Best of the Maldives: Trees – Adaaran Hudhuranfushi

Hudhuranfushi Screw Pine

 

A rich tropical forest tapestry blankets Adaaran Hudhuranfushi with a colourful and quirky canopy. The sand paths have a grander arboreal arch to them than most islands.

And the diversity is stunning. There are several giant Banyans around the resort. Our favourite was the ‘Kasakue’ or ‘Screw Pine’ (see picture above). We see these all over the Maldives with their bizarre root systems reaching down into the sand giving rise to their nickname – ‘Walking Trees’. Being one of our favourite tree, we keep an eye out to them and some of the best examples we saw at Hudhuranfushi.

Another place where they had great selection was their resort garden (one of the biggest in the Maldives) where they features unusual specimens like the ‘Num Num’ tree which produces a fruit at the base of its trunk used for traditional cooking (see picture at bottom). A very appropriate name for a delicacy producing tree I’d say. Hudhuranfushi also has it’s own Banana Grove that features 7 different varieties of bananas.

My wife’s favourite was the abundant ‘Temple Trees’ that bloom all year round with white and yellow flowers (see picture directly below). They are called ‘Temple Trees’ because worshippers would pick the flowers and take them to temples as a part of Buddhist tradition in the region.

I’m not going out on a limb to say if you appreciate the bio-diversity of a thriving tropical forest, then Hudhuranfushi is a treeat for you (I am not ashamed of these puns).

 

 

Hudhuranfushi Temple Flower Tree

 

Hudhuranfushi Num Num Tree

Best of the Maldives: Theatre – Adaaran Club Rannalhi

Club Rannalhi theatre

 

You just never know what you are going to stumble upon in the Maldives. The stereotype is that there is nothing to do there but lie in the sun and swim in the sea. But every time I visit there I’m always taken aback by some undiscovered curiosity. Most of the time the resorts themselves don’t even realise the unique assets they possess. Probably the most ‘surprising’ of my recent tour was the outdoor theatre at Adaaran Club Rannalhi. Our tour was finished and we were wrapping up when we rounded the corner and lo and behold we came upon an outdoor amphitheatre. Definitely up there with a glowing hatch and a polar bear for things you would not expect to see on a tiny deserted island…it was definitely ‘Lost’ moment.

In this case, the ‘Others’ are an Italian tour operater called Azemar who book many ‘club’ style holiday packages to ‘Club’ Rannalhi. In inimitable Italian style, the tour operators stage all sorts of spectacles from drama to singing to presentations. The stage is sheltered (probably more against the sun than rain), has lighting, screens and a range of theatrical and AV support.

I wrote about the innovative work Sheraton Full Moon was doing in the corporate space, but if you wanted to bring a really large crowd down and have a facility for big group presentations, Club Rannalhi could actually fit the bill. I think that the idyllic beauty of the Maldives might even make a Powerpoint deck palatable.

 

Club Rannalhi theatre seating

Best of the Maldives: Raquet Sports – Reethi Beach

Reethi Beach badminton

48 resorts have tennis, 11 have squash courts, and 7 have badminton courts (according to my research). But only Reethi Beach has 2 tennis courts, and 2 squash courts and 2 badminton courts. And they are all in pristine condition. The latter two are situated in their large indoor sports complex in the centre of the island. The tennis courts are all weather surface with flood lighting. Also, the extensive indoor space becomes a hedge against any unlucky bouts of weather or just a break from an overdose of sunshine.

Reethi Beach tennis court

Best of the Maldives: Exhibit – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru exhibit

 

The number one objection to visiting the Maldives is the thought that there is nothing to do there. If you don’t (a) dive, (b) have a newlywed to stare into the eyes of, or (c) work on your tan, then what do you do on an isolate plot of sand in the middle of the ocean? Most resorts have good watersports centres which provide an extended range of options for the hyperactive. The Maldives Complete ‘Best Of’ section highlights a number of further original distractions and offerings. But few innovations are as ambitious and comprehensive as Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru’sMarine Discovery Center’. In fact, the centre itself contains 3 ‘Best Of’ distinctions in itself (Fish Nursery, Sculpture, Kids Education).

