Best of the Maldives: Fitness Centre Glass Floor – LUX North Male Atoll

LUX North Male Atoll - gym glass floor

I’ve been comprehensively cataloguing glass floors in the Maldives for years, and LUX North Male Atoll’s is the first I’ve seen in a fitness centre. Years ago, all fitness centres were stuck away in some remote, claustrophobic centre of the island making one’s effort to work off last night’s pina colada binge all the more excruciating. More recently, top resorts have moved their gyms to a pride of place with an ocean view with the spectacular vista as inspiring as any video on a little screen. LUX provides not just views of the sea beyond, but also the marine life below (or the gives the fish below a framed shot at the fit bodies above, depending literally on your point of view). And it is not just a token little portal, but an expansive area that covers the entire entry area to the centre.

Best of the Maldives: Maldives Yoga Instagrammer – Cassie Foley

With all that body building, I recommend some serious stretching to keep from getting muscle bound (maybe too late for some fashionistos). They probably want to check out (as would any Maldives Instagram devotee) Cassie Foley’s @OceanYogaCas feed.

Cassie herself is clearly an accomplished practitioner who posts engaging shots regularly. All based in the Maldives where she works full time running yoga sessions for guests. But also, just as important for this online medium is the quality of the shots done by her partner Aaron. The collection is really a masterclass of shooting the Maldives – well chosen dramatic skies, impeccable lighting, aesthetic framing. The tranquil drama of both Cassie’s poses and the tropical backdrop complement each other completely.

Cassie kindly gave Maldives Complete an exclusive interview to share their world of shutter stops and shavasan.

  • Which resort are you based at?Currently based in Atmosphere’s Sangeli resort, I have previously stayed and worked at OBLU Helengeli and Constance Halaveli
  • How long are you based there? – I moved to the Maldives at the start of August 2019, during this time I spent almost 14 months in Constance Halaveli (yes, my partner Aaron and I stayed through the lockdown, patiently waiting for work to resume) In October we moved to Helengeli, we split up for a month as he was sent to Sangeli and I soon joined him in November 2020, we have been here since then.
  • What is your most popular yoga session that you offer?I actually work in the Maldives as a Scuba Diving Instructor! The days can be incredibly busy with up to four dives a day, in fact, my Christmas day was spent entirely in the ocean from 8 am to 7:30 pm – we did a night dive!  (of course, I did come up for some lunch at one point!) My yoga practice is done at sunrise almost every day, I practice on the beach, in my room, on the jetty, anywhere outside is perfect for me, then I really get that connection to nature, those deep breaths of fresh sea air – now that’s true medicine. I have yet to start teaching online properly as I have never had stable enough Wi-Fi to offer a class, but I did complete my YTT online during the lockdown.
  • What is your favourite Instagram yoga pose photo?I think the ones where you can see I am truly connected and peaceful or focused (the balancing ones!) are my favourites, that’s the essence of yoga – not to really care about the outside but to focus on what’s going on inwardly.
  • Who takes the photos?All the photos are taken by my absolute soul mate and love, Aaron. He is so talented and manages to wipe that early morning, sleepy vibe right off me and make me look fresh and glowing – he’s got the magical touch. Often, he takes the photos whilst I simply go through my early morning flow, gently waking up my body and setting my intentions for the day. 
  • Where are you from originally?Aaron and I are both from the UK, originally from either side of London. We met on a boat in the middle of the ocean in Western Australia whilst looking for a whale shark (but that’s another story!) 
  • How did you get into yoga?From 2012 I worked in London as a Marketing Manager, I lived in Camden and I was also a freelance writer. I’ve always like to have a personal project on the go as my career didn’t fulfil me whatsoever. By the end of 2012 I was having some serious health issues, undoubtedly emanating from my non-stop lifestyle, my mum suggested me to start yoga. Every amazing idea, every brave new step I took in my twenties often came from my mum – she has always taught me to reach further than my grasp, to believe in myself, I am so grateful to her for that because it has led me to constantly fulfil and exceed my dreams. She saw that I was struggling and pushed me gently towards trying yoga, she must’ve mentioned it twenty times over six months before I went to a local class which my housemate & best friend, Rachel had found for me. that was in March 2013. Starting yoga sent me on a whole new path, very gently and subtly my perceptions changed, my ambitions grew, and my confidence saw me leap into my dream of travelling in 2016. ultimately ending up where I am today, sitting with perfect health, in utter happiness, gratefully watching the ocean from my water villa in the Maldives. Now, as a professional scuba diver, yogini and content creator, I see my whole life a personal project; inspiring, expanding, creative and free and I am so in love with it. 
  • What else do you do to pass the time in the Maldives?I wake up at 5 am for yoga and meditation, I go to work for 7:45, I can be diving all morning or in the dive centre speaking with divers and guests. Lunch is between 12:30-2:15 and then it’s teaching in the afternoon, getting new divers certified or perhaps guiding a turtle snorkel or sunset dolphin watching before finishing my day at about 6:30 pm. Then there’s time for dinner, some catching up with friends, family and of course, Aaron. We will send some emails, create some content and right now, we enjoy sitting out under the stars for an hour or so before going to bed.  What more could I want? 🙂 
  • What tips do you have to guests who want to do yoga in the Maldives? Bring your mat and get into nature here – listen to the ocean, feel the breeze, try not to get too sandy if you opt for the beach, but most importantly, get up early or give yourself time in the evening – otherwise,, it’s much too hot. Yoga doesn’t have to be about following a specific sequence, it should be dynamic and appropriate for what you need each day… sometimes that might be fast, sometimes it might be slow, sometimes it may be simply to lay flat on your back in Savasana and simply breathe – there’s no wrong way, you just need to give time to appreciate yourself at that moment. (I have a beautiful travel, eco-friendly yoga mat from Yogo that I couldn’t recommend more – use my code OYC10 for a special discount on any purchase.My outfits are also sustainably made and eco-positive, from a carbon-neutral company which ship worldwide. Shop Wolven here and use code OYC20 for an amazing 20% off these beautiful artisan yoga, swim, night and daywear collections!) 

