Best of the Maldives: Ms. GM – Amilla Maldives

Amilla - victoria 2

Looking at the “better half” issues at the halfway point of International Women’s Month. Some women find their satisfaction in the workplace and some find it in the household. Some women find it from both. And for some, the home is the workplace. Such is the case with resort spouses. Juggling the two spaces can be a real challenge. Not to mention juggling the roles of worker and wife. Mind you, increasing numbers of men also face these dilemmas, but historically, it has been the women who were more torn between both.  Amilla Maldives Victoria Kruse’s own juggling of so many roles, managing the blurred lines of home and work on a resort, and pioneering initiatives in the Maldives make her a role model for women looking at resort careers or co-careers with their husbands.

My father was a clergyman and so I observed the role that my mother played as “Minister’s Wife” which was also a “job” in its own right even though she did have her own career. The congregation had certain expectations about the presence and contribution of the minister’s spouse.  So I grew up with a first-hand view of this informal business-marriage partnership.

The resort couple I have known the longest in the Maldives is Jason and Victoria Kruse. They are (along with atoll neighbours Sonu and Eva Shivdasani) one of the most prominent resort leadership couples in the Maldives. I’ve already profiled Jason’s extensive and distinguished career in the Maldives, but I have long wanted to do a similar profile on Victoria. Her contributions at Kurumba and then Amilla have been noteworthy and growing in prominence with every year of her service. When we last visited Amilla, we noticed that Victoria’s activity and role was beyond full-time and pervasively wearing so many hats.   So she was happy to share an exclusive Maldives Complete interview about this experience:

  • How did you and Jason meet?
    Jason and I were introduced through mutual friends at a BBQ in Bali. Jason was a managing a hotel there and I had a fashion label back then. We each tell a different version of the story of course!
  • How did you decide to take an active resort role at the resort?
    It depends how you define active role really. At Casa del Mar in Langkawi I interacted with the guests but that was all. At Kurumba, Jason asked me to “help out” with the resort boutique as it was in bad shape. From that I started a retail consultancy business for resorts and was involved in the Kurumba boutique plus I also helped out with design things. At Six Senses Fiji, I was a consultant to the owners for the wellness area and store and as happens during opening I was called on to help with other things. In fact, Amilla is the first property I have had an official role working for the resort itself!
  • What is your current role at Amilla?
    Director of Sustainability and Wellness (also responsible for Events) – however over the past three years I have acted as the F&B manager, Executive Chef and Director of Sales not to mention purchasing and more. It is hard to define exactly as I also welcome and farewell guests and spend time speaking to guests at each meal period.
  • What is a biggest challenge to couples working together on a resort?
    Honestly it is the attitude of owners and management companies that do not accept that management couples can work. Most big companies and many traditional owners are very against it or ban it completely. For me it makes sense in a remote destination.
  • What would be one tip you would give to couples working together at a resort?
    Define responsibilities with yourselves and then everyone else.
  • How do you keep a boundary between resort life and home life?
    Umm we don’t!
  • What resort initiative that you led are you most pleased with?
    Wellness Your Way. This was a hard one to get everyone onside with, especially the previous culinary team. Winning Wellness Cuisines of the Year in 2021 with Destination Deluxe was a vindication enough but now seeing so many guests booking Amilla because of the WYW menus is amazing.
  • If you have one piece of advice for a woman who wants to succeed in resort leadership, what would it be?
    Don’t lose your femininity to fit in with the “boys” but use it to connect with people.
  • If you have one piece of advice for a woman who wants to join their husband on a resort posting, what would it be?
    Have clearly defined roles and try to set up your house as a non-work environment (just to be clear I have totally failed on this one).
  • What if anything do you wish you had done differently ten years ago or more?
    Stood up for myself and secured a clear job.
  • Ten years from now, what do you think you will regret doing too much of or too little of?
    Allowing too much working stress and too little do things outside of work.

