A Place for All Seasons

by Wan Zainal Shazali

22nd September 2011

Recently voted by Condé Nast Traveller 14th annual Readers' Travel Awards as The Best of the Best in the World's Top 100, the Four Seasons Maldives is the obvious choice for anyone looking for an island getaway. Wan Zainal Shazali checks into the resort to get a taste of 'the best'.

My adventures in the Maldives always start with the same drill – brave the early morning traffic in Bandar Seri Begawan, catch the morning flight to Singapore, grab a quick lunch at Goto, my favourite Japanese restaurant and cram in a few meetings in town before heading back to the airport in time for the 8pm flight to Male. We would arrive at midnight, which usually requires us checking into the mediocre airport hotel, only being able to make our way to our resort the following morning.

This time however, was different. We chose the Four Seasons Resorts as our base to explore the archipelago of 1190 islands and 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean that is Maldives. The Four Seasons offer three distinct resort experiences – two private islands and a luxury cruiser – making it easier for guests to discover more of the Maldives. Not wanting to miss out on any marvels of the Four Seasons, we arrived with the aim to try everything. We would start at one of the islands, then swap over to the next paradise via a 30-minute point-to-point seaplane transfer, and close our holiday with a marine and cultural odyssey on the Four Seasons Explorer – an 11 cabin, three-deck catamaran that can also be chartered for private dive, surf or cultural discovery cruises.

Being the Four Seasons, they sent our old itinerary to oblivion and mapped out a new authentic Maldives experience that would begin the minute we arrived at Male International Airport. We were greeted by the resort staff at the airport and immediately whisked off to Kuda Huraa, a 25-minute speedboat ride away. Kuda Huraa is perched on an island of 12 acres, around a central promenade of exotic gardens, awash with bougainvillea, frangipani and hibiscus. Our accommodation at Kuda Huraa was the Beach Pavilion with Pool that faces the sunset; one of the 96 traditional lands and sea-based accommodations.

The way to the heart of a seasoned traveler would be through the stomach and it didn't take long upon waking for us to work up an appetite. With four restaurants, two bars and in-bungalow or specialty dining that serve up a range of Western, Maldivian, Asian, Italian and Indian cuisines, we certainly had our pick. While our overnight stay in Kuda Huraa left little time to check out other restaurants, our breakfast spread at Café Huraa was a feast made in the heavenly kitchens. On our return journey, we dined at Baraabaru, a restaurant that serves up an Indian fine dining experience complete with classical Indian musicians and signature Indian dishes, offering us an enjoyable taste of the Indian culinary tradition.

After breakfast, I went to check out the Island Spa, the only spa in Maldives located on its own isle. The spa is a Moorish inspired oasis, with over seven water-treatment pavilions and lush foliage around a central tented reception. It is accessible by a dhoni, my first close encounter with the native Maldivian boat.

Kuda Huraa offers a wealth of other activities to enjoy, too. You could be joining the resort's early morning Yogi 'Sun Salutations' one day and adopting an entire beach lifestyle at the resort's Surf School the next. You could also take advantage of the world-class diving sites or other leisure water sport activities, which include special activities designed for guests with little children in tow.

Before noon, we set off by seaplane to the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, located on the secluded Baa Atoll. Giraavaru possesses greater wildlife beauty than Kuda Huraa. The scenic 30-minute plane ride affords the best views of the idyllic islands. From this vantage point, it is as though I have become a witness to a new world. Set in a natural 44-acre wilderness, the second Four Seasons property in the Maldives offers 102 vast accommodations on the beach, over the lagoon or hidden down in dense jungle paths. We pick a 140 sq-m Sunset Water Villa with Pool, perched over the lagoon with decked outdoor living space and sea-gazing loft. The thatched villa incorporates contemporary Maldivian design, with strategically positioned architectural elements framing the natural vignettes of limitless turquoise blue seas and surrounding skies. We marveled at the breathtaking sunset, which we could view from every corner of our villa. Aquatic diversions over and under water are plenty and we discovered the colours and vibrancy of underwater life through our snorkeling adventures at the 30 coral gardens nearby. Diving enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the resort is 20 minutes by speedboat from Hanifaru Bay, where you can commune not only with manta rays but whale sharks between the months of June to October.

