While some destinations offer a grab bag of eclectic experiences, a holiday in the Maldives is pretty straightforward in its appeal—unraveling scrolls of sea and sky, haute cuisine, and stays at one-hotel islands; elements carefully cultivated for an experience ensconced in luxury. Unsurprisingly, this kind of holiday doesn’t come cheap, but it does offer a chance to wake up to a screensaver-pretty beach or ocean view, at a hotel never teeming with people, even at full occupancy.
To experience the clear blue waters and cotton-white beaches, get away from the capital, Malé. One of the many resorts that dot the nation of 1,190 coral islands—The St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort—was the base camp of my Maldives experience. The brush with leisure-and-luxe begins as soon as you exit Velana International Airport in a seaplane, journeying towards Vommuli Island. Request ahead to trade the usual SUV transport for a Bentley, a complimentary ride from the international airport to the Trans Maldivian Airlines terminal, complete with Wi-Fi and hot towels.
At the resort, where the wooden cuboid arrival jetty frames the other-worldly colours of the island, the communion with comfort continues. Opened in December 2016, the property, generous in its room, restaurant and bar offerings, arranges a range of water sports to familiarise you with the coral reef that surrounds the island. The rooms, where one can control the lights, curtains and temperature with a tap on an iPad, are spacious. There’s an option of two-bedroom cottages for families. What’s best? Every villa is flanked by a private plunge pool and comes with a personal butler. Saddam, who was assigned to me, offered to unpack my suitcase, and proved to be a treasure-trove of information.
The Vommuli Dive and Water Sports Centre, a brisk 10-minute walk from the over-water rooms, is perfect for planning out your time in the refreshingly clear waters. The morning I went snorkelling ($70/Rs4,800 for an hour) was a revelation, as I spent time exploring the house reef, spotting vibrantly coloured shoals of fish, and turtles and reef sharks. Dive enthusiasts can venture deeper into the ocean’s wealth—prices range from $80/Rs5,500 for a single dive to $1,800/Rs1,23,000 for a divemaster certification course—and for those who wish to spend some time out on the water, there’s kayaking.
If the activities leave you with a soaring appetite, you have a lot to choose from. In my four days, I managed to have foie gras (twice!), a delicious rustic wood-fired pizza, the fluffiest brioche French toast, and much more. For the ones whose palates suffer from homesickness, kebabs, curries and biryani can be found at their Asian eatery, Orientale, which also rustles up a mean vegetarian menu. Tipplers must catch a sunset at the Whale Bar, while sipping on the Island Mary, the hotel’s spin on the Bloody Mary, made sharp with a rim of kala namak, and served in a nautilus shell.
The lavish breakfasts at Alba (complete with mimosas and Bloody Mary shots for those that believe in hair of the dog, and dosas for those craving desi food) is a logical preamble to the private dinner that can be set up on the beach (starts from $350/Rs24,000 per person), complete with cabana-cloaked romance for couples who want to enjoy a meal to the sound of the ocean. But if you are looking for a side serving of stimulating conversations, and an opportunity to learn about food and wine, book a meal at Decanter, which has the culinary director and head sommelier join you for a five-course meal paired with a selection of the property’s three-hundred wines. Mine featured a sumptuous Maldivian tuna tartare with papaya, avocado, buffalo mozzarella and olive oil, washed down with some eight varieties of imported wine. I was partial to a fruity-buttery Chardonnay from California and a spicy South African Cloof Pinotage, spunky wines that held their own against their old-world cousins.
Unless travelling from select Indian cities like Chennai, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, flying to the Maldivian capital of Malé (Velana International Airport) from most major Indian cities would require a layover in either a South Indian city, or in Sri Lanka’s Colombo (Bandaranaike International Airport).
Vommuli Island, 128 km/45 minutes from Velena airport, can be accessed during daylight hours by seaplane—usually arranged for by the resorts (for additional charges). At The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, reservations need to be made 72 hours prior to arrival or departure. A round-trip costs $665/Rs45,600 per person.
Doubles start from $1,856 /Rs1,27,257; www.stregismaldives.com.