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

Best of the Maldives: Detail Expert – Paola Mattana Lamperti

Paola frame

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”.

But Paola’s heart is as strong as her mind when it comes to this destination she loves. She is an active member of Protect the Maldives and she is one of the supporters of the Reports on Fish Feeding in Maldives community on Facebook.

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.

Paola Facebook

Paola beach

Paola jetty

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Close Ups – Caterina Fattori

Caterina Fattori

Few places on Earth are more sensitive to and investing proportionately more into preserving the oceans than the country that is comprised of 99.87% ocean. The resort contribute their bit with a number of eco-sustainability projects and the luxury properties now almost all have on staff marine biologists who support their preservation initiatives as well as provide advice to the management and education to the guests.

I have met and correspond with many of the Marine Biologists in the Maldives, but I only recently encountered Caterina Fattori by stumbling across her Instagram feed. Based at Outrigger Konotta, she has captured a striking collection of close up coral shots with that “patterned tapestry” feel that I posted on a few times (see Bubble Anemone picture at bottom). I’m going to feature a special online exhibition of her finest piece in tomorrow’s post, but today, in honor of tomorrow’s World Oceans Day, I thought I’d introduce this expert on the front lines of sustaining the sumptuous ocean all us Maldives aficionados adore…

  • Where did you grow up?
    I come from Italy and I grow up in a small village in the North East, 50 km from Verona. During my academic studies, I moved a bit around Italy. In fact, I had the wonderful opportunity to live for a while in Padua, Ancona and Venice. Actually many people asked me, how a girl from the “countryside” loves the sea so much? Since I was kid with my parents I spent my summer holidays in some towns at the seaside, but I was scared of the water. After some swimming courses and a better confidence with the water, my parents bought mask and snorkel and was the best thing ever. Having the possibility to spend time admiring the underwater world was (and is still) something indescribable!
  • Where did you study marine biology?
    My bachelor degree in Biology curriculum Marine I completed in Padua and Chioggia (Venice). Then, I moved in Ancona, central area of Italy, for my Masters, where I stayed for 1 year and half, before to move again for my final research, to Venice.
  • What you do your final research project on?
    My final research project was about Microbes associated with tropical stony corals, focusing on biodiversity and potential pathogens. For me was the second time to analyze an aspect regarding coral reefs, although until that time I hadn’t visited any of those ecosystems. In fact, for my Bachelor degree I analyzed the coral bleaching, only on “literature level”. For the Master Degree, I analyzed some coral frags from Sulawesi, Indonesia and the potential role of virus and bacteria associated to white syndrome. For me, was really challenging because was a new field for the marine microbiology and to be honest was not so easy find out the potential pathogens. The best part of this was the possibility to spend time at the microscope. The microbiology is my obsession, because you have to focus to what you cannot see at naked eye.
  • How did you find yourself in the Maldives
  • I’ve been here in Konotta since September 2015, first experience as Marine Biologist. At the beginning, when one of my friend that was working in Ari Atoll told me about the opportunity to come and work in Maldives, I couldn’t believe it! Because many times I tried to reach this paradise, but without any success. After sending my CV to Best Dives Maldives, I received an email asking me to have an interview. I was so excited and in the same time scared about their proposal: leading a coral restoration project. In less than one month, I packed my bag to reach the South of Maldives, where I’m still working. In Konotta, working in a diving center and look after the coral project is the best option I could have, join to of my passion: Corals and diving, and sometimes have also the opportunity to guide some excursions. Sometimes live and work in a small reality is hard, but I can always find something to do not get bored. Many friends said to me that I cannot complain about my condition and it’s true, I live in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in a small tropical island, where I can work without considering this a job, because I really love what I’m doing despite any difficulties!
  • What camera and light rig did you use to take these pictures?
    I describe myself a beginner (neophyte) for the underwater photography, because for me is like a game, I’m not using any sophisticated gear and I have been using an underwater camera for only one year. I used to use a Canon D30, I floated a month ago and I’m now looking to buy something else. For me that camera was enough, is really simple and easy to use, without any flash or light system. It is pure fun, grab my camera and just snap some pics here and there, especially when I’m going diving for coral monitoring in the House reef, here in Konotta or during some boat dives.
  • Where were they taken (which dive sites, if you remember)?
    Almost all of these pictures I took in Konotta House Reef, while two from the selection were taken in Bali (Nusa Penida and Ahmed).
  • What inspired you to take such close up shots?
    I think is something link to my personality, actually I’m little bit stubborn, a “perfection fanatic” and details obsess. So normally, when I’m going diving or snorkeling with my camera, I’m trying to concentrate in the things that are different or that catch more my attention also on ordinary subjects. I mean every time I’m in the water, for me is something magic, although can be 1000 times I’m doing the same snorkeling path, I will always find something different or new. The nature is so amazing and especially while snorkeling, you have the time to appreciate more the details, the colors, behaviors, etc, features that can be captured also in a shoot. My favorite subjects for the close up are the corals, is such astonish the way they deposit the skeleton, the patterns that can create Lobophyllia, Symphillia, Platygyra, Leptoseries etc., is simply WOW! Probably all this started, for the coral restoration project I’m looking after here in Konotta. Every month, I have to take pics and measurements of the coral frags on the different frames. Another fact that probably made me more focusing/obsessing on the close up was the bleaching event. During those months I was continuously looking for recovery’ signs or during the day time I was looking at the stressed polyps while feeding. Taking close up, I’m not doing only for me, but with my diving center where we are offering to our guests underwater photo shooting. In these dives, normally you need to pay particular attention to the guests, because they want to have as many memories of their underwater experience, but for me it is sometimes a kind of treasure hunt. I’ll leave the group for a while just to find something different or particulars that guests cannot see while too concentrate in other things.
  • What were some of the difficult parts of taking such shots?
    For the static/sessile organisms is not so hard job, just concentration, adjust white balance, buoyancy and be sure that the light is good for the shoot. For the pics of animal that are moving, there yes, you have to be really patient (I’m not so patient and sometimes I give up). For example with the clownfish, that normally are shy, you have to give them the time to recognize you and approach you. Sometimes is not possible to spend so much time on one subject.. In many cases, it happened that once in my room I recognized or discovered some details, color, features that during the shooting I hadn’t noticed. In every shoot I try to find out something good, maybe is not perfect but the nature is too amazing that sometimes also in the imperfections you can find out something awesome!
  • What has been your favourite sighting underwater in the Maldives?
    Despite the most common sightings of Maldives, I haven’t yet seen any whale sharks and manta rays in one year and half I’m working in Gaafu atoll. Anyway, I’m not upset about this, although I would love to see them. For me, underwater is all gorgeous. I don’t have only one. I still remember the emotion when I discover some sexy shrimps (Thor amboinensis) in the House reef, or the thrill when I jumped with my colleagues in a dive site close by Konotta and we spend our dive time with 14 grey reef sharks. Probably the most unique and touching moment is always when I can spot my favorite fish, the harlequin filefish, once I could spotted a baby one and it’s was absolutely cute! (they are also the most challenging subject for me to take a picture).

