At the WTM, each country invests all sorts of creativity and panache into their booths to stand out from the crowd as agents and operators mull what trips to send their clients on. But no Excursion Desk in the Maldives, where you go to decide what trips you want to go to during your stay, have the flair of Finolhu’s pink microbus. All part of the resort’s retro chic vibe.
Hug a Sheep Day today! Aka “I love ewe” day for all ovinophiles If you hadn’t herd, Finolhu has adopted the fluffy cloven-hoofed ruminants as their resort mascot in a nod to their location in the eponymous Baa Atoll (or should be say “Baaaaaa Atoll”). Various woolly figures are found all over the island (see photos). So maybe skip the lamb curry today out of respect.
Coconuts are the bounty of the Maldivian plots of sand. On nearly any island, some staff member will – often a gardener with a machete for clearing – will grab you one, open up a whole with a few well-placed hacks and let you sip its succulent coconut water. When you’re done, he will also slice the fruit open so you can nibble on the tender coconut meat inside. A modest gift of a few dollars is always appreciated in return. Finolhu has parked up a more stylish outlet for noshing on some nucifera. An iconic VW bus in pastel robin’s egg blue with a coconut stand right by the pool so you can sample with tropical treat whenever the mood strikes.
Finolhu puts the “Soleil” into the “Cirque de Soleil”. Today is International Sight day and some of the things you will see at Finolhu will make you not believe your eyes (including the occasional mermaid known to visit the island).
Finolhu has a bit of a retro Las Vegas nightlife vibe with its own resident entertainment acts high on showmanship and flair. They’ve featured hoops, silk banners, large hoops, fire dancing by a group called Area 51 which resident for three months. Then they circulate in a fresh set of artistes. When we visited a group from Mexico was there performing every night.
The resort explained that part of their contact is that during the day, the performers must work on new tricks and material. The idea is that the “artists-in-residence” have sort of a bootcamp for developing and refining their craft and act all the while sharing the fresh new work with the resort guests. Finolhu targets young groups early in their career so the booking can be a boost to their careers.
Sometimes resort (and cruise) entertainment can be a bit jaded. Circuit acts going through the motions with their gigs of tired material. But the Finolhu acts had a fresh vitality about them. All the buzz of someone pursuing their dreams and living them every day in paradise. And when they finally do hit the big time and get that headline act in Vegas, you can say you saw them in the original Circles of Sun in the Indian Ocean.
If you want to look out for pirates, Finolhu features the most exquisite lifeguard stand on its beach. A retro classic in robin’s egg blue with a apropos thatches roof. It even includes a set of binoculars to gaze out on the rest of the beach and ocean. Perfect for channelling your inner Baywatch. Or for the fashionistas, inner Babe Watch (it is one of the most popular posing platforms on the island).
And Finolhu has a bagel station for people who prefer their round dough morning thing savoury not sweet. Four different varieties of bagels and more toppings than I have seen this side of New York’s West Side. Of course, smoked salmon, but the smoked shrimps were a revelation. They also had smoked tuna and smoked king fish. As well as an assortment of cold cuts and other cheeses.
I am a bit of a milk shake (or “frappe” as they call them in New England where I grew up) connoisseur. The “Milk Shake Bar Kid” if you will. At university, my daily routine included a late night run to Brighams for *two* chocolate malted shakes (with an egg for extra protein and extra creaminess…I was doing lots of sport and this was a time before protein bars and smoothies). To this day, I make myself a milkshake at least once a week. The proper kind made with ice cream (the British have some weird things called “milk shakes” that are mostly literally milk shaken up).
I grew up enjoying soda fountain shakes at the local drugstore or “five and dime”. Shakes have made a bit of retro-resurgence with the rise of gastro-burger joints including the eponymous “Shake Shack”. So it was a charming trip down memory lane to stroll into Finolhu’s own “Milk Bar”. Of course, I had to go for the classic chocolate.
They do a range of smoothies and freezing cold drinks to slake the tropical thirst. They even offer a range of protein powders.
Damn right it’s better than yours.
I love quirky islands. Yes, the Maldives “classic” is the round, green drop in the middle of the ocean. And some are long and skinny stretching around the edges of an atoll. And then there is crescent shaped Finolhu. As you enter the lagoon, it seems as if two, white extended arms are stretching out to embrace you with a welcome.
The resort is built on an expansive natural scythe-like lagoon. The Small Island Company has added the water villa jetty to one end in a great sweeping arc mirroring the outstretched sand spit opposite. I think it’s the biggest enclosed lagoon area in the Maldives. It reminded me of a mini-Seenu atoll which we visited on last year’s tour where the inside side of the resort provides this sweeping circle around you (you can look to the opposite side if you prefer the vista of boundless ocean).
The topology is just the tip of the faru to this property’s quirky character and funky style. Finolhu is a sort of Sushi Samba of resorts – youthful, stylish and epicurean fusion of styles in whimsical ways. The concierges are dubbed “Mojos” and this place has as much of it as a revitalised Austin Powers (the name of one of their signature drinks). The décor is vintage in both theme and styling with distressed wood with beach house blue and white wash. It is peppered with iconic references to the 60s and 70s while a Big Chill soundtrack permeates the public areas.
Finolhu is also a foodie haven. Run by a former London restaurateur Mark Reader who wielded his skillet at top London eateries early in his hospitality career. All of the food is top gourmet quality. I must say that the lunch we had at the Crab and Fish Shack is quite possibly the best lunch we have ever had in two decades in the Maldives. The lunch is a hard meal to excel at. People’s tastes are more limited to lighter fare where there is less opportunity for extravagance (eg. no one wants Lobster Thermidor or Chateau Briand for lunch). Not only was everything we sampled distinctive (King Crab Gazpacho, Soft Shell Crab Tacos, Truffle Fries), but the venue itself was one of the most exquisite eatery locations in the Maldives (more to follow on all these features in future Best of the Maldives posts). To top it all off, we popped on our fins and went for a snorkel right behind the remote crab shack and had a delightful snorkel.
But the restaurants aren’t only places for epicurean indulgence. The villas provide not two, but three showers including the sumptuous waterfall drench (Side note: It has been intriguing watching the shifting goal posts of luxury showers in the Maldives as the luxury grade progressed over the years from Hot Water Shower to Power Shower to Massage Shower to Rain Shower to Waterfall/Drench Shower. I can’t imagine what comes next).
I must admit that when I come on these research trips in recent years, I often wonder how much more there is to see and whether I will actually discover things that I haven’t seen yet in my 80+ stays at Maldives resorts. Resorts like Finolhu inspire me that my job ferreting out the distinctive and unusual will never be done. When creativity and investment are applied, the potential for the new and surprising remains boundless. Despite over 1300 “Best of the Maldives” items published (or pending), I still found dozens of candidates at Finolhu, placing them in the top 10 of the resort league table.