Fitness Fashionistos

More cut bulk than cat walk, a major contingent of the Maldives fashionisto brigade are the fitness fellows gramming the fine shape they are in. Here’s some inspiration for those looking to hit the gym as both lockdown eases and warm weather approaches…

  1. Simeon Panda (United Kingdom) – Hurawalhi [ABOVE]
          
  2. Veselin Velikov (Bulgaria) – Pullman Maamuta


       

  3. Jason Luv (USA) – Ayada


       

  4. Zack Rahman (Ghana) – Waldorf I – thaafushi


       

  5. Ray (OAE) – Kandima


         

  6. Klim Gromov (Russia) – Amilla Fushi


         

  7. Alessandro De Blasi (Italy)


       

  8. Guilherme Everton Ferreira (Brazil) – Riu Palace


          

  9. Lucas Michalski (Poland) – Kuredu


       

  10. Jorge Logan (Spain) – Bandos


         

  11. Roberto Ghirardi (Italy) – Paradise Island


         

  12. Viktor Stoyanov (Bulgaria) – Coco Palm Bodu Hithi


         

  13. Emi Iztueta Bobillo (Argentina) – Cocoa Island


       

  14. Vladimir Stepin (Spain)

  15.    

  16. Berkay Yazicii (Turkey)

  17.    

  18. Gunvant Urjaa (India) – Maafushi


       

  19. Gilbert Orr (Mexican) – Thoddoo

  20.    

  21. Gambadoro Simone (Italy) – Medhufushi

  22.    

  23. David Damo (Spain) – OBLU Sangeli

  24.    

  25. Evgeny Mikhailenko (Ukraine)

  26.    

  27. Jonathan Lourau (France) – Club Med Kani

  28.    

  29. Aleksandar Sapun (Spain) – Malahini Kuda Bandos

  30.    

  31. Jono Castano (Australia) – Anantara Kihavah

  32.    

  33. Sepehr Bahadori (Germany)

  34.    

  35. Artem Velikolepniy (Russia)

  36.    

  37. Samuel Davies (Australia) – Club Med Kani

  38.    

  39. Scott Shunk (USA)

  40.    

  41. Jona Ken (Spain) – Cocoon

  42.    

  43. Mike Chabot (Canada) – Kurumba

  44.    

  45. Julian Aviel Jauvel (Israel) – Club Med Finolhu Villas

  46.    

  47. Luis Ojeda (Puerto Rico) – Summer Island

  48.    

