Even the most experienced travellers are amazed at the welcome at what many say is the Maldives’ top luxury resort, Cheval Blanc Randheli. As the photo above shows, management gathers together on the dock every time someone arrives, by speedboat or by seaplane. There was the marvellous and passionate GM, Renato Chizzola, the Austrian-Italian who, after years at sea – culminating in running The World – decided that land, or at least an island, was next on the agenda. (Randheli, by the way, is one island connected by boardwalk to two man-made islands, Medhudheli and Fahudheli; two other man-mades, reached only by boat, hold the spa and the owner’s villa.)
This is the only Cheval Blanc ‘Maison’ (as the company calls each hotel) that is owned by someone else; in this case a wealthy individual who loves anonymity as well as style. There are 45 ‘normal’ villas, each at least 200 square metres, and the designer throughout is Jean-Michel Gathy. I was in villa 19, south-facing on Medhudheli. Inside, I had a cathedral-high space that can be divided into three by pivoting ceiling-fixed vertical panels, the whole a theatre that is so well equipped that among the 70-plus ‘amenities’ were three types of slippers and three pots of sybaritically addictive bath salts. Of course I had a beautifully private pool, big enough for proper swimming, and no-one could see me. The owner’s villa, as you would expect, is something else: 1000 square metres, four bedrooms, two floors and, 30 metres away, a separate villa for guests (or your maid).
This is all top-top quality. Linens everywhere are Garnier-Thiebaut, just as china is all Bernardaud. The entire play is international luxury with more than a hint of France, from the Guerlain spa and Island Chic fragrance by Dior to Veuve Clicquot. But this is also global, with Zassenhaus salt and pepper mills and Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir. We drank that, after sake, at Diptyque, a clever indoor-out two-sided restaurant: one Japanese, one pan-Asian. I drank water at lunch at Deelani, the Italian restaurant cantilevered over the water at the end of the arrival dock. As I savoured the just-caught white snapper with Mediterranean vegetables, I looked across the water to lucky people just arriving, in the hotel’s own Twin Otter seaplane, which is branded in CB colours.
Company-wide, Cheval Blanc is an understated taupe, but each Maison has its own overlay. Here at Cheval Blanc Randheli the colour is a bright yellow, with a hint of green: it shows in art, in paper collateral, the edges of the taupe notepad sheets and even the pen, which has a clear shaft filled with sand (the breakfast menu cover is similar). Designers Camilla Franks and Vanessa Brisson have put this signifier colour, brighter even than Van Gogh’s, into fashion gear for the 330 team members, from hat bands to tops, and even the earphones in the Citterio-Technogym are what I shall now call Randheli yellow. The difference, of course, is that here at this divine luxury resort the yellow complements the unbelievable blues and greens of water and sky, while poor old painter Vincent was born in Zundert at the end of winter. And probably no-one saw him off anywhere, certainly not in the style that I got on leaving Cheval Blanc Randheli. Luxury in the Maldives can partly be described by how long the GM waves as you leave: in my case Renato Chizzola won the prize as he was still waving, with both hands, until my speedboat was over the horizon.
(Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com)