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Old Mar 14, 16, 2:35 pm
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DavidO
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Berkeley, CA
Programs: Virtuoso, FSPP, STARS, MO FAN Club, PEN Club, Bellini Club, Dorchester Diamond Club, Travel Leaders
Posts: 1,643
six luxury resorts in the Maldives

During my recent site inspection trip to the Maldives, I was able to see six resorts. I would have seen more but was limited by the logistics of getting from island to island.

These are my subjective opinions, and I expect that others' opinions will differ! Let me disclose where I'm coming from: I really enjoy informal, sand-between-your-toes resorts such Gili Lankanfushi and Six Senses Laamu. If you're looking for the utmost in elegant luxury, your top choices from this list would be Velaa Private Island, Cheval Blanc, and One&Only Reethi Rah.



Velaa Private Island

We spent our first three nights in the Maldives at Velaa Private Island, a new luxury resort. Just over two years old, Velaa is a small island, one mile in circumference, about 1/3 mile in diameter. You can walk around it in about 20 minutes, ride around on bikes provided free for guests, or be driven around in a golf cart by your butler.

We stayed in the lead-in Sunrise Water Pool Villa, 223 sqm of total space (94 sqm of interior space). The interiors are decorated in a casual elegant style — soft, warm, and simple with white limestone floors and light tan walls. The woodwork was especially appealing, using multiple varieties of wood with different colors in the doors, trim, ceilings, and cabinetry.

The next higher category Deluxe Sunset Water Pool Villa is even larger (313 sqm) with a larger pool. In highest demand are the beach pool residences that gives guests direct access onto their own private beach.

For absolute privacy, consider the Romantic Villa, a secluded residence a few hundred feet from shore. Reachable only by boat, the villa is equipped with its own kitchen, spa, gym, pool, and ocean access — recommended for honeymooners or celebrities wanting to avoid the public. Paris Hilton was a recent guest in the Romantic Villa and posted this selfie in front of the main resort restaurant.


I was impressed with the warmth and attentive service of the staff. Our personal butler was on call 24-7 and instantly reachable by a supplied cell phone. Velaa’s food was excellent; the pan-seared loin of cod we enjoyed our first night at the signature restaurant, Aragu, was a revelation. The grilled fish at Athiri (the main restaurant) was simple, good, and reasonably priced, and the entree included two side dishes of your choice.

Kids Club is complimentary for children ages 4 -12. Open daily from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.; the extensive facility provides air-conditioned inside play space as well as a wonderful outdoor play yard with play structures and kids pool complete with water slide. The many recreational opportunities for adults include a 9-hole golf course in the middle of the island and a tennis court with a roof that provides welcome shade from the intense tropical sun. A water sports center provides complimentary snorkel gear, kayaking, and standing paddle boards. Other activities include badminton, volleyball, a climbing wall, table tennis, a squash court, and a soccer field. The Spa even had a “snow room.”

Four day-use villas are available on a complimentary basis for guests who arrive early or check-out late.

Note: Velaa has applied for Virtuoso membership but does offer informal Virtuoso amenities at this time.




Cheval Blanc Randheli

Two years old, Cheval Blanc is a development comprised of six small islands, two natural and four man-made. The main island houses the hotel reception, main restaurants, Kids center, and the Beach Villas. It is connected by a series of bridges to two smaller islands where Garden Water and Water Villas are located. Two other islands, reached only by speedboat, house the Spa and the so-called Owner’s Villa (which is in the rental pool). Tennis Island, the other natural island, is a larger island with two tennis courts and a small agricultural center in the center. It will see the development of private residences.

Cheval Blanc has just 45 villas. Because of extremely high occupancy, I was able to see only one villa, a Water Villa. I was most struck by the strong vertical lines of its architecture. The interior doors are an astounding 7 meters (23 feet) high with the peaked cathedral ceiling soaring even higher. In fact, I wonder whether architect Jean-Michel Gathy drew his inspiration from the Gothic cathedrals of France. Gathy's over-the-top interiors creates a feeling of awe in the villas and the resort’s public spaces.

Guest room furnishings are gorgeous. The three Cheval Blanc resorts use a basic color scheme of taupe and white, and each property has its own unique accent color. Randheli’s signature color is yellow, and this even extends to staff uniforms — yellow during the day and taupe in the evening. Guests are given the choice of having their bed made up with white or taupe linens. Even the smallest villa is 240 sqm (2,580 square feet) and comes with a 12.5 meter private pool. Island villas have private beaches, while Water Villas provide direct access into the clear waters of the lagoon. Guests enter the villa on its long axis (just like the entrance to a cathedral) where you cannot miss the strong verticality of the design. There aforementioned 20m doors between the living room and bedroom and between the bedroom and bathroom. There is a commanding sea view from your bed. Needless to say, with this much space, everything you could possibly want is provided in the bathroom. Cheval Blanc uses bathroom amenities by Dior with an unique signature fragrance designed for each of its properties; the Maldives’ scent is called Island Chic.

