Aun, our villa host, has prepared a foot bath strewn with flower petals on the ocean-facing porch of our beach villa. Our feet are hardly tired – we have arrived in all comfort by speedboat from Soneva Fushi, also in the UNESCO listed biosphere of Baa atoll, 30 minutes from the International Airport – but a footbath is a nice way to take in the new environment of this resort. It couldn’t be anymore different from Soneva Fushi and its barefoot luxury, Robinson Crusoe feel.
Purpose build in 2011, Anantara Kihavah Villas, combines the Maldivian tropical desert island fantasy with exquisite contemporary design – there are hints of Moroccan and Thai décor – and urban lounge chic. For a new resort, it has managed to keep the natural jungle intact as much as possible, thanks to a policy to impose a $500 fine for every tree damaged during construction. The island is also blessed with a very wide beach. You’d think that would be a given in the Maldives, but not every island has such a beautiful wide beach all around it.
Soaking my feet in a red and black lacquer bowl, I contemplate how I might spend the afternoon between the many beautiful seating areas of our spacious villa. In front of me, the two deck chairs on an elevated platform inside the decent sized emerald pool – each villa has its own pool – mean I could just keep soaking my feet. Behind me, a bed-sized swing with turquoise cushions invites to nestle with a book from our villa’s library; to my left a separate small pavilion with tables and chairs beckons to get the laptop out and finish some work; in front of me, a short path through native shrubbery leads to our private sun lounges and beach umbrella on the powder-fine white sand overlooking a pale turquoise lagoon.
An unexpected shower helps to make up my mind. I retreat to the outdoor bathroom - the size of a small bedsit – and do what is best for my aching writer’s back. I draw myself a bath in the sunken tub, open the complimentary French champagne and finish my indulgence with a rest on the massive day bed. It feels like my very own private spa and I can suddenly see why the resort, which has 79 villas in total, seems so empty.
“I always tell people to get out, there is a whole resort to be explored,” says Elizabeth Smailes, Area Director of Marketing Communications, during our visit to what she calls “our suburb on stilts.” The cluster of 40 overwater bungalows on the other side of the island, takes the concept of the bathroom as a private spa to another level. Here, the glass bottom of the bathtub and the toilet floor provide views of the ocean. You also get the additional option of chilling in overwater hammocks right beside your private infinity pool. In-villa dining has never looked more appealing.
But not going out means missing out on 6 restaurants, which offer an abundance of dining experiences, including over and underwater. In an era when resorts have to distinguish themselves through the experiences they provide, Anantara Kihavah Villas certainly sets new standards of culinary luxury. You can cycle there on your villa’s stylish cruiser, get chauffeur driven in an electric buggy, or simply walk.
The quartet of Sea, Fire, Salt and Sky is a separate “suburb on stilts” on the sunset side of the island. We begin the evening with a passionfruit mojito at Sky cocktail bar, which specialises in 50 signature mojitos. Overwhelmed by choice, we ask the enthusiastic bartender from Nepal to make us his favourite. Simply delicious!
At the aptly named underwater restaurant, Sea, 4 meters below the ocean, we are joined by the resort’s resident marine biologist and dive instructor, Joseph Lassus. There are 180 degree views of the ocean and I feel like I am sitting in an aquarium. Bright orange Maldivian anemone fish hover over clumps of soft coral swaying in the current right next to my chair. On every table there is a book about the marine life of the Maldives and Joseph identifies triggerfish, bannerfish, fusilier, bluefin and grouper for me. It’s hard to take my eyes of the spectacle and focus on what is on my plate.
Dinner is a 5 course “Divine Wine and Dine” extravaganza, with paired wines from the resort’s award winning underwater wine cellar, the first in the world. Some wines, I am told, have proven to taste better when stored underwater. I am no expert, but they all taste divine to me.
The next morning I make an effort to walk around the island at sunrise, it takes all of 10 minutes. I briefly contemplate doing several laps, to justify the abundant breakfast buffet at Plates, but opt for my fins and snorkel instead. The house reef here is among the best in the country, which comes as no surprise given its UNESCO listing.
The resort’s proximity to the protected Hanifaru Bay means we get a chance to search for mantas, which come to feed on the plankton-rich waters at this time of the year. Joseph, who is there to guide us, warns that their appearances are unreliable. Some days we get 40 with as many snorkelers from other resorts, he says, some days we get none. And when the mantas don’t show up, there is nothing much to see in this sandy-bottomed bay.
But it’s our lucky day. The only other resort boat leaves shortly after our arrival and six mantas show up as if on cue, one for each one of us. It’s one of those mesmerizing spectacles that stays with you forever. These majestic and totally harmless giants feed on small fish and glide towards us with their huge mouths wide open. I am startled when one appears without warning right beside me. Manta is Spanish for cloak or shawl, and like a large black swath of cloth, it flaps its wings and disappears from underneath me.
Feeling exhilarated, we have just enough time to wash off the salt in our palatial bathroom before it’s time to head to the next Anantara signature experience, a Spice Spoon cooking class with IshaaQ, the first Maldivian chef to win a prestigious presidential award.
We run out of time to watch the teppanyaki chefs in action at Fire restaurant, but we get to taste an excellent variety of Indian curries – complete with salt sommelier – at the breezy and very chic Salt restaurant on our last night.
Snorkeling in the warm tropical waters has done wonders for my back, the gentle hands of a Balinese masseuse apply a final touch of magic. The overwater spa at Anantara Kihavah Villas is another separate cluster on stilts, with each treatment room its own overwater villa, on either side of a lavish change room with a ‘his and hers’ wing and a large, communal outside resting area. It’s a rainy afternoon and I have the huge deck and the two infinity pools all to myself. There are day beds and a well-stocked library, complimentary herbal tea and healthy snacks. Gazing out towards the darkening stillness of the ocean, lulled by the sound of lapping waves, I could have stayed forever, if it wasn’t for the erupting rainstorm I have been watching.
And if it wasn’t for the plane waiting for us at the domestic airport – we’ve opted to stay until after dark when the seaplanes stop flying and return to Male by domestic plane – I could have stayed forever.
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