plenty of a feel for the background. Most people who fall into this trap, I think, are simply trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want a shot of their subject, but they can bring themselves to cut out any part of the gorgeous background. That’s where the editorial discretion and artistic input comes in – deciding which part of the background to feature as the best complement to your foreground subject.
Maldives Photography framing

5. Twist the body – Armography. Nothing more boring than a straight body standing or lying there. Get the body into an interesting shape. Do something.  The shape gives the photo visual interest and even a sense of movement.
Maldives Photography standing

6. Enough with the Selfies – Can I have a quiet word, please? Selfies are photographically ridiculous. Maybe if you are with a friend and no one is around and you want a quick snap to capture the moment spontaneously, they can be tolerated as a last resort. You can’t be model and photographer at the same time. The composition sucks with arms and selfie-sticks (oh my god, how dreadful) jutting into one of the lower corners. Just say no to selfies. They look ridiculous, contrived, self-absorbed and awkward. A decade from now, they will be one of the things we look back at the Teens and say “what were we thinking” (as we do today with mullets and teased hair styles). Digital photography is so easy. Mistakes can be fixed with multiple shots and imperfections can be touched up in Photoshop. Just ask a passer-by to click the button. Several times to get it right if needed. Staring at the phone instead of the audience.
Maldives Photography selfies

Happy shooting!

Pina Perfection

Perfect Pina Colada

Coconut Full Moon tonight. The perfect time to toast that essence of equatorial elixir – pina colada.

Maldives is not my only tropical love. I am also an epicurean devotee of the pina colada. It is my tropical cocktail. I only really drink it in the Maldives because I do believe that ambience and context is as much a part of an exceptional drink experience as the drink itself. Like port with cigars and cards. Or Pimms at one of The Season events. I have occasional sampled pina coladas when I am at establishments renowned for their mixology just to explore their spin on this classic. But the experience is more clinical and investigative than my sensual savouring in the Maldives.

My pina passion has reached a higher profile as a part of my annual Maldives Tour posts to the Trip Advisor Maldives Forum. I post a daily thumbnail sketch of each resort highlighting things like the weather, my favourite dish, snorkel spottings. And I include a headline assessment of the resort’s pina colada.

For me the pina colada is as iconic a tropical drink as the Maldives is a tropical destination. And it can be an emblematic indicator for the resort overall. It’s complicated and varied enough that the resort’s own quality of ingredients, attention to detail, creativity, flair and even personality can shine though in this little alcoholic microcosm. You can have foamy vs. flat, shaken vs. blended, iced vs. chilled, not to mention a range of ingredient variations (eg. coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut flavouring). And it can be presented in simple tall glasses with a sprig or garnish to coconut shells with a cornucopia of fruit and frills.

Last year, the epicenter of all things coconut, Kurumba resort, rose to the “Pina Colada Challenge” with an unprecedented flurry of pina colada artistry on the occasion of my visit. The exceptional evening got me questioning my first principles. With all of the options and variations, what was I looking for in the “perfect pina colada”. That led to a bit more “research” and now my own recipe and guidance for the quintessential pinoconut concoction.

FUNDAMENTALS – What are my basic principles for the ultimate pina colada?

  • TemperatureFrozen. This is the counterfoil to the sun drenched tropics. You are melting away in the warmth and so part of the experience is the frigid coldness of the drink. The best pina colada is the coldest pina colada. Some tips to achieving this frigorific chill…
    • Store all of the ingredients in the freezer. Including the rum and the glass along with frozen coconut cream and pineapple juice. Note that you will need to freeze the coconut cream and pinapple juice in small chunks or cubes in order for them to blend effectively on mixing.
    • Serve in a “stem” glass so the hand does not warm the drink while holding it.
  • ThingsFresh. Fresh, top shelf ingredients should be a given, but I am always surprised at how many top resorts try to get by with inferior ingredients.
    • Fresh pineapple juice. Not from a can or concentrate (which almost always has added sugar).
    • Coconut cream (not coconut milk, coconut flavouring, or pina colada mix)
    • Top quality white rum. Not the cheap stuff. Not dark rum.
  • TextureFine. Another bad bit are…the bits. Yes, it is a “style” thing. Much like the difference between the more finely textured Parisian bisque as opposed to the more rustic and thicker Normady bisque. The pulp might seem to add to the appearance of freshness, but the mouth feel distracts from the focus on the flavours and the frozenness.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 parts Coconut Cream – (not Coconut Milk, it’s too thin and not coconutty enough)
  • 4 parts fresh Pineapple Juice – (not pulpy, see above on Texture)
  • 2 parts White Rum – (not flavoured)
  • 1 part medium sugar syrup (3:4 ratio of sugar to water)

Despite many classic recipes call for it, I first tried to avoid the Sugar Syrup ingredient. I thought one could get the desired sweetness with the pineapple juice and even the coconut cream would contribute a bit. However, in depth experimentation showed that the syrup really helped to smooth out and mellow the final product in a way no other balancing could (without sacrificing the rum kick). If getting or making the sugar syrup is just a step too far, then actually using Malibu Rum (the exception to the “not flavoured Rum” rule) provides the same sweetness and some of the mellowing effect (but unfortunately does introduce a distinctly “artificial” or even “chemically” tinge).