  49. Mike Chabot (Australia) – Hideaway Beach

  50.    

  51. Sergey Boytcov (Russia) – Sirru Fen Fushi

  52.    

  53. Luis Nachio (Brazil) – Centara Ras Fushi

  54.    

  55. Rob Lipsett (Ireland) – NIYAMA

  56.    

  57. Tony Nocerino (Italy) – Cocoon

  58.    

  59. Alesco (Switzerland) – Meeru

  60.    

  61. Ediam Boza (Cuba) – Fihalhohi

  62.    

  63. Francesco Caresta (Italy) – Miriandhoo

  64.    

  65. Harry Rowley (USA) – W Maldives

  66.    

  67. Nino Percy (Germany) – Lily Beach

  68.    

  69. Luca Vezil (Italy)

  70.    

  71. Kelembet (Ukraine)


  72.    

  73. Mika Nyyssölä (Finland) – Kuredu

  74.    

  75. Jackson Johnson (Australia)

  76.    
       
       

Most Heart Shaped

Heart shape 1

Hearts will be everywhere today celebrating the annual Valentines festival of lovers. But where are the biggest hearts in the epicentre of romance, the Maldives?

The fantasy of a truly heart-shaped plot of sand in the middle of the ocean is pervasive on Instagram and stock photo sites. .

Heart - shape 2

Mostly these are the fabrications of digital editing (like the one above and two below) and not natural erosion or premeditated terraforming

Heart shape 4

These flights of imagination certainly seemed like they were pulled from drone shots of the Maldives renowned for being diminutive plots of sand and a few palm trees in the middle of the ocean (and some times just a lone sand bank itself in the middle of the ocean which has also been depicted – see below)

Heart shape 3

I first mused about finding a heart-shaped island in the 1900+ in the nation archipelago six years ago in my 7th instalment of “Haven’t Seen Yet”. I noted that Jumeirah Dhevanafushi had made the bold claim to me that they were the most “romantic” island in the Maldives substantiated by the facts that (a) they had the biggest beds, and (b) they had the most heart shaped island. Well, I took a look at an aerial shot of the island, Merdahoo (which it is the new name of the property since Raffles took it over from Jumeirah) before it was developed. The island does look like an impressionistic rendition of a heart at best. Or possibly, an anatomical version (see below)…but the clinical grisliness of that version takes a little bit of the aesthetic romance out of it.

Meradhoo    Maldives heart sketch

For that matter, I think Kandolhu (see below) probably has an equal claim to Meradhoo for cardiac caricature. In fact, if they thinned out a bit more foliage on the west side to make a sharper indention, the island could be quite heart-like in shape.

Kandolhu heart shaped

A bit closer to the classic heart shape is not an island, but the inverse – a reef lagoon – featured by Dreaming of Maldives.

Heart reef

So maybe the most heart-shape place to be today is snorkeling with your beloved…

Valentines snorkel

    

  

Best of the Maldives: Ceviche – LUX North Male Atoll

LUX North Male Atoll - picadera grill

Part of the adventure of an exotic holiday can be the exotic dining that goes with it. First timers to the Maldives will relish the fresh reef fish, local curries and irresistibly fresh tropical fruit. But for longer stays or Maldives aficionado regular visitors, even that can get a bit repetitive. So the top resorts mix it up a bit with some more creative culinary options. When I treat myself to a meal out, I try to choose dishes that I can’t easily make for myself at home (so I avoid the simple dishes and go for the more unusual).

One example of esoteric eatery is LUX North Male Atoll’s Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurant INTI and their signature dish “ceviche”. Ceviche is a South American dish of marinated seafood (eg. prawn, octopus), but INTI has extended it in fusion style to Wagyu Beef, vegetables and other ingredients. It is served with a range of sauces (eg. chimichu mushroom, rocoto chili spice, corn, beef au jus, huancaina yella chili). And if you have trouble deciding from their extensive selection, you can have a smorgasbord of a tasting platter including such delicacies as:

  • · Fish – white fish, tiger milk, raspberry, sorbet
  • · Octopus – Peruvian chili, smoked yellow paper sauce
  • · Tuna – Nikkei sauce, sesame oil, tuna, cucumber
  • · Prawns – Passion fruit sorbet, coconut milk infusion, mango, soft shell crab
  • · Salmon – Avocado, red onion, tiger milk
  • · Scallop – Orange tiger milk, red onion, yellow chili

  

Best of the Maldives: Thai/Italian Fusion – SAii Lagoon

SAii Lagoon - Tom Yam

Two of the most popular tastes on the High Street – Thai and Italian – combined for a super fusion of flavours. Mr Tom Yam’s at SAii Lagoon blends the exotic with the classic, the tropical with the Mediterranean, the Asian with the European. Some of our favourite dishes are Italian and Thai, so sampling them melded together was a special treat.