Amilla - victoria

Best of the Maldives: Fashion Feature – Amilla

Most luxury resorts in the Maldives will feature some fine fashions in their boutiques, but Amilla featured fashion on a grand scale inviting both Style Guru Kat Farmer (“Does My Bum Look 40 in This”) and Maldivian Designer Raidha Shafeeg to share their insights and creations with the guests and online fans (I learned of their collaboration at Amilla’s London event where I met Kat). The event coincided with International Women’s Month showcasing these two leaders in their fields and included a fashion show as well as the discussion above. Always keen to feature pioneering Maldivians, Maldives Compete is delighted that Raidha shared some extra perspectives in an exclusive interview:

  • What are your artistic roots (eg.  your earlier memories of being enthralled by creative pursuits)?
    Ever since a pretty young age, I’ve been interested in art and the creative world. I liked to paint and enjoyed drawing in my free time as well since it was a big hobby of mine. As I grew up, I studied arts in the schools I attended in order to develop my craft and learn more and acquired more knowledge about the artistic world.
  • What training/education in the field have you done?
    I did my HND in Fashion Design and Arts at the Academy of Design (AOD) in Sri-Lanka.
  • What type of fashion do you focus on?
    I would say that my main focus for my brand in regards of the type of fashion focused on, would be resort-wear as well as modest wear too, I love to keep up with current trends and love incorporating it into my new designs along with my personal touches.
  • What are some of the key elements of your personal style?
    I would honestly say that my personal style is an outwardly representation of my own personality – I love to dress in bright colours and love to experiment with bold prints as well.
  • What is one of your favourite designs?
    My favourite collection that I’ve debuted so far has to be the modest wear Bee Collection’ that we released in 2018 at the Mercedes-Benz show at Sri-Lanka. It was a collection that drew its inspiration from the concept of a bee colony and its hierarchies which I ruled by the queen bee. It is a collection that promotes women empowerment and I enjoyed designing the collection very much.
  • Who are some fashion designers who you admire?
    One designer I admire – and have admired for a long time – has to be Italian designer Donatella Versace. I love her designs for Versace and her personal style as well.
  • What advice would you give to aspiring Maldivian designers?
    My advice for any aspiring Maldivian designer is try to make something long lasting and worthwhile using your creativity and always believe in yourself and genuinely enjoy and love what you’re doing and do your work passionately as that’s always a sure-fire was to success.

  Amilla - Kat Farmer london

The Interview Game

Dianna and Steve Interview game 1

Luxury is not about buying expensive things; it’s about living in a way where you appreciate things.” – Oscar de la Renta

Happy Thanksgiving. Today is a day for celebrating gratitude especially first and foremost the company of family and friends. As the pandemic resides, appreciation for such company has never been so strong. Last Thanksgiving, Lori and I were huddled around our small kitchen table with a Zoom session to our children. We can’t wait to all be together sharing thanks for so many blessings we cherish all the more.

Appreciation is also a traditional part of our family travel experiences. Also around a dining table (typically the final meal of our stay) we play something we call the “Interview Game”. The exercise derives from my journalistic inquisitiveness and consists of a number of very simple questions (as a opposed to deep, philosophical ones) which I find to be very illustrative of the highlights and impact of the adventure. Regular followers here will recognize many of the questions used in my interview profiles. The activity is really an exercise in reflection, appreciation and sharig. And that is the heart of Thanksgiving.

On my recent tour, I had the serendipity to meet one of the esteemed TripAdvisor Destination Experts, “Dianna53” and her husband Steve. Their extensive expertise derives from decades of regular Maldives visits dating back to their honeymoon in 80s (!), as well as the fact that their daughter ended up living in the Maldives (Addu) for a stint.

Actually, we’ve now met 5 Tripadvisor Destination Experts while in the Maldives (except for MioraD)

  1. Dianna53 – Met up at Amilla this tour.
  2. Turquoise23 – During visit to Chaaya Reef Ellaidhoo
  3. ActiveGirl – Met at Mirihi.
  4. HideawayKatRetired DE and we remain friends now she is in the UK
  5. MoiraD – We worked together in the 2000s and she helped advise on the construction of Maldives Complete during its inception

Our meet up took place at the end of their couple of weeks at both Reethi Beach and Amilla so we decided to share the Interview Game with them. Below are their responses as well as Lori’s and mine from the end of our stay:

