Today [1 February 2019] LUX* North Male Atoll opens: a week after some 30 global media and self-styled influencers were hosted for a preview of this luxury resort. I can report that for those who are drawn to the white-blue chiaroscuro of Mykonos or Santorini, or the vibe of Miami Beach, this is just the perfect luxury resort here in the Maldives. Apparently, the three owners (all first-time hoteliers) are already thrilled. They did trials over Christmas, though they could not use LUX*’s signature London red telephone box to Call A Friend, back home in Moscow or wherever, as the instrument had not arrived.
GM John Rogers moved to this 67-villa resort four months ago. I have seen him run the oh-so-English Tresanton, La Residencia on Mallorca and Carlyle Bay on Antigua, and the first difference he notices in the Maldives is that all staff have to be housed. For Maldivians, this is not an issue; because of the extended layout of the islands (about 823 kilometres from north to south) everyone is brought up knowing they will have to travel. During my days in The Maldives, I spoke to many hotel staff about how they save up their time off and then fly to their home island for a good stay.
LUX* always has a reputation for cool design, cool fun and sensational ice-creams, all day long. Here, at North Atoll, ICI has a really enticing selections of flavours, all made here. Since all the 67 villas have not only private pools at ground level, but also flat rooftop decks above the main buildings (the smallest interior size is 110 square metres), I can easily imagine guests here having a swim and then retreating to their rooftop to lie under a canopy and enjoy a couple of scoops of mango ice-cream.
Main restaurants will feature ceviche tastings and healthy all-day dining in GLOW. There is also, as in all LUX* properties, on-site coffee roasting. Here, the Café LUX* coffee shop is above what could be called ‘reception’ (although LUX* was one of the first companies to realise that this function is now as dead as a dodo).
John Rogers and I had a great lunch, outdoors at Beach Rouge – simple fresh fish and salad – and then espresso, for me, and capuccino, for him. Up in Café LUX* we looked out across its outside deck and down to the resort’s jetty (it is a great advantage for any Maldives resort to have a jetty, so that arriving and departing is direct plane-to-land rather than having to travel via an offshore pontoon).
My plane arrived, and I had to leave. Next time I will be able to stay, have morning yoga on an upper deck above the LUX* Me Spa’s welcome house, perhaps try a Shirley Page aromatherapy treatment, and enjoy learning about the night sky with Steve Owens. Other pastimes include visiting the resort’s art studio and taking a trip to a nearby local island to meet Kashidoo villagers … yes, there is plenty to look forward to at this white-and-bright luxury resort.
And then, coming up in May this year is Waldorf Astoria Maldives. Once again, I was the first ‘outsider’ to have a preview. Sadly, I missed the Doha-based owner’s regular visit by two days; it would have been great to congratulate him on what he and his company are obviously achieving. Even the arrival was superlative: a brand-new 70-foot Princess three-cabin boat, which will be tweaked in Waldorf Astoria colours, is pretty special. Thirty minutes after leaving Male, you are there, with no hanging around for seaplanes that seem invariably to run late.
I arrived and there was the management team, on the temporary dock, in what will be the back-of-house area. Soon some of the 121 villas’ 250-strong team will begin arriving, later to be complemented by an additional 500. GM Etienne Dalancon, facing his third hotel opening but the challenge of his first-ever resort, has been here nine months and has almost seen the complex from bare-sand up – though even at that stage the plantings (which had begun well over a year before) were indications that this will be an unusually lush resort. The individual walkways to over-water villas, for instance, are already liberally flanked by greenery.
Overall, it is a fascinating, c-shaped design: a horseshoe that is 3.5 kilometres from one end to the other. Every villa has access to water, beach or lagoon. The smallest size is 80 square metres inside, plus 149 square metres of garden. Each one has its own pool, from 10 metres long, with double swings.
Among many outstanding features at Waldorf Astoria Maldives will be its restaurants and bars. There is a Syrian restaurant that looks plausibly like a village in the countryside near Damascus, in the good old days of course, where you dine in peripheral alcoves that evoke the courtyards of houses.
The Chinese restaurant has a significant private dining room, but you can also dine on a beach that has yet to be formed. There is an all-day dining venue, with an adjacent family-friendly room and cathedral-high ceilings (this will be a resort that is all about space).
It also has a sensational, jaw-dropping wine cellar. Go into what looks like an ancient stone tunnel – admittedly carved in the last few months – to the cellar dining room, which seats 12. Leading off are storage rooms. With a Marseille GM in charge, expect a superb wine list, although only about 40% of his wines will be French, and he has not yet finalised the hotel’s champagne partner.
And now for the highlight of highlights. Those who know the bamboo walkways above, say, Soneva Kiri in eastern Thailand, or the vertically oval restaurant walkway of the Flying Elephant at Park Hyatt Chennai will find a relation here at Waldorf Astoria’s outdoor treehouse restaurant, Terra.
You walk up around a curved, granite walkway flanked by bamboo sculpture – you are actually above the wine cellar, though you would not know it. As you go up and around you pass seven adjacent pods, one big enough for four diners, the others for two, all having completely private dining, looking down through bamboo at the resort and royal blue and azure waters. See why this will be such another memorable luxury resort in The Maldives’ offerings?
Lead image: Waldorf Astoria Maldives – 3-bedroom Overwater Villa