IN REALITY, NOTHING QUITE PREPARES YOU FOR FLYING INTO THE MALDIVES AND WITNESSING HUNDREDS OF ISLANDS SPREAD OUT ACROSS THE INDIAN OCEAN, AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE. CLUSTERED IN RINGED-SHAPES, THE LANDSCAPE IS UNDENIABLY BEAUTIFUL, AS IF THE REEFS ARE PROTECTING A NATURAL SECRET AND ONE THAT IMMEDIATELY SEARS ITSELF INTO YOUR MEMORIES. FACT’S DAVID TAPLEY EXPERIENCED THIS VERY THING AS HE HEADED TO THE RESIDENCE MALDIVES, SITUATED ON THE REMOTE ISLAND OF FALHUMAA FUSHI…
The Maldives represents a dream destination for many due to its pristine white beaches, turquoise lagoons and natural coral reefs teaming with marine life. An elusive destination often associated with honeymooners and a jet-setting crowd, The Maldives is a collection of 1,200 islands spread across 26 atolls and represents a destination that offers relaxation and luxury just a few hours away from Bahrain. Malé is the densely populated capital of Asia’s tiniest country (in terms of both population and land area) and acts as a transit point to one of the 132 resorts.
Ours is the idyllic The Residence Maldives, on the remote island of Falhumaafushi, deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean approximately 45 miles north of the equator. Our journey to isolation involves a domestic flight to the island of Kooddoo, followed by a short speed-boat transfer. It’s all worth it as we glimpse the palm fringed shoreline and the quaint wooden buildings constructed with traditional Maldivian thatch. It’s immediately evident that we have arrived in paradise and at just 1km in length the island of Falhumaafushi (which means special flower island) offers a lot for travellers in a relatively compact space surrounded by crystal clear waters.
The resort comprises 98 over-water and beach villas, dependent on your preference. Neither option will disappoint although the beach is perhaps better suited for those with young children. Postcards and Instagram posts of the Maldives have inundated us with images of bungalows hovering over crystal clear waters and bountiful coral reefs, so we were more than a little excited by the notion of residing in a one-bedroom over-water villa.
Accessible via a wooden boardwalk jutting out into ocean, those situated on the north of island are positioned to garner the best sunrise views, while those on the south benefit from striking sunsets. Clocking in at a generous 156m2, our one-bedroom villa is an absolute dream and impresses thanks to an ability to blend the contemporary with the traditional. Decorated in neutral colours, the design predominantly features natural products such as wood and marble. Providing the villa with a feeling of being at one with the island that truly represents the ethos of a brand that mixes cultures and styles to provide each of its properties with a strong sense of place.
The subtle interiors have been impeccably designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates and effortlessly combine traditional Maldivian features such as hand woven rugs with modern technology and minimalistic decor. There is no need for embellishment when the villa provides stunning views of the lagoon through glass doors bathing the space in natural light. Simply furnished with teak and rattan chairs, the living room segues into an extremely comfortable bedroom with a king-sized bed that is positioned to ensure guests awake to a view of the ocean. The bedroom also features ample closet space (there are two) and an LED television. Bathrooms are beautifully appointed with a large freestanding tub, double sinks and both indoor and outdoor showers. A bonus for those looking to embrace the ‘back to nature’ experience associated with life on a remote island.
The outdoor deck is remarkable! Situated just above the tide line, the deck feels more like being on a boat and features a small plunge pool, sun loungers and a metal ladder leading directly into the inviting ocean. Life jackets and snorkeling equipment are provided, allowing guests to explore the lagoon and its tidal sandbanks directly from the comfort of the villa. Not a fan of the ocean? Not to worry! For sharks, stingrays, turtles and shoals of rainbow coloured fish are easily spotted from the deck, making this outside area a focal part of the villa experience and the ideal place for sundowners while watching one of the stunning sunsets that the Maldives are renowned for. Due to the location there is very little light pollution meaning as nightfall the sky fills with thousands of stars that gives the resort an almost ethereal feel by night.