  • What is omething you packed that you didn’t use?
    • Dianna: Torch
    • Steve: One shirt
    • Lori: A dress, a top, some underwear and some shoes
    • Bruce:   Several button shirts and some books I brought to read.
  • What is something you wished you have packed?
    • D: Extra backet of biscuits for tea in my room.
    • S: I had everything I needed.
    • L: A small satchel to carry my phone, room key, etc.
    • B: My good razor from home (thinking my disposable one would be good enough…it wasn’t)
  • What most exceeded expectations?
    • D: Coral regeneration at Amilla (especially by the jetty).
    • S: Transfer efficiency (we were quick off the plane, there was no queue at immigration, our bags came off first and it was a total of 35 minutes from landing to being at the seaplane).
    • L: The diving in general as had lots of great sightings and in the past, many times, we have seen anything on some dives.
    • B: Soneva Jani design details. I knew from the pictures that it was a stunning property, but being there you can see and appreciate the tiny details put into nearly everything.
  • What didn’t meet expectations?
    • D: Didn’t see any turtles.
    • S: The sea conditions were so rough the entire time with all the wind.
    • L: We’ve been disappointed in recent years by the quantity of coral seen during our snorkeling, and now there is (naturally) a real sense of the fish populations being noticeably smaller.
    • B: The Biyadhoo house reef was renowned to be one of the top ones in the Maldives years ago so its state of dead coral and limited fish was particularly painful to see first hand.
  • When did you laugh the hardest?
    • D: When we emerged from the sea from snorkelling and trudged along the beach in the torrential rain and it was so heavy we couldn’t see where we were going so I donned my full face mask (wishing it had windscreen wipers!).
    • S: When a Titan triggerfish swam straight through Dianna’s legs.
    • L: When Bruce said “Gee, thanks” when I commented “That man over there is quite handsome. He looks like you (Bruce)…when you were younger.”
    • B: Lori’s first slide at Sonevi (which you can witness here and I will be playing daily for the foreseeable future).
  • When was your most stressful point?
    • D: 3 days before arrival, Reethi Beach were on monitoring.
    • S: 3 days before arrival, Reethi Beach were on monitoring.
    • L: When my mask broke during the dive. It kept filling up with water and I couldn’t clear it. Fortunately, the dive master was able to fix it good enough to finish the dive.
    • B: When we got word that Soneva Fushi was on monitoring which was going to cause us to rejig our entire itinerary.
  • What was your best bite of food?
    • D: Good ole “fish & chips” at Reethi Beech
    • S: Grilled lobster at Amilla
    • L: Prawns a la Plancha at Soneva Jani’s Crab Shack
    • B: Prawn Burger at Amilla Fushi’s E Beach Club
  • What is something you learned?
    • D: That the Maldives has passed a law prohibiting the interference of baby turtles (even measures intended to help them survive).
    • S: “Bondee” (coconut and coconut milk cocktail wrapped in a coconut leaf) tastes very nice.
    • L: What a “Sponge Snail” is.
    • B: Using a torch for dive photography can scare off fish.
  • What was your favourite avourite Sighting?
    • D: Octopus (both at Amilla and at Reethi Beach).
    • S: Lemon Shark (never seen one before).
    • L: Spanish Dancer Nudibranch (video)…though I loved the bats at Soneva Jani in their arbor.
    • B: Manta on the Amilla dive.
  • What would you do if you had an extra day?
    • D: Go on a turtle excursion/.
    • S: If the weather was calm enough, go to Amilla Fushi’s Blue Hole.
    • L: Do more diving.
    • B: Spa treatments (Biyadhoo so good and such value)

Dianna and Steve Interview game 2

Best of the Maldives Online: Dhivehi Lessons – Maldives Secrets

  

If you do find yourself staying for an extended period or are just looking for some other project to embrace in the final months of lockdown, then why not learn the local language of the Maldives, Dhivehi? I reached out to the stars of this fun and helpful vlog, Kate and Hambe, who gave Maldives Complete an exclusive interview about their project:

