Best of the Maldives: Modern Boat Villa – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi - Soneva in Aqua

Beloved Wives Day today (husbands in China must shout out declarations of love to their wives). And I am taking my beloved wife, Lori, for a quick escape from English wind, rain and cold. Down to the French Riviera for some friends’ New Years celebration and a quick stay in Monaco. The sunny Med shores have made them a magnet for yachts from all over the world.

One yacht that won’t be straying quite that far from home is Soneva Fushi’s new concept “suite” – “Soneva In Aqua”. A sort of mobile “water villa”. Great to see this concept revised every since the demise of The Rania Experience and Dhoni Island. Of course, the resort will provide the crew you need. Not the only boat villa in the Maldives (eg. Conrad Rangali’s “Goma”, LUX Maldives “Kokomo”), but the distinctive in its modern styling and spacious accommodation..

“Soneva In Aqua will further elevate guest experience by offering the option of a boat villa which will combine all the benefits of this iconic resort’s services and amenities with the freedom and exclusivity associated with a private boat charter.”

LORI, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS AS WARM AS THE MALDIVIAN OCEAN BREEZES AND MY PASSION AS HOT AS ITS TROPICAL SUN!!

Soneva Fushi - In Aqua

14 Mer’Maids A’swimming…

Snorkeller

Under the Maldives waters, you can spot all manner of beautiful creatures. And I’m not just talking about the fish and animals. We are now half way through the “12 Days of Christmas” (the twelve day period between Christmas and Epiphany on 6th January). The song which immortalised it gave away “6 Swans a Swimming” followed by “8 Maids a Milking”. This collection is more like “14 Mermaids Swimming”…

1. Alison Teal (USA) Eco-blogger – Dusit Thani
Dusit Thani - Alison Teal
2. Katerina Hamsikova (Ireland) Freediver – Ayada
Ayada - Katerina Hamsikova

3. Jean Carmela (Australia) Travel Blogger – Maafushivaru
Maafushivaru - Jean Carmela

4. Amy Williams (United Kingdom) Olympic Champion– Baros
Baros - Amy Williams
5. Monlada Pongpanit (Thailand) Designer – Anantara Kihavah
Anantara Kihavah Villas - Monlada Pongpanit
6. Rosie Londoner (United Kingdom) Lifestyle Blogger– One & Only Reethi Rah
One and Only Reethi Rah - Rosie Londoner
7. Emma Alexa (United Kingdom) Model – Baros
Baros - Emma Alexa
8. Gabrielle Lopes Costa (Brazil) Lifestyle Blogger – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru - Gabrielle Lopes Costa
9. Yvonne Melby Schulze (Norway) Instagrammer – White Shell Beach Inn Maafushi
White Shell Beach Inn Maafushi - Yvonne Melby Schulze
10. Vik Voynikova (Russia) Maldives VloggerAnantara Dhigu
Anantara Dhigu - Vik Voynikova - snorkel
11. Yulianna Karaulova (Russia) Singer – Kurumba
Kurumba - Yulianna Karaulova
12. Melanie Kyle Oldenburg (Australia) Model – Olhuveli
Olhuveli - Melanie Kyle Oldenburg
13. Chelsea Yamase (USA) Pro Surfer – Shangri-La Vilingili
Shanri-La Villingli - Chelsea Yamase
14. Raphaelle Chaudet (France) Instagrammer – Medhufushi
Medhufushi - Raphaelle Chaudet

Snorkel Spotting Tips

Rosie Londoner snorkeling

A guide for snorkelling, a guide during snorkelling and now a guide to snorkelling.

I came across this fine post by the Constance folks – “7 ways to get the most from diving and snorkelling” (it would be be a “Best of the Maldives” candidate for blogs, but it is not just focused on the Maldives as it includes all their properties). The top points are…

  1. Scan the area
  2. Use your peripheral vision
  3. Weird behaviours
  4. Don’t forget to look behind you
  5. Focus in close
  6. Pick one thing to look at
  7. Stop and listenIt’s a fine list, but I would add a couple more…
  8. Use a Flotation Aid – Especially if you are a weaker swimmer (either in technique, experience or fitness), consider one of the range of floatation devices available. Everything from a proper lifejacket to a simple float like a foam noodle. By providing extra buoyancy, the aid can reduce the effort in floating. However, don’t let the device seduce you into undertaking more than you are capable of even with the aid and always snorkel within your limits.
  9. Use a Snorkeling Guide – Nearly all resorts and dive centres will provide a personal guide for you. If you go on a snorkel safari, then they are almost always included as part of the excursion. But you can request someone to join you for your foray onto the house reef too. Not only will this provide an accomplished snorkeler to accompany you and make it safer for you (again, if you are a ‘weaker’ snorkeler, I recommended an accompanying guide even more emphatically), but also the guide will help you spot the good stuff. They will know where critters tend to frequent and will have trained eyes for spotting many things you will likely overlook.
  10. Don’t Touch – Don’t touch anything. This is for your own safety as otherwise innocuous marine life can hurt you with a bite or a sting if you reach out to touch it. Also, be extra careful of what your fins touch. Being an extension of your body that you are not used to and having no sensation, people very often kick coral inadvertently and cause massive damage over time.

Given the focus I have on snorkelling at Maldives Complete, I’ve upgraded “Snorkeling” to its very own main category on the blog.

Best of the Maldives: Snorkel Rope – Centara Ras Fushi

Centara Ras Fushi - snorkel rope

While everyone’s first snorkelling question is about spotting cool stuff, their first concern should be about safe snorkelling.

One of the leaders in snorkel safety is Centara Ras Fushi. First of all, they require a swim test before guests are allowed to snorkel the house reef (other resorts like Dusit Thani do this, but it is still a rare measure). They also have the Maldives Coast Guard come and train all their resort employees including groundkeepers and housekeepers in lifesaving. A number of staff have jumped in the water and helped people needing assistance already this year.

Finally, they have stairs out of the water and onto water villa jetty placed at regular intervals. That way, if you go out snorkelling and you get tired, you can return onto the jetty relatively easily. In most resorts, you have to get entirely around the water villas and the only way you are allowed onto the jetty is if you are going to your own villa. The conventional approach is aggravating as the water villas often extend to the house reef edge. If you go snorkelling around them, then you are forced to commit to the entire distance in order to clear them and get to a beach entrance.

But what is really distinctive is Ras Fushi’s snorkel safety rope. Snorkelers can use it to grab onto in order to secure themselves and give themselves a rest. Or they can even stick entirely to it and use it to pull themselves along for a guided float across the ridge of the drop-off.   This use is a benefit to another safety measure – wearing life jackets or using flotation aids.   Without question, anyone who has the slightest apprehension about swimming, should consider swimming with a life jacket or floatation aid.   They will help protect from the #1 causes of problems which is fatigue and panic.  One does need to remember that they are not a panacea and weaker swimmers should not get a false sense of confidence just because they are using these devices.  Another issue with using the devices is that they impede mobility.  Therefore, the snorkel safety rope could be an ideal complement where a snorkeler is assisted in buoyancy with the floatation aid and assisted in manoeuvrability with the rope.

The rope is set just below the surface of the water so it is not visible from the island or impeding the view of those on the island (except for several discrete buoy floats, but such floats are found all around all Maldives islands marking channels, hazards, etc). They have strung the rope completely encircling the house reef. I snapped a photo (see above) when I visited. I tried taking one further back so you all could see in in perspective, but when you get further back, it actually not that visible in the open water.

One of the best snorkel “guides” in the Maldives.

Snorkel Spotter v2.0

Snorkel Spotter 2

Santa left Maldives Complete a big present under the code tree this Christmas – a completely re-platformed “Snorkel Spotter”.

An added bonus is that now you can log your Snorkel Spottings with your iPhone or iPad as these are now supported with the Safari browser.

As I mentioned recently, while I started out on an almost ‘completely’ Microsoft platform (due to where I was working at the time), the Microsoft strategy and execution in the Internet arena has been unfortunately pretty dire. Technologies it heralded as the next big thing were often discarded. The latest casualty of their myopia has been Silverlight.

I built the Snorkel Spotter dynamic control on this platform as it was hailed to be the latest thing for web interactivity. Unfortunately, neither I (still subscribed to too many Microsoft kool-aid newsletters) nor Microsoft saw HTML5 coming down the pike.

From the outset, Silverlight was an aggravation for users who increasingly were using non-Internet Explorer (IE) browsers which required a fairly complex installation of a special plug-in to get the Spotter to work. And last year, Google’s Chrome, the most popular browser of all, stopped support for Silverlight all together (even a plug-in wouldn’t work). So, prospective “Spotters” had to find a machine with IE or try to install it themselves (and often companies like resorts look down their computers and don’t let staff install whatever programmes they fancy, especially those downloaded from the Internet).

Enough was enough and I decided to move to the new de facto standard for interactivity – HTML5. Unfortunately, I had a few other projects in the queue (eg. WordPress Migration, Beauty Base launch). And once spec’ed, it took a while to code and implement. Hats off to .Net developer Tapesh M. from Ahmedabad, India who did the actually code migration for me. Microsoft has been woefully remiss in providing any migration tools or even guidance on moving from Silverlight for HTML5 (I spent a month researching it). Anyone faced with this problem should get in touch with Tapesh. He does brilliant work.

The migration has also given me a chance to clean up a few glitches and update some of the data and maps in the Spotter. I hope that the work makes the tool all the more fun and useful for everyone.

Happy Spotting!

Best of the Maldives: Recycled Christmas Tree – Anantara Dhigu / Veli

Anantara - coconut Christmas tree

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
From base to summit, gay and bright,
There’s only splendor for the sight.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

One more sleep until Santa pays his visit to the good girls and boys. The girls and boys at Anantara (Dhigu and Veli) have been so good this year, they made their Christmas tree from discarded coconut husks. It shines in the day from the bright whit paint as well as at night with the constellation of fairy lights. One & Only Reethi Rah also has its own coconut Christmas tree (see below), Anantara has not just one, but three trees.

Furthermore, Anantara has gone a step further with another tree made out of old Evian bottles (see below)!

The three coconut trees on Dhigu are 2.5 meters, 3.4 metres and 5.0 metres high, with the tallest one made from 800 coconuts. The other two trees take up around 400 coconuts between them. The bottle tree is 6 meters high and is made from 720 bottles.

O Tannebaum! You’re Green not only in the summertime

Anantara - coconut Christmas tree 2

Anantara - recycled bottle Christmas tree

One and Only Reethi Rah coconut Christmas tree

Best of the Maldives: Unconventional Soup – Velaa

Velaa - gazpacho

QI question of the day: Q: What is the base ingredient of gazpacho at Velaa? A: Tomato? Q: Buzzz…wrong. It’s cabbage.

Velaa not only served two of my favourite soups – gazpacho and bisque – but they did so with an entirely refreshing slant. In many respects, they were nothing like gazpacho and bisque and everything like them at the same time.

For starters (pun intended) the gazpacho had no tomato (pretty much the defining ingredient to gazpacho – “Spanish Cookery. 1. a soup made of chopped tomatoes…”). Instead, it uses red cabbage as the base. It also blend in green apple and passion fruit which is a bit more exotic than the classic cucumbers and onions.

Their “Laccadivian Essence” (named after the Maldives sea) was really a bisque of lobster, coconut, fennel, and seaweed. Both were Michelin star quality. They were sort of non-bisque bisque and non-gazpacho gazpacho.

The inventive twists reminded me of the food-play by Heston Blumenthal at his world-famous restaurant the “Fat Duck”. Just down the road from us in the UK, we used to go when Heston first started playing with his culinary chemistry set. We were sometimes the only people dining there and he would step out of the kitchen to have us try some wonderfully weird new concoction.

