Liz O’Reilly was among the first group of GCC-based writers given a sneak peek at the new Avani+ Fares Maldives Resort and found a little piece of paradise waiting to be discovered.

The Maldives is an archipelago of 26 natural, ring-like atolls and, on arrival at Velana International Airport, we were to board a seaplane to this newest offering from Minor Hotels. A first for me, I was excited for the 35-minute seaplane journey which was a little bumpy, a lot noisy but absolutely enchanting as it afforded us endless views of the azure blue Indian Ocean and its sprinkling of small island atolls.

Avani, part of the Minor Hotels of Thailand, is a well-established hospitality brand with properties in more than 15 countries and now it is adding the plus to its brand – offering everything Avani is known for, plus a little more. From the handpicked staff – ebullient GM Riaan Drever personally interviewed all the team members, ensuring we encountered a crew who imparted a seriously high-quality yet family feel of ‘service with love’ – to the oh-so-telling little extras such as the abundant drinking water supplied in re-useable glass bottles, stamped with the legend ‘Liquid Therapy’ and printed with information on water saving and recycling (the whole resort has a zero-plastic-waste policy), we could truly feel the ‘plus’ factor.

On the resort’s jetty, we were greeted by numerous staff forming hearts with their hands to welcome us (did I mention that here, everything is done with love?!) and proffering refreshing cold towels and fruity drinks. What a delightful welcome!

My Island Home

Blissfully, the island has no cars, so we hopped onto a golf buggy and headed to our accommodation. My Sea View Studio Villa was surrounded by lush green foliage which offered both privacy as well as a heavenly fresh scent, particularly during the monsoon cloudbursts.

The big comfy bed with its abundant fluffy pillows looked directly out of floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors to my own private infinity pool. And an almost secret path led to the beach, a glimpse of the aquamarine waves just visible from my private deck.

The villa offered everything you could possibly need for a comfortable stay from a kettle and coffee machine to an iron and flat-screen TV. Again, going that little bit further and demonstrating the resort’s eco credentials, I was greeted by a small pot containing delicious, candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate – a note explaining that rather than wasting fruit peels, the chefs come up with innovative ways to use them.

The villa’s décor, similarly to all those we visited across the island’s multiple accommodation options, was muted and comfortable. Pale woods and high-quality materials belying the serious amount of thought that had gone into every detail from the pre-set air conditioning, which automatically switches off if a door is left open, to the generously sized sofa that could easily convert to a bed. A tasteful wall mural in shades of blues for the sea and pale, creamy yellows, evoking the sand and sunshine, was a reminder of the paradise beyond my door.

And the bathroom. Oh, the bathroom! Of course, there were the usual amenities – gorgeously soft, fluffy robes and towels so huge I could literally wrap myself from neck to toes, a wide-headed rain shower that must have been at least 50cm across and a range of lotions and potions from Malin + Goetz, held in refillable stoneware containers, each smelling more fabulous than the last.

But, the absolute star of the show for me was the outside wet room, accessed either from within the villa or via a separate external door. Equipped with both a rain shower and a huge, deep bathtub. Trust me, if you visit, as you really should, there are few experiences quite like luxuriating in such a tub beneath the star-filled Maldivian sky, especially during a warm rainstorm, should you be so lucky.

Time To Relax

When you’ve had a full day of work followed by an overnight flight (or, to be honest, just because you’re on holiday and you feel like it), what better way to relax than with a trip to the spa. Shortly after arrival, a massage was in order. Sipping on a refreshing, fruity drink, I filled in a tablet with my health details and then settled onto one of the most comfortable massage beds I’ve ever encountered for an hour of blissful kneading with perfect pressure and warmly scented, aromatic oil. The AvaniSpa has a medispa room, treatment villas, steam and sauna with options including pain management and IV drips alongside the more conventional spa offerings.

I also tried an evening relaxation session with singing bowl sound therapy on the beach. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical but with the breathing techniques imparted by expert instructor Shalin, who also conducts sunrise yoga, coupled with the resonant vibration from the bowls, I found myself completely calmed and tranquil. A pretty amazing experience that I would highly recommend.

The resort also has a fully equipped gym but, I have to admit, that’s not my idea of relaxation!