  • What prompted you to make the Dhivehi lesson video?I personally couldn’t find a strong source for learning Dhivehi online, so I thought, why not create online lessons with both a fluent Dhivehi speaker and non-Dhivehi speaker? I thought this would ease the learning and through bite-sized and theme-focused lessons that are around 5 minutes each, we hope to provide a quick and fun learning experience!
  • What’s your favourite Dhivehi word or phrase? – I like the phrase “iru ossey manzaru varah reethi” which means “the sunset is very beautiful”.
  • Can Kate read Dhivehi too? – I am learning how to read, it takes more time and practice. We would potentially start writing lessons in the future too.
  • Are there any special sounds in the Dhivehi language (that might be a bit unfamiliar to a new speaker)?Not that I can think of. Most of the syllables / vowels are the same sound and it is quite a basic language with little complications.
  • What do you do for your day jobs?Hambe and Kate are both working as freelancers, in the aim of putting aside enough time for Maldives Secrets to truly blossom as tourism starts to pick up in the Maldives over the next few months. Hambe is a musician and Kate works in Marketing and by being based in Hulhumale, they have the flexibility of being able to travel easily to all islands in the Maldives.
  • What are your top 3 tips for choosing a guesthouse? / What is your top tip for choosing a guesthouse?The Island: When choosing a guesthouse, it’s important to understand the island you’ll be staying on. With thousands of islands in the Maldives, it may seem challenging to pick the right one… but trust me, there is definitely a local island that will suit your needs. Head to Dhigurah for the once in a lifetime experience of swimming with whale sharks, or explore the lush agricultural farms of Thoddhoo… Or go to the eco-friendly paradise of Hanimadhoo in the very north of The Maldives and do yoga every morning on the beach. These experiences are tailored to the island you’ll be staying on… so pick wisely!
  • How well do people who run guesthouses speak English? Usually very well, Maldivians in general tend to have a good level of English as it is a requirement to learn it at school.
  • What are the most useful phrases when staying at a guesthouse or visiting a local island?
    • What type of food would you like?: Koaccheh kaan beynumi?
    • I want to try Maldivian food: Aharen kaan beynumi dhivehi keun
    • No spice: Miroos naala
    • A little spice: Kuda kuda koh kulhikoh
    • A lot of spice: Varah kulhikoh
    • Can we have the bill?: Bill genes dheebah?
    • Where are the toilets?: Koba fahana?
    • Food is great: Varah meeru
    • I need some water: Aharen fen fodheh beynun
    • Thank you for the service: Varah bodah shukuriyyaa
    • Thank you!: Shukuriyyaa!
    • You’re welcome!: Marhaabaa!

   

Best of the Maldives Online: Shipwreck Guide – “Shipwrecks of the Maldives”

shipwrecks of the maldives

The Maldives’ shallow atolls might make for spectacular lagoons and particularly accessible snorkelling, but they were nightmarish obstacle courses for the seafaring trading ships of plying the East-West trade centuries ago. While the wooden vessels have long since rotted away, more modern ones have hit these lurking reefs plenty of times in recent years. In fact, enough to fill a book, “Shipwrecks of the Maldives” by Peter Collings. Not only is it full of dozens of wrecks that I wasn’t aware of (despite having nearly 2000 site in the Dive Site database), but most of them are meticulously researched about their history and background.

I was fortunate to catch up with author Peter Collings who provided a bit more background on his work for Maldives Complete:

  • What got you into wreck diving?During the early expeditions in southern Egypt (1995), I brought together divers from all agencies-with a common goal to explore new locations looking for shipwrecks and unearthing their stories. Endorsed by the Red Sea Association, it soon became an international club which included divers from all walks of life with very useful skill sets, and non divers within the archival services of the world. It became the leading body of wreck research, and still is, in Egypt. To date the team have located, identified and surveyed 34 of the wrecks dived in Egyptian waters.
  • When did you first visit the Maldives?1995.
  • How long did the book take to write?Three weeks.
  • Are there any aspects of wrecks in the Maldives that are a bit different to wrecks in other parts of the world?Most wrecks there are deliberately sunk for tourists.

The book is available as an ebook PDF here.

Maldives shipwreck

Best of the Maldives: Maldives Yoga Instagrammer – Cassie Foley

With all that body building, I recommend some serious stretching to keep from getting muscle bound (maybe too late for some fashionistos). They probably want to check out (as would any Maldives Instagram devotee) Cassie Foley’s @OceanYogaCas feed.

Cassie herself is clearly an accomplished practitioner who posts engaging shots regularly. All based in the Maldives where she works full time running yoga sessions for guests. But also, just as important for this online medium is the quality of the shots done by her partner Aaron. The collection is really a masterclass of shooting the Maldives – well chosen dramatic skies, impeccable lighting, aesthetic framing. The tranquil drama of both Cassie’s poses and the tropical backdrop complement each other completely.

Cassie kindly gave Maldives Complete an exclusive interview to share their world of shutter stops and shavasan.