For imbibing, restaurants on the island offer amongst others, Lebanese and Moroccan fare in a rooftop setting, Italian on the lagoon and fresh seafood offerings by the pool that would impress even the most jaded, gallivanting gourmands. We indulged on artfully crafted meals daily, from pizzas to mezzes and pastas to sambousk. We spent countless hours at Blu, the sand-floored lounge that serves contemporary Italian cuisine and the ubiquitous holiday cocktails, which set the tempo of our daily routine on most days.

Beyond dining and aquatic adventures, there is always the option of retiring to the sanctuary of a fabulous, 2.5 acre spa with its truly indulgent treatment menu, including their much-lauded Ayurvedic therapies. On the day of our arrival, we consulted with Dr. Kanaan, Landaa Giraavaru's resident Ayurvedic Physician who prescribed us with specific treatments and diet recommendations based on our body dosha type. In fact, guests can indulge themselves in the healing Ayurvedic therapies by opting for the all-inclusive seven, fourteen or twenty-one day immersions complemented by a full spa menu. Restaurants are all ayurvedic friendly too with clearly marked food-types to suit your dosha. Although we didn't opt for any of the Ayurvedic immersions, we spent most of our days getting oiled up and rubbed down at the spa, feeling as relaxed as a ball of putty, almost forgetting that the next leg of our Maldivian adventure was just around the corner.

One fine morning, we signed up for the Maldivian Crusoe trip which gave us the opportunity to be castaways for half the day. We were brought to a deserted island where we sunbathed, swam and snorkeled among turtles and the colorful fishes. The hotel even thoughtfully packed us bento lunches to fuel our snorkeling adventures. It is also good to know the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru is also home to Reefscapers – one of the most successful reef propagation projects of its kind in the world. Guests can even sponsor coral frames, to boost existing reef habitats and generate new ones.

The final chapter of our journey was a four-night cruise from Landaa Giravaruu back to Kuda Huraa, where we had set off from almost a week before. With what seemed like impeccable planning, the southward cruise brought us on a marine and cultural odyssey into the lesser-known Maldives in a three-deck catamaran that is 39 metres long. The sleek and stylish boat has an extensive dive deck and two sun decks, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, two bars, lounge, library and a service so impeccable that we often forgot we were at sea. Our cabin took the form of a bright and airy 20 sq-m room, surrounded by polished mahogany, gleaming brass fittings and acres of beige carpet, coupled with all the luxury offerings expected from a Four Seasons resort. Over the five-day cruise, we dined and mingled with fellow boat guests, sunbathed, set anchor on virgin islands, snorkeled, enjoyed barbeque dinners on the beach, explored remote villages and indulged in massages on deserted islands. Best of all, we woke up to a different view every morning.

It is impossible not to be impressed by it all - the charming service staff, excellent cuisine and exceptional diversions. There were moments, particularly when jetting between different islands and cruising along paradise, where I felt it was all too good to be true. Many buy into vacations filled with shopping tours and historical visits. We are lured into packaged tours that promise the chance to see everything, and we feel pressured that we miss out when we don't. The one element that travelers often miss however is the fact that a vacation is above all else, time to take it easy. To do nothing, to clean out that mind-boggling schedule, is part of the thrill of great island getaways such as this. The opportunity for skittish urban creatures to unwind and be one with nature, this is what it truly means to vacate. Staying at the Four Seasons Resorts, a finely orchestrated extravagance, is indeed a fully-licensed guilty pleasure.

Four Seasons Maldives at Kuda Huraa
North Malé Atoll, Republic of Maldives Tel. (960) 66 44 888

Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giravaruu
Baa Atoll, Republic of Maldives Tel. (960) 66 00 888

Four Seasons Explorer
North Malé Atoll, Republic of Maldives Tel. (960) 66 44 888

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