Mention of the Maldives usually elicits one of two responses: envy, of enticing waters and unsullied shores, or apprehension at the thought of being on an island alone with just your thoughts. The latter traveller likely is accustomed to fast living, and is misguided in thinking that the tropical nation offers nothing but sun and sand.
Natural beauty, with the seaplane journey from Malé into the Baa Atoll archipelago delivering a spectacular sense of arrival, is of course a draw. But where some properties focus solely on their status as a faraway escape, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villa offers everything you’d expect from an urban setting despite its remoteness.
Rich in fruit trees and with a lagoon brimming with fish, Kihavah once provided shelter for traders and seafarers. Today its inhabitants share the same thirst for adventure but are equally hungry for hedonism. Our maritime-inspired water villa has an oversized deck swing, infinity pool, cushioned nets from which to watch parrotfish frolic and rays glide past, and stairs straight into the cerulean sea.
Such beauty can pump up adrenalin, staving off the nosedive into jetlag –– but to undo travel-induced tension, booking the 90-minute Sleep Guru treatment on the first night sets you up for paradise properly. The massage is best performed on the deck outside, with lapping waves lulling you into bliss. What follows is equally dreamy –– an essential oil bath, with a side of chocolate chip cookies and chamomile tea. A real treat before you slide into 1,000-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.
If last night’s treatment makes rousing from slumber a challenge, ordering the Floating Breakfast means you needn’t get dressed for the buffet. Instead roll out of bed to get stuck into the smorgasbord bobbing on a tray atop your infinity pool. Expect champagne, juices, charcuterie, pastries, fruit, lobster Benedict––with foie gras and truffle in case it weren’t quite decadent enough––a sight almost made for Instagram.
A fine reason to tear yourself away though, is a Pilates session with Jack, the resort’s personal trainer and Muay Thai extraordinaire. He leads the way through hundreds, V-sits, bridging, hip raises and leg circles, focusing on breathing correctly, before a final stretch. He says the resort has been a popular training ground for professional athletes, and that its tennis court and boxing ring (framed by lush jungle) get plenty of use.
Given the resort’s ample active options it makes sense that resident physiotherapist Khun Dome Srisawat is available to work out aches and pain on the spot. His speciality is muscular manipulation through Myofascial Release Massage, a spine-tingling blend of stretching, hot stones and pressure-point techniques. After your treatment, ask to be taken to the overwater relaxation area to relish a hot ginger tea and macarron––possibly the most tranquil of any spa we’ve seen––for a moment of reflection.
Eating is a pastime taken seriously here, and goes to show epicurean prowess isn’t reserved exclusively for urbanites. Lunches are usually enjoyed at the laidback Manzaru, where Mediterranean favourites can be savoured in your bathers beside one of the longest pools in the Maldives. In the evening, Fire focuses on sake, sashimi and wagyu teppanyaki (there’s also local rock lobster) served with flair. Our favourite, though, is Asian restaurant Salt for its comforting laksa and the Penang Maldivian lobster curry, which had us shamelessly scraping the plate. The chocolate kulfi with condensed milk ice cream was recommended by a few of the staff and lived up to the hype.
While the island’s pristine shores are ideal for lounging with a book, there’s also lots to do if you have trouble sitting still. Why not while away the day exploring the breathtaking house reef, mere steps from the resort beach, and home to hundreds of tropical fish (needlefish, surgeonfish and butterfly fish galore) hawksbill turtles and manta rays? Divers should check out the Yellow Wall, descending to 30m, and covered in vibrant soft corals, mostly golden as the name suggests.
We are fortunate enough to join the first manta trip of the season, which runs from June to November. It takes 45 minutes to get to UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in Hanifaru Bay, the world’s largest natural manta feeding region, where an upsurge current brings plankton with it, attracting the winged beauties to feed in the reef’s shallow cul-de-sac. Depending on plankton levels, there can be as many as 40 on any given day. Be prepared to swim a fair way, and keep close to your guides for the best chance of spotting them. We managed to find two of the majestic creatures, whose effortless glide makes it easy to paddle close for a lingering look.
Back on land in the evening, another one a kind viewing awaits. The resort’s Overwater Observatory is one of the best places on earth to stargaze given the Baa Atoll’s close proximity to the equator offering vistas of the northern and southern skies. Astronomy buffs are in for a treat. Nibbles and bubbly on the Sky Bay terrace accompanies resident guru Ali Shameen’s talk on vast intergalactic space. Sit inside the giant custom-made Ash Dome and peek through the viewfinder of the impressive research-grade 16” LX200 telescope, while Ali points out constellations and explains light years and galaxy types.
Then it’s time to dine underneath those stars, and Plates is a fantastic option. At many buffets sheer size of the spread is what’s deemed impressive, but here quality of dishes is as impeccable as the selection. Every night is themed and you can look forward to seafood, sushi, salads, curries and seriously tempting desserts. Maldivian night is a chance to try reef fish cutlets, curries and kavaabu (fried hunk of rice, tuna, coconut, lentils and spices). Live performances –– some nights feature a jazz ensemble, while others showcase local song and dance, and encourage guests to get up and move.
To embrace its island roots, most Maldivian spas feature sea-inspired treatments using coconut oil. And while these are available, what sets the menu apart here is more progressive pampering. The launch of the Cocoon Medi Spa, a first of its kind in the region, offers the full gamut of medical services from IV infusions to colonics, appealing for city dwellers demanding the same cutting-edge treatments offered back home, and a refreshing departure from the predictable massage.
Everything from Dermapen Needling to platelet-rich plasma (aka the vampire facial) is offered, but as sun worshipping is on my agenda, lovely spa director Annika instead recommends a silk peel dermal infusion performed by senior aesthetic wellness nurse Nur Laili. This begins with Diamond Microdermabrasion to exfoliate, followed by a galvanic facial to hydrate, capped off with a combination of LED to boost hyaluronic acid and a 14-carat gold collagen mask, for skin so glowy that bare-faced confidence will be yours. And if you do fancy getting glammed up, the beauty salon recently appointed a stylist to the stars from Manila to ensure your tresses are tamed and on-trend.
Lunch at underwater restaurant Sea is as good an excuse as any to make an effort. Inside the cavern of opulence you are handed a glass of Dom Pérignon to mark the occasion before entering the intimate hexagonal submerged world –– a bonefide lazy man’s alternative to snorkelling. It’s not every day one feasts within a coral reef among unicornfish, jackfish and turtles. At dinner, nocturnal predators like moray eels, black tip reef shark and stingrays slither, dart and glide.
While nature provides the best entertainment, an unexpected treat is the resort’s Starlit Cinema. There are two shows each night, with a clearing in the jungle reserved exclusively for you. Choose any film you like and the team will have it projected on the massive screen, along with next-level snacks like oysters Kilpatrick, sliders and chocolate-dipped strawberries and bubbles. City-worthy indulgence is that bit better savoured with toes in the sand, under a star-speckled sky, palm trees aflutter.