By Pattarawdee Saengmanee
ARRIVING SOLO at the brand-new Hurawalhi Island Resort in Maldives, I’m getting some curious looks. The place is billed as a haven for honeymooning couples.
But any feelings of awkwardness vanish when I see the pearly sand beaches and clear turquoise waters. I’ve dreamed of coming back to Maldives ever since my first visit three years ago.
The island-nation is filled with first-class accommodations, romantic settings for dining and, of course, the wonderful underwater world. It offers the perfect holiday escape for everyone, all ages – and not just couples in love.
I’m on a fabulous four-day trip, ready to be sequestered away from hectic life. I’ve had an inauspicious start on landing at Male’s Velana International Airport after a four-hour flight: It’s raining in Paradise.
A resort staff member escorts me to the spacious Hurawalhi Airport Lounge for a welcoming drink and snacks as the first rainfall of the year causes a delay in the seaplane schedule.
You need a seaplane for the 40-minute hop to a pier of on Kudadoo, a private island, where you switch to a speedboat for the quick jaunt to the Hurawalhi Island Resort on the blue lagoon of Lhaviyani Atoll.
You pass beneath a wooden arch to the open-air beachfront lobby, with its sandy floor, rustic wooden ceiling and exquisite lighting fixtures. Surrounded with lush tropical landscaping, the 90-villa resort was designed by renowned Japanese architect Yiji Yamazaki of YYA New York, who’s elsewhere worked with Giorgio Armani, W Hotels, Calvin Klein and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Yamazaki had cedar and pine imported from Canada and filled in the spaces with earth tones and handcrafted blown-glass lights from Bali.
The eco-friendly Hurawalhi Resort produces its own electricity in part from diesel generators but also from solar panels. Seawater is filtered to make it potable and wastewater is processed in such a way that it doesn’t harm the environment.
There are seven types of guestrooms – Ocean Sunset Pool Villa, Ocean Pool Villa, Romantic Ocean Villa, Ocean Villa, Beach Sunset Pool Villa, Beach Sunset Villa and Beach Villas – ranging in size from 105 to 132 square metres.
I spend three nights in an Ocean Villa set out like a homey cottage and complemented with rustic wooden furniture. A vintage-looking fan rotates lazily over the comfy king-size bed as I sit on a sofa sipping complimentary champagne and staring at the vast Indian Ocean.
In the living area are a 48-inch flat screen IPTV with a Bluetooth sound system and 50 Hollywood movies I can watch anytime. Also saving energy, the air-conditioner adjusts according to the weather outside and shuts off when you leave the door open.
The bedstead is attached to a combination vanity and desk with a hairdryer, huge mirror and a multiple electrical outlets. I also have a coffee machine, tea-making facilities, a refrigerator-mini-bar and a full set of glassware.
The spacious bathroom is elegant with white-stone fittings, including two washbasins, a separate rain shower and direct access to the private sundeck.
The deck is my favourite part of the accommodations, a place to snooze on the cosy sofa-lounge or sit admiring the spectacular turquoise lagoon.
After extensive camera practice taking pictures of the blue, blue sky, I’m off on a Sunset Dolphin Cruise. It’s an hour’s excursion, during which the skipper plays local music that attracts a pod of friendly dolphins.
It’s a spirit-lifting scene. The cheery mammals swoop about and jump in the air as if putting on a show, which only comes to an end when the sky is brushed with the golden hues of a photogenic sunset.
Back on land, I head to the Aquarium, one of the resort’s restaurants, and enjoy a delectable meal of Asian fusion delicacies and sweets.
Early in the morning I’m joining a Manta Search with the Manta Trust Marine Biology Centre and a Manta Snorkelling Excursion and Reef Safari. Enthusiastic young biologist Kirsty Ballard leads the exciting three-hour trip to Kanifushi, home to a family of four rays.
“Plankton is their favourite food, and there’s plenty of plankton in this area,” she says. “We need to keep two or three metres away from them while snorkelling.”
It’s an amazing sensation having giant rays swimming around us as they gobble their food. The Manta Trust launched the Maldivian Manta Ray Project in 2005 to establish a country-wide network of dive instructors, biologists, fishermen and tour guides to monitor the ray population. By last count there were 4,400 of the creatures – the largest studied population in the world.
After a nap to recharge my batteries, I’m ready for a five-minute cruise to Dream Island for a private picnic in a small pavilion. I have a panoramic view of the lagoon and the resort on the opposite side. I get another one of those funny feelings, though – like being left alone on a deserted island.
The 5.8 Undersea Restaurant, the largest of its kind in the world, is my next stop. One of five all-glass undersea restaurants in Maldives, it sits 5.8 metres deep and is accessed via a spiral staircase.
The 20-seat restaurant is a tunnel of high-grade glass, made in New Zealand. The dishes are tempting, the wines fine and the mealtime visitors endlessly fascinating.
My delightful seven-course dinner starts with appetisers of Alaskan king crab with watermelon and nuoc cham, yellow-fin tuna with pickled vegetables and wasabi, smoked foie gras, red mullet with cauliflower and pine nuts, and a Maldivian lobster.
I’m already feeling full, but the main course has arrived – Angus steak with broccoli, mashed potatoes and black truffle in Asian barbecue sauce. And dessert is a Pina Colada with passion fruit and vanilla sorbet.
I decide to spend my third day at the resort checking out the facilities. I book a 60-minute Baliness treatment at the Duniye Spa and revel in the rubbing provided by a skilled Indonesian therapist.
There’s also a well-equipped fitness centre with classes in yoga and other forms of exercise, a swimming pool, tennis courts and even a football pitch, plus a place to borrow kayaks, surfboards and snorkel and scuba gear.
The Coco Bar, which never closes, has an outdoor deck overlooking the lagoon and serves a huge selection of enticing cocktails, healthy drinks and wines. It also has a game room and a stage for musicians, the entertainment theme changing every night.
Okay, I’ve got my tan and, unfortunately, it’s time to get back to the real world. I head home, but not before making a promise to myself that, next time, I’ll be bringing family and friends. In Maldives, just like everywhere else, the more the merrier.
IF YOU GO
>> The Hurawalhi Island Resort sits on Maldives’ Lhaviyani Atoll.
>> Check out the best rates at www.Hurawalhi.com.