Bicycles are the preferred method of transport at The Residence Maldives. Although a complimentary buggy service is freely available, we’d recommend taking the time to explore Falhumaafushi by navigating the sandy paths that traverse the island to find secluded beaches. The islands interior is made up of dense vegetarian forming a jungle-like environment. Here guests will find the health club, home to a large and well-equipped fitness centre, saunas and steam rooms. The gymnasium is appealing, clad in wood that provides the feeling of bringing the outside in. Glass walls give the impression of undertaking a workout within the depths of a tropical jungle which offers additional motivation.
On the east side of the island lies the The Spa by Clarins, an exclusive to The Residence Maldives and the first and only Spa by Clarins in The Maldives. Taking inspiration from the over-water villas, six spa pavilions are positioned above the lagoon and can be utilised for massages and facials (these services can be offered invilla). The spa also features a salon and an open deck for meditation and complimentary sunrise yoga sessions.
Before visiting we’d always assumed the Maldives to be a honeymooners destination but The Residence Maldives is extremely family friendly. The on-site kids club situated in a patch of verdant jungle close to reception boasts a modern playroom, private beach and a number of exciting activities. These include mocktail master classes, scavenger hunts, seed art and kids snorkelling, all presided over by the charismatic Alma who acts like a fairy godmother to the children in her care. Take to the water in the resorts beachfront infinity pool or visit the water sports centre for sailing, kayaking and windsurfing, all of which represent fun ways to see the ocean. Hop on a traditional Maldivian Dhonis boat and take to the seas for exploration above and below the waves. With the hotel located on one of the deepest atolls in The Maldives, Falhumaafushi is a fantastic place for scuba diving and excursions. Our pick would be the sunset dolphin cruise where visitors can sip on bubbly will watching the playful mammals frolic in the surf.
The Residence Maldives offering a choice of five restaurants that encourages the idea of relaxation the resort so freely promotes. A beach bar partly submerged in the communal swimming pool accommodates swim up cocktails and light bites, while the Library tucked away above the reception is a charming find with a fullystocked bar complemented by games of billiards or mini golf. The Dining Room is more than an all-day-dining experience, serving a varied buffet of international cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu changes daily and features a number of local Maldivian dishes that are complemented by tranquil lagoon views. It should be noted that chefs here are more than happy to accommodate dietary requirements or whip up special dishes for children without a moments hesitation.
As night falls and groups of fruit bats flock to the island to hunt, it’s also dinner time for the guests. Regular seafood barbecue nights are held at the atmospheric Sunset Grill. Dine with your feet in the sand on lobster, shrimp, calamari and fresh catch of the day. All grilled to perfection. The fine dining surrounds of The Falhumaa are accompanied by a school of sharks that seem to have taken up residence in the shallow waters beneath the restaurant. Located at the end of a 230m long boardwalk the architecture has been designed to look like the flower of its namesake when viewed from an aerial perspective. With French cuisine in a fine dining setting, The Falhumaa requires a reservation and should be visited if only for the small bar area that could be coined as one of the island’s best hidden secrets.
The Residence Maldives lives up to its reputation for acute attention to detail, an intuitive and personalised service style and the ability to create unforgettable moments. Exemplified by the private butler allocated to take care of guests every need. We had the pleasure of Francis, always arriving promptly and with a smile, he was invaluable at arranging restaurant réservations, excursions and a romantic private dining experience on a stretch of private beach under torchlight.
After five days on a remote island in one of the world’s most in demand luxury destinations, the sense of seclusion and sanctuary is hard to shake. With the daily sight of stingrays, reef sharks and turtles bringing us well and truly back to nature. It’s no wonder the brilliant white shores and bright blue waters draw travellers from all over the world to these far flung islands. For those in search of a luxury escape, look no further than The Residence Maldives at Falhumaafushi and its soon-to-open sister property, The Residence Maldives at Dhigurah.
GO: VISIT WWW.CENIZARO.COM/THERESIDENCE/MALDIVES-FM FOR RESERVATIONS AND MORE INFORMATION.