Caterina Fattori - coral frame

Caterina Fattori - bubble anenome

Best of the Maldives Online: Swedish Blogger – Linda Lundmark

Linda Lundmark 2

When I first launched Maldives Complete, I added a blog onto it almost as an afterthought. Working in the tech industry, blogging had become a quite popular information sharing tool and other forms of social media hadn’t really hit the mainstream. People appreciated the resort database, but many didn’t even know what a blog was. Now nearly a decade later, the world is awash with bloggers and micro-bloggers (the technical term for status posting on platforms like Twitter and Facebook is “micro-blogging”). Maldives resort marketing managers tell me they get dozens of requests every week from this swarm of self-proclaimed “travel bloggers” wanting to visit their resorts. Most are glorified “gap ya’s” or “daddy’s credit card” serving up the same old lifestyle porn. Pictures of sunsets and lagoons with carbon copy post copy gushing over the palm trees and pina coladas.

So I have a special appreciation for the authentic bloggers who actually know something about their subject and share it generously and expertly. Still surprisingly few such sites for Maldives resorts, but one I stumbled upon is Linda Lundmark’s MaldivesBug site. Linda is a self-confessed “atoll addict” (like me) who has been visiting these islands in paradise since 1999. Her blog is a strong blend of writing, photos and videos.  She hails from the chilly Nordic and so offers an especially appreciate perspective on fun in the sun (from a home which doesn’t see as much sun half the year)

If you are looking for a second opinion on resort overviews and the best in the Maldives, then check out MaldivesBug and her rich archive of resort reviews and information.