One of Heston’s signature dishes was the Orange and Beetroot Jelly. As ‘Boots in the Oven’ describes

The mousse was trailed by two small trays bearing two squares each; one a garnet red and one a deep yellow. The waiter explained that we would be eating orange and beet root jellies. This opening dish is the perfect example of the Fat Duck dining philosophy. Heston and his team don’t just want you to have an awesome eating experience; they want to f*ck with your head.” [HINT – Not is all as it appears]

In fact, Velaa’s gazpacho might just have been inspired by Heston as Red Cabbage Gazpacho also featured is on his menu years ago.

Best of the Maldives: Coldest Gazpacho – Park Hyatt Hadahaa

Park Hyatt Hadahaa - ice cold gazpacho

Another one of my favourite treats is soup in general, and gazpacho specifically (I also love a good bisque). A well crafted soup is like a savoury cocktail where masterfully blended aromas, flavours and textures inspire the taste buds. One of the defining characteristics of a fine gazpacho is its cold temperature. Especially appreciated under the tropical sun. No resort gets it as ice cold as Park Hyatt Hadahaa.

Their signature bowl includes a dollop of ‘gazpacho sorbet’ scooped into the centre of the bowl to help keep the soup chilly while you eat it. I enjoyed a bowl when I visited and it remains one of my most memorable dishes of my Maldives travels.

The dish was originally created for their olive oil dinner by Monte Vibiano and now is part of its regular menu. Its olives are grown in carbon neutral groves and pressed into some of the finest extra virgin in the world.

Deliziosamente fresco!

Best of the Maldives: Ice Ball – NIYAMA

NIYAMA - Chefs Special ice ball

No, not “Ice Ball” as in a “Frozen”-themed formal dance.

I love creations with ice. The cold is the contrast that sets off the tropical sun. I’m even adding a new category tag for “ice” now that I have collected a few fine examples.

Most treats in the Maldives are served refreshingly over ice. But NIYAMA’s signature sashimi is served under ice.

Offered in NIYAMA’s “Asian Avant-garde” Nest restaurant which Per Aquum describes as “savage-chic” (great name).

Chef Jayadi Suwito explains, “My goal for this menu was to push and tease. Guests will find dishes from Asia’s most celebrated cuisines like Thai, Cantonese, Japanese – but they will also get a chance to discover lesser known culinary traditions with must-try sensational dishes from places like Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar.”

I tend to ignore the vast majority of press releases that I receive, but I must commend the PR who wordcrafted this gem describing the “Ice Ball” experience…

“A short trek from your luxury villa where you’ve cast away in the Dhaalu Atoll, you emerge in the heart of the jungle. Beneath the ancient branches of the banyan trees, you walk the planks of wooden pathways and wind through the forest trunks. Ascend spiralled stairs and step through the canopy along bridges flanked by bamboo rails. Leaves dance in an ecstatic shimmy. Tropical birds call out with sirens echoing through the treetops. Then a chilled sculpture of sashimi arrives in a globe of ice, a modern vessel for one of many Asian delicacies you will savour in your expedition at one of the Indian Ocean’s leading dining destinations.”

Leaves dance in ecstatic shimmy” – Nnnn-ice!

Best of the Maldives: Pina Colada Variety – Kurumba

Kurumba - Pina Colada samples

One of the highlights of our summer tour this year was a pageant of a different sort. Less appealing to the sense of vision and more enticing the other senses of smell, taste and texture feel. The first ever “Pina Colada Off”.

When I tour the Maldives, there are a few non-negotiables in the itinerary. I must get a shot of us in front of the resort sign. I must snorkel every house reef (I’ve even jumped in during a few quite rough seas at times just to get a look at the seascape below). And I must sample the resort’s pina colada.

The pina colada is the iconic tropical drink. And like port with cigars and cards, or schnaps on the ski slopes, there is something that makes it irresistible in this setting. I rarely have pina coladas outside the Maldives (and when I do, it never tastes as good).