Sample dishes include:

  • Khaopad Hed Porcini: Italian mushrooms fried risotto, tomato, onion, kale, and cashew nuts with fried egg
  • Maplaow Goong Risotto: Spicy coconut risotto with lime shrimp, mushroom, tomato, lime leaves and galangal.
  • Baa Mee Noodles Moo Carbonara: Egg noodles stir fried with bacon and deep-fried pork, marinated in a dark sweet soy sauce, egg yolk, coriander leaves and parmesan cheese.
  • Piiza Tom Yam Tale: Mozarella, tomato sauce, tom yam stir fried assorted seafood, kaffir lime leaves, chili, cherry tomato and mushroom.
  • Pannacotta Kink Somo: Creamy ginger flan with pomelo.

SAii Lagoon - Khao Pad Thai Yam Heng Arracini
Khao Pad Tom Yam Heng Arrancini

Best of the Maldives: Pool Extravaganza– Hard Rock

Hard Rock - fun pool 1

There is nothing like a pool in the hot weather, and there’s nothing like Hard Rock’s pool in the Maldives. We’ve enjoyed lots of special features at various Maldives pools – floats, swim-up bar, slides – but none that had ALL of these and more. Not to mention that the “Deep Purple Slide” is the tallest land slide in the Maldives. And for the kids who want to practice or carry on their snorkeling in the pool, and the adults who want to swim some laps, the pool features underwater speakers. I’m hoping the playlist includes “Smoke on the Water”.

Hard Rock - fun pool 2

Best of the Maldives: Experience Passport – KIHAA

KIHAA - experience passport

The joke is that the entire Brexit campaign was primarily to get “Blue” passports for the Brits (the traditional colour for British passports until they joined the EU and the passports became burgundy coloured). Well then the British will love the alluringly azure blue “Experience Passport” by Kihaa Maldives.

I always appreciate when properties make something special out of the ordinary. Most resorts simply print out information sheets left in binders or folders in the room. These hard copy versions are increasingly being replaced by digital catalogues of info, Kihaa has developed a “hand-held” guide with a more retro inspiration. Like a proper passport, just the right size for a pocket. It includes:

  • Map of the Island
  • Floors plans for all the room types
  • Index of services, with hours, etc.
  • Restaurant pages
  • And other information about the area and resort

KIHAA - experience passport 2

Best of the Maldives: Bubble Escape – Amilla

Amilla - bubble escape 1

The Amilla Bubble Escape is the ultimate indulgence in the best of both worlds – indoors and outdoors. The two worlds of natural splendour and sheltered creature comforts.

Lori and I adore spending time outdoors 24 hours a day in the Maldives. The obvious sun-bathing and lounging by the pool during the day. But also, star-gazing at the Milky Way swashed sky and looking for falling stars (during our Amilla stay, we hit the jackpot with a clear sky and a barrage of meteors that were flying by at a rate of about 3 per minute). Finally, we love to fall asleep with the sensation of the gentle ocean breezes wafting across us and the sounds of the water lapping the shallows beneath us.

But such al fresco devotion comes with compromises. Most villas’ loungers have cushions not quite as comfy as proper bed mattresses (sometimes you only get the narrow loungers and have to push two together). And if you get surprised by a late night squall, then you are awakened by literally a splash of water on the face and a mad scramble to get inside. And of course, there is no AC so some nights it is uncomfortably hot and humid, while others it can be downright chilly.

The Bubble Escape lets you intimately experience the sights and sounds in 360 degrees with all in the comfort of a queen-sized bed surrounded by all sorts of handy things like treats, drinks, books, etc. But the luxury doesn’t stop at inside the bubble. Amilla has moved it to its own little private beach-side nook behind the spa. The outside area includes a sink, table for eating (we had dinner and breakfast served to us there), a Maldivian-style swing.

