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Maldives: Isle Be Waiting For You

Jumeirah's two Extraordinary Resorts in the Maldives make a pair of Perfect Hideaways.

As exclusive resorts continue to be built across the various islands in the Republic Of Maldives, there seems on the surface little to distinguish one from the other. They share the same climate, the same ocean, the same expectation of high quality from their guests. What, then, determines the true excellence of a Maldives resort? How can some be fabulous, others flabulous?

How to attain excellence so far from civilisation? The answers lie behind the scenes. Like great films or delicious dinners, what is presented to the customer is only the final, visible result of a long and laborious process, in this case to transform uninhabited island into exclusive resort. In self-contained world where all the guest experiences are provided by a resort on its own private island, it is crucial for the management to get everything right.

This attention to detail goes far beyond tolietries and thread--counts; at Jumeirah's two resorts in this most dazzling of island destinations, desalination plants, sand replenishment and farming produce are just a few of the activities that ensure holiday perfection for the guests. Let's not forget the human factor. It is no surprise that it takes special people to live on tiny sandbanks thousands of kilometres from civilisation, but with the state of world civilisation being what it is these days, maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Maldives resorts recreate their own little cosmopolitan worlds, theirs far more harmonious and supportive, with staff imported from a diversity of countries. This international camaraderie transfers to the guests, for they, too, come from countries the world over. This is one aspect of staying at Jumeirah Vittaveli and Jumeirah Dhevanafushi that makes these two resorts in the Maldives particularly interesting; the holidaying babushka and her husband escaping winter cold of Siberia may be occupying a villa next to the cosmetics executive on the island to test the application of pure Maldivian coconut oil in a new line of products. The movie actress recovering from a 'facial enhancement procedure' may be staying across a sandy path from romantic honeymooners who, like the actress, see no need to leave the privacy of their own compound. Such is life in a rarefied existence on an exclusive island; the outside world need not be acknowledged at all, even when that world begins at a villa's front door.

Jumeirah Vittaveli, located a short, 30-­minute ride by boat from Malé's Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, is a joyous find for harried executives, bored trophy wives and busy creative people who need a change of scenery from their urban lives to recharge their lithium cells. Peace reigns supreme and all who come must submit to its will.

If there is any doubt as to why Jumeirah is one of the most sought­-after places to spend a Golden Week, charter the resort's yacht for a private sunset cruise to witness dolphins cavorting in the sea, then wonder how to change the return date of the plane ticket.

Two-­storey Beach Villas, where spacious indoor spaces are complemented by a private outdoor area

and private pool just steps from the sand, are mini­-resorts unto themselves where every need is satisfied with a simple phone call.

The newly unveiled three-­bedroom Royal Residence, complete with its own jetty for private access by water, awaits guests who seek the ultimate in tropical getaways.

No doubt the Royal Residence will become a favourite location for the many fashion shoots taking advantage of Maldives' unique water-scapes, as will its Royal counterpart at Jumeirah's even more isolated resort, Dhevanafushi, in the far south of the country.

As would be expected in a top Maldives resort, the dive centre at Vittaveli is a focus for visitors wanting to see the submarine world of colourful fishes and coral reefs which are counted among the country's top attractions.

Personal classes in the fitness centre can introduce novices to kickboxing or yoga, though advanced practitioners will be amply stimulated as well.

Not many gyms offer treadmills with views of tropical fish in their natural aquarium; the hypnotic effect of the water can make time go by very quickly.

It certainly does in the spa, where well­-trained staff offer a variety of treatments using locally produced coconut oil, an outstanding elixir for the skin. That cosmetics executive is definitely on to something.

Don't think for a minute that Vittaveli's isolation would indicate any kind of culinary deprivation for

sophisticated palates; the reality is quite the opposite.

Chefs at Jumeirah Vittaveli rotate their responsibilities to keep the menu as fresh as the ingredients, making the most of local fish and produce (grown right on the island) to create appealing selections at all hours of the day. Even basic foods like breakfast hummus are made into something special with exemplary presentation; the local Maldivian cuisine spices up the menu with flavourful curries and coconut. Though the meals at the Samsara restaurant and on the sand at Mu Beach are certainly impressive, it is a royal Indian dinner at Swarna, the resort's newly opened dining venue, that seals the deal in placing Jumeirah Vittveli at the top of the list for extraordinary dining in the Republic of Maldives. An 18­ course extravaganza of culinary excellence, the Swarna Journey thali dinner proves to be as memorable as every other experience on one of the most exclusive islands in the Maldives. Chef de Cuisine Rahul Kulkarni has seen to it that every aspect of Swarna reflects the refined dinners traditionally enjoyed by Mughal princes of times past; beyond the obvious attention to the food, Chef Kulkarni played a major role in the planning of the restaurant itself in order to ensure the final result created an exceptional atmosphere for guests' dining enjoyment. This includes private pavilions for each dining party as well as classically trained musicians whose talent emanating from their instruments accompanies the talent emanating from the kitchen. If the menu is sumptuous, the presentation is even more so; the food is placed before the diner in an opulent set of trays and dishes unequivocally meant to impress.