  • Which resort are you based at?Currently based in Atmosphere’s Sangeli resort, I have previously stayed and worked at OBLU Helengeli and Constance Halaveli
  • How long are you based there? – I moved to the Maldives at the start of August 2019, during this time I spent almost 14 months in Constance Halaveli (yes, my partner Aaron and I stayed through the lockdown, patiently waiting for work to resume) In October we moved to Helengeli, we split up for a month as he was sent to Sangeli and I soon joined him in November 2020, we have been here since then.
  • What is your most popular yoga session that you offer?I actually work in the Maldives as a Scuba Diving Instructor! The days can be incredibly busy with up to four dives a day, in fact, my Christmas day was spent entirely in the ocean from 8 am to 7:30 pm – we did a night dive!  (of course, I did come up for some lunch at one point!) My yoga practice is done at sunrise almost every day, I practice on the beach, in my room, on the jetty, anywhere outside is perfect for me, then I really get that connection to nature, those deep breaths of fresh sea air – now that’s true medicine. I have yet to start teaching online properly as I have never had stable enough Wi-Fi to offer a class, but I did complete my YTT online during the lockdown.
  • What is your favourite Instagram yoga pose photo?I think the ones where you can see I am truly connected and peaceful or focused (the balancing ones!) are my favourites, that’s the essence of yoga – not to really care about the outside but to focus on what’s going on inwardly.
  • Who takes the photos?All the photos are taken by my absolute soul mate and love, Aaron. He is so talented and manages to wipe that early morning, sleepy vibe right off me and make me look fresh and glowing – he’s got the magical touch. Often, he takes the photos whilst I simply go through my early morning flow, gently waking up my body and setting my intentions for the day. 
  • Where are you from originally?Aaron and I are both from the UK, originally from either side of London. We met on a boat in the middle of the ocean in Western Australia whilst looking for a whale shark (but that’s another story!) 
  • How did you get into yoga?From 2012 I worked in London as a Marketing Manager, I lived in Camden and I was also a freelance writer. I’ve always like to have a personal project on the go as my career didn’t fulfil me whatsoever. By the end of 2012 I was having some serious health issues, undoubtedly emanating from my non-stop lifestyle, my mum suggested me to start yoga. Every amazing idea, every brave new step I took in my twenties often came from my mum – she has always taught me to reach further than my grasp, to believe in myself, I am so grateful to her for that because it has led me to constantly fulfil and exceed my dreams. She saw that I was struggling and pushed me gently towards trying yoga, she must’ve mentioned it twenty times over six months before I went to a local class which my housemate & best friend, Rachel had found for me. that was in March 2013. Starting yoga sent me on a whole new path, very gently and subtly my perceptions changed, my ambitions grew, and my confidence saw me leap into my dream of travelling in 2016. ultimately ending up where I am today, sitting with perfect health, in utter happiness, gratefully watching the ocean from my water villa in the Maldives. Now, as a professional scuba diver, yogini and content creator, I see my whole life a personal project; inspiring, expanding, creative and free and I am so in love with it. 
  • What else do you do to pass the time in the Maldives?I wake up at 5 am for yoga and meditation, I go to work for 7:45, I can be diving all morning or in the dive centre speaking with divers and guests. Lunch is between 12:30-2:15 and then it’s teaching in the afternoon, getting new divers certified or perhaps guiding a turtle snorkel or sunset dolphin watching before finishing my day at about 6:30 pm. Then there’s time for dinner, some catching up with friends, family and of course, Aaron. We will send some emails, create some content and right now, we enjoy sitting out under the stars for an hour or so before going to bed.  What more could I want? 🙂 
  • What tips do you have to guests who want to do yoga in the Maldives? Bring your mat and get into nature here – listen to the ocean, feel the breeze, try not to get too sandy if you opt for the beach, but most importantly, get up early or give yourself time in the evening – otherwise,, it’s much too hot. Yoga doesn’t have to be about following a specific sequence, it should be dynamic and appropriate for what you need each day… sometimes that might be fast, sometimes it might be slow, sometimes it may be simply to lay flat on your back in Savasana and simply breathe – there’s no wrong way, you just need to give time to appreciate yourself at that moment. (I have a beautiful travel, eco-friendly yoga mat from Yogo that I couldn’t recommend more – use my code OYC10 for a special discount on any purchase.My outfits are also sustainably made and eco-positive, from a carbon-neutral company which ship worldwide. Shop Wolven here and use code OYC20 for an amazing 20% off these beautiful artisan yoga, swim, night and daywear collections!) 

