Bare Foot Luxury in the Maldives

travel_index_007Male (Maldives) – May 1, 2014 – Arrival by seaplane was our chosen carriage of choice. A first for me and this absolutely identified that I am in a very special place. A world class one. The seaplane touched down and we were met by one of the resort boats which was a quick and easy transfer with all our luggage and about 15 passengers.

As we came up to the boat quay we could see a long line of managers and staff waiting to greet all the passengers, led by Area General Manager Voytek Klasicki. With a big smile on his face (and not unusual in this part of the world, a pair of sunglasses), his big out stretched hand of welcome was a good beginning.

The resort has a great mix of guests from honeymooners to families to people just wanting to get away from it all. The eclectic mix provides a warm and happy resort atmosphere.

The Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives is a truly luxurious resort – and an island. Because the islands are small, the resorts are usually the only inhabitants, adding to the uniqueness that is the Maldives. There are 1,192 islands and atolls that make up the Republic,with a population of 400,000 spread over 298 sq km. The Centara is located in the South Ari Atol just 25 minutes flying time south of the capital Malé.

The Centara Grand has white sand beaches and seas as clear as mineral water. The Indian Ocean offers some of the best scuba diving sites in the world. The resort has breathtaking views both above and below the water with gorgeous sunsets and peace and tranquility set among the swaying palms. A truly great place to go bare foot. Unlike Robinson Crusoe you have arrived in a paradise with everything you wish for provided by the warm happy smiles of caring hosts.

Being a Brit living in Thailand for more than two decades, it was for me a perfect recipe, a good helping of British holidaymakers plus a Thai owned hotel. There were many reminders of my adopted home including a wonderful Songkran festival and a Thai restaurant.

My trip began in Bangkok with Bangkok Airways, (I was really waving the Thai flag on this trip) we arrived in Malé after a 4½ hour comfortable flight. We then transferred by coach to the seaplane terminal. A collection of colourful seaplanes awaited which was a wonderful sight for someone like me who finds aircraft and airports absolutely fascinating.

At the terminal planes were landing and taking off every few minutes. A field day for a photographer. They are real planes too. Not jets. They have propellers and they make all those aircraft kind of noises and it’s close up and touchy-feely. You can smell them. A schoolboy’s dream, it’s a matchbox world of brightly coloured aircraft in brilliant sunlight against a clear blue sea, they are a magnificent sight.

The views from the seaplane are quite breathtaking too. The journey takes under half an hour. The sea sparkles below, in all shades and hues of tourquoise and blues, stretching across the horizon. It is like no other place on earth. The islands being small look like fried eggs on a blue landscape.

I can say with hand on my heart, with my many years involved with hotels, that this resort is truly outstanding. The facilities and service we experienced were exemplary.

We were accommodated in a deluxe water villa with access to the Island Club with its private pool and lounge facilities. We ate most of our meals here either in the air conditioned restaurant or al fresco outside. The restaurant, lounge and kitchen being quite superb.

The villa accommodation was excellent and built over water. You could literally walk from your balcony down into the sea below and snorkel to your heart’s content. I found myself waking up early every morning just to look at the amazing ‘aquarium’ outside my bedroom window. Sitting on a balcony chair I found I could sit for hours – my eyes glued to the coral and fish beneath me. Special treasured moments that will stay with me for a longtime.

The bathroom is as spacious as the bedroom. The whole villa was bright and cheerfully decorated in white, blue and yellow, mirroring the resort and its feeling of barefoot luxury. WiFi was available at most locations so keeping in touch was relatively straightforward.

During our two weeks we saw many honeymoon couples having a private romantic dinner on a completely deserted beach with oil lamps and candles laid out on the sand. Centre-stage a table for two decorated with flowers and candles, watched over by private butlers and a beachside mobile kitchen. Perfect for a honeymoon, anniversary, special occasion or birthday. An idyllic way to celebrate life’s special moments.

If beach holidays are not your cup of tea then you might think that this holiday is not for you, but I would say that is not the case. There is so much to do apart from sitting under the sun on the beach or next to the pool. Indeed we were kept busy happily organising our own daily itineraries from snorkelling and diving excursions; island trips; cocktail parties; feeding the sting rays; enjoying the Songkran water festival; banana boat rides (and a whole host of water sports); swimming with whale sharks; fishing trips; daily visits to the spa (30 minutes per person per day were included in our Island Club package) and deciding which of the resort’s 4 restaurants to dine in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was easy – we usually chose the Club or the fabulous spread of the buffet breakfast at the Reef Restaurant. Both of which serve Champagne.

With the all inclusive package there is no need to worry about budgets and carrying wallets around. Knowing there are no hidden costs, does lead to a more relaxed holiday.

Drinks are also included. The lounges become great social-magnets after sun down. We made many new friends.

The resort has a great choice of restaurants and lounges which are available in the all-inclusive package. Our favourites were the Island Club and Azzuri Mare Italian Seafood Restaurant. All restaurants have a good choice of inclusive wines.

Reef Restaurant, is an all-day diner serving International and Asian favourites buffet style and was very popular with families (the resort has a great kids club too) and if Thai food is your passion then Lotus is the restaurant for you.

The Coral Bar was the main hangout in the evenings and the overwater Aqua Bar offered cocktails and afternoon teas and was popular for pre-dinner drinks.

A resort clinic is available to help with bumps and bruises and minor ailments which gives Mums and Dads piece of mind.

Looking out over the seascape I was reminded how useful a boat would be in the Maldives. It reminded me also of Shakespeare’s Richard III with the famous line ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!’ Like Richard I needed conveyance. I have a boat but it’s in Thailand, wouldn’t it be great if you could just ‘Star Trek’ it over to the Maldives!

Boats here are very important. Not only do they supply all of the hotels but they are the major people movers.

The Maldives is a glorious holiday destination and is growing in importance with Asian and Thai visitors. Hotel investors have for many years recognised the unique potential of this island nation.

To GM Voytek and to all the staff a BIG thank you for a truly memorable visit. We hope to return!

Andrew Wood is based in Bangkok and is a Director of Worldwide Destinations Asia Co Ltd and Immediate Past President of Skål International Thailand