Maldives luxury resorts Velaa Private Island resort and Cheval Blanc Randheli: Luxury pushed to a new level

Two Maldives resorts are redefining the meaning of indulgence.

"Falling off could result in severe injury or death." On my arrival at Velaa Private Island resort in the Maldives this sign, plastered on each of the low-slung golf buggies that languorously carry pampered guests to and fro, had seemed alarmist. A few days later, rendered infantile by staff who took care of my every requirement, I understood its necessity. Once travellers succumb to the constant mollycoddling that typifies stays at the country's best hotels it's surprising how quickly stress levels, and any sense of personal responsibility, unravel.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a destination that does more to cater to luxury travellers than the Maldives. The country's first documented tourists, in 1972, were Italian drifters who stayed in rough-hewn, coral-walled rooms. Food was basic and drinking water came from a well, but the setting was spectacular.

More visitors followed and the decision was made to focus on the luxury market. Today, more than 90 of the country's 1,190-odd islands house private resorts and 28 per cent of the country's GDP is derived from tourism.

Opened in January, Velaa is one of two newcomers - more of the other, Cheval Blanc Randheli, which opened in November, anon - and its unabashed aim is to outshine its established competitors. Its owner, the Czech billionaire Jiri Smejc, became enamoured by the Maldives when he went there on holiday and enlisted his butler to find an island he could turn into a resort of his own. A suitable deserted island was found a 45-minute plane ride north of the capital, Male. Smejc invested $US220 million ($A237 million) in the 45-villa retreat - more than had been spent on any Maldivian resort up to that time - and that butler was one of the first staff members he hired.

Beyond the silken sands and excellent diving opportunities expected at every Maldivian resort, the facilities supporting Velaa's aim to be the country's most luxurious holiday destination are manifold. The Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal has designed the resort's confoundingly lush one-hectare golf course; the three-storey, 6000-bottle wine "cellar" has a £1 million inventory and private cruises can be arranged on the resort's yacht. Amid the panoply of flash distractions there are some duds, however. My jaunt on the resort's cramped semi-submarine was deeply uncomfortable and distressing - it's best avoided; the My Blend by Clarins spa's "snow room" - a strange sort of luxe walk-in freezer covered in crystallised mounds of ice and snow that is favoured by Russian guests - is a brash oddity.

Alongside those Russians, Middle Eastern royalty, European socialites and tech entrepreneurs form much of the clientele; with rooms costing a minimum of £2100 per night in peak season this is a retreat for the world's richest people. Guests often hide out in their homely, demurely styled villas for days - whether overwater or beachside, each features its own pool and dedicated butler, and meals can be taken there instead of in Velaa's three excellent restaurants. The most privacy-conscious guests sequester themselves in four-bedroom residences complete with their own gym and spa room. For passersby, the only indication these palm-shrouded, 1208sq m fortresses are occupied might be the sight of bodyguards, perspiring deeply and deathly bored in this safe-as-can-be setting, stationed by the door.

Still, some chatter about other guests' behaviour did reach me. There was the Middle Eastern businessman who dropped his iPhone in the pool and insisted that it be replaced immediately. That wasn't possible, so staff chartered a plane to bring one from Male. It arrived within two hours, devoid of passengers, the phone its only cargo.

My request for some shirts to be ironed seemed embarrassingly unimaginative by comparison, but then I wanted for nothing. My butler, Boos, was charm personified, if confused by my preference for walking 200 metres to breakfast rather than taking a buggy. I found most of his colleagues, many cherry-picked by Smejc after impressing him on his stays at rival resorts, equally wonderful; they are perhaps Velaa's greatest attribute. Five days in their care left me quite unable to fend for myself and convinced that Velaa is one of the world's greatest luxury resorts.


But in terms of style, at least, it is beaten by Cheval Blanc Randheli. Operated by LVMH Hotel Management, part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy empire, the property was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy - the go-to guy for decadent hotel interiors - and it is visually spectacular. The resort's 45 villas, each with private infinity pool, are vast, cathedral-like spaces tastefully finished with teak, cinnamon wood and coconut shell, and capped by thatched roofs.

Additional flourishes impress elsewhere. Lined with slate and square in shape, the main pool could also serve as a backdrop for fashion shoots (and no doubt it already has); Vincent Beaurin artworks are on show throughout; and the resort's boutique stocks LVMH products unavailable elsewhere - during my stay, a guest at Velaa visited to buy the limited-edition Hublot Oceanographic 4000 Cheval Blanc Randheli watch. There are only 25 in existence and they cost about £22,000 apiece.

Unsurprisingly the clientele here is a well-dressed one. Fashion-industry stalwarts are frequent visitors and other notable guests have included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The most privacy-conscious guests sometimes book three villas side-by-side, buffering their abode from the potential of prying eyes, but this is a relaxed place. I was told many visitors make daily visits to Cheval Blanc's chic Guerlain spa, found on its own island and reached by a traditional dhoni, or charter boats to nearby reefs where the snorkelling is superlative and dolphins come to feed and frolic.

In the evening occasional beachside barbecues give guests the chance to congregate, or they can dine at one of five different restaurants. On stilts and open on two sides, the Deelani serves sprightly seafood dishes and coconut curries; its polar opposite is Le 1947, a European fine-dining restaurant and the resort's only formal space. Its corniced windows, glistening chandeliers and besuited diners make it an unlikely addition to the property but it works. My flawlessly presented meal, featuring Dublin Bay prawns in a crustacean emulsion and wagyu beef with Comte cheese, rivalled the best I've had at any restaurant in Europe.

Other imports and incongruities are less successful, however. For some reason, local staff at this Indian Ocean resort must greet English-speaking guests in French - an irritating, pointless affectation that perhaps contributed to the team's occasionally nervous demeanour - and, rather than being served by butlers and personal concierges, guests must engage with "majordomes" and "alchemists".

Still, in a setting this spectacular any minor quibbles dissipate rapidly. A stay in the Maldives may offer little else than the opportunity to swim, spa, eat and sleep, but few destinations do a better job of instilling a sense of utter relaxation and rejuvenation. A few teething problems notwithstanding, Velaa Private Island and Cheval Blanc Randheli have already staked a claim as two of the world's pre-eminent luxury resorts.


Staying there

B&B accommodation at Velaa Private Island costs from about $A1700 per night. Bookings can be made at
B&B accommodation at Cheval Blanc Randheli costs from about $A1300 per night. Bookings can be made at

Luxury in the Maldives: five other options

Velaa Private Island and Cheval Blanc Randheli are indisputably two of the most luxurious resorts in the Maldives, but big-budget indulgences are on offer at other properties too. Below are some of the most lavish experiences, both established and forthcoming, available throughout the country.

Dine underwater

Guests at the Ithaa restaurant are encouraged to pay more attention to their surroundings than the decor. In the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort, the restaurant stands 16ft underwater and its domed acrylic ceiling is encircled by sealife, including manta rays, turtles, sharks and reef fish. A set international menu is served at dinner, with bookings costing from $US320/$A345 per person.

Privacy assured

Each of Gili Lankanfushi resort's 45 villas stands overwater, but there is one that surpasