It’s hard to understand what travelling to the Maldives will be like until you visit for the first time. The touchdown in Malé is just a stepping-stone, connecting you with alternative means of transport, by either air or sea, to one of the many atolls or islands dotted around the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Arrival by air can be daunting; the seaplane is a light aircraft and every bump is felt acutely in comparison to the large jet liner that will have deposited you in the capital. However, once airborne, the advantage of height allows you to contemplate just how vast the azure waters extend, with the tiny atolls looking impossibly small and remote. As the journey passes and land mass fades, it starts to feel as though you may have come to one of the ends of the earth and in a way, you have; India and Sri Lanka may be a couple of thousand miles away to the north, but to the south, the ocean extends endlessly.
With the unfamiliar sights and sounds to take in, there can be a strong feeling of discombobulation upon arrival. Luckily, the Cheval Blanc Randheli has thought of this and has ensured that the experience they offer starts from the minute guests arrive in Malé. At the sea plane terminal, the Cheval Blanc lounge is inviting and comfortable, with fresh scented towels, water, washroom facilities and free wi-fi, for those still clinging onto the emails they will soon abandon once on the island. Once aboard the seaplane, along with branded earplugs and mints for the flight, the journey passes quickly enough and soon the plane is docking at a jetty that holds at least a half a dozen people eagerly waving. The initial assumption is that there must be someone on board who stays very regularly but no, the person being welcomed by a friendly wave is you. ‘Welcome home’ says the man helping me out of the plane and onto the walkway.
The sentiment feels strange, but is designed to encourage guests at the resort to try and imagine that the Cheval Blanc Randheli is a home away from home or at least, a place that feels as comfortable as your own home would if you won the lottery and bought a place in the Maldives. This sense of belonging comes partly from the experience of privacy that the maison offers; something that is more easily achieved by limiting the number of guest villas to just 45. Each villa benefits from a loft-style architectural sequence of seven-metre high doors, generous over-water decks featuring a dining pontoon, an outdoor lounge, outdoor rain shower and 12.5-metre-long private infinity pool. Ranging from island villas, which are set amongst luxurious gardens, to water villas on stilts, each accommodation is so spacious and well-appointed that they seem more like private residences than hotel rooms.
Aside from the usual amenities one expects from super-luxury resorts, there are little touches in the villa that provide a sense of place and set Randheli apart. In-room check-in is a welcome change from waiting in a lobby area. A small wooden boat filled with sand has the message ‘welcome’ stamped into it. A mask and snorkel in your size is delivered so that you can climb into the ocean straight from your own pontoon and paddle around, observing the fish life before enjoying a range of complimentary drinks and snacks that are provided every day. I am impressed with the in-room wine selection and am pleased to see that even bottles of red are kept in temperature-controlled, custom-fitted wine cabinets, accompanied by proper glassware.
The sheer dimensions of the villa are luxurious, not to mention the incredibly soft linens that you can pre-select before arrival in signature resort colour taupe or white. A large living area with sofa and tv connects to the bedroom, with walk-in dressing area, which in turn connects to the large bathroom complete with freestanding stone tub, large shower and two separate vanities for him and her. Each section of the villa can be closed off using giant, hinged doors, allowing even more privacy if you so wish.
Bikes are provided, allowing you to explore the island by day or night. The wellness centre, located on a small neighbouring island, offers a way for recently-arrived guests to start the journey to total relaxation, either through the gentle motion of yoga, held on a dedicated pavilion, or through a range of treatments conceived especially for the resort. Treatment rooms offer unrivalled views of the sea, with some parts of the treatments being offered on the small outdoor deck of the room. The massage provided was one of the best I’ve experienced, not only due to the skill of the therapist, but also because of the sensory element that the soundtrack of the lapping waves provided. The spa has its own pool, hammam, hair spa and café, allowing guests to while away the whole day on the spa island if so desired.
After a while, the natural rhythm of life on an island paradise starts to take hold, with your toughest decisions focusing on which meal of the day
to eat next or whether to eat on your own private deck rather than cycling to one of the restaurants. The offering includes Mediterranean, Asian, Maldivian and French fine dining options. We sampled most of them (the spaghetti vongole among the best I’ve ever tasted), not to mention indulging in the atmosphere of the White Bar. However, the ultimate experience came on the last night, with dinner under the stars on an intimate stretch of beach. A table was laid out with a chef and waiter on hand to grill a selection of freshly-caught fish, salads and meats. The setting was incredible; with nothing but the canopy of stars above us and the sound of the waves at our feet, we felt as if between heaven and earth.
The morning of departure came too soon, by which time, the island really did feel like home. Nothing felt more natural than a morning swim in the pool, followed by a dip in the ocean to greet the fish. Breakfast on the deck, laid out by your major-dome, was delightful, until you realise it’s only a few short sorry hours until you’ll be at the airport. The same friendly faces that had welcomed us so eagerly with their waves now consoled us as we bid our goodbyes to new-found friends and left for Malé with the hope that it was ‘au revoir’ and not ‘adieu’.