Best of the Maldives: Insta Chef – Faarufushi

Faarufushi - adil 1

Today is official “Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day” (no joke). But for most of the world during the pandemic, every day is “Don’t Go To Work Unless You Are a Key Worker Day”. The world is getting on top of the coronavirus scourge by reducing its transmission until vaccines, treatments and testing is more widely available. That has meant all the resorts rightfully shutting down. So instead of visiting the real thing, people are having to settle for the digital, virtual equivalents with screen time skyrocketing.

While the Maldives geotag is dominated by fashionistas in swimsuits, one of the most common subjects on Instagram is photographing your food. If you are staying at Faarufushi, you won’t be able to resist a post yourself if you dine at Lagoon (the resort’s Asian tapas restaurant) and feast your eyes (and your Followers’ eyes) on one of Mohamed Adil striking dishes. And if you don’t have your camera, then you can repost one of Adil’s pictures on his very on fleek feed.

Hotelier Maldives featured a profile on him earlier this year. Hotel Asia’s Best Maldivian chef 2018 described his background, “Art was something I always saw when I was growing up. Mostly paintings by my dad, but I never thought of art on a plate and that’s where I found myself.” His mentor Executive Sous Chef Bir Kumar Yadav first worked together at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru where he started as a kitchen steward. From there he has skyrocketed in the culinary world to recently winning the Gold Medal in the Dubai World Summit. Here is his story in his own words:

  • What atoll are you from?Born in Ari Atoll, located towards the west of the archipelago, brought up in Seenu Atoll (Addu Atoll).
  • What was the first dish you ever cooked for someone else?I clearly remember the first dish that I cooked for my executive chef as a practical exam. It was a grilled chicken breast with homemade crispy fries, sautéed peppers and hollandaise sauce.
  • What’s your favourite unsung ingredient?Unsung ingredient would be cumin as Ground Cumin has a very distinctive flavor with an earthy, nutty, spicy taste with a somewhat bitter undertone and a warm, penetrating aroma with hints of lemon.
  • What’s your signature Maldivian dish?Coming to a signature Maldivian dish would be something I created back in 2019 for a culinary challenge. The dish had various components and all of them are favourites to many locals. A fillet of red snapper grilled over coconut coal, breadfruit curry, tempered banana blossom with smoked tuna, fried moringa leaves, fried onion tuile served with a savory doughnut.
  • What has been your most ambitious dish?My most ambitious dish was one that I made for a culinary challenge. I knew that I wanted to go with beef and the rest was unclear. So I took a piece of paper and wrote down all the things that would go well with beef. Then I started crossing out the ingredients until I got the perfect combination. First I worked on perfecting the taste. Then I moved on to the presentation of the dish. The whole process took me over 30 attempts to create the dish which consisted of Wagyu striploin paired with cylinder of potato fondant filled with wild mushroom duxelle, decorated with shimiji mushrooms, onion flan, sweet unagi, garlic sautéed baby spinach, tea smoked cauliflower puree, black garlic jell and a rich veal jus.
  • Has there been any memorable failures where something you tried didn’t work?Looking back, there would have been many failures. Some dishes were not executed to the standard that I wanted to bring out. However, I kept working on perfecting those dishes and that practice is what brought out the ability in me to a higher level. I don’t consider them to be failures but as something that I can learn and gain from for the future.
  • What was the best advice you’ve received as a chef?The best advice that I got is not to constantly look at the working hours and the amount of pay and instead to keep looking at the blood and sweat as a stepping stone to greatness.
  • If you could do your career over again, what would you do differently?If I could redo my career all over again, I would start it as soon as I could. Until I was 19 years of age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. If I had known sooner, I could have taken a more scientific focus throughout my studies in school as cooking and science goes closely together. I wish I knew what my career was going to be so that I could have prepared to start my career beforehand.

Adil is definitely someone who loves his job and let’s hope he can resume working it as soon as possible.

Paradise on a platter!