Lori and I were given a tour of the facility by Harry Masefield (see pictures). While modest in size, the center is packed with exhibits that are not only intriguing, but also stylish and inviting. The tour took almost and hour, but we could have spent all day there. There are visual exhibits, an interactive kiosk, a kids hands-on area, the research area, reefscaping workshop, art, presentation area, aquarium among the many resources to explore. More details to follow in future posts.

 

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru exhibit 2

Best of the Maldives: Spa Arrival – Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa spa dhoni

My recent visit to several prime resorts in the Maldives uncovered a wealth (65) of distinctive features that I will be exploring in depth over the coming months. I thought I would start off with a taster selection over the coming week for each resort.

The first resort on the itinerary was Four Seasons Kuda Huraa. Every spa treatment is a treat. And the best Maldive ones build up the anticipation with lovely receptions infused with incense and ambient tones that start the process of transporting you away mind and body to another place. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa takes this ‘transporting’ quite literally to a whole new level with its shuttle service to its spa. The Kuda Huraa spa sits by itself on a small little island just off shore from the main island. You could take a short swim over I guess, but the quaint ‘Kuda Dhoni’ (‘Little Boat’) ride over is just the thing to shift gears from the resort to your own little special sanctuary.

And the destination is worthy of mention. It is certainly one of the top massages we have had (the therapist was very attentive to a neck pain and spent extra time on that area that was very effective).

Best of the Maldives: Team Building – Sheraton Full Moon

Sheraton Full Moon corporate team building

 

When I first started working for the big corporation of Microsoft many years ago, one of my sales guys proposed that we do some corporate hospitality with some of our customers. When I asked him what he proposed, he suggested the classic big sporting event packages that many hospitality companies provide – Wimbledon, rugby, Henley. Sounded interesting, so I asked the price. The answer came back of ‘£800’ per person. My response exclaimed in shock, “I could take these guys to the Maldives for week for that kind of money!! [I had just priced my latest trip there.] I think they would have a bit more memorable time than a catered chicken lunch and some strawberries and cream.” That incident led to me becoming a bit of a pioneer with innovative and inspired hospitality and team building. I was always looking for truly unique activities and venues.

Now it looks like taking your team or customers to the Maldives is not that far fetched an idea. In fact, a number of resorts have geared up a bit for the corporate segment. But Sheraton Full Moon’s programme really stands out for the degree of forethought and attention they have given this area. They have crafted a range of offering that offers a wide assortment of classic activities for a team building session…

  • Introductory Games – name games, ice breakers
  • Fun Olympics – water bucket relay, obstacle course, ball games, canoe, tug-of-war
  • Trust Games – blind obstacles
  • Tournaments – tennis, ping pong, billards, beach volleyball
  • Karaoke

Talking with their Senior Sales Manager Mohamed Nuaas, Sheraton has really developed a sophisticated understanding of what makes these events productive and successful. Combined with an extensive 5-star infrastructure Sheraton Full Moon appears ready to cater to any corporate quirk or whim which is critical to get such an important (and costly) event just right.

Sheraton has run a number of these programmes now and their experience is valuable. It means that not only do they have the concepts and infrastructure (meeting rooms, audio-visual), but they also have staff knowledgeable in this facilitation. Sometimes team building companies in the UK will charge so much for the organisation and facilitation of a team building event that the cost does become comparable to sending everyone to the Maldives.

Best of the Maldives: Equatorial Adventure – Alila Villas Hadaha

Zero Degree Crossing 2010

Small world. My other water-based pre-occupation (besides Maldives Complete) is coaching and supporting the sport of rowing in the UK for my local school, Sir William Borlase Grammar School, So it didn’t take many degrees of separation to hook up with neighbours down the road who were organising the inspiring Zero Degree Crossing 2010 project in the Maldives.

Their headline objective was to break the record for rowing across the equator. Essentially rowing from the Maldives southern most island in its southern most atoll (Huvadhoo Atoll aka Gaafu) to the northern most island just south of the equator in the Fuahmulah atoll.