Linda kindly shared a bit of her nearly two decades of experience with Maldives Complete for this exclusive interview.  Today being National Day in Sweden seemed like an appropriate time to post it…

  • How many Maldives resorts have you visited?
    About 40 resorts so far. And counting…… 😉
  • When did you first visit the Maldives?
    In February 1999.
  • What was the first island you visited?
    Kuredu. Loved it! It is a shock coming to the Maldives for the first time, I still get chills every time I land on Hulhule, but the colours, the sounds, the lush foilage, the people, the reefs, I simply could not believe such a Ppace existed. Not IRL.
  • What inspired you to take your first trip?
    It was kind of a coincidence, as we were supposed to go to Thailand for 3 weeks in March, but my husband suddenly could not go due to work. On a short notice I dug out a last minute trip to the Maldives with Fritidsresor (Swedish branch of TUI). I have never looked back since.
  • What are the biggest change in the Maldives you have noticed since you have been travelling there?
    The luxury race. In 1999 Komandoo and Filitheyo were actually considered “high-end”. These resorts are still absolutely wonderful, but it does say something about the development. My first time on Kuredu I had no warm water in the shower and no AC, just a ceiling fan (noisy). Still, I thought it rather lush…Nowadays the luxury is beyond anything you can imagine and the cost has spiraled. I am slightly worried about that, but at the same time I understand why. If you have such tiny islands you have to get well payed/bed to have a sound business.
  • Which resort is the one most popular with the Swedish market?
    So far it has been Kuredu, our big charter companies all sell trips there. But people are spreading out all over the Maldives to a greater extent nowadays, not least because of the Internet, making it possible to book yourself and do much more research.
  • There is no such thing as a “best resort”, but do you have any pet superlatives (eg. best dish, best piece of décor, best service)?
    I am constantly surprised that the resorts can be so different from each other. They are all lovely, it is just a question of finding the resort that fits your needs and expectations. That is where I come in. Good advice.
    • Kuredu for beginners is a great choice! Just make sure to stay on the south beach (jetty side) in O resort or Sangu resort. You can be very active or completely relaxed on Kuredu. Fantastic for divers!
    • Baros for best service. I LOVE Baros. It is like staying at your friend’s house. Very personal but never intruding.
    • Komandoo is amazing value if you want a couples holiday, no kids on the Island, fab house reef and really good food.
    • Huvafen Fushi blew me away too, but that is not quite as…cost effective. 😉
    • Kandolhu in Ari atoll was a wonderful tiny surprise! Must be the prettiest resort Island anywhere.
  • Anything you think would be great for a resort to have or offer, but you haven’t come across it yet?
    Well… I cannot imagine being more clever than all the competent people working there but… I do Think that the system with seaplane transfers does create a bit of irritation at times when guests get sent to Male at noon and then have to wait in the heat until their Emirates flight at 23.55….not a great last memory of the Maldives. Hopefully this can be improved. Longer transfers are becoming more and more common due to more resorts being remote. I have been both far south and north and the domestic flight worked perfectly. Just time it to your international one.
  • Any advice for resort managers?
    Keep it up! You are doing a WONDERFUL job!

Linda Lundmark 1

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Fashion Design – Kandolhu

Kandolhu - Funoas

Who puts the “fun” into “Funoas”? Kandolhu has introduced the “Funoas” range of swimwear which you can buy at the resort. Her designs based on the distinctive and colourful sea life of the Maldives are truly inspired. We caught up the Maldivian born Funoas designer Sumii Haleem for her first exclusive interview:

Q: Where are you from in the Maldives?
A: I was born and raised in Male’, Maldives. My mother is from Henveiru district and my father is from Maafannu district.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: I am currently living in Perth, Australia.

Q: What brought you there?
A: Education brought me here to Perth. Back then, when I finished high school, there were no universities in Maldives. Anyone who wanted to get a tertiary level education, had to go overseas. So my parents decided to move to Australia so my little sister and I could have a chance at a quality education. Ever since then I have been moving back and forth between Maldives and Australia.

Q: What inspired your career in art?
A: I have always been fascinated by nature and science and have always used art as a way of expressing this fascination. I also grew up around my aunt who was a seamstress. So it was a combination of curiosity and exposure to designing clothes, that started my career in art.

Q: What was the first piece you sold?
A: The first piece of artwork that I ever sold was in 2012, an abstract ink on paper drawing called “The City Never Sleeps”. It was on Society6 that I sold this print. I felt ecstatic, that someone had actually bought my artwork!

