Chaaya Reef Ellaidhoo is like a 4 star Kurumba. Primarily because of it being a classic round Maldivian island shape surrounded by a ring of sea barriers. Some people are put off by the stone defences saying that they detract from the idyllic views over the ocean. But one dividend they provide is a safe haven of snorkelling for beginners and weak swimmers. It is the closest thing to an open water swimming pool. Yes, the sandy lagoon that are all over the Maldives also provide this sanctuary, but they also offer very limited things to see snorkelling. The sea defences themselves often provide a vibrant platform for all sorts of creatures. And the seas defences are positioned at the precipice of the house reef drop off, so the resort does offer that dramatic snorkelling for those who wish to venture out a bit more at some point.
But another reason for the comparison is its value for money. Kurumba is one of the best value-for-money 5 stars and I think Ellaidhoo might just be one of the best value-for-money 4 stars. Don’t take my word for it. I got the notion from a real Maldivian expert and veteran. Known as “Turquoise 23”, as she is known on the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum, we overlapped on our visits this trip and arranged to meet up during our stay (see photo below).
My tours are starting to become TripAdvisor Meetups. We swapped stories and perspectives from her 15 trips to the Maldives. She has run the gamut from Shangri-La Villigili to the now defunct Lohifushi. Ellaidhoo is the third resort that she has graced with a return visit. She explained her decision to me saying she had a really great time here on her last visit and doing her research this time around, it was the best value going.
During my short stay, I uncovered 5 distinctives to write out in the coming months.
These tours of mine can throw you from one extreme to the other. From super-luxe (One & Only Reethi Rah) to budget (Bandos). From large (Reethi) to small (Bandos). From canoeing out to the house reef (Reethi) to just jumping in off the beach (Bandos)
The house reef is the main event at Bandos. It is the classic circular wrap-around which is always a favourite among Maldives aficionados. The Bandos one is distinguished by ledges. For starters, the far predominant coral are massive platters of Table Coral. Like giant dishes from some Neptunian Greek wedding. But it’s not just the coral formations, but the reef formation itself that takes on this ledge structure. The best part of the north side of the reef was sharp overhangs. Probably best for a diver to see all the critters secreted underneath. I tried free diving down a few metres to take a peek, but the practice quickly wore me out.
Bandos is a Maldivian classic of a natural setting, attractive accommodation and a striking reef that is still affordable to mere mortals. Kuoni is adverting a week in Bandos at just over a thousand pounds which is a price point I thought has long gone extinct in this part of the world.
“I’d like to be under the sea, in an octopus’ garden in the shade”
Possibly the theme song for One & Only Reethi Rah. Reethi is said to resemble an ‘octopus’ since its shoreline was crafted on the eight promontories. It is one of the all around top places for some ‘under the sea’ adventures’ in the Maldives. Its lush ‘gardens’ provide plenty of shade from the bright sun. And it is certainly a place everyone would ‘like to be’.
No surprise that the resort called “One & Only” would have many unique distinctions. In fact, we might have a new leader board topper with this visit’s sweep. I’ve identified 47 potential ‘Best of the Maldives’ items which added to the 7 already posted makes a stonking 54 (the next highest is LUX Maldives with 35). It does make it easier to determine the best “One” of the Maldives, when the feature is the “Only” one of its kind in the Maldives. Some of the things I saw at Reethi were not just the first time I had seen them in the Maldives, but the first time I had seen them any where in my world travels. One note is that such range of luxury doesn’t come cheap and the distinction-per-dollar might not be that far off other top flight resorts.
Curiously, Reethi Rah achieves its “wow” factor without any of the latest trendy features of the super-premium fashion stakes like underwater rooms and museum quality eco-centres. They don’t even have glass floors. Reethi Rah is Maldives luxury done in classic style.
What a surprise!
Not the Jumeirah I expected. The Jumeirah marque is a bit of a pioneer in super-luxury properties, but the Vittaveli property has none of the glitter or glitz of its Dubai renown. Instead it has gone for a comprehensive embrace of all things Maldivian – ingredients, imagery, themes, inspiration. Dhoni inspired architecture. Local herb kulhlhafilaa leaves in dishes. Maldivian sauces with the grilled meat (milder than many Maldivian curries I have had). Instead of the opulence of Al Burj, it strives for the subtlety of a Maldivian fishing village.
Vittaveli’s tag line is – “Effortless Maldivian Luxury”. The description is as fitting as it is effective in capturing the relaxed ambience coupled with sumptuous quality in design and detail. The most modest villas are house sized with towering ceilings, wrap-around pools and expansive gardens securing complete privacy with walls and foliage. Suites that can be configured to include a nanny room for family entourages. More of a compound than villa.