The area is referred to logically enough as the ‘Equatorial Channel’ and the organiser, Guin Batten, is a bit of an authority on ocean channels. The British Olympic silver medallist holds the record for a solo crossing of this very channel as well as for solo crossing the English Channel.

Despite a comprehensive training and planning effort the actual crossing did not succeed as Minivan reported

“The aim, says Batten, “was to trash my record for the single crossing, in a quad (four rowers, one coxswain).” “Unfortunately the weather against us. We started quickly, and might have managed it in 5.5 hours, but we were not fast enough for currents and it began to look like it would take us 15 hours – which meant the support vessel was going to run out of fuel,” she says. The team had trained for an endurance slog, but the brief window in the weather had closed and conditions rapidly began to deteriorate and the attempt was reluctantly called off after three hours.”

While disappointing, the result was not a loss because their venture had many more objectives than just a gruesomely ambitious excursion. First, they succeeded in bringing Maldives into the sport of rowing worldwide as the country because the 131st member of the International Rowing Federation (FISA) which officially brings another official sport to the country. Yet another emerging activity one can partake in on the Maldives placid waters (within the atolls though these folks ventured into the choppier area outside the protected lagoons).

It turns out that rowing has a proud, but dormant tradition in the Maldivian culture (no surprise in a land of 1200 islands). The Adaraan Huduranfushi GM Asim Mohamed was telling me all about this subject during my stay.  Traditional rowing was referred to as Kura Fali” and was similar to ‘dragon boat’ racing in that the boat was powered by people on either side with paddles synchronised in the stroke by a drummer at the front. Cultural shows often put on by local villagers at Maldives resorts often feature a drumming exhibition which portrays this tradition. Unfortunately, not a single ‘Kura Fali’ boat remains in tact.

The Zero Degree Crossing team spent much of their visit introducing some of the latest equipment and techniques for rowing to various residents for whom the activity represents not only a competitive pursuit as a sport, but also a basic form of transport.

The whole undertaking was a massive logistical effort with help coming from many corners. Not least of which was the Alila Villas Hadahaa resort which hosted them for their project this past week and are looking to get more involved with the activity and sport going forward.

 

Zero Degree Crossing 2010 rowing

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 9: Recap

Bruce Tour commuting

I never thought that I would use the words ‘frenetic’ and ‘Maldives’ in the same sentence, but that was my past week seeing 9 resorts in 7 days including 5 stops at Male airport for transfers. The objective of ferreting out a number of unsung quirks and curiosities exceeded every expectation.

I also came to some broader upbeat realisations about visiting this paradise…

  • Elephants can dance – I have always gravitated towards the smaller islands in the Maldives. The one step up from the plot of sand with a palm tree on it. To me the small islands exemplified the Robinson Crusoe fantasy. But serendipity brought me to a number of larger properties and I found them universally packed with their own charms and assets.
  • Weather – Don’t sweat the weather forecast. I checked the weather forecasts before our departure and it was calling for ‘Scattered Thundershowers’ every single day. And yet, over the week, not one drop of rain fell on me. We had a shower overnight one day and on another day a brief shower hit while we were in the restaurant. We woke up to an overcast sky one morning, but were slathering on sun block hours later. Everything else was gorgeous sunshine with enough scattered clouds to make for great sunsets.
  • The Deal’s the Thing – When looking for the right holiday for you, filter on what you want and look for the best deal. Most quality is proportionate the standard rates in most cases and the stars rating is not helpful as just about everyone is a 4-plus or 5.
  • Coral Can Come Back – Faster than imagined. Yes, it will take generations to rebuild reefs, but in a few short years you can really see dramatic growth. Active Reef Regeneration like Kuda Huraa’s and Landaa’s really inspired me, but also just places like the Vadoo reef showed vibrancy I have not seen for a while.
  • Food patience – It’s hard to get food right. Not one resort consistently blew me awayon the cuisine front though there were many memorable highlights. The best food works with the relatively local ingredients (tropical fruits, fresh seafood), but I appreciate the challenge of parochial visitors who either (a) want their familiar meat-and-potatoes or fried-rice, or (b) want more variety.
  • Rise of China – Anyone who thinks that China’s prosperity is about a bunch of factory workers getting more rice might want to look at the Maldives’ visitor statistics. In 2010, China rose to the top of the table as the country sending the most visitors to the country’s resorts (maybe I need to do a Mandarin version of Maldives Complete insightful remarked my friend Alex Weindling).  It wasn’t just an empty or dry statistic, but you could see the Chinese every where I went.  One dive master commented that a real challenge (among many) to this shift is that the Chinese are generally pretty weak swimmers and many of them are getting into troubles in the ocean quite often.