Also notice NO ICE. Ice just waters down the drink and interferes with the smooth sipping. The frozen ingredients provide all the frigidity that you need (and more than shaking over ice will ever do).

Perhaps the key objective here is balance.  You don’t want any individual ingredient overpowering the flavour.  You want all of the tastes to blend harmoniously.

RUMS

  • Baccardi Carta Blanca Superior White Rum – The classic and default option.
  • Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum – The premium option for smoothness and distinction (“clean, dry rum which contains fewer of the heavy alcohols which tend to provide other rums a sweeter flavour profile. The Especial Extra Dry is blended from a mix of rum spirits which have been aged a minimum of 2 years and up to as many as 5 years in White American Oak casks. The rum is triple charcoal filtered, and was developed as a high-end cocktail spirit”).
  • Malibu Caribbean Rum with Coconut Flavour – The oft-resorted to shortcut for coconut and sweetness boost.

DIRECTIONS

Blend ingredients until smooth. Not too little so that it is lumpy. Not too much that it overly thaws the drink. Depending on the type of blender you have, you might want to pre-crush the frozen coconut cream as this can freeze quite solidly.

GARNISH

You can let your inner Carmen Miranda go crazy if you like, but there is only one classic garnish – a skewered Maraschino cherry and pineapple slice perched on the edge of the glass. Some say the cherry is dated and even twee, but I guess I am just too old school.  And no straw! The drink needs to be sipped from the glass like a fine wine. Straws are mostly for drinks with ice (see note above on “no ice”).

The Guardian has also published their pina perfection path “How to make the perfect piña colada”. It’s an okay recipe. I’m against the use of ice for a truly “perfect” pina, but I understand how it is an expedient way to achieve coldness. And the piece provides some in depth perspectives on some of the dynamics of the drink.

Happy Hour Coconut Moon everyone!

(special thanks to our friends Wayne and Lucille who contributed as research assistants in the methodical lab testing)

Best of the Maldives: Water Feature Jacuzzi – Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru

Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru - water feature jacuzzi

How do you like to relax? Bathing in a jacuzzi? Listening to the hypnotic sounds of a water feature. Well, how about a water feature into the Jacuzzi. I’ve seen several cascades into villa pools, but Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru’s aqua combo was the first I’ve seen with a Jacuzzi. Double the soothing soak.

 

Maldives Guide to Gymnastics

AERIAL - Sjana Elise Earp (Australia) – Amilla Fushi - 2

The final day of the most aesthetically enchanting event of the Olympics – Gymnastics. Perfectly honed athletes performing exquisitely choreographed routines with balletic grace. For those of you who have not quite figured out the difference between your triple salto and your Yurchenko loop, Maldives Complete has assembled a small primer for you…

AERIAL – Sjana Elise Earp (Australia) – Amilla Fushi [ ABOVE]

HANDSTAND – Ea Nitsche Holm (Hong Kong) – Anantara Kihavah
HANDSTAND - Ea Nitsche Holm (Hong Kong) – Anantara Kihavah


LANDING – Jade Kiss (Canada) – Conrad Rangali
LANDING - Jade Kiss (Canada) – Conrad Rangali

PIKE – Jessica Olie (United Kingdom) – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
PIKE - Jessica Olie (United Kingdom) – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru - 9

PLANCHE – Jess Watson (Indonesia) – Maafushi
PLANCHE - Jess Watson (Indonesia) – Maafushi

RING JUMP – Sjana Elise Earp (Australia) – Amilla Fushi
RING JUMP - Sjana Elise Earp (Australia) – Amilla Fushi

ROUND-OFF – Chloe Lambertt (Australia) – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
ROUND OFF - Chloe Lambertt (Australia) – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

SPLIT – Alana Kay (USA) – Anantara Dhigu
SPLIT - Alana Kay (USA) – Anantara Dhigu

TUCK – Tara Stiles (USA) – W Retreat
TUCK - Tara Stiles (USA) – W Retreat

TWIST – Melissa Pretorius (Australia) – Kandooma
TWIST - Melissa Pretorius (Australia) – Kandooma

YANG BO – Maiama Khateli (Netherlands) – Canareef
YANG BO - Maiama Khateli (Netherlands) – Canareef

Best of the Maldives: Slumber Guru – Anantara Kihavah Villas, service

Anantara Kihavah Villas - slumber guru

A break from all of the intense Olympic activity with Relaxation Day today. And if you need more than a special day to help you relax, then head to Anantara Kihavah Villas for a bit of coaching and coaxing from their “Slumber Guru” service…

“The Slumber Guru escorts guests to their villa where a silky milk bath awaits them in their candlelit bathroom and tranquil background music sets the tone for an evening of rest and relaxation. The pampering continues with a massage on the villa’s private deck, with a choice of Lavender or Ylang Ylang essential oils. Before guests retreat to bed, the Slumber Guru serves infused herbal tea or hot chocolate and homemade cookies, evoking nostalgic childhood memories. The guests’ choice of pillows from the Pillow Menu are misted and lavender silk eye masks and ear plugs ensure that no light or sound disturb their rest. With a softly spoken “Good night, sweet dreams” the Slumber Guru turns off the lights and tip-toes outside leaving one to drift off into a deep and restoring sleep. While a good night’s sleep is priceless, the cost is $200 per couple.”

