Monday, January 24, 2011

Published in Town & Country 2010: The Maldives, A Slice of Paradise

Unedited draft of the Maldives article that Town and Country Philippines published in their October 2010.

By Kage Gozun

Subhead: Big gifts often come in the smallest sizes and Paradise Island Resort is a snack-sized buffet of living large.

We all know that some of the best things come in the tiniest of packages. Diamond rings and other pieces of worthwhile jewelry are wrapped in the smallest of boxes, (pale blue boxes if you’re a lucky girl indeed). The same adage holds true for one of the most luxurious vacation spots on the planet.

The Republic of the Maldives (pronounced with a long e) is so small that it barely registers on the map. To find it, look for Sri Lanka, then move your gaze down to the group of dots right below. And there you have it... the island nation of the Maldives. Of its 1,192 islets, only two hundred of them are inhabited. And of these two hundred, a fair number house island-resorts. Even the airport is on a stand-alone island. Forget grabbing a cab upon arrival, for the duration of this trip, it is watercraft all the way. Boats ferry incoming tourists from the airport to their resort destination.

One of these resort islands is Lankanfinolhu, home to the aptly named Paradise Island Resort. Located only 20 minutes away from the International Airport, this 5-star resort lives up to its name in a big way.


Opened in 2004, the resort lays claim to two saltwater lagoons, a wide range of activities, several choices for dining and a top-notch spa. Accommodations are divided into three classes, with a majority of the rooms set within the resort proper. These 220 rooms all feature the usual amenities one expects during a big budget vacation including a private porch, outdoor shower (for beach bungalows) and satellite television. Walkways wend through these lush grounds, which are hugged on all sides by pristine beaches, and gently touched by water so clear it looks white. But for the ultimate in luxury vacations, it is the rooms on the other side of the island that define luxury living.

Dubbed “The Haven,” these suites are set just slightly away from the main resort by two long wooden walkways built directly over water. Think of the Haven Villas as an upgrade on an already top grade trip. Guests have been known to spend entire days without moving more than 5 meters away from either their front door or their back porch.

Aside from the usual trappings of life in the luxe lane, each of the rooms also comes with direct access to the ocean from a private back porch. For a quick dip or snorkel, a quick walk down the private back stairs leads straight into the Indian Ocean’s inviting waters. A private Jacuzzi, daybed and two chaise lounges rounds off the sundeck nicely. Inside doesn’t disappoint. A personal espresso and tea makers, en-suite wifi, plasma television screens and beds that mimic hugs makes it near impossible to leave the room. And when they do, they can choose to ring The Haven’s separate reception desk and ask to be fetched by one of the special golf buggies. Why walk, when you can ride?

Paradise Island Resort’s list of activities is too tempting to resist. A sign-up board is displayed prominently right off the main reception area. On it, all of the day’s excursions and possible pursuits are listed with all the pertinent details including the times of departures (for boat trips), meeting places & minimum numbers of participants (depending on the activity). If a guest needs more information, flyers are tacked right next to the sign-up board and a helpful staff member is on call at a nearby desk. Interested in something? Sign up and enjoy!

Prepare to overload on nature. Just walking around the resort can yield sightings of herons flying overhead, tiny lizards crossing walkways and, hermit crabs scuttling along the sand. When crossing over the water walkways, baby reef sharks swim the shallows. They are so common that they soon become part and parcel of the scenery. Eagle rays and sting rays also skim the sand, most often seen towards sunset. Even without getting in the water, nature-trippers get an eyeful.

To get closer to the marine life, guests often try their hand at snorkelling and/or diving. The reef systems of the Maldives boast some of the most spectacular marine ecosystems in the area. There are over 2,000 species of fish including the ever-present reef sharks to giant triggerfish, moray eels, and, during the right season, the whale shark. Turtles and dolphins are also frequently spotted during dives so keep those cameras at the ready.

And while Paradise Island Resort is not strictly a dive resort they do have an in-house dive center (Delphi Divers) that offer everything from lessons (beginner to advanced classes) to half-day dives. A white board at the dive shop is updated in the afternoon with notices on where dives are scheduled for the next day along with departure times.

Snorkelers can choose to book trips or just hang about the island. The house reef is situated right off the Italian restaurant and is home to parrotfish, puffers, unicorn fish, pelagic fish and is often visited by reef sharks passing through (don’t worry, they’re skittish and shy away from human contact). The restaurant gives out bread for fish feeding, don’t be afraid to ask.

Boat trips to neighboring islands are also on offer. These excursions take up half the day and include a visit to a local fishing village, some souvenir shopping, a picnic lunch and time for more snorkelling, swimming or just lazing under some low-lying branches while the sun filters through the leaves.

For a bigger rush, kite-boarding, windsurfing and parasailing are other options. In the evening, night fishing trips are arranged. A tennis court, small gym and a swimming pool are also on the premises just in case you’d rather not be near the ocean one day.

On the opposite end of the activity spectrum, a visit to the spa might be just the ticket. The Araamu Spa is tucked away in a corner of Paradise Island’s beach. Trained therapists whisk away any tension or stress with a full range of services. Aside from the usual treatments (Swedish, Thai and Reflexology massages), this luxury spa also lists Indian Ayurvedic therapy and a special “romance package” of loabi loabi massages for couples.

Even just sunbathing burns calories and everyone needs to eat. Thankfully the island has diverse options for meals spread out around the grounds. The main coffee shop opens for business thrice a day at specific times. Meals at the coffee shop are served buffet style with a salad bar, at least 5 viands and a surprisingly extensive dessert selection. Right beside is the Paradise Bar where the drinks flow and, once a week, a DJ spins for a party-ready crowd.

Fuyuka Teppanyaki
serves your meal as a show with a chef trained in the art of “show cooking.” Traditional sushis share space with an array of specialized dishes. The ingredients used are flown in from Japan, the seafood fresh from the ocean.

From freshly-made maki move on to freshly-baked pizzas at Ristorante al Tramanto which has the added bonus of being built at the end of the jetty. In the evening, sitting at the outdoor area sipping a Caipirinha and munching on a slice of oven fired magherita may just be one of the best ways to end a long day. And since this is your vacation, if you’re too tired to make the walk, they’ll deliver the pizza straight to your doorstep.

At the edge of The Haven’s walkway is The Blue Lagoon Restaurant which serves up an ala carte menu . But it isn’t the food that draws the guests so much as it is the staggeringly beautiful view of waves crashing right outside the barrier reef. This is a place for an ice cold beer on a warm afternoon or a coffee at sunrise. Don’t try to catch the sunset from here though as the sun sets on the other side of the island (where Ristorante al Tramato is located).

If you are on the lookout for a treat that hasn’t yet been spoiled by a horde of trampling tourists, Paradise Island Resort should definitely be on your list. Days spent as active – or lazy – as you want them to be while the sun tints your skin in its amber glow. Nights under the watching stars, listening to the tide come in and out of the island’s lagoons.

I should know. After a year of low-cost airlines, budget hostels and counting every expense to make sure I didn’t run out of cash before my trip was over, spending a week at the Paradise Island Resort was bliss. My days began with a fresh cup of coffee a swim in the ocean. Entire stretches of afternoon found me in the water, under the sun, burning off calories from the luscious buffet meals. And in the evenings I would sit out on the porch, blogging and Tweeting about the day’s experiences while eagle rays swam under my feet . Believe me, It really doesn’t (didn’t?) get much better than this (that?).

For more information on Paradise Island Resort:

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,