Q: How did you move into fashion?
A: Initially, I started printing my artwork on t-shirts, mugs, laptop and phone covers on Society6. I got a lot of positive response from friends and with their encouragement decided to start my own clothing line. At the time I started working on Funoas, I had also just started scuba diving and was blown away by the beauty and the vulnerability of our coral reefs. I wanted my brand to be an environmentally conscious one, so I could use clothing and fashion to create awareness about issues faced by Maldives, such as climate change, global warming and sea level rise.

Q: What’s your biggest selling item?
A: My best selling item is the Thaana printed clothes. Thaana is the unique writing system of Maldivian language, Dhivehi. I created this piece because I thought Dhivehi is a unique language spoken by a minority of world’s people and the scripture is also visually so unique and eye catching. So I think this print is very sentimental to Maldivians, especially those that live away from home, like myself.

Q: Who are your favourite designers?
A: My art is influenced by people from different walks of life, nature and scientific concepts so it is difficult to narrow it down to only designers. Some of the people that influence my work include Ashish Gupta, Adam Manik, Hassan Manik, Aishath Shafeeg, Moosa Mamdhuh, Ahmed Shafeeg, Maya Arulpragasam, Karl Lagerfeld, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, Nicola Tesla, David Attenborough,Fibonacci, Neil Degrassi Tyson, Scuba divers and all underwater photographers, just to name a few.

Q: If someone gave you $1 million to invest in your business, what would you invest it in?
A: If I had a million dollars I would invest it on building Funoas to become an internationally recognised brand that creates quality clothing, 100% ethically and eco-consciously. I would concentrate on creating our products solely from recycled polyester, which is something I am currently looking into for my future collections. Once Funoas is a well established clothing brand, I would love to be able to work with local Maldivian environmentalists, marine researchers and climate change advocates to study more about our own marine ecosystems and bring a positive change to Maldives’ growing environmental crises. I believe this is a social responsibility.

Funoas suit
Manta crop-top

Funoas suit 2
Nudibranch two-piece

Funoas suit 3
Oriental sweet lips

Funoas suit 4
Thaana printed swim shorts

Best of the Maldives – Celebrity Selfies – Bunyamin Ahmed

Bunyamein instagram 1

Yesterday’s National Day celebrates Maldives independence from foreigner control, but one countryman – Bunyamin Ahmed (known to many as “Benjo”) – has become a one-man photographic greeter of famous foreign guests to the Maldives. His Instagram feed is a must-follow for celebrity spotters. Especially if you can’t even recognise them. He has an uncanny eye for the glitterati who flood into this paradise destination as apparently an unmatchable charm to get selfies with them. He’s snapped singers and models, but his true forte is the footie.

Men post to blogs and Instagram about 10 times less frequently than women. But Ahmed is one feed which redresses that gender balance catching some of the only pictures of the superstars blokes who visit.

Male’s Velana International Airport (MLE) is arguably the best celebrity spotting place on the planet. The fabulous and famous are drawn to the country’s postcard perfect islands and all pass through its small single room arrival hall.  Every visit we spot some well known personality loitering by the baggage claim next to us.

Maldives Complete caught up with Ahmed for another exclusive interview about his luminary lens…

1. Where are you from in the Maldives? – I’m from Male’ City, the capital of Maldives.

2. What is your job? – My celebrity hunting began back in 2006, when I joined Island Aviation as a Customer Services Assistant. Left the job in 2012 and in early 2016 joined Srilankan Airlines as a station assistant. That’s my current job.

3. Who was your first photo? – Gianluca Zambrotta, Ex- Italian National team defender. 10 days in to my job, back in 2006. I got so excited. Since I’ve been seeing these people in video games and on TV. I wanted to make a huge collection of all the famous people I get to meet. Still gets star struck every single time I meet someone famous. Still gets the shaky feeling when I click pics for others too.

4. Do you have a standard way to approach celebrities passing through and ask for their picture? – Yeah of course, I just don’t ask them out of manners or respect. Always look to give the respect they deserve. Normally I approach them right away or while they are at the baggage belt waiting for bags (that’s how I approach if I’m to meet them on arrival to Maldives). If I meet them on departure, I try to give them the space they need to finish check-in first, or other times depending on the personality or the particular celebrity’s mood I ask for autographs while they are at the check-in counter (subject to the check-in queue of that particular flight he or she is travelling on) and then if nice, start a conversation and ask for pics. Rejection doesn’t faze me. Not trying or not having the guts to ask does. Because if they agree it’s a massive success and if they don’t there’s nothing to lose. Whatever you get is a bonus.

