World Snorkel Day aims to highlight the exotic allure of the accessible underwater world. Scuba diving has a sort of adventurer, James Bond cachet to it, while snorkelling seems to be its homely little cousin. Waddling around with ‘flippers’ and a goofy mask is found more often in slapstick comedy than stylish catwalks. Who better to showcase the sex appeal of this stunning activity than the fashionista brigade of the Maldives….
Breezy and easy. Grand Park Kodhipparu simply struck us as an easy resort. Easy transfer, easy access to everything on the diminutive island. Easy access to one of the several house reefs from the water villa (just a few dozen feet from the back deck).
The resort was a particularly welcome respite after the frenzy of several days of island hopping. I‘m sure it would be one for someone wanting more of an escape holiday. It’s also a bit easy on the wallet as it is value priced in the 5-star segment while offering a thoroughly 5-star experience in build, service and amenities. I came away with a number of candidates for future Best Of the Maldives pieces and the GM Raffaele shared some intriguing plans for further enhancements they are working on.
We also extended our string of serendipitous meetings. This time with a longstanding connection on the web-side: Ibrahim Mahudhee, Managing Director at Maldives Promotion House which does the website Maldives Insider. MI is often the first to scoop breaking news on the resorts and is the source of many additions of planned resorts to the Maldives Complete database as well as leads for Best of Maldives innovations. I’ve been considering doing a piece for MI for a while and Mahudhee encouraged me to do so as we exchanged a few ideas on topics.
If you are stressed by all the choices in the crowded luxury sector of Maldives resorts, Grand Park Kodhipparu is an easy choice.
For someone who has been coming to the Maldives for 20 years, arriving at AaaVeee was like seeing an old friend. In more ways than one. Not just its classic, retro-Maldive simplicity and rustic style, but also on a personal dimension as well.
This tour is turning out to be a Reunion tour of Maldives friends – Bunyamin, Aima…now Ahmed Nazeeh who is managing sales and marketing at the property. Nazeeh and I first met in 2012 when he was looking after Holiday Island (see photo at bottom). So arriving at AaaVee treated me to another greeting by a Maldivian friend.
“AaaVeee” means “revival” which refers to their revival of the resort style that first started the Maldives tourism industry back in 1972. Like Holiday Island (well, the way it was in 2012, they have changed the villa exposures now), you can’t see any villas from the exterior. Just uninterrupted, unspoiled luscious lushness. Indigenous rusticity pervades the property reminding me of an Italian agri-tourismo vibe. Not only is the food sourced locally, but the furniture and villas themselves are as well made by local artisans at workshops on the island.
There must be more palms trees per square foot than any island I have ever been to. And AaaVee goes to considerable lengths to keep and nurture even more. Many of the buildings were simply built around the trees with their trunks sticking through holes in the roof. In fact, the palm trees themselves do their bit as well. Nazeeh showed me a few seedling “twins” on the island (two trees growing out of a single pod). And the island features a very curious specimen which refuses to shed its fronds when they die (see photo at bottom) creating quite a striking collection of old fronds.
The seaplane to the resort is a pricey addition to your holiday cost, but if you are looking for a long stay, it is an economical option with attractive value pricing. Another bonus is that you can actually go on a whale shark excursion to the famous South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area.
If you are looking for a value priced eco-resort, you won’t get much more native nature for the dollar than AaaVeee.
Kandima is my Golden Buzzer entry in the Maldives’ Got Talent resort show this season. I know Simon Cowell would give it a thumbs up. I can just hear him saying, “From the moment you stepped on stage you had our attention. You have taken a classic and made it your own. It is so inventive, so fresh, so current, so now. The great thing about this show is discovering things that you haven’t seen before. There is definitely a gap in the market for something like this.”
I am a sucker for aesthetic design. So many resorts try to capture the Maldivian spirit by emulating the traditional design and craft. Kandima’s inspiration comes from nature. Predominantly the ocean (with a rich, pervasive palette of blues), punctuated by vibrant greens and touches of palm fronds. Kandima has perhaps my favourite reception area. Like the entire resort that it welcomes you to, it is modern, dramatic, creative. It’s cathedral-like nave opens to the blue skies.