Faarufushi - adil 4

Faarufushi - adil 3

Faarufushi - adil 2

Best of the Maldives: Bookseller – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi - bookseller

When Soneva Fushi announced their recruitment for a “Barefoot Bookseller” it was one of those fantasy jobs right up there with “Professional Cuddler” and “Ben & Jerry’s Flavour Guru” as one of the best jobs on the planet. The lucky bibliomerchant is Aimée Johnston. Her bio reads…

  • She studied History and English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and was part of the University of Tokyo’s AIKOM programme. Since graduating she has worked in the publicity department of Penguin Random House Ireland, managing campaigns for Irish and international authors including Tara Westover, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Aoife Abbey and most recently, TwistedDoodles. She loves open water swimming, travelling and factor 50 sunscreen.”

Maldives Complete was able to catch up with Aimee for an interview about her life as a Laccadive lady of leisure literature…

  • What prompted Soneva Fushi to open a bookstore on their resort?
    Soneva has always been a great innovator in the field of luxury travel, always pre-empting the needs and desires of guests and always willing to test an unchartered terrain, like their very own bookshop! For a lot of people leading busy lives, the only time they can sit back, relax and read for pleasure is when they are on holidays, so how brilliant to have a carefully curated bookshop on the island.
  • Where are you from?
    I’m from Antrim in Ireland but I moved to Dublin for college and fell in love with the city. I had been living there for seven years before moving to the Maldives.
  • What is your previous experience with books?
    I adore reading and always have. I loved literature so much that I decided to study it in college and when I left, I knew I wanted to get a job in the publishing industry. I’ve been lucky enough to work in the publicity department of Penguin Random House Ireland for three years. It’s a brilliant job. You get to work with fantastically talented authors, promoting their writing as far and as wide as possible.
  • Do people come into browse or are they more looking for recommendations?
    Both! Sometimes people come in with a blank slate, willing to be inspired by what they see on our shelves. Other times people can be unsure about what to read and I love nothing more than chatting to them, establishing their reading tastes and interests and finding the perfect book for them. It’s an amazing feeling, to know someone is walking away with a book that they’ll love.
  • What is the most popular genre?
    It really varies. Soneva Fushi guests have such a wonderful range of interests that every visitor to the bookshop is different. Generally though, our non-fiction piques a lot of interest. Guests want to feel informed, whether that’s by Peter Frankopan’s The New Silk Roads or Rudie Kuiter’s Fishes of the Maldives. Often our visitors are thrilled to see such an impressive collection of books on wildlife and sea-life that speak to their immediate environment.
  • What are you doing more of than you expected on the island?
    I’m doing a lot more eating than I imagined! Our staff canteen is simply amazing, and our chefs are brilliant. They can whip up a mean omelette that’s worth waking up early for!
  • What are you doing less of than you expected on the island?
    I’ll admit that there is a little less sunbathing than I naively fantasized about! There is so much to do on the island that I find I’m a lot busier than I was expecting, trying to do as much as I possibly can. It has been a lot of fun.
  • What book are you reading now?
    I’ve just finished reading Not Working by Lisa Owens. It follows Claire Flannery just as she’s quit her job in the hope that by taking some time out she’ll figure out what the ‘perfect’ job for her really looks like. I loved it. It has all the heart and humour of Bridget Jones but so totally original in its story. Claire’s quest for her ‘dream’ job was the ‘will they won’t they’ romance I didn’t know I needed! Next up on my reading list is The Woman in the Window by controversial author A.J. Finn, which is our first reading choice in the Barefoot Book Club.

Soneva Fushi - bookseller 2

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Designer – Kandolhu

Kandolhu - designer

Maldivians are not just working in the resorts, they are building and designing them. One of the pioneers leading the way in envisioning spaces with the same aesthetic beauty that the destination has become renowned for is Mohammed Shafeeq. Part of the local Maldivian GX Associates architecture firm which have designed many top properties in the Maldives, he was introduced to us by the Kandolhu resort who were particularly proud of the award-winning work that he did in the redesign of their resort a number of years ago. I caught up with Shafeeq to learn a bit more about his background and perspectives…