Service is attentive and personalized. Each villa is assigned its own butler (called a Majordome), and a team of concierges (called Alchemists) help design unique experiences for each family. The resort offers eight eating and dining facilities, including Le 1947 with an incredible 13-course tasting menu.

Cheval Blanc is for the guest who wants to spare no expense to experience the best of the best: over-the-top, awe-inspiring accommodations; multiple options for gourmet dining; bespoke personalized service; a pampering spa and complimentary kids program; and the beautiful clear sea water with its shades of blue and turquoise.



Six Senses Laamu

Our journey from the far north to the far south of The Maldives involved an hour flight in a seaplane, a wait of a couple of hours in the domestic lounge at the Male airport, then another flight (35 minutes) followed by a 20 minute speedboat ride. We were introduced to the quite different atmosphere at Six Senses when the boat attendant gave us a bag to hold our shoes during the duration of our stay. He let us know that everyone goes barefoot. The contrast between Velaa and Laamu actually created a bit of culture shock, and it took me a couple of days to come to appreciate this resort ... but I did!

If Velaa and Cheval Blanc are for those clients who enjoy over-the-top luxury and look forward to dressing up at night, Six Senses is for the guest who prefers to be casual — shorts, t-shirts, and barefoot 24/7. Sand between your toes. It took me 24 hours to realize that's actually what I prefer anyway! I was a totally happy camper.

You'll not find the ultra-luxurious, Architectural Digest worthy interiors of Velaa, Cheval Blanc, or One&Only Reethi Rah. There’s not one square inch of marble exists anywhere on the island. The resort is five years old with 70 overwater villas, 25 beach villas, and two 2BR beach villas. Some villas have private pools, some face the lagoon and others the sea, but all are all similar.

Six Senses offers a Robinson Crusoe aesthetic. Buildings are constructed of grey, weathered wood planking and thatched roofs. Interior furnishings consist of canvas shades and upholstery, burlap wall coverings, distressed wooden floors, and unfinished wooden trim. On entering a villa, you’ll dual vanities on a wooden counter straight ahead. Turning to the left, there are two short steps down into the main bedroom whose Queen bed faces the incredible view through a wall of windows. A day bed and desk sit in front of the window, with a door leading to a deck, a private pool, and a second deck just above the water. A door on the far side of the room leads to an outdoor bathtub and shower. A set of stairs leads to a small shaded lounging area on the rooftop. Very simple, but the air conditioning works well, the WiFi is fast enough to stream Netflix, the shower has good water pressure, and the bed is comfortable.

Guests are provided with a bicycle to get around the property. It was just a 3 minute ride from my villa to the resort center on a sandy path shaded with lush mangrove and banana trees.

I do have a strong recommendation: book a Beach Villa. They always sell out, so you won't get upgraded into one of them. I feel they are are a better accommodation, providing access to your own private stretch of beach… and the rooms are flooded with beautiful natural light from three sides of your villa. While overwater villas do have incredible sea views, the privacy screening totally blocks the the views to the right and left of your villa. Beach villas offer privacy with twenty feet of lush plantings your villa and that of your neighbors. From your room, there’s a peak at the ocean down the enchanting sandy path that leads to your own private stretch of beach. Bathrooms are larger, too, with a large terrazzo tub (instead of glass) and a terrazzo outdoor shower (instead of a wooden shower deck). The rooftop lounge area is also significantly larger.

Three tips you might not otherwise know about.

(1) I found a great shady spot with beautiful sea views and cooling breezes at the Juice Bar near the spa. I spent hours here reading, writing, and relaxing.

(2) there's excellent homemade ice cream and sorbet at the Ice and Chocolate Studio, and it's free, as much as you want, as often as you want. See my blog post here.

(3) Avid surfers may know about the nearby Ying Yang surf point; the surfing season is April to September.

If you're after five star furnishings, look elsewhere, but if you’re dreaming of a family friendly boutique resort with good service, snorkeling, food, and spa, I can recommend Six Senses as a place to go to relax and commune with the sea.



Gili Lankanfushi

Gili Lankanfushi has been in operation for 15 years, opening in 2001 as Soneva Gili, later operating as Soneva Gili by Six Senses. When the resort was sold to HPL Hotels and Resorts, HPL took on its management and renamed it Gili Lankanfushi.