When Amilla first came out with the “Bubble Tower”, I obviously just had to write about it as it was so unique and curious. But the resort has now updated the concept and added a number of new features which make it a more than a feature and turns it into a true experience.

We arrived at the spa mid-afternoon where they gave us a tour of the facilities and the various features of the Bubble (you have access to the spa bathroom and showers throughout your stay in the Bubble). After settling in, the therapists arrived to give us a waterside couples massage. We were then so chilled that we relaxed in the hammock and swing there just swaying and enjoying the seascape vista. In the early evening, the chef and server arrived to prepare our dinner over a beach BBQ served at a waterside table. We lingered over our remaining wine until deciding to retire to our Bubble bed for some star-gazing. We drifted off to sleep under the swish of falling stars shooting across the heavens. In the middle of the night, we were awoken by an unusual pluck-pluck-pluck sound of raindrops hitting the clear plastic. It was a soft, rhythmic patter which sent us quickly back to sleep (grateful for our polyethylene protection).

The Bubble Escape rates right up there with my two other favourite “Wow” types of features in the Maldives: (a) underwater rooms, and (b) discovery centres. All three provide a striking fresh window to this enchanting paradise.

Postscript: The only resort encourages people to “switch off” during their Bubble Escape. When we went, we decided that the only ipads allowed were “eye pads” (see photo at bottom).

Amilla - bubble escape 7

Amilla - bubble escape 2

Amilla - bubble escape 6

Amilla - bubble escape 3

Amilla - bubble escape 4

Amilla - bubble escape 5

Amilla - bubble escape 8

Tour 17 – 2020 Tour Review

Tour 2020 sum

We didn’t think we would pull off a research tour in the write-off year of 2020, but as mentioned, when the pandemic settled a bit and travel restrictions eased in the autumn, some compelling offers were available to entice people back onto airplanes and over to far flung destinations that had the virus more under control (like the Maldives). While the trip was indeed a bit more complicated than usual and beset with some inconveniences, they were in no way overwhelming and certainly worth it to be able to escape to some joy and paradise. In fact, the journey just seemed to take us back to a time when the level of difficulty we experienced before Maldives tourism had matured and the digital innovations streamlined so much of the travel process. In the end, most of the added steps and requirements simply added to the safety of travel and stay which provided the benefit of enhanced peace of mind during our visit.

We noted several notable changes in just over a year of absence:

· Safety – The measures introduce to protect against COVID are not just numerous but pervasive. Once in country and on the resort, they are more re-assuring than troublesome.

· Families – Families everywhere. When I first started the “Maldives for Families” vision. One of the things that struck me on our recent mini-tour in December was how family-centric the visitor base had become. I tried to find some stats, but age seems to be tracked only periodically. What I did find showed young visitors (under 24) growing from 8% in 2011 (https://webunwto.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/imported_images/36136/maldives_tourism_performancereport_for_2011.pdf) to 10% in 2015 (https://www.tourism.gov.mv/en/downloads/visitor_survey). If that segment is growing at 0.5% per year, in share it would be about 13% now. It does seem also that catering to families is the default now. The list of Adults Only properties is really the exclusive list (only about 20 of these). Then, there is a segment of Family Agnostic resorts which I would estimate to be about a dozen or so. These properties tend to be lower end properties who have few amenities and services in general. They have no problem with kids, but they just haven’t made any investments in a kids club or other features that are aimed particularly at kids. So that would be about 30 resorts out of 160 active one that are *not* especially family friendly making a catalogue of family friendly ones about 130 properties long.

· WhatsApp – The lion’s share of our service was provided by WhatsApp. As soon as you check-in, your “butler” (or whoever else is your point of contact), connects with you on WhatsApp. Every resort worked this way. And it was a revelation. No more calling reception, or looking for the right button on your room phone, or worrying about the time of day. Just send a WhatsApp message to the person looking after you and they respond immediately. It sounds like a simple introduction, and yet it made service provision seem to run that much more easily and slickly.

A final tip is that the Dhiraagu wifi in the departure area is a rip-off. Buying access isn’t cheap and the service is horrendous (the app is poor and the connection is weak).

Pandemic Paradise (just kidding!)

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