5. Which celebrity were you most pleased to meet? – One of the best days was when I got to meet my fav club Manchester United’s boss Jose Mourinho. Also getting to meet one of my fav model Devon Windsor and today I met my fav all time singer Frankie Bridge (1/5 of British girl band The Saturdays). Those are few great days.

6. Who would you most like to meet? – I’ve got so many names for that question. Two big names I’ve met but no pics, since they are big big football stars. Guess who they are – David Beckham (my all time fav footballer) and Cristiano Ronaldo 😉 . Would love to meet Sir Alex Ferguson one day and pics with both Cristiano and Beckham too. To be honest, my ‘dream list’ is very long. Every Man United squad player is a dream (lucky enough have met some of them). Also big pop stars such as Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Ariana are few names. Some big names among Victoria’s Secret models are also in my list, like Candice, Behatii, Adriana. So many I don’t know where to stop.

7. They don’t appear to be selfies, so who takes the pictures? – Good question. That’s right. Not selfies but I got selfies some of them too, but that’s after taking a proper pic. Since I worked as a Customer Services Assistant at Airport Company before, I still got friends working there. So those friends, namely Nadheem, Evan and Mazin knows how my pics has to be, coz I don’t settle for just anything. Quality has to be super good. Cheeky part is sometimes the celeb partner take pics for me too. Remember Italian soccer star Francesco Totti’s wife taking the pic for me. And most recently today Wayne Bridge (ex-England defender ) took the pic of his wife Frankie Bridge for me. Frankie and Wayne who I met this morning are by far the most amazing, down to earth people of all [see photo above].

8. Do you have any tips for other celebrity spotters on how to ask for a picture? – Indeed. I’m pleased with my very own success rate. I believe my technique is the key (just kidding) . I don’t want a pic with a celebrity at any cost (except for very big names :p ) Since I’m not a paparazzi, I want them to willingly pose for a pic with me, which doubles my happiness. Actually you need to ask with respect. I always use the first name when addressing to celebrities. I’ve got likes from many celebs on Instagram for their pics with me. So I advise not to feel them disturbed or annoyed. Just make them feel comfortable.

Bunyamein instagram 2

Best of the Maldives: Female GM – Summer Island

Summer Island - GM

America didn’t quite go for its only female chief executive, but in a land known more for its glass floors, Mariya Shareef is breaking a few glass ceilings with her appointment as General Manager of Summer Island – the only female GM in the Maldives at present. Maldives Complete had a chance to catch up with her for an exclusive interview about her career and views on tourism in her country…