Gili and Six Senses Laamu are sister resorts, the newer Six Senses drawing its concept and design aesthetic from its older sister. Both are "Robinson Crusoe" casual and encourage guests to dispense with footwear (“no shoes, no news”). Vllas at both resorts are constructed with weathered wood siding and thatched roofs. Interiors have simple wooden floors, exposed thatched ceilings, and use canvas fabric for window blinds and furniture upholstery. The beds in both have a canopy of mosquito netting, mainly for visual effect as I never encountered any mosquitoes. Both resorts have only outdoor showers, and the villas in both are designed with a significant amount of outdoor living space.

But there is a difference. In my analysis, Six Senses was developed with the idea of recreating the Gili Lankanfushi experience at a lower price point… Six Senses has roughly double the number of rooms, and each is roughly half the size.

Here’s the deal: We were 100% happy campers at Six Senses Laamu, but we instantly realized that Gili Lankanfushi is the same thing but so much better! It’s a more intimate resort (45 rooms vs. 97 rooms) and more compact, shorter distances walking or riding your bike from your overwater villa to the spa, restaurants, or shops. There is no skimping on space with the guest rooms, and I’ve always believed that space is the ultimate luxury. Gili’s only disadvantage to Six Senses is that it does not have a free ice cream parlor!

The front door enters into a large casual open-air living room with flooring consisting of simple varnished grey wooden floor boards. Two large settees to the left and right of the front door face the sea, and there’s a round table with two chairs facing the sea where one could enjoy in-room dining. Steps lead to a deck closer to sea level where two loungers and an umbrella provide shade. A second set of steps takes you into the sea. All in all, you get a generous amount of usable, shaded living space, with a drop-dead view of the sky and water.

Qualifier: The living room in the basic Villa Suites is completely open air. There is a central fan, and by raising all the living room blinds and latching the front door open, it will allow wonderful cross-ventilation when there's a breeze. However, guests who require completely air conditioned spaces should book a Residence.

There is also an upstairs deck accessible by stairs from the living room. This deck even has a daybed that your Ms Friday or Mr Friday can make up into a bed if you’d like to sleep under the stars.

The air conditioned bedroom is to the right of the living room. A King bed faces a full wall of windows with a commanding sea view. The adjacent wall has your desk and more windows; there’s a full 270 sea view from your bedroom. The finished floorboards are stained a medium shade of brown.

To the left of the living room is your (non-air conditioned) bathroom. There are dual granite vanities, a WC, and a large soaking tub with a view. A 20-foot bridge takes you from the bathroom to a circular outdoor shower over the sea.

Residences and Crusoe Residences are even larger, 250 sqm, and can accommodate four guests. More significantly, the Residences have air conditioned living rooms with French Windows in the living area that can be shut. Crusoe Residences are several hundred foot off shore, and guests have their own motorized boat to take them to land. They also have a hammock that hangs over the sea.

The Private Reserve is Gili’s largest accommodation, and they claim that it’s the largest overwater villa in the world. 1,800 sqm in size, it has three proper bedrooms, but two other rooms can be configured into bedrooms if you have additional guests. The Private Reserve has its own spa room, gym, swimming pool, kitchen … and a waterslide!

My wife Claire is a snorkeling aficionado and reports that Gili has a good house reef and offers excellent snorkeling outside the property.



One&Only Reethi Rah

One&Only Reethi Rah is eleven years old, having opened in 2005. It occupies one of the largest resort islands in the Maldives, 44 hectares in area, measuring 1.8 km from tip to tip and 500m at its widest point. With lots of coves, there’s a total 6 km of coastline with 12 beaches.

The 96 Beach Villas (some with pool) have direct access to a private patch of beach, and 32 Water Villas (some with pool) are built overwater with direct access into the turquoise sea.

Architect Jean-Michel Gathy (who also designed Cheval Blanc) has created an elegantly luxurious resort. You’ll get a sense of the resort’s elegance the moment you step off the One&Only boat from the airport and enter the reception area, a large, open-air space with black marble floors. Four thick wooden pillars that support the roof are intricately carved in a Balinese style. A large orchid arrangement adorns the center of the room; two orchid houses on the island supply the flowers. You’ll check in either in one of the comfortable seating areas in the reception or in your villa.

The grounds of the resort are landscaped with manicured lawns and flower plantings. Mature palm and banana trees line the wide sand paths throughout the island, providing shade and framing the beautiful ocean views.

