Best of the Maldives: Storytelling – Naladhu

Naladhu Storytelling

 

 

One of my friends at Microsoft (and former teammate), Steve Clayton, has the jobs title of ‘Story Teller’. He has made a career out of telling stories for richly illustrating the intricate tapestry of Microsoft technology. The Naladhu resort brings stories to its own guest offering a storytelling evening. Not just reading Dr. Suess, but executed with so much style and panache I suspect the adults would want to go along as well (I know that I would). They host it in a coconut grove (I love it when the resorts do more activities out in the natural surroundings) and they explore the folklore of Maldives. The trips to local village islands are always popular excursions and I know that many visitors are keen to seek out a bit ‘culture’ on their trip. If so, Naladhu offers a colourful portrayal…

“Did you know that the Maldives has an oral literary tradition that extends back almost 1,000 years? A rich history of sailors, pirates, seafaring princes, sultans and British colonial governors? A language unlike any on Earth? A must on the itinerary of any guest to Naladhu is a storytelling evening in our island’s coconut grove with Ahmed Didi, the Island Chief. A native to our very island for – well, longer than anyone really knows! – Ahmed is a lively character with a richly detailed memory filled with island tales from his own lifetime and generations beyond. He shares his love of this island nation and its rich folkloric tradition in casual (yet dramatic!) stories. Naladhu is proud preserve Maldivian culture and share it with our guests during this unique evening back in time.”

Best of the Maldives: Lounger – Reethi Rah

Reethi Rah LiLo 2

 

There’s pool seating and then there’s POOL seating!

I’ve already done a post on the stunning Pool Seating of the Traders Hotel (nee Holiday Inn Male). On my recent tour, I noted how the resorts we really upping their game in this regard. King-sized luxury mattresses under four-posted canopies. But the Atoll Paradise website caught my eye with what is most certainly the most perfect ‘POOL’ seating. The pictures say it all. Hat tip to TripAdvisor destination expert ICN05 for identifying the sub-aquatic lounger as Reethi Rah’s.

Reethi Rah LiLo

Best of the Maldives: Panoramic Dining – Baros

Baros Lighthouse

 

“Waiter…the best seat in the house please with a view. Make that the best seat in the world.”

The Maldives has a lot of stunning beauty and the resorts there put a lot of thought into how to experience that beauty most completely. The heart of the beauty is the distinctive ocean waters dappled with a crowded palette of blue hues. The best resort restaurants get the guests as close to the waters edge as possible with waterside beach dining a crowd favourite. Others have pushed out even further onto the water (with the dramatic instance of Congrad Rangali pushing ‘into’ the water) with pavilions. I have visited the water pavilion restaurants at Kuramathi, Rangali and Reeth Beach, and they are quite prevalent across the Maldives.

Other resorts are now moving to ‘altitude’ to enhance the vista for its diners even higher. Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru’s Moroccan restaurant ‘Al Barakat’, Adaaran Vadoo’s main bar, Anantara Kihava’s upcoming Sky-Fire-Salt-Sea restaurant concept all elevate the dining to a second story for a broader perspective on the surrounding maritime spectacle. But Sakis makes a dazzling case (and photos as expected) for Baros’ Lighthouse restaurant calling out the distinguished architecture and menu in the increasingly competitive category of panoramic pavilions.

“Its singular architecture can not be forgotten. And if by chance, you have already spent your holidays in North Male Atoll, you might have seen it at the horizon, brightly shining under the Sun, reminding you a lighthouse in the far end… Signature, highlight and landmark of the Luxury Hotel Baros Maldives, the Lighthouse was built on the lagoon and stands as a culinary reference by proposing an elaborated, innovative and fine A La Carte dining menu. Flavours are mainly based on Mediterranean and Asiatic Food, turning into a surprisingly taste experience when it also comes to the Fusion of both of them.”

 

Baros Lighthouse 2

Best Snorkelling in the World

Snorkelling Four Seasons

Is the Maldives the best snorkelling in the world?

The debate rages in the diver community about the best diving in the world. A number of clear criteria are considered…

  • Clarity of water
  • Quantity and diversity of fish (including ‘Big 5’ and ‘Little 5’)
  • Quantity and diversity of coral

The top ten areas regularly includes the Maldives along with the likes of the Red Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, Cayman Islands, Indonesia.

But what would be the criteria for the best snorkelling and which areas would prevail?

First of all, the basic dive criteria would be a foundation and all would apply equally as well for snorkelling. But snorkelling requires more considerations…

  • Shallowness, low current
  • Easy access to shore (so you can just jump in…no boat trips needed)
  • Warm water (so you can just go in your swimsuit…no wetsuits)

I am surprised how little the topic is discussed in online forums and magazine articles. When it has been reviewed, the treatments seem shallower than a coral cropping at low tide. For example, Costal Living did the piece ’10 top spots to snorkel’ but only covered North America in its selections.  This Forbes piece ‘World’s Top Snorkeling Spots’ is one of the best lists I have seen, but there is little accompanying text and the entire Indian Ocean is conspicously absent.  The Island magazine piece on ‘World 23 Best Islands for Snorkeling’ is the most comprehensive and includes the Maldives, but its singling out Veligandu would be hotly debated by many (my own research seems to point more to Kandoludhoo).

While Maldives is renowned for romance (top honeymoon spot) and diving, I think it really makes a strong case for being one of the top snorkelling destinations in the world. The atoll topography is just right for ideal snorkelling and ‘house reef’ conditions. Most ‘house reefs’ offer a stunning snorkel experience just meters from your beach villa (unlike the Great Barrier Reef which usually requires a boat ride). The waters are warm (unlike the Red Seas which requires a wet suit to be comfortable). I am more of a Maldives expert than a worldwide snorkelling expert, but most of the divers and divemasters that I meet in the Maldives who have themselves snorkelled around the world, tend to concur with my bold conjecture. Certainly, it warrants a place on anyone’s top 10.

Great House Reefs

Maldives House Reefs

One of the first questions a true Maldives aficionado asks of a resort is ‘How good is the House Reef?’

When I first heard the advice to seek out the best house reef, I didn’t even know what a house reef was. We arrived at Laguna Beach (the resort that preceded Velassaru) and spent our days snorkelling around the coral croppings in the sandy lagoon. Then on an excursion to Bolifushi (soon to be Jumeirah Vittaveli), we went ‘over the edge’ and our hearts nearly leapt out of our snorkels. It is a truly dramatic experience to go from a few feet of water to a vast open expanse with a wall peppered with colourful coral and schools of tropical fish.

When I visited Vadoo, I got into a discussion with Assistant GM Alex Kovacs about great house reefs. Alex was proudly and valiantly making the case that Vadoo’s was one of if not ‘the’ best house reef in the Maldives’. My wife and I had to have a go with that kind of endorsement and can attest that it is a thoroughly fine experience. I would call it a first class house reef, but I balked at his claim that it was ‘the best’. I’ve covered ‘house reefs’ before including ‘Best House Reef’ (based on TA research), ‘Best House Reef Drop-Off’, and ‘Closest House Reef’.

He then challenged me, what makes a ‘great house reef’? I had some immediate responses, but it subsequently made me reflect on what it the characteristics really were. I came up with the following proposed list of criteria…

  • Drop-off (minimum 20 metre drop off)
  • Access (maximum 30 metres from shore to drop off)
  • Quantity and diversity of fish (especially ‘Little Five’)
  • Quantity and diversity of coral
  • Length
  • Low current (typically on the ‘inner atoll’ side of the island)
  • Warm water (this is a given in the Maldives and many tropical destinations, but not a guarantee at other snorkel spots around the world)

Snorkel Safari ‘Big 5’

Whale Shark snorkeling

When our family went on safari in Kruger National Park, the various resorts used to brag about how rich their park was by referencing the ‘Big Five’

  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Rhino
  • Leopard
  • Water Buffalo

The ‘Big 5’ represented the ‘main events’ on safari. Yes, the colourful birds, curious critters, adorable primates were all wonderful to behold, but these Big 5 had a certain cachet and thrill. It became a bit of a signature to a great safari to see all five.

That Big 5 tradition made me think that ‘snorkelling’ ought to have its own ‘Big 5’. Most snorkelling excursions are dubbed ‘Snorkel Safaris’ anyway. After a decade of snorkelling, there certainly are certain creatures that spark a real enthusiasm. An acid test of distinction is whether you shout out to perfect strangers swimming near by, ‘hey, check this out!’

But actually, on reflection, they break into two groups – treats and rarities. The ‘treats’ are the ones that you would pretty much hope or even expect to see at least one of on any good snorkel…but are still a special treat. The ‘rarities’ are the ones that one hardly ever sees snorkelling, but can especially if one seeks them out.

