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.
“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)
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?
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)
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
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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?
Maldives Complete is all about comprehensive authority on everything about Maldives resorts. If there was one person who embodied not just the expertise, but the very spirit of the Maldives, it is Paola Mattana Lamperti.
Paola is probably the website’s biggest fan and definitely its strongest contributor. She is like the Watson to my Sherlock (or Lucy Liu to my Johny Lee Miller) in ferreting out the esoteric and noteworthy in the Maldives resort landscape. She has shared more “Best of the Maldives” discoveries than anyone such as “Alternative Ping Pong” and “Eco-Offer”. Her eagle eyes are also superb at spotting errors in my posts or database and helping me update and correct them. Her knowledge is absolutely boundless. A great illustration is her response to Michel Blatti in the Facebook post shown below.
But her most uncannily super power is her ability to sleuth out resorts from the smallest of details. In the “Fashionista” series of posts (she is very self-effacing, but the photos I’ve included here show that she is quite the fashionista herself with a distinctive style and some striking poses of her own). I have a protocol of almost exclusively posting photos where I can identify (a) the model (Very often advertisers and photographers exclude model credits and I am more interested in the person visiting the Maldives than the brand promoting there), and (b) identify the resort (I want to connect the photos to specific resorts since that is what this website is all about). Very often the latter is omitted. Sometime this absence is oversight, and sometimes it is just opting for the more generic (and widely known) geo-tag of the “Maldives” destination, but all too often it is the model, celebrity or self-professed social media influencer holding the property hostage by saying that they won’t mention (inherently plug) the resort without some sort of concession, discount or freebie. While I have been the beneficiary of plenty of generosity by the Maldives industry to help the very expensive non-commercial work I do, I never require it in order to include, write about and promote every single resort in the Maldives. So to keep true to form, I am often able to identify the resort by just the details in the background of the shot. If a villa or jetty is there, then those are the easiest to spot. A light fixture or deck seating is a bit more challenging. But if there is skimpiest of details, then I turn to my uber-expert Paola to help me identify the resort. She hasn’t failed yet. Sometimes it can be a real puzzle with just bits of the resort sneaking into the picture to help us to exclude or narrow down our search. We like these puzzles the best and refer to it as our “Maldives Sudoku”.
You can feel this respect and devotion to this paradise on Earth infused in all her responses to another Maldives exclusive interview…
When/where was you first visit? My first visit was the Millennium!! I could have, never, imagined that such an important, ‘world wide’ flip from number 1 to number 2 in writing a date would mean such a turning point in my life as well. My life before and after my first visit to Maldives!
Why did you choose the Maldives for your first visit? We married 1988! Today being wiser and much older, I would describe our marriage, not less than totally crazy! But we are still married!! It means, our madness, sometimes, is worth following. My honeymoon was the transfer from Como (IT) to Zürich (CH), we were the typical ‘2 hearts in a hut’ (Italian translation is ‘2 cuori in 1 capanna’), which means: ‘You have no money for whatever! Just your love at disposal to survive!!’ 12 years later!! We had still a strong love but (finally!!) also some money at disposal to plan a proper honeymoon! We got to that point as ‘survivors’ and very, very tired! We could afford a proper honeymoon…but where? Maldives was (and still is!!) the #1 ever for such a choice worldwide! Our “Island Destination Goal” was clear…but I had to choose (it was already ME in charge to plan everything!!) among a huge number (today is doubled!!) of resort islands! So, I had money at disposal to invest but not that big amount to involve and pay an external consultant to show me the best solution! When we are forced to research on our own, that is the moment where every single, published detail on the web counts! I had my ‘wish list’ and I still remember that the most important point was: ‘not a TINY ISLAND, to avoid to get bored’. Today I will act exactly the contrary!!. Back then, already this wish, sharpened my choice immensely.
Which resort did you visit first? The power of a name – “KURAMATHI”. Consider that my mother language is Italian and that ‘Kuramathi’ translated gives you approximately ‘the place where crazy people are healed!’. Add that a part of my family name is “Mattana” (craziness). The planetary configuration, the real extension of that island and the magic of the words in different languages (or whatever) answered me: ‘Your (too) long awaited honeymoon has to be booked at Kuramathi in MV!!’If you consider how my first trip started, you might wonder how I actually ever fell in love with the Maldives. First, I suffered seasickness generally, but the cost of the seaplane wasn’t fitting our budget at all so we took the speedboat nonetheless. Then, the boat ‘caught on fire’! No guests noticed, since they were all inside (including my husband, sleeping) but I needed to breathe fresh air outside and keep the horizon balanced and I saw the dark smoke coming out of the boat. Somehow we just made it till the island. Then, I didn’t notice that they had us in the wrong room category because we were so tired. We just couldn’t sleep with the mold smell in the tiny room, the noisy AC, the water running in the bathroom gave us a bad night! and in my mind ‘OMG, did I really booked this hut for our honeymoon?!’ [ed. note – Kuramathi has long since renovated its villas]. I went to the Reservation Manager and found out I DID NOT! They had put us in the wrong room category. Fortunately, we were upgraded. That was the magic moment when I realized that not only did I love Maldives’ stunning, natural beauty, but I also loved its hospitality system ‘one island/one resort’ (as I myself worked in this field!). It was mandatory for me to know each and every one of the existing resorts and their different accommodation categories. Not only do you risk picking the wrong resort for you but, you also can simply book the wrong accommodation on it and ruin your stay yourself. From that moment on, my passion was to know as much as possible about all Maldivian resorts, because I was already sure that I wanted to be back and experience the most of them. The rest of the world disappeared as goal of my holidays forever!!
Any advice for first time visitors? Millions!! But let’s give just 3 essential (IMHO)…
Respect the Maldives – The nature and the people. Take some time before you fly to know the fragile ecosystem you are going to enter and, for sure, enjoy it as well! Protect and respect this wonder of nature. Make an effort to approach all the people with a huge respect too. That includes off the resort at places like the airport where women should dress with a bit of decorum (covering shoulders and knees). Here is a useful guide for protecting the environment by Protect the Maldives, a NGO where I am active member too
Use a Professional – Based on my own experience, it is essential that you list all what you wish to find on your resort and then consult a trusted professional to fit your budget and needs at best (at least for your first time in Maldives, do not trust online selling platforms!). I long do not consider Maldives as a general entity but more as a container of 100s, very different experiences, depending on where you stand. So, for your very first time, you need to trust someone that knows Maldives very well, and not an anonymous booking system, which in case of whatever difficulties might arise will not help you.
Don’t Worry About the Weather – Last but not least! Stop worrying about the best season to book, about if it will be raining or not! The weather is so unpredictable (and this is worldwide!) that this has not to be a hurdle to your Maldives! I never consider this aspect when booking and guess what! In 17 years I was blessed to count at max 5 days of rain (summing the hours in my different, many stays!!).
How many resorts have you visited? I left my footprint on 54 resorts. In addition, I have experienced some Guest House Islands as well, because I wanted to build my opinion about this quite new form of hospitality. However, I ended up deciding that this is not the hospitality fitting my needs and interests in Maldives…at least so far. There is a PS! I visited Fuvahmulah as well. In this case, we have the ‘one island/one atoll’ concept. Now I say ‘in Maldives, there are resorts, there are gesthouses and then there is Fuvahmulah!’ Although, I was lodged in a GH (in a Suite that some resorts can really still dream to have!!) the main feeling there, was that an entire island was lodging and taking care of me! I am not a ‘backpacker’ but I would suggest to all such around the word that if you really want to experience Maldives that way. There is only Fuvahmulah to choose from!
Which one have you been back to the most? Being my dream to visit all resorts in Maldives before I die, there is no space in time for a ‘second touchdown’! I must carefully manage all my bookings to still have a chance to get to this goal, which because of the huge number of new resort openings is already concretely fading away! This means: I am not a resort’s repeater but a destination one! However, I was blessed to win a few web competitions regarding Maldives and one of them made me a repeater to that specific resort.
What are your resort pet peeves? OMG!! This question could take me months to answer!! There is nothing that I am more skilled in than noticing the details in a resort!! “The devil is in the details!” is my credo!! I must admit that.. with the time passing by and the numbers of resorts I have visited, this natural “gift/curse” of mine got to a stellar sharpness, simply because I can compare many properties and see the better solution for these “pet peeves”. Let’s just list three that are my “pet peeves”, two big, and one small.
The Irritating ‘++’ : There is no valid explanation and reason for me to see it on whatever menu/price list in a resort! I am not supposed to take my time, on holiday, and calculate myself what a bottle of wine is, actually, at the end, costing me! Simply show me the total cost and at the bottom of that page inform me that your price includes your xyz% of ‘whatever’ your +++++++++, taxes, etc.
The Lovely Single ‘+1’: That is ‘+1 hour’ to Male’ time! If some resorts manage it, why are other resorts unable, or not willing to?! From a mere customer’s point of view, this is already gold! We have sunrise/sunset around 7! Loosing 1 hour in our first day in Maldives is not that big of a tragedy. We would be so much happier to have it at disposal on our departure day!! And I am nearly sure this will cost less to a resort in terms of energy supply (no studies at disposal, just the old good common sense!) and +1 is just the minimum! There are 3 brave resorts that manages a +2 to Male’! Simply my dream!
The Pool Entry – I will never understand why in a private pool in Maldives (which exists to relax and lounge, only), I am supposed to enter and exit it as an Olympic athlete! Even new opened resorts still boast those ugly, uncomfortable metal stairs to enter/exit the plunge pool?!?
Which resort most exceeded your expectations or surprised you? To name just one, describing what incredible happened there, will be very unfair to Maldives! Let’s say that every single resort, I touched, had a big, amazing surprise for me! and this is not an easy task!! Since I set my barefoot on an island already knowing all the possible info about it! Even the most hidden ones. It could be that it is also my attitude about this place creating the magic, the unforgettable experience, the steel ties. I don’t know and I don’t care! I just enjoy to feel simply blessed!
Being a certified sommelier, what is the favourite glass of wine you have had in the Maldives? Wine is part of my work life. I, on purpose, leave this aspect back home. I have the opportunity to taste great wines all year long and in perfect serving conditions. Because of the tropical temperature in the Maldives, I only drink sparkling wines when visiting.
Is there any ritual you do every visit? Yes, some. But one in particular! I must mark my territory!! I regularly move furnishings around in my accommodation and tell housekeeping not to move them back in the original position till when I leave! The time I spend on a resort is unique, my ‘home’ has to be as well! This always includes removing any kind of carpets and blocking curtains in open position 24h a day. Other rituals are…
Taking always part in cleaning activities: If not organised when I am there, I create one on my own!)
Sleeping outside: Some resorts are more suitable for the latter, but if they are not I still strive to create this experience on my own! In one resort I never touched the bed for 5 nights and when the Executive Housekeeper checked my villa and still saw the untouched ‘Welcome’ decoration on the master bed, I was jumping from joy seeing his interlocutory expression.
Keep a map of the island with me at all times: Again, the Devil is in the details! I constantly have a map of the island by me where I can note the remarkable details while I stroll around or dine, or just stop observing something.
Never miss a sunrise: This means to be awake every single day I am in Maldives at that time and possibly in a conscious, active way to capture the sunrise at best! (now you can better appreciate my unconditional enthusiasm for +2 to Male’ time).
Happy Birthday Paola! If there was a “Maldives Fanatic Day”, then today would surely be it.