Well before you touch down in the Maldives, you catch a glimpse of paradise. As your flight descends into Malé, you see patches of shimmering turquoise on the Indian Ocean, as if the heavens had opened up and scattered gemstones across the shallows. They are the lagoons of atolls, rings of coral sitting atop volcanoes that were submerged long ago. On many of the atolls sit one or more of the growing number of luxurious resorts.
Similarly, well before you reach the Cheval Blanc Randheli resort, you’re offered a hint of the luxury to come – in the form of a form. Anywhere you go in the Maldives, you’re surrounded by 50 shades of blue. Any resort can have amazing hues, pristine waters and some of the richest reef life the world can offer. Usually, only one quality distinguishes the best resorts from the average. In the case of Cheval Blanc Randheli, that quality is called the Art de Recevoir. Before arrival, guests answer a questionnaire about their preferences and habits. I am asked if I like my bed sheets to be silk or linen, and whether I prefer my water still or sparkling.
Cheval Blanc Randheli is the second resort hotel to be owned by luxuries conglomerate LVMH, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Attention to a guest’s every need is taken to the extreme. The butlers are called majordomes and the rest of the staff are referred to as alchemists, so leading guests to expect magic – and the staff do, indeed, work wonders.
The architect of Cheval Blanc Randheli was Jean-Michel Gathy, the Michelangelo of the best luxury resorts. There are 45 villas here, some built above the water, some on land. Mine is on land, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, perched beside its own swimming pool – all in all, a private paradise. Opening monumental doors gives access to a spacious living area, a cosy bedroom or a beautiful bathing area with showers outdoors and in. The high roof, held aloft by timber beams, is built in the traditional Balinese way – the neutral tones and geometrical lines making it a spectacle in itself.
My majordome points out the art in my light-filled villa, including a beautifully colourful disc created by Vincent Beaurin, hung above the bathing area. All of the villas have a similar work by the French artist, with each of the 46 discs rendered in a different colour combination. On the table in the living area are welcoming treats including meringues, macrons and a bottle of Moët & Chandon. The villa has an iPad for controlling the lights and television, and for connecting my phone to Apple TV so I can play my own music and watch my own movies. The walk-in closet contains a bottle of Island Chic dry oil, specially created by the Dior perfumer. I slip into my swimsuit, slap on some Island Chic and slide outside to do some serious lounging by the pool.
In the evening, I sip a gin and tonic in the White Bar and then eat fresh seafood at the White Restaurant. I return to my villa to find it softly lit by candles and the bath full of bubbles and comfortingly hot water. I had asked for none of this, but I find I need it all. It is my first tangible experience of the application of the art de recevoir.
In the morning, I jump on one of the bicycles parked outside the villa for the use of guests and set off to explore the island. Sandy paths and boardwalks make the going easy. Snorkelling round the reef reveals the opulence of the aquatic life, ranging from the multicoloured corals to clownfish to blue reef lobsters to majestic manta rays and ancient sea turtles. Unlike some resorts, Cheval Blanc Randheli refrains from attracting rays to its reef by feeding them, but the resort does arrange excursions to a manta ray nursery and stages dolphin-watching cruises.
I fill the day with activities. At the water sports centre, there’s water skiing, canoeing, windsurfing, paddle-boarding and even a turn on a wildly fun Seabob. The island next door, Maakurandhoo, has two tournament-standard tennis courts. Cheval Blanc’s yoga master, Puneet, instructs me – or anyone else who is willing – individually. There’s boot camp fitness classes for groups and a gym full of the latest Technogym equipment, which I pass by on the way to my next destination.
Spa Island is accessible by a traditional fishing boat, called a dhoni. Back on dry land, I begin with yoga and meditation with Puneet, to care for my mind and spirit, before taking my body for a Guerlain signature spa treatment, administered to the accompaniment of the music of the waves lapping the shore. Other options are a long soak and a hammam. The Spa Bar has the best views of the sunset that Cheval Blanc Randheli offers. Healthy food is served, such as spiced ceviche and lobster rice rolls, washed down with soothingly hot tea or a reinvigorating smoothie.
If a little retail therapy is in order, the shop is full of treasures. It has exquisite handicrafts made in the Maldives or further afield. A Sri Lankan jewellery designer makes one-of-a-kind pieces set with spectacular gemstones. Decorative ceramics made by Gaya Ceramic of Indonesia are on display. There’s also the latest resort wear and accessories bearing designer names such as Fendi and Pucci, mixed with Cheval Blanc Randheli exclusives, including the Oceanographic 4000 Cheval Blanc Randheli by Hublot. The limited-edition timepiece has a titanium case and rubber strap, is water-resistant to a depth of 4,000 metres and looks seriously sexy.
The food here proves the falsity of the notion that because all the food in the Maldives is imported, dining there is a so-so experience. At the Deelani restaurant, fresh reef lobsters go into the lobster linguine. The portions are generous, amounting to one lobster for every diner. The flakiest pastries and the most luscious tarts are delivered every afternoon to your villa. Dining experiences include feasts under the stars or meals from the barbecue set up on a sandbar by the main swimming pool. The majordomes and alchemists are in attendance, ready to grant almost any wish that might spring from your imagination.
I save the best until last, with a meal at Le 1947, a fine-dining establishment that rivals any restaurant anywhere in the world that boasts a Michelin star or two. I inspect the wine cellar, which has an excellent reputation, sipping Champagne and admiring a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947, the famous wine the restaurant is named after. I return to the dining room to feast on the nine courses on the tasting menu. It is the most spectacular meal of my stay.
The next morning, I cram in a little more sun, a little more yoga, a little more jet skiing and a little more windsurfing before boarding the seaplane that takes me back to Malé. Gracious to the end, my hosts send me off with parting gifts of chocolate cookies and a beautiful Chinese fan in the resort’s colours of blue, grey and yellow.
The higher the seaplane climbs, the lower my heart sinks. Everybody seems to know that the Maldives is a tropical paradise, but few know that Cheval Blanc Randheli is a paradise within a paradise. In my bag, I have only a tiny vial of Island Chic bed spray to remind me of what I have lost. Perhaps it will help me dream that, one day, paradise can be regained.