And So To Eat

On our first day we ate lunch at The Skipjack Bar, a gorgeous space which sits beside the infinity pool and looks directly out onto ocean waves putting on a show of every shade of cerulean you can imagine. At night, the wooden decking glows with myriad pin-prick lights, mirroring the star-filled sky above. For the friendly staff, nothing is too much trouble. On one of our visits, we asked to go off-menu to try some genuine Maldivian fare and were almost immediately presented with two delicious local curry dishes.

A truly sociable spot, we later had a wonderful evening of dining and dancing to the tunes of a DJ who, wonder of wonders, actually accepted requests and took great delight in getting a diverse group of guests throwing some shapes and mingling on the dance floor. Another night there was karaoke! This really is a place to let loose and make memories.

The menu at Skipjack is diverse and I would challenge anyone not to find something to enjoy. My personal recommendation, however, would be the tuna tataki with its light citrus/soy dressing. Don’t miss out on the cheesy truffle potato wedges, which are every bit as good as they sound. And the chocolate cake, deeply indulgent and fully satisfying.

Since we were there for a soft opening ‘first look’, Skipjack was also where we got to sample the menu for Charcoal, which was still to open. A fabulous concept which will involve dining around a large charcoal grill on which foods are cooked over coals made from the island’s plentiful coconuts – Fares island, on which Avani+ Fares sits, is an ancient coconut plantation. We were treated to a veritable feast which included one of the best tuna tartares I have ever tasted – and that includes fresh off the docks in Tokyo. The concoction in which the fish was cured was absolutely sublime. Being Charcoal, there was also a lush selection of steaks and other meats as well as plenty of veggie options.

Ocean Terrace is the resort’s main restaurant where we breakfasted royally each day. From eggs cooked every way you can think of to smoked salmon or a mini-Wagyu steak and from homemade granola and overnight chia pudding to Maldivian specials such as Mashuni – tuna and coconut sambal – and pancakes with local coconut honey, everything was superbly fresh and tasty. You could choose to sit inside the bright and airy dining room or head out to the deck and eat facing the beach. A perfect way to start the day.

This venue was also where we tried the menu of the still-to-open Tribe. Another great concept, a space where ‘tribes from all over the world meet, bringing their food and drinks to share with each other’. Staged around a stunning, outdoor, wigwam-style pavilion bar, Tribe offers a selection of sharing-style plates from Thai to Japanese, from the plains food of Colorado, the tribal dishes of the Amazon River and the valley foods of the Basque country to Middle Eastern favourites. I would particularly recommend the Charcoal Grilled Leeks with chimichurri and smoked almonds from the Amazon section, a first for me since I don’t usually like leeks and was amazed to find these so tender and tasty. And, even better, each section of the menu comes with its own suggested beverage pairings to perfectly complement the regional flavours.

On our last night, we were thoroughly spoiled with a truly exceptional Adrift dinner on the beach. I’ve mentioned the amazing skies several times, but you really need to experience the stars in a place where there is no light pollution to appreciate their utterly breathtaking beauty. A table was laid for us on the sands and we were serenaded by a talented guitarist as the waves rippled gently on the shore. Avani+ Fares has various other outlets too, including Petit Bistro the first kids-only restaurant in the Maldives catering to young guests with healthy and universally loved dishes. This is alongside an extensive dedicated area where young visitors will be fully entertained at AvaniKids and Teens Club.

The Land Of The Reef

Of course, no visit to the Maldives would be complete without some maritime adventure. And, with Avani+ Fares situated on the Baa Atoll, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, we were more than eager to explore under the watchful eyes of dive master Jean and his professional team. We headed out by boat to snorkel in the warm waters, hoping to spot the plentiful manta rays which call this spot home. Though they evaded us on this visit, we did encounter sea turtles and several species of colourful fish. Harmless sharks and dolphins also inhabit these waters and, on a later sunset cruise, we were lucky enough to spot dolphins at play. Watching the sunset over our paradise island as monsoon storm clouds built behind us was a truly magical experience.

We snorkelled but Avani+ Fares has full dive facilities and will also offer PADI diving courses. And, for those who prefer their adventures above the waves, there is a fully equipped water sports centre offering the likes of stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and windsurfing as well as a range of fishing options.

And So, Farewell

As you can probably tell, I was thoroughly impressed by this new and highly thoughtful property. The weather was perfect, mostly sunny with gentle breezes and the occasional monsoon cloudburst. The staff are exceptional and the location breathtaking. Avani+ Fares Maldives Resort, I can’t thank you enough! ✤