I also had some downbeat reflections about the pet peeves that really niggle me…

  • No good tshirts on sale.
  • Eating set far from water or view.
  • Weak bar snacks (olives, crisps, peanuts).
  • Inappropriate ‘pop’ music (especially when played too loudly – more resort managers need to watch this short video clip).

In all, I uncovered 65 ‘Best Of’ candidates on the tour. Next couple of weeks I will be featuring one of my favourites from each of the resorts.

 

Kuda Huraa villa windows inside

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 8: Vadoo

Vadoo Tour

Adaaran Presitge Vadoo exemplifies the ethos of ‘less is more’.

Less size (one of the Maldives’ tiniest resort islands). Less activities (no watersports centre, though access to the one at their sister resort at Club Rannalhi). Less food (none of the ubiquitous buffet). Less beach villas (none, actually, as they only offer water villas). It is a paragon of tasteful understatement.

The biggest ‘less’ is the price. Vadoo is positioning itself to battle in the ‘super-premium’ segment (5+ stars, whatever that means). Individual butler service, exquisite design, distinctive infrastructure. All for under £2000 per week, Vadoo is a super premium bargain.

Several super-premium resorts have piled on the glitz and bling and most guests that I have spoken to are not fond of it (though I definitely know there are people to whom that style appeals). For sun, sand and ostentation I would send people to Dubai. Dubai is even creating artificial micro-islands for those who want the mini-island experience.

Packed into its small scale were plenty of special treats with 11 Best Of candidates identified. Assistant Manager Alex Kovacs (see photo above) thought that the house reef was one of the best in the Maldives, so we had to check it out. It is certainly first class. It is a mere 20 metres from shore through an easily accessible channel. It drops off to a depth of about 30 meters and has a healthy array of coral. We saw a lovely turtle getting her morning spa treatment from cleaner fish as well as the biggest box fish we have ever seen (2 feet at least).

Style, service, distinctions punching well above its weight class measured in size of island or size of budget.

 

Vadoo villa

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Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 7: Club Rannalhi

Club Rannalhi tour 2010

Adaaran Club Rannalhi lends a whole new perspective on the Maldivian resort.

Rannalhi is a smaller island. And when you can’t expand out…expand up. In an country with an average elevation of a few metres and predominantly built up with thatched villas, Rannalhi is almost entirely 2 stories. All the beach villas are 2 story apartments. The spa, the reception and several new water villas are all two stories. It was refreshing to look out over the mottled blue seascape with a bit more of an aerial perspective.

Our penultimate day was a whirlwind of seeing two other Adaaran properties before our departure. We zipped down to Club Rannalhi for a tour by Front Office Manager Yaameen Abdul Rahman (see photo above), lunch and snorkel. And then back up to Vadoo for dinner and a night at their Prestige property.

Adrian Neville’s seminal resort guide ‘Resorts of the Maldives’ clarified that Club Rannalhi is very popular with an Italian tour operator who runs a ‘club’ concept, but that the resort still maintains a strong international mix of clientele.

I felt that the resort would be good for a Maldives novice. It is small and so easy to learn your way around. I also found the posted guidance very transparent and helpful. They had a sign at reception clearly indicating how one could enjoy a night at the distinctive water villa for a $100/night upgrade supplement (a very reasonable price in my view). They also had all of the activities, excursion, events and special meals all clearly posted on a board by reception. In the past, I have struggled to suss out the lay of the land at resorts until I could get to the concierge desk to see the excursion schedule, go to the restaurants to see the special meal postings, and go to the orientation session to hear everything else. Within minutes of arrival I could see my options and possibilities right away.

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