It is no surprise then that I bumped into my favourite Maldivian artist, who is actually an artist-in-residence here – Aima Musko. I was Aima’s first as an artist, and then a customer of hers for design as she re-conceived the Maldives Complete logo and website theme. We have stayed in touch as friends over the years and it was a real treat to meetup with her face to face again at the resort. I knew she had been here when I wrote about the Kandima Artist’s Studio, but I thought that was a short-term event or promotion. It turns out that the Studio is a full time programme that the resort continues to invest in and expand (stay tuned for a profile on this young lady who is a talent show in her own right).
Kandima is ranked as a “4+ star”, but really it stands shoulder to shoulder with about any standard 5-star resort and is in fact far superior to many Maldives properties claiming to be 5-star. The restaurants are as good as any top-flight property and actually, some operators are calling Kandima 5-star whether the resort does or not. If you appreciate design artistry, then Kandima is one of the best value for money options in the Maldives.
NIYAMA has the potential to be one of the top “foodie” resorts in the Maldives. I can’t say definitively because I didn’t have the opportunity to sample too much of their cuisine, but half of the Best of the Maldives pieces I have done to date about NIYAMA have been about their dining, and more than half of the new pieces I discovered during my visit were F&B related (and I didn’t even venture into any of the gourmet a la carte outlets). A bit of a foodie mecca with the longest standing molecular cuisine and concept eateries like Tribal and Nest (mind you, you do pay for the indulgence as simple starters can run $40).
I was thinking that NIYAMA would be in the “super-premium” (aka “6 star”) category, but it is really more like a “5+” star (the “+” being for the food). Its famous Sub Six underwater restaurant is a “wow” item you tend to find in the super premiums. It is priced competitively in the $1000-$2000 range for 1 bedroom beach villas (the super premiums tend to start at around $2000). More for multi-millionaires (or ‘ordinary’ millionaires splurging) than billionaires, more Neiman Marcus than Bergdorf Goodman, more Conran than Ive, more BMW than Aston Martin. It also reminded me of a big event in my hometown “Pub in the Park” where Michelin star food is served up along second bill rock acts like 10cc and Mel C. Or, another comparison close to home, Marks & Spencers which features the most posh food hall on the high street along side a rather conventional clothing range.
Our stay also provided a numbers of “Firsts”. Any first is an accomplishment since we have been coming here for two decades. You would think we had done it all by now. All the “firsts” were triggered by the top one on the list, but all the others were lovely silver linings to its dark clouds…
First Entire Day of Rain –
First complementary bottle of champagne…actually drunk. We get presented with complimentary bottles all the time but never drink them. But the weather sequestered us in the room so pop went the cork.
First Bath – First time the temperature was cool enough that a hot bath sounded like a good idea. Though we did hit the ultimate first world problem – we forgot to bring our glasses of champagne to the tub.
First in-room movie – Appropriately enough, we watched “The Shape of Water” on the in room television as inclement weather was limiting our midnight walks and sitting under the stars with our post-prandial pina coladas.
If you are a connoisseur of gourmet delicacies, then NIYAMA could be absolute paradise for you with lots of firsts for your discerning palette.
Maldives Classic. A great way to start off was to visit a resort that evoked so much of the classic Maldivian character that we have fallen in love with over the past two decades. A number of resorts claim to have indigenous inspiration and plenty have touches drawn from the local aesthetic, but few have been so completely infused with the style and materials of a traditional Maldivian village as Makunudu.
I remember describing the Komandoo villa, with its homey feel, as a friend’s beach house we had been invited to visit. Makunudu had a similar feel, except that the owners of the beach houses are Maldivian. It feels like these villas might have been houses built generations ago with traditional techniques (eg. weaving, tying) and materials (eg. thatch, bamboo), but have been updated over the years with the contemporary amenities. Like a French auberge, English cottage, or Swiss Chalet with fitted with modern conveniences.