First the basic ‘treats’ that I would dub the ‘Little 5’. Most of these are fairly common in good snorkelling sites. For one reason or another they always bring a little smile and the dive camera comes out…

  • Shark
  • Turtle
  • Ray
  • Moray
  • Lion Fish

And the more exciting rarities which are the true ‘Big 5’ and the encounters that you will talk about in the bar would include…

  • Octopus
  • Scorpion Fish
  • Dolphin
  • Manta
  • Whale Shark

This list is a distinctly Indian Ocean / Maldives list. In the same way that the ‘Big 5’ was distinctly ‘African’. Tigers, orangatangs, and sloths would certainly figure into any one’s top aspirations in Asia jungles. Similarly, the dugongs of Australia, water snakes of Indonesia and seashores of Europe and America make for special occasions in those locales.

Best of the Maldives: Closest to Airport – Hulhule

Hulhule near airport

 

One of the common questions on the Maldives Trip Advisor Forum is where to stay for a quick Male stop-over. If you are going for the sheer mathematics of convenience, then the closest hotel/resort to the Male airport is Hulhule. The picture above shows the hotel snapped from the water taxi ranks in front of the airport. I strolled the few hundred yards of waterside in a few minutes to check it out during one of my many transits out of Male during my recent tour.

Some people dismiss Hulhule as a weaker offering relative to the dedicated resorts sprinkled across the atolls. But compared to ‘airport hotels’ around the world, Hulhule re-defines the genre. Instead of being tucked into some industrial park, the hotel is surrounded by water. Instead of being an empty guest warehouse, it actually has invested in extensive entertainment facilities including basketball, archery, pitch-and-putt golf, one of the largest and best equipped fitness centres I have seen and a fine pool.

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Best of the Maldives: Donuts – Holiday Inn Male

Holiday Inn Male Gonuts

 

When I came upon the Haveeru Online piece on ‘Gonuts’ (“International doughnuts cafe chain opens in Maldives”) I nearly fainted with anticipation. Okay, it wasn’t Krispy Kreme. But doughnuts and the Maldives. It’s like ambrosia and paradise mixed into one indolent concoction. So on my recent trip, I had to make a special detour to check out Gonuts. Despite my discerning palette for all things doughy and fried, I was beside myself when I got to experience them.

First, they were good. I had the ‘Chocolate Profiterole’. It appeared to be made fresh as I waited. The filling was particularly ‘creamy’ as opposed to the more gelatinous custard of conventional donuts.

Second, they were appropriately exotic. Flavours offer took the doughnut repertoire to whole new dimensions. ‘Spicy Tuna’ and ‘Sambalicious’ (with chilli pepper) were too adventurous for me even.

Finally, the dining area was a masterstroke. One of my pet peeves with resorts is when they pave over too many dining areas and don’t have enough ‘toes in the white sand’ places to eat. And yet, here in the heart of downtown Male, Gonuts’ own dining area was laid out with white sand for people to enjoy their delicacy in a delightful cafe setting.

So why do I credit the Holiday Inn Male with this ‘Best of Maldives’ distinction? Well, Gonuts has a take-away service! Which means that guest at the Holiday Inn (a few blocks down the road) can ring up for a few concoctions to enjoy with their mocktail by the roof side pool.

 

Gonuts with Donuts

Best of the Maldives: Ornamental Garden – Adaaran Vadoo

Vadoo garden

 

Everyone talks about the Maldive seascape, but despite lacking in size, the Maldive landscapes are often just as striking in their colour and beauty. Most resorts work hard to bring out the very best with primping and fussing over bougainvillea, hibiscus, and oleander lining the pathways and accents around the island. But the winner of the blue ribbon for gardening has to go to Adaaran Vadoo.

Vadoo’s garden is one of the first things to hit you on arrival. Leaving the jetty, you emerge through a gate into a manicured horticultural masterpiece like stepping into some sequestered Eden. Passing through reception to the rest of the island brings you to an even more expansive park with flowers, topiary, paths, little sitting areas, ‘turtle sanctuary’, etc. Not only are the gardens exquisite, but they are also the dominant feature of the island itself. Being one of the smallest islands in the Maldives line-up, there is no room for even any villas (so they have 100% water villas). What little space exists is devoted more to blooms and blossoms than any other island.

 

Vadoo garden 2

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