Best of the Maldives: Pinot Noir – Huvafenfushi

Huvafenfushi - Sommelier Indica Romani Pinot Noir

  • Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.” – Sideways

Pinot Noir Day today. If you are wondering why we should be celebrating such a specific varietal, then check out the clip from the Oscar winning film “Sideways” at bottom (excerpt above). I guess Miles’ sentiments echo some of my inspirations behind Maldives Complete. It really takes time to coax the Maldives “into its fullest expression” in an informative website.

And if you want to sample the most haunting, most brilliant , most thrilling and most subtle Pinot, then you need to visit Huvafenfushi for its Romani 1999. The bottle (shown by sommelier Indica above and in the photo below) will run you $30,000.

Huvafenfushi - Romani Pinot Noir

Best of the Maldives: Rickshaw – Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa

Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa - rickshaw

You don’t need industrial grade, high-tech equipment to see the aquatic sights of the Maldives. The simplest and most ancient of transports can provide a romantic ride through the panorama of paradise. Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa offers rickshaw rides for $30 USD per couple for a tour around the resort beach and its massive jetty.

Best of the Maldives: Night Glass Bottom Boat – Olhuveli

Olhuveli - glass bottom boat

The magic of the Maldives is right at the surface. The landscape doesn’t tower above you and the seascape doesn’t plummet to the depths. Most of the vibrant colour and life takes place within 10 metres in either direction.

The Maldives features a number of different vessels from glass bottomed boats to full fledge submarines to share the undersea world with the land lubbers without getting wet. There’s pretty good sized and diverse fleet of vessels providing a glimpse into the aquatic world. So much that I’m adding a tag for “Glass Bottom” with this post.

The Best Dives semi-submersible at Olhuveli has a fun look. A bit “Yellow Submarine” Peter Max aesthetic. But its real distinction comes at night time. Not be because its bright red colour makes it easier to see. But because it comes equipped with strong underwater lights to allow for night times cruises. A good deal of the ocean creatures are nocturnal. So even if you are an active snorkeler, the Olhuveli boat provides an opportunity to see things you haven’t seen before. The resort runs regular night as well as day excursions.

Sky of blue.  And sea of green” – Ringo Starr

Best of the Maldives: Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa – Beach Sport

Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa - beach rugby pitch

Dhigufaru might be the “beachiest” island, but Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa is definitely the beachiest activity center. Hakuraa Huraa boasts its own impressive expanse of brilliant white sand (and when the tide goes out it more than doubles in size). Here is there impressive line-up of beach activity…

  • Beach Rugby – A few resorts play some beach rugby (eg. Adaaran Hudhuranfushi, JA Manafaru), but no one has a permanent pitch with goals and line markers in the sand (see above).
  • Beach Cricket – I’ve seen cricket played in the Maldives, but not Beach Cricket. Again, a permanent bowling area in concrete has been set in the beach.
  • Beach Darts – I’ve only seen this at a few resorts.
  • Beach Volleyball – Ok, lots of resorts have this too and Hakuraa Huraa’s is a nice set up.
  • Beach Badminton – You can find this at several resort, but most resort that do offer badminton offer a hard surface court. The beach would make it harder to run, but could make for some crafty strategy (getting someone out of position is all the more valuable) as well as some heroic diving saves.
  • Beach Football – And this is common, but not to be left out here.

Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa - beach darts

Best of the Maldives: Value Buffet – Medhufushi

Medhufushi - value buffet

I’m pretty flexible on the quality of my villa (I’ve always said that you could sleep in a cardboard box in the Maldives and it would be a 5-star experience) and don’t need many amenities or recreational distractions laid on (happy to put on my snorkel in fins any time I’m a bit bored), but I do enjoy my food. Mind you, it doesn’t take much to lay out a decent spread in the Maldives – freshly caught reef fish, tropical fruits, a simple pasta station (or egg station for breakfast). But I do appreciate it when the resorts treat me to something a bit tasty.

Medhufushi features quite possibly the best value buffet in the Maldives. The resort positions itself as 4-star, but the food punches way above its weight class and is absolutely 5-star cuisine. Reminded me of Mirihi back when it was a 4.5 star, but served up gourmet food. But Mirihi is now 3 times the price of Medhuifushi! And there are a couple of 5-star properties (including some where people raved about the food in the reviews) that were nowhere near as good as Medhufushi.