Fashionable Footwork

Emelie Natasha (Sweden) – Sheraton Full Moon

The biggest event of the biggest world sporting competition takes place today – the 100 metre dash. The fastest human alive. Despite the aesthetic appeal of sunny sports like Beach Volleyball (the second fastest sport to sell out at the Olympics), it is always the 100 metre Final that is the top seller. In honor of just shy of 10 seconds of running, here are 10 perfect 10s getting into the striding spirit in the Maldives…

  1. Emelie Natasha (Swedish) – Sheraton Full Moon [ABOVE]
  2. Natallia Yakimchyk (Poland) – Anantara Kihavah Villas
    Natallia Yakimchyk (Poland) – Anantara Kihavah Villas
  3. Mona (Russia) – Kurumba
    Mona (Russia) – Kurumba

  4. Tatiana Vasilieva (Russia) – Sun Siyam Irufushi
    Tatiana Vasilieva (Russia) – Sun Siyam Irufushi

  5. Luo Zilin (China) – The Residence
    Luo Zilin (China) – The Residence

  6. Jelena Petelinkar (OAE) – Kandooma
    Jelena Petelinkar (OAE) – Kandooma

  7. Alain Antonenko (Ukraine) – Sun Siyam Irufushi
    Alain Antonenko (Ukraine) – Sun Siyam Irufushi

  8. Faya Nillson (Sweden) – W Retreat
    Faya Nillson (Sweden) – W Retreat

  9. Camille Brady (USA) – Maalifushi
    Camille Brady (USA) – Maalifushi

  10. Missy Rayder (USA) – Sun Siyam Irufushi
    Missy Rayder (USA) – Sun Siyam Irufushi

Best of the Maldives: Ratios – Cocoa Island

Cocoa Island - sand spit

It’s all about proportions. Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio are just two examples of proportions that drive our aesthetic appreciation. I’ve included ratios in the Maldives Complete database from the outset: Rooms-per-Hectare of island size, and Cost-per-Meter for room types. Visiting Cocoa Island this summer, two of the most striking features to it were about its proportions…

  • Sandbar-to-island ratio – It’s distinctive sand spit is not only one of the Maldives resorts’ longest at 1km (at ebb low tide), but with the only 350 metre island it makes it the highest ratio of sand spit to island quite easily.
  • Guests to Resident Staff ratio – Cocoa Island is one of the most tranquil resorts we have ever visited. It’s not just that you don’t see many guests…it’s that you don’t see many staff. Or much resort infrastructure. It really is like a deserted island. They have a miniscule 150 staff (plenty to keep the place running smoothly and all your needs catered to), but less than 60 live on the island itself. Most live on local island 5 mins away. As a result, the island doesn’t have that buzz of activity with big staff quarters compound in the center of the island.

Best of the Maldives: Sand Bars – Constance Moofushi

Constance Moofushi - sand bar

The classic allure of the Maldives is the minimalist iconic image of a plot of sand with a solitary palm tree. And sometimes, even the palm tree is missing. Then, you are left with one of the Maldives famous sand banks. A smudge of white coral sand peeking out of the sea. If the resort gives you that feeling of remoteness sitting on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean at the resort, then an excursion to one of these postage stamp parcels amps the sensation even more.

Many resorts have a sand bank nearby. Some even have a couple. But Constance Moofushi is the first resort I have come across with 3 or more in its immediate vicinity. When we swung by there during our tour, we spotted three different ones scattered around the resort.

The resort reports:

“The sand banks around Moofushi depend a little on the tides, if its high tide to low tide. Hence they will disappear or appear according to the tides which change on a daily basis, we do have strip 3 times a week to a Sand bank, which is categorised as an easy snorkel trip and where effectively the guest many snorkel over the white sand in very clear waters, fish are abundant. “

Moofushi offers a variety of sand bank experiences with which to enjoy their sand bank variety…

  • Sandbank breakfast – $209 per couple
  • ·Sandbank BBQ lunch – $409 per couple.
  • Sandbank dinner – $570 per couple.
  • Sandbank day trip – $1200 per couple (umbrella, table, chairs and sun beds, refreshments, a BBQ lunch with champagne, private snorkelling guide. This trip would leave around 9.30 am and return at approximately 3.30 pm)