What about the rooms? In a word, they are gorgeous. If you desire an elegant, luxurious, spacious, and tastefully decorated villa, you will be happy you chose One&Only. No matter which guest room you book, you enter facing the long axis of the room, treating your eyes to the spaciousness of the room’s vertical space (though not as over-the-top as Cheval Blanc’s 20m doors). Limestone floors and mahogany woodwork create an elegant and comfortable space, and the louvered woodwork both controls light and provides privacy.

Beach Villas are 135 sqm (165 sqm for Pool Beach Villas). The front door leads directly into the bedroom. A seating area at the foot of the bed has chairs positioned to look directly at the pool and beach. The King bed is centered on the wall to the left, commanding the same pool/beach view. The bathroom is beyond the bedroom; pocket doors can close off the bedroom at night. Bathrooms have everything one would expect with dual vanities, WC, soaking tub with a beach view, and step-in shower. In an upcoming renovation, all beach villas will also be provided with an outdoor shower.

Grand Beach Villas with Pool are 322 sqm. These are two bedroom suites with nearly double the space. One enters a large living room area with sofa, two sitting chairs, and coffee table looking out over the pool and beach. Beyond the living room area is the same bedroom and bathroom as the lead-in Beach Villa. To the right of the living room is a second bedroom with two Queen beds and a second full bathroom.

There are two Grand Sunset Beach Residences which combine a Grand Beach Villa with Pool and a Beach Villa with Pool. This 3 bedroom complex has two pools, an outdoor dining area, yoga and spa pavilion, and even an outdoor movie screen. A WOW residence, it comprises a total 457 square meters of indoor and outdoor space.

Reethi Rah offers endless beaches, a football field, badminton court, two tennis courts, a ping pong table, and a climbing wall. Pottery and craft activities are offered for adults, and the Kids Only and One Tribe programs offer complimentary activities for children 4-9 and 9-11. The elegant beach club has cabanas in a light shade of blue and breezy white, a design scheme that is said to have inspired One&Only The Palm in Dubai.

The spa is by Espa, and multiple restaurants offer a variety of international dining options. Only the Japanese restaurant has a dress code (long pants are required) while the other restaurants call for “island chic” attire in the evening (smart casual).

One&Only Reethi Rah is a larger resort than the others reviewed with 128 total villas, serviced by 840 staff. However, due to the large size of the island, it will never feel crowded. There is plenty of separation between beach villas, so privacy should not be a concern. This is a resort with a more cosmopolitan feel with dancing at night to live bands. Does this appeal to you? If so, you would be a very happy guest at One&Only Reethi Rah.



Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

FS Kuda Huraa is the first of the Four Seasons resorts in the Maldives (the others being FS Landaa Giravaru and the Maldives Explorer yacht). Kuda Huraa occupies a 12 acre private island about 20 minutes by speedboat from the Male airport. The resort has 96 rooms, of which 58 are on land and 38 overwater.

We spent our final afternoon here, and Four Seasons gave us with a site inspection and provided the use of a lead-in room, a Beach Pavilion with pool — the most common room with 25 rooms in this category. This room is something of a value leader, compared to the other resorts we visited on our Maldives trip. Our pavilion had a large outdoor courtyard measuring about 15’ x 50’ furnished with an outdoor table, chairs, and covered daybed. The plunge pool was 1.2 meter deep and about 12’ square. French doors lead into the hexagonally shape pavilion with 45 square meters of air-conditioned space inside. The interior walls are stucco, and the brown wooden doors accented with darker wooden trim. The floors are hardwood and the ceiling is finished with woven bamboo strips. The King bed is centered on the opposite wall with a desk and minibar to the left and a dresser and closet to the right. The bathroom is beyond a wall behind the bed, the room configuration reminding me of Rondoval Suites at Jumby Bay. The bathroom provided a marble vanity dual sinks, a soaking tub, WC, marble indoor shower, and a second outdoor shower.

We were not able to see a beach bungalow, but these are significantly larger at 63 swqm.

We were also shown a 2BR Suite, large and very attractive. An entrance hallway has a powder room immediately inside the front door to the right. To the left is the Master Bedroom with King bed and a bathroom featuring a shower for two!. There is a living room and a second bedroom to the right of the hallway. Attractively decorated with shades of blue and white predominating in the upholstery and rugs, there is 197 sqm of living space and a pool.

The resort has an adults-only Serenity Pool and whirlpool at the Reef Club. The Kids Club is complimentary for children 4-12. Activities include a spa with seven couples treatment rooms on a separate island (they take you over by boat), Marine Discovery Center that rescues turtles, surfing school, pool table, ping pong table, a large infinity edge pool, two beaches. When the palm trees on the beach mature, they will provide lovely shade.

Last edited by DavidO; Mar 14, 16 at 5:32 pm
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