The resort actually has undertaken some relatively recent refurbishments which are extremely astute. First, smartening up the bathrooms. Some refreshed stone and slate with updated fixtures (eg. rain showers) give this important room a fresh feel. But perhaps the best investment was their purchase of not only highest quality beds, but also mattress toppers (literally) on top of them all (literally) wrapped up with high thread count bed linen. The bed was simply one of the most comfortable I have slept in.
What they did not fritter away money on are amenities that not only do many Maldives fans find unnecessary, they actually find them to be a detraction – TV, gym, buggies.
I didn’t know that much about Makunudu before my visit. I think that is because it was a bit older and until the arrival of new management this past year, had not kept up. But the new management has really made some sound investments in the right places to make it a very compelling 4+ star option. I haven’t written a single “Best of the Maldives” piece about Makunudu to date, but I am coming away with lots of post material for the future (stay tuned).
#BucketList. No not a trip the Maldives (that bucket is overflowing now). But getting my picture taken with the legendary Bunyamin Ahmed. Being Friends on Facebook, I anticipated the encounter with my own twist on his iconic pose (see below).
The meeting was the sunniest part of a very inclement arrival. Rain was pelting down on Male airport so hard that the Turkish Airlines flight had to divert and wait for it to settle. But like most rainstorms in the Maldives, this was just passing through. In fact, when we passed the airport into the adjacent South Male atoll, the weather was quite sunny. The pilot took a 15 minute loop and tried again for a much smoother landing that we would have had otherwise.
Thus begins Maldives Complete’s 9th annual tour of resorts (our 15 visit to the Maldives overall).
Off to the Maldives again today! Despite being our 9thtour of islands (after this trip we will have stayed at over 90 resort which as far as we can tell is still the most of any one in the world) and our 15th visit there overall, we still are looking forward to seeing so many things that we have not yet seen there in our two decades of visiting. In anticipation, here is my bi-annual list of “Things I Haven’t Seen In the Maldives…Yet (But Probably Should)…
Underwater Concert – Especially for one of the resorts with an underwater restaurant [ABOVE].
Underwater Easter Egg Hunt – Shangri-La Villingilli advertised it in their newsletter, but I’m not sure they ended up doing it as I can find nothing about it on the web and they are not responding to my enquiries. An inspired concept where guest would get different prizes based on the colour of the eggs they discovered like a bottle of champagne or a free spa treatment.
Watermelon Cocktails – One of our favorite items at any Maldives meal is it ripe and juicy watermelon. Now watermelon cocktails are becoming popular so I’d be surprised not to see them at resorts soon.
Floating Mansion Boat – Slick modernistic design, luxury yachts, and spacious mansion-sized villas all a becoming de rigeur in the super premium properties. So only a matter of time when someone puts them all together.
Rooftop Pools – Always a big fan of a bit of an elevated vista especially in this country of such low lying landscape (thanks Paola).
Float Pools – I’ve seen lots of floats in pools, but this is the first time I’ve seen a pool in floats.
Whale Shark Floats – Of all the dozens of floats that launch onto the Maldives lagoons every day for an Instagram snap, how have one (or both) of these whale shark float not migrated there??
Clear Bottom Inflatable Boat – Any clear-bottom boat is a winner in the Maldives to provide a means to observe the subaquatic sensations. This one is particularly stable and safe for the less comfortable swimmers (though only supervised as winds and currents could easily push such an inflatable into the open ocean).
Flexible Wooden Loungers – One of the give-aways to the true quality (regardless of how they have graded themselves) of a property is the quality of the loungers. At the bottom of the scale are the cheap, white, plastic jobs. The more sophisticated resorts have fancier adjustable, wheeled, cushioned wooden loungers. But the crème-de-la-crème looks to me to be this flexible design.
Gyrotonic – We got introduced to this yoga, dance, pilates fusion by our friend Dean in Boston.
Waterfall Table – I love innovative water features and I love creative dining tables. So you can imagine how much I love this creation…
National Tattoo Day today. And the swimsuit attire is a great opportunity to show off all of one’s artistic body ink. If I had a tattoo, I might have to incorporate an Maldives island into it, but if you are short of ideas, then this group of fashionistas has a bounty-ful gallery of possibilities…