  • Where are you from in the Maldives
    I am from Male’ and also brought up in Male.
  • Where did you study?
  • I studied in Maldives (in Male’) completed my A Levels and then went onto university in the UK at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne to study architecture.
  • What was the first thing you designed?
    The first thing I designed was a small island in the North of Male’ Atoll which was basically a concept sketch on art paper which was developed to be a small resort by the owners.
  • Which other resorts did you design?
    Some of the resorts we designed include Anantara Dhigu, Anantara Kihavah Villas, Anantara Veli, Baros, Coco Palm Boduhithi, Coco Palm Dhunikolhu, Constance Halaveli Resort, Four Seasons Resort, Fridays Resort, Hilton Irufushi, Huvafenfushi, Kurumba, LUX Maldives, Maafushivaru, Mudhdhoo and some of the more recent ones are the Thundi in Kuramathi and Milaidhoo.
  • How has your approach changed as you do different properties?
    The approach always follow the trends in fashion, lifestyle and technology and the tastes of the travelers and I always try to stay ahead by reviewing other competing developments in the region.
  • Have you designed any non-resort properties in the Maldives?
    Yes, I did much residential and civic work before specialising in hospitality design and they include private residences, apartment blocks, law courts, hospitals, schools and prisons even.
  • What is something they didn’t you in design school that you had to learn the hard way through experience?
    What I learned through experience is the delicacy and expertise required when you model the built environment to appease the senses of the users to make them feel totally comfortable and create an ambience that is akin to a home with a magical touch.
  • Which designer has had the greatest influence on you?
  • Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • If you were given a blank cheque and a completely free reign to design the resort of your dreams, what sorts of design element would it feature?
  • It would feature a back to basics, barefoot and eco friendly nature resort with an extremely luxurious ambiance where natural and built environment will have no boundaries.
  • What are some of the constraints or considerations to designing for a remote location in a tropical environment?
    The constraints are mostly to do with the size of the island and the requirement of the client to have a set number of villas and spaces on that island but to afford the best views and settings for each and every public building and guest villa.
  • Are there any projects you are working on that you can share with us?
    Right now we are working on two projects in Baa Atoll, One in Raa Atoll, One in Noonu Atoll and Two in Male’ Atoll.

Best of the Maldives: Most Experienced Group GM – Patrick de Staercke

Patrick de Staercke

Patrick de Staercke’s Maldives general management goes back nearly as far as Maldives Complete (2010). Lori and I might have stayed at more resorts than anyone, but he has managed more than anyone – 4 (Vilamendhoo, Komandoo, Hurawalhi, Kuredu). We first met Patrick in the earlier days of Maldives complete (see photo below) when Maldives Complete was just getting going, hardly anyone had heard of a blog and “social media” was still in the early adopter stage. He was one of the GMs who appreciated the site’s comprehensiveness and welcomed us very warmly. Over dinner, we mused about all sorts of possibilities for guest offerings and resort enhancements. Many managers in the hospitality industry tend to hop around globe in their career, but Patrick has made the Maldives a second home with an unmatched tenure. We always catch up briefly at the World Travel Market trade event in London, but it is great that he has provided a Maldives exclusive interview to provide a snapshot of his professional life in paradise…

  • What was your first ever job?
    Working in my student bar at colleague I was 16 years old in Seaford Colleague Sussex England. We were paid in beer just great.
  • What was your first job in hospitality?
    When I was 18 I had a job in Lausanne as waiter and pot was for 6 months and loved it.
  • What has been your favourite sighting on a house reef?
    I love octopus so cool how they change color .
  • What has been an idea (eg new dish, a new activity, a new offer) that completely failed?
    Remote control boats do not do well in sea water who knew?
  • What tropical or Maldivian treat are you most addicted to?
    Sipping cocktails in the sun and sending pictures pretending that this is what a GM does every day.
  • What treat from home do you most miss having easy access to?
    My wife and child.
  • What are your favourite parts about opening a new resort versus taking on an established one (and what is your favourite part about taking on an established one)?
    The favorite part is the end and the product you have produced gets the feedback we are getting now is just a wow. All that hard work sweat, team work, is paid off when the guests are blown away from the resort but also the service. Job well done.
  • If you had $1 million to add one single feature to Kuredu, what would it be?
    I would have to invest in two areas as they are just as important upgrading guest rooms but also staff rooms as they are the reason to a resorts success.
  • What’s one question I didn’t ask that you either wish I asked or were surprised that I didn’t ask (and what the answer)?
    ‘Do you have what it takes to make a difference?’ My proven track records show I will make a difference in enhancing both customer satisfaction and bottom line figures. What’s the secret to my success? Well that’s why I am so valued at CCR and have to keep that a secret?

Patrick de Staercke 2