Also, not the Bolifushi I remembered. This is now the third island have returned to (after Kurumba and Velassaru). On our very first trip to the Maldives at the then ‘Laguna Beach’ (now Velassaru) we popped over here to check out Boli’s quality reef. Now the island has been extended to more than double its length with a big reclamation effort. The new part of the island doesn’t feature as strong snorkelling nor the maturity of the palms and fruit trees (so fewer ‘flying cat’ bats). But all that will sort itself out with a bit more time and the more expansive scale provides a platform for Vittaveli’s extensive services, activities and offerings not to mention its big villa ‘compounds’.
Jumeirah Vittaveli earns big marks for understated elegance.
Off on the next Maldives adventure! This year we focus on the North Ari resorts (with, as usual, a stop in a few Male resorts)…
Last year, we visited South Ari which, after the Male atolls, had the highest number of resorts overall and the largest number I hadn’t visited. The next one after that, not too surprisingly, was North Ari. And that is the destination for this year’s Maldives Complete research trip.
Once again daily island hopping to see at least one (if not more) resorts every day. I’ll be keeping a log here with a daily tour report to provide initial impressions and perspectives. I’ll also be paralleling that with a special update on the Maldives TripAdvisor Forum where I am an active contributor.
With Adventure in mind, it seems like a good time to call out one of last year’s resorts who have crafted a distinctive ambience with their flair for creative detail.
The ‘Best of the Maldives’ highlights some pretty esoteric distinctions. Some are excruciatingly particular (like “Longest Left-Hand Surfing Break”). Others are quite vague and abstract (like “Best for Seth Godin”). The more abstract, the more subjective, based purely on some feeling or ‘ambience’ I have identified about the property. After visiting LUX Maldives last year, one theme definitely stuck me about their overall experience – Adventure.
Some would say that any trip to the Maldives is quite an Adventure. But LUX Maldives really amplifies that sensation with so many of its special touches which often reveal hidden surprises scattered throughout the island…
This feel turns the large size of the LUX island into a real asset as it provides an expansive tableau for exploration and discovery.
Independence Day! Well, American ‘Independence Day’. As it happens, the Maldives celebrate their independence in July as well (on the 26th and also from the British). On this American high-holiday, the place to be is W Retreat.
Americans have always been a bit of a minority visitor group in the Maldives. It’s just a bit far to travel (the other side of the world really), when the east coast folks have the tropical delights of the Caribbean on their doorstep and the west coast has the South Pacific. USA was not even in the Top 10 of visitor arrivals (in fact Switzerland and Korea sent more people to the Maldives than the USA) so there are no detailed, published stats for USA alone. But the Ministry of Tourism does breakout arrivals by region including stats for “Americas” of which the vast majority will be from USA. The Ministry reports 162 million ‘Americans’ visited in 2012 (compared to 534 million Europeans and 232 million Asians). The growth in recent years has been roughly on par with that of other areas showing that the Maldives allure is spreading literally all around the world.
The W Retreat tells me that about 7% of its guests are Americans, which is at least double the average across the country. The Ministry report says that Korea, (the lowest tracked country at #10 in share of arrivals) had 2.5% share in 2012 so USA has to be at least below that.
The American link by the “W” has nothing to do with the former President “George W”’s namesake, but starts with its parent, the Starwood group, one of the leading American hoteliers in the world. Americans are addicted to obscenely high service levels for which the W Retreat is renowned so perhaps that too is part of the appeal.
A recent flurry of Best of the Maldives posts seem to be characterised by a common theme – food. So much so that certain common subjects now merit category tags of their own. Lobster (the quintessential luxury seafood), Ice Cream (the hot weather classic), and Cooking (true foodies love to prepare as much as eat).
The current line-up includes…
You need a cone for that ice cream.
Consulting the expert on all things Maldive Resorts, Adrian Neville, he concurs “I have not come across home made ice cream cones anywhere in the country. There are a couple of places that sell ice creams in a cone but they are the pre-boxed ones.”
But you can even watch a video of them being freshly made at LUX Maldives here. Of course, only the best homemade ice cream crafted right on the resort will do for such an elegant (and tasty) holder.
‘Screw pine’ ice news PR (anagram there for you…)
July is ice cream month. And the ice cream with the truly Maldivian flavour is made on Kuramathi – “Screw Pine Ice Cream”. “Screw Pines” are those surreal trees so defined by their adventitious roots that they also have the nickname “Walking Pines”. They are most commonly found in the Maldives. The notes from the resort’s botanic walk describes…
“Maakashikeyo, Pandanus odoratissimus. Abundant plant, growing along beaches with numerous pro roots originating from the base of the trunk. It can grow to a height of 15 m, stems are hollow. Male and female flowers are in separate trees. The fruits on the female tree are pineapple like and become red when ripe. Use: the red portion of the fruit is eaten raw or cooked with rice, for soups or to make sweets and juice. On Kuramathi, we also make screw pine ice cream. You can try this at Palm!”