The Jumeirah experience at Vittaveli is matched in quality by Dhevanafushi, the company's other resort in the Maldives, (this one located on the minuscule islet of Meradhoo 400 kilometres south of Male in the Gaafu Alifu atoll). Dhevanafushi's remote location makes it a haven for divers wanting to see coral formations and fish species different from those at Vittaveli as well as a hideaway for sand-bound travellers wanting to relax in splendour accompanied by attentive service. The lucky few guests on the island at any one time enjoy the isolation and the starry skies, a wonder to urban residents. It is a shocking truth that some adults have never seen stars at night, let alone a night sky in all its glory; ten zillion stars can leave an indelible impression. The residents of Gaafu Alifu atoll are very proud of their coral and their seas and claim them to be among the most beautiful in a country not short of beautiful (sub)marine scenery. Even experienced divers will be impressed with the colourful coral formations and the steep drop of the reef into the deep blue of the ocean. Dhevanafushi is not merely a destination for divers, though―not with so much to enjoy above the surface.

On the water, there are jet-skis and kayaks; on land, the staff at Talise Spa are always on hand to provide treatments to enhance relaxation, including treatments with ayurvedic influences that are particularly therapeutic. Clients here can enjoy the water even while lying prone on the treatment table; a glass window in the floor permits underwater viewing while having muscles rubbed.

Many visitors to the Maldives combine stays at the two resorts to experience both a larger resort close to the airport and a more remote location in what is becoming the 'in' destination of the whole of the Maldives. Why bother going the extra distance to Dhevanafushi when Vittaveli is already so satisfying? Aside from bragging rights to say "I've been there" and the different aquatic life, Dhevanafushi has its own personality.

Under the adroit direction of affable Resident Manager Firas Sharrouf, whose goodtime personality is balanced with an expectation of excellence in his (and everyone else's) work, Dhevanafushi succeeds in achieving what seems to be the impossible by providing a sybaritic holiday experience in one of the most remote locations in the world. From fresh dates at breakfast to jet-ski fun on the sea, the Dhevanafushi experience is barefoot luxury at its best. Basic villas are h­u­g­e, and every villa has its own pool for swimming with privacy. Like Vittaveli, Dhevanafushi has added a three-­bedroom Royal Residence to its room inventory. As appealing as beach-side villas may be, no resort in the Maldives is complete without over-water accommodation, which remain wildly popular with international visitors. At the Jumeirah resorts, the concept of over-water accommodation is taken to another level; along with rooms and suites connected to the island by a boardwalk, there are over-water rooms and suites completely separate from the island and thus only accessible by boat.

Dhevanafushi's waterworld is called Ocean Pearls and is home to Johara restaurant, an excellent vantage point for looking back to the sand from a place where there is no land, only sea.

Like Jumeirah's Maldives resorts, the country's airline is similarly motivated to please its clientele. Mega Maldives Airlines is a small airline with big plans. Visionary founder George Weinmann, an American resident of Beijing, was on his honeymoon in Maldives with his Chinese wife when the idea of a national airline came to mind; he saw an entrepreneurial opportunity and seized upon it with the result that today the Republic of Maldives has a national carrier representing the country overseas. Mr Weinmann saw the great potential for the airline to transport Chinese travellers to Maldives, a country that requires no visa for citizens of China (or any other country, for that matter). Taking a cue from other airlines based in central locations, Mega Maldives aims to expand its route network and make Maldives an aviation crossroads for travellers on four continents. Sitting right in the middle of the Indian Ocean, this is a realistic prospect and the highly dedicated team of expatriate and Maldivian employees at the Mega Maldives headquarters in Malé and on board the planes are totally committed to making their airline a success with a passion that long disappeared from huge airlines that sometimes treat their employees―and customers―as human inconveniences rather than valued assets. Like a start­up dotcom company or a music band hitting the charts for the first time, the people of Mega Maldives deeply believe in their products and services; once on board, passengers are apt to agree. Creating an airline from scratch is an enormously challenging undertaking in today's global economic environment, yet Mr Weinmann went about the task unfazed by the obstacles that stood in his way. Five years after its first flight, Mega Maldives Airlines continues to employ smart policies along with smart people in connecting a few specks of sand in the sea with the rest of the world. The airline's route network is heavily focused on China, from where Mega Maldives offers non-stop service to Malé from Beijing and Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macau as well as services from Shenyang via Bangkok. Full planes attest to the airline's popularity. Mega Maldives being one of the very few airlines granted fifth-­freedom rights to fly routes beyond China, the airline also offers nonstop flights from both Beijing and Shanghai to Tokyo-­Narita, so any fashion-­conscious traveller wanting to shop for the latest creations or last season's clearance can make their way to the Ginza as easily as to the Maldivian atolls.

By the way, did you know 'atoll' is the only word in the English language to originate from Dhivehi, the language of the Maldivian people? One of the most unusual languages in the world, Dhivehi has its own alphabet that looks like no other writing system! (NB: shown above is the current alphabet in use in the region, which known as "Thaana").

Otherwise, in terms of getting there? Fans of comfy flights (aren't we all?) will love that the Mega Maldives' Boeing 767 aircraft have comfortable Business Class cabins, while the B757 aircraft have a service more similar to a Premium Economy. Reflecting the culture of the islands, the flight crew and cabin crew are extremely friendly and relaxed, which in turn creates a relaxed state of mind among the travellers. The Mega Maldives Honeymoon in The Sky makes newlyweds feel special from the moment they board the aircraft (and even before―the airline is accustomed to accommodating special requests such as bouquets of flowers or other services). The Kiddie Flight Attendant Program lets youngsters on board don aprons and assist flight attendants with an ice cream service that is a favourite of adults, too. High net worth individuals can enjoy the benefit of the airline's local expertise in making use of a unique VIP service; in a show of solidarity for all travellers to Maldives, Mega Maldives provides ground support for private jets flying into and out of Malé. At the airport, Jumeirah's private VIP lounge for the exclusive use of its guests provides comfortable first and last moments in one of the world's most beautiful countries.

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