Here are just a few notes of the fine dining we enjoyed during our brief stay…

  • Chicken Laksa – Possibly my favourite soup of the trip. Rich and flavourful. Made to order with vegetables and eggs in the bowl that the broth is served over.
  • Tom Yam Seafood Broth – More delectable soup.
  • Tuna Sashimi – Not the sushi which you can find at 4-star buffets but it mostly rice in seaweed wrap. But rather prime slices of fresh tuna.
  • Tenderloin – Perfectly cooked medium-rare at the roast station.
  • Tandouri Chicken – With Nan bread cooked fresh in front of you.
  • Curry Variety – Another “Best of the Maldives” post coming on this. My favourite was “Beetroot Curry”.
  • Rice Pudding – With Sultanas almost like my mom makes (she uses raisins). Second best rice pudding I have had in the Maldives
  • Ice Cream – Variety to rival super-luxury property Soneva. Here are a few of the flavours set out during our short stay – Earl Grey Tea, Passion Fruit & Yogurt, Peanut Butter, Carmelised Banana, Raspberry and Lime Sorbet, Lime Sorbet, Kiwi Sorbet, Apple Sorbet (Lori got just a bit addicted to their ice cream bar).
  • Coconut Cake – Why isn’t this served more extensively??
  • Mango Yogurt – And this too…why isn’t this more prevalent on the buffets?
  • Mas Huni – Hard to say whether it is the “best” in the Maldives, but it is the only resort that serves *two* types of Mas Huni.

Feel free to bring a big appetite to Medhufushi even if your wallet is a bit small.

Best of the Maldives: Rustic – Rihiveli

Rihiveli - room

People come to the Maldives to get away from it all. And at Rihiveli Beach, that does mean *all*. I characterise the Maldives by saying “You know those tropical island cartoons with a plot of sand and a palm tree…that’s the Maldives, a thousand of those.” Admittedly a bit of an exaggeration but an effective caricature. As the Maldives tourism industry has developed now you can go to islands with towers, golf courses, gourmet restaurants, water parks, 9-bedroom villas, etc. In the wake of this expansion and development, a hardened cadre of Maldives purists yearn for the simpler days much more approximating Gilligan’s Island than Thurston Howell III’s estate.

I am usually writing about special things that resorts have, but Rihiveli is distinguished by the things is doesn’t have…

  • Mini-bar
  • Outdoor shower
  • In-room Internet (and the wifi in the Reception and Bar I pretty ropey)
  • In-room safe (you can lock things in a safe at Reception)
  • Phone
  • Clock
  • TV
  • Pool

And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest one – no Air Conditioning. As I mentioned in my tour review, this was the biggest challenge for us especially as the weather was particularly toasty and the breeze unseasonably calm. Our pragmatic solution turned out to be downright romantic (in a clean and decent way) as we slept on our loungers under the stars for one of the most memorable nights of the trip if not all our visits to the Maldives. But if such al fresco snoozing is a bit too exposed for you, then there is actually salvation at hand on the island. 13 of their Standard Bungalows (namely – Boova, Bouraki, Carangue, Cardinalia, Cassis Nana, Dauphin, Demoiselle, Dentice, Digumas, Diodon, Diodora, Donax, Donhica) and their single Deluxe Villa (Escondida) do have AC. The Standard rooms with AC do have a $35 supplement.

You might be asking yourself, “what is actually there?”…

  • Hot Water Showers
  • Kettle
  • Comfortable Bed
  • Ceiling fan

Yep, that’s about it.

So why would anyone put up with such limitations?

  • Value – The property is one of the most affordable of the resort islands.
  • Get Away From It ALL – Especially technology. If I had kids addicted to technology, I would bring them here. They wouldn’t be able to check their phones most of the time.
  • Authenticity – The closest to living the traditional Maldivian lifestyle.
  • Island – Rihiveli is simply on of the best neighbouring-island/lagoon combinations in the Maldives.

With the ample bar, delicious food, water sport centre, Balinese spa, etc., it’s not exactly Bear Grylls material, and it might be just the type of escape to paradise you are looking for.

Best of the Maldives: Beachiest – Dhigufaru

Dhigufaru - beach

The first thing that hits you about Dhigufaru is the beach. It leaps out of the promotional pictures when you are researching and planning your visit (see above). And its vast expanse of dazzling white hits you again as soon as you step off the seaplane.

Many resorts make bold claims about being the biggest or the best. Often these aspects are quite subjective. I might consider a “Best of the Maldives” piece if they have something substantive to hang their claims on, but sometimes I can get some real numbers for comparison sake especially for Geography superlatives (eg. Biggest Island, Lowest Population Density). So I took out my trusty calculator (spreadsheet) actually to estimate what portion of the Dhigufaru island was actually beach. The resort wasn’t making any claims about it, but I was.

By my calculations, the island is 42% beach by square metre which is the top of any active resort I can find (the runners up were Rihiveli, Gili Lankanfushi, Cocoa Island). If you are looking for that plot-of-sand-with-a-palm-tree aesthetic (pile of sand, a little vegetation, and all set in a vast ocean), then Dhigufaru is it.

Best of the Maldives: Staff Art – Amilla Fushi

Amilla Fushi - garden 2

  • What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.” – David Hockney

At most resorts, the staff give at bit of themselves every day to make the visit by the guests memorable and distinctive. At Amilla Fushi, this investment is expressed indelibly in a unique exhibition of creativity and personality.

The Mystique Garden is a chef’s garden where you can enjoy special meals prepared and served for you al fresco. But your nook is more than the lush greenery of an equatorial paradise. It accented by a collection of striking art works suspended in the tropical canopy. These pieces are the works and gifts of the resort staff themselves.

When the property was near completion and the new team of staff being assembled, the management got everyone together and presented them with a challenge to design and produce pieces of sculpture to adorn the Mystique Garden. The resort provided any tools and materials that they needed. The staff were assembled into department teams as the project was a way to bring the group close together prior to the opening with a focus on thrilling the impeding guests with something out of the ordinary. The teams worked for over a month and the top pieces were selected for inclusion in this open air gallery. The pieces featured and the teams that created them are…

  • Chandelier by Management
  • Morovian Star by Engineering
  • Peace Sign by the Spa
  • Dodecahedron by the Front Office
  • Silver Mobile by Recreation

I’ve been to lots of chef gardens in the Maldives (in fact, with this post, I am adding a new tag for them “Chef Garden”, but Amilla’s is a bit extra-magical, surrounded not just by the natural beauty of the location, but also by these inspired pieces which offer a personal welcome from the hearts, minds and souls of the resort team to their guests.

Amilla Fushi - garden 1

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Objects – Summer Island

Summer Island - underwater objects

The Maldives seascape is a world of extremes. The house reefs are often dramatic, colourful, textured, vibrant spectacles. The lagoons, on the other hand, can be vast expanses of underwater deserts of endless, featureless white sand. A number of resorts have introduced a range of Reefscaping initiatives to brighten up their lagoon, but none more funky than the work of Diverland (the resident dive operation) at Summer Island.

In the lakes of England where they teach diving, they submerge bicycles, shopping trolleys, anything to provide some visual interest to the otherwise boring landscape. Summer Island has quite a quirky collection shown in the chart above and include a phone booth and a lamp post (see photo at bottom). All of the items are marked with a red buoy (12 in total) making it easier to find and navigate your swimming to them.

Summer Island also features probably the easiest beginner “wreck dive” one could ever find. They have sunk a sand barge and an old speedboat. Reminds me of the post-war practice by the American and British of scuttling obsolete naval vessels to provide reefs for recreational diving and promotion of sea life. Also, the closest thing to #7 in the 4th collection of “Haven’t Seen Yet”.

Summer Island - sunked boat

Summer Island - underwater phone box

Best of the Maldives: Crab – Finolhu

Finolhu - fish and crab shack

The *other* luxury seafood – Crab. Lobster is the stereotypical luxury seafood (and one I explore extensively in the Maldives). But if there is one alternative that gives lobster a bit of contention for that title, it’s Crab. Proper crab…like Alaskan King Crab or Rock Crab. Just the other day, I was musing why – with all of its opulent ingredients and gourmet eateries – one didn’t see more of the luxury King Crab in the Maldives which rivals Maine Lobster for sweetness and tenderness.

Finally, a resort has given crab the luxury treatment and spotlight it deserves in the Maldives – Finolhu. Specifically, the Crab and Fish Shack, but actually they serve an assortment of gourmet crab dishes at all of its restaurants. Crab Gazpacho (warrants its own post) at the Shack. Crab Curry at the BaaHaa Grill – a first in the Maldives, but astonished that it is. King Crab Fried Rice their Asian Kanusan restaurant.

But the star attraction is the Shack’s Soft Shelled Crab Taco (photo below). This dish is what I refer to as the “Babe Ruth Called Shot” (remember – resorts often make a lot of grandiose claims and after 20 years going to the Maldives, I’ve seen a lot). From nearly the moment we arrived, everyone around the resorts said that we had to try the Soft Shelled Crab Taco. Now, we used to live in Northern Virginia smoothly polished stone’s throw away from the Chesapeake Bay where soft-shelled crab is a regional specialty. Being a seafood and particularly a shellfish lover, I’ve tried it on many occasions, but it never really did it for me. So I was a bit sceptical about these recommendations. But hey, I thought I should try it. Wow Simply divine. This tasty dish will haunt me for a long time. Part of the problem with soft shelled crab is that you are eating the whole body – legs, head, etc. It just seems a bit weird. But encasing it in a soft taco shell masks this aspect to seem just like some tasty seafood meat.

Along with the truffle fries (truffle oil not too overbearing and the fries a perfect crispy outside and mushy soft on the inside) and the crab gazpacho (subject of another post), I think this might just be the best lunch I have ever had in the Maldives (Mind you, it is hard for a chef to stand out at lunch. The food is naturally lighter and more limited. There is less opportunity for grand recipes as no one wants to eat Lobster Thermidor or Chateau Briand in the middle of the day).

Finolhu’s Crab and Fish Shack takes you even further away from it all. You come to the Maldives resorts to escape civilisation…and then you can go to the Crab Shack to escape the resort which is situated at the end of a distinctive kilometre long sand spit jutting out into the ocean. Finolhu doesn’t just have a great crab menu, but it has an equally stunning crab venue.

Finolhu - soft shell crab tacos