Story by Sharon King Hoge
Photography courtesy of Sharon King Hoge and the Conrad Maldives
Leave your shoes behind. You may want to wear them while you wait in the comfortable airport lounge where the staff of the Conrad Maldives offers snacks and beverages until your seaplane is ready to ferry you the 30-minute flight to the resort on Rangali island. But once you've boarded, the airplane steward is barefoot and when you land you're escorted to the reception desk in the lobby, with its floor set right on the white sand which is a trademark of the gorgeous Maldives islands.
The lowest country on earth, with barely 100 square miles of land, the Maldives is a string of 1200 islands lying in 26 atoll rings stretching north to south in the Indian Ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka. Only around 200 of them are inhabited, each a pristine jewel of tropical foliage ringed with powdery beaches and ringed by coral reefs in the transparent turquoise waters. Around half of the islands are dedicated to tourists, and the Conrad calls itself the country's "best luxury resort."
Long wooden footbridges and a charming ferry connect the Conrad's villas on two connected sand fringed islands and the spur of accommodations on stilts that comprise it's Spa Retreat. Once checked in, guests are escorted to beach or overwater villas. Junior Beach Villas are mini-complexes with a spacious bedroom surrounded by a courtyard with outdoor fountain, shower, elevated bathtub, and Jacuzzi lap pool with an enclosed footpath leading directly to the beach. Mine had a spacious walk-in closet, desk space, coffee-table seating area, a wide-screen TV with excellent reception, speedy wi-fi, and Aromatherapy Associates amenities. Similarly posh overwater villas, built on stilts above the sea, allow swimmers to descend directly down their steps into the water. Overwater villas in the Spa Retreat are fitted with rooms for treatments right on the premises.
Even though all the food has to be imported through Male, the cuisine is delicious. Diners preferring privacy can arrange for in-villa catering and special meals can be arranged in various island settings. Breakfast and an elaborate evening buffet are served in the main Atoll Market with extensive choices of ethnic cuisines: Indian, Japanese Chinese, Malaysian, Arabian, Indonesian, Italian, along with classic European favorites. There's fine dining in the Vilu gourmet restaurant where one night we had a special tasting of six courses paired with Schubert wines from New Zealand and hosted by the proprietor of the winery. Mango risotto and crispy langoustine came with a very light "Trianco" 2011, there was Syrah 2010 enhancing roasted veal tenderloin with seared foie gas. Finally a "Dolce" 2013 sweetly accompanied Caraibe dark chocolate ganache with raspberry jelly all paired with Schubert wines from New Zealand.
Although alcohol is forbidden in the Muslim country, resorts are allowed to carry a full range of cocktails and wine on premises. The Conrad serves drinks on the sand in the Rangali bar or poolside in the Quiet Zone and the restaurants offer special wine and cheese tastings.
Just off the beach, the Sunset Grill suspended over the sea serves casual specialties. In the Mandhoo, another overwater pavilion at the Spa Retreat, the menu is based on ingredients related to air, earth, fire, water, and plants. "Water" selections include fried sea bass or crabmeat salad with tiny cubes of avocado; mango plus a grapefruit and blueberry granite is listed under "air."
For a unique experience, diners can "descend" to the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant and watch fish cruising the coral reefs as they and the guests dine.
Spa-goers can choose between two pampering spas with sweeping ocean and lagoon views. Holistic spa treatments, many designed with couples in mind, involve precious oils, colors, and crystals. Besides consultations in nutrition, lifestyle, cuisine, there may be courses in detoxification and muscle therapy led by visiting specialists.
Booked for a soothing massage, I strolled over from my beach villa wearing my robe, selected "air" from five options of oils and lay listening to the wind and sea while the therapist relaxed my muscles. After a cup of tea and an oaty biscuit, I walked barefoot along the beach back to my villa.
Swimming in two infinity pools, snorkeling, fishing and SCUBA expeditions are recreation activities plus tennis on the outdoor court. The diving center supplies wet suits, snorkel masks and fins, and for rainy days there's a yoga studio and a fitness room with exercise machines set up to catch the view. A fully equipped Business Center supplements the excellent complimentary in-room wi-fi. Shoppers can browse for souvenirs and clothes in the gift shop.
My second and last evening at the Conrad, Resort Manager Karim Schadlou invited us to sunset cocktails on the beach -- because the sun set ordinarily happens before cocktail hour, the Conrad sets its clocks ahead one hour, establishing its own version of day light savings time to ensure pleasant views for sipping beverages as dusk descends. We sipped rum punches and local musicians entertained as the sun sank into the pristine water.
Carrying my shoes next day to the seaplane departure, I could tell I'd embraced the resort's motto -- "where barefoot luxury meets unpretentious style."
© February 2014 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.