For me, the pina colada is a very useful acid test for a resort. It is complex enough that there are quite a range of possibilities in both style and quantity (more on the pina colada drink itself in a future post). I started including my “Pina Colada Test” assessments as a part of the Tour highlights reports posted on the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum. And frequent Forum Contributor, GM Jason Kruse, felt that the gauntlet had been laid down and he was not going to take this colada challenging lying down (even if it was on a lying down on a deck chair under the tropical sun with the water lapping inches away).

This virtual drinks derby was a point of pride for Kurumba. The resort whose very name embodies the coconut essence of the colada. So Jason’s Beverage Manager Courtney Hendrick (far right picture above) organised the first ever “Pina Colada Off” for out visit and served as our effervescent mistress of ceremonies.

And a lavish affair it was. In all my years as a pina colada aficionado, I have never experienced such imaginative and well-crafted coconut cocktails. The judging was intense with Craig Revel Horwood levels of scrutiny and discernment.

Bandara won “Best All Arounder” (he prides himself on his pina colada). Rohan’s was the “Coldest” (a criteria as important to me as heel leads are to Len Goodman), and Oliver was the “Most Inventive” (always an exceptional kudo here on Maldives Complete).

I think they are all definitely contenders for some of the top pina coladas in the Maldives. Not sure I have enough data points to crown any of theirs the absolutely #1 (also, an amazing one I had at Constance Halaveli haunts me). But their inventiveness and variations on the theme is unmatched completely.

It turns out that Courtney and Jason held their own not-so-dry run the day before and this is what Courteney reported…

“I was brand new to Kurumba and upon receiving an email of [Maldives Complete’s] expected arrival I decided to challenge all those willing to participate (those I had met and some I had not yet met) to come up with their very best version of the all-time island classic the Pina Colada. I cannot begin to describe how blown away I was by all team members who participated, their creativity and determination to not only produce their best Pina Colada but also to win the challenge was simply astonishing. However, Jason, Morgan, Ross and I had to make the very tough decision (I know hard life right!) which Pina Colada’s do we present? We decided on 3: Bandara’s, Oliver’s and Rohan’s. I chose Oliver’s Pina Colada as the tops because I was so impressed with his thinking behind the making of his Pina Colada. When Oliver got behind the bar the first thing he said was ‘A Pina Colada should be consistent from beginning to end it should not separate…’ and thus the most creative and inspiring Pina Colada was born!”

Kurumba has been gracious enough to share their recipes for anyone dying to sample these delightful variations (add your own palm trees, sunsets and turquoise seascape):

  • Bandara’s: Athiri Bar Supervisor and Pina Colada Extraordinaire!!!
    • Ingredients: 30mls Coconut cream, 30mls Monin Coconut Puree, 30mls Malibu, 30mls Appleton’s White Rum, 90mls Pineapple juice (half fresh half concentrate).
    • Method: Blend all ingredients without ice in a blender, FILL Pocco Grande glass with large cubes of ice and pour over.
    • Garnish: Slice of pineapple and a cherry.
  • Oliver’s: Brand New Bartender to Kurumba
    • Ingredients: 5x Cubes fresh pineapple, 30mls Coconut cream, 3x Ice cream scoops of house-made Coconut Sorbet, 30mls Malibu, 30mls Appleton’s White Rum, 30mls Monin Coconut Puree.
    • Method: Blend pineapple chunks in a blender to create a finer texture. Add all other ingredients without ice to the blender and blend for 1 minute. FILL Pilsner glass and garnish.
    • Garnish: Slice of pineapple and a cherry.
  • Rohan’s: Long standing Bartender and Shaker Extraordinaire.
    • Ingredients: 10 grams Fresh pineapple, 30mls Coconut cream, 30mls Malibu, 30mls Appleton’s White Rum, 60mls Pineapple juice
    • Method: Muddle 10grms of pineapple in a Boston glass. Add all remaining ingredients to the shaker, shake and strain over ice in a Highball glass.
    • Garnish: Slice of pineapple and a cherry.

Have a Kurumba Krimbo!