  • What was your first ever job?
    The first job I ever had was helping a friend’s mom sell school uniform badges just before the school season started – I must have been around 14 – 15 years old. As a reward for this work, we were treated to a nice meal. I took it seriously, I was always there, punctual, and I memorised the prices of all the badges. I worked alongside a friend, who remains close to me now, and we would sit and chat as we waited for clients. It was such fun!
  • What was your first job in hospitality?
    I worked in Bandos island resort as a pastry assistant. I always thought I would become a pastry chef someday, but my career has taken me into management.
  • What has been your favourite sighting on the Summer Island house reef?
    The little ‘Nemo’ clown fish and anemones near the jetty. It is the first thing you see when you arrive on the island. I never tire of looking at them – they are such pretty little ones.
  • What has been an idea (eg new dish, a new activity, a new offer) that completely failed?
    I wish I could remember a specific idea or incident. Of course, I have failed at things. Lots of ideas have been rejected, and there has always been things I wanted to do but couldn’t, or that I started and stopped midway through. Failure, I think, goes hand in hand with success. If you never make any mistakes, it probably means you are too risk averse. As long as you always learn from your mistakes, it’s an important part of growing and developing.
  • How have the guests changed over your career?
    I think the clientele who holiday in the Maldives haven’t changed that much over the years. The country still has a well-preserved image as the perfect honeymoon or romantic destination. Probably, the honeymooners have overtaken the divers now, who were the first group who started coming when tourism first began. Nowadays, we also have new groups visiting such as surfers. The market keeps expanding, especially with the introduction of new tourism offers such as guesthouses on local islands, as well as cruises and safari boats that cater to surfers. There are also more family orientated resorts. I would say the country is more open now for different segments of guests and we are better able to cater to different needs, different age groups, activities and nationalities. But the honeymoon image is still the one for which the Maldives is world famous.
  • How have the management challenges changed over your career?
    Management style differs from company to company. I have always been happy where ever I worked and have been quite blessed with good bosses. I had the privilege of working with foreign and local management. I believe things will change, and the new generation needs to bring change. I believe locally managed companies are changing for the better. As one of the only Maldivian women to hold the post of resort manager, I hope to be a good example of such change. I am not only happy for myself, but for the positive change the company has brought – it is very motivating.
  • What is your favourite dish served at Summer Island restaurants?
    I love food, so everything I eat is always good! The best food I had in Summer Island was a very yummy prawn curry. And I shouldn’t forget the satay in the snack menu, which we also sometime have on the buffet – it’s so good!
  • If you had $1 million to add one single feature to Summer Island, what would it be?
    With $1 million I would do lots small things, predominantly to the staff areas. I would redo the football pitch with astro-turf, pave the badminton court, add one more floor to the staff lounge and bring in more snooker tables, table tennis tables, and other sports; do up the cafeteria nicely, add lots of cozy areas for staff to lounge and mingle. A Million Dollars will also go along way to “comp” offer complementary experiences.
  • 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)?
    Maybe, ‘how does it feel to be in this position now?’ and my answer would be, it feels like I am finally home. I was and have always been in love with this beautiful island and its people, including the management and the owners. They are such wonderful people. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming – but in a very happy way. And today, when I think about all these questions, and everyone talking about me; being in the media and all that, I have never felt anything different from my people here at ‘home’. I started this new job with huge responsibilities on my shoulders but when I saw the smiles on everyone’s faces, I knew I had the support of my colleagues. I have been in this new job for about 20 days now but I know that I’m not alone and that is a great feeling. I never feel I am being treated differently because I am a woman, or because I’m young… this place simply makes me feel like I am home.

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Archaeologist – Shiura Jaufar

Shiura Jaufar archeologist
Jaufar (right) working in Male’ Sultan Park with Dr. Christie

Today the Maldives is a billionaire’s playground that attracts those with money from around the world. But in the earliest days of the world’s history, the Maldives might very well have been the source of money itself.

That is one of the areas being researched by Anne Haour and her archaeological team out of the University of East Anglia. The project will be going into 2018 and I will be covering parts of it here as they become available (you can also follow Haour’s own blog “Crossroad of Empires”.

Included in Haour’s literally ground-breaking work, is one of her team members, Shiura Jaufar, who is the Maldives’ ploughing new ground as the country’s first archaeologist. In another exclusive interview, Maldives Complete caught up with Jaufar to do a bit of its own digging into her world of ancient mysteries

1. How did you get interested in archaeology?
I have always wanted to become an archaeologist since the age of 9 upon discovering an article about an archaeological discovery in the local newspaper. Back then (and even now) people often used to ask kids about their ambition when they grow up and nothing else interested me until I saw this certain article. It astounded me to find out that there was a job where you could actually dig and discover things that dated back to thousands and millions of years. I guess I found out it too interesting and exciting to pursue another career.

2. What is your current research project?
Currently I am doing a PhD studentship in the University of East Anglia where I look at the pottery found in Maldives. For this, I have carried out archaeological test excavations in different regions of Maldives with the help of my supervisor Dr. Anne Haour and Post-doctorate researcher Dr. Annalisa Christie and yielded thousands of potsherds in order to better understand the role the Maldives played in the ancient Indian Ocean trade network. Maldives played a pivotal role in this trade system and pottery becomes a rather important element here since it is not known of any production centers in Maldives for pottery and so it is assumed that all pots were imported from neighboring countries such as India and Sri Lanka as well as China. My key focus will be to study these pots to produce a typology among various other information that can be used to better understand the nature of this important trade network.

3. Where did the ancient pots come from?
From what I have researched, there are no mention and no visible traces of pottery production in Maldives and so until proven otherwise, the current assumption is that the ancient Maldivians did not make pots but imported them adding to this the absence of clay in Maldives. It is said that Maldives imported a lot of glazed ware from China, as well as vessels (both glazed and unglazed) from the neighboring countries possibly India and Sri Lanka. This is also part of my current thesis to find similar comparisons within the South Asian region.

4. What was your most exciting find in a dig?
I am very much addicted to pots, especially intact whole pots considering we usually find broken shards and rarely a complete one. Therefore, the most exciting find in a dig for me so far would have to be the two intact and complete pots me and my team discovered while digging a Late period (664-332 BC) site in Egypt.

5. What is the most difficult part of your work?
Honestly, becoming an archaeologist itself has been a huge challenge itself considering this is a very new discipline in the Maldives and also since I am a woman. I guess the most difficult part of being an archaeologist is that there’s very limited scope for this field in the Maldives. The opportunities are scarce in all aspects of the field like lack of financial support, lack of awareness among locals, lack of expertise etc.

6. What antiquity in the world would you most like to go visit?
I am a huge follower of Egyptology and so I have always dreamt of visiting the Egyptian pyramids, their elaborate tombs and the mummies. Alhamdhulillah, I was blessed to see them not so long ago 🙂 I would also love to visit the ruins at Petra in Jordan and the South American sites such as the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico and the Incan site of Machu Picchu in Peru.

7. What is the most unusual or curious fact you know about the ancient history of the Maldives?
I find it rather intriguing to know that not only we have archaeology underground but underwater as well, i.e. shipwrecks and such. I think our underwater sites have as much potential for the better understanding of the Maldivian archaeology and heritage. There are ships under our waters from various parts of the world with various different goods and stories buried along with them and what strikes me most is that no archaeological or heritage related work has been done on these sites yet.

Jaufar travelling with her planning frame used for doing plan drawings of the site.
Shiura Jaufar archeologist travelling

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Female DJ – Angie

Amilla Fushi - Angie DJ

Another way to get the evening rockin’ is a bit of lively (or soothing) music. Many of the resorts will offer DJs who can provide a personal touch to the playlist. They often read the crowd and adapt the music they play based on how people are responding and the vibe. One of the top DJs in the Maldives is Aminath Fazleena Abbas. While some resorts jet in DJs from around the world, “Angie” (as she has been classed since a young age) hails from her hometown of Male. She might just be the top female DJ in the Maldives (DJing has been a bit of a male dominated domain as only 2 of DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ acts are women. And curiously, both acts are duos). Maldives Complete caught up with Angie for an exclusive interview into the world of bopping in paradise….

1. How did you get interested in DJing?
I have always had interest in music and dancing, during my studies abroad i used to watch a lot of DJs perform and get fascinated by how they controlled the crowd through music. The thought crossed my mind through observation i would say.

2. What was your first gig?
My first gig was held in Kuda Bandos island for a crowd of around 200 people.

3. Where was your first resort gig?
Dusit Thani Resort for New year 2013

4. What was your biggest gig?
‘Cupid’ event held in Buba Restaurant and beach club Sri Lanka for a crowd of 2500.

5. What advice would you give to other Maldivians interested in DJing?
If you have passion for DJing, Learn, Practice and work towards it.. With effort you can yield big results in any walk of life.

6. What’s the hardest part about a DJ gig?
Interruptions during performance and trying to please crowd of various tastes.

7. Which big name DJs do you admire?
Chemical brothers, Nina kraviz, four tet..

8. What other resorts have you performed at?
Velaa, Taj Exotica, Anantara Digu, Anantara Naladu, Amilla Fushi, Como Maalifushi, One and only Reethi Rah, Soneva Fushi, Sun Island, Cinnamon Dhonveli , Fihalhohi , Cinammon Hakuraa

8. Do the resorts differ in terms of what sort of music/performance they are looking for?
There is just a handful of resort where i could play genres i want. Usually resort either prefers commercial dance music or chill-out, deep house genres. I have noticed that most high end resorts prefer the latter.

9. What is your personal favourite dance song?
Challenging question as there are too many songs i love.. These are few I am into these days:

  • Daniel Portman – The reason
  • Peniciline – Alberto Feria alvaro
  • Droplex – Dance

10. What is your go-to song to get people dancing?
Deorro, TJR, Bassjackers

11. What are your 3 most requested songs?
Commercial dance music artists like Pitbull, Rhanna, Nicki Minaj

12. What are your 3 favourite romantic songs (for those honeymooners)?

  • Disclosure by Latch
  • Praise You by Fatboy Slim (Maribou remix)
  • Stolen Dance by Milky Chance.

13. What are your 3 favourite “chill out” songs (reflecting the soothing vibe of the Maldives)?

  • Bungalow by Boy Tedson
  • 65 percent by Kaya Project
  • Stuck in a dream by Soulavenue

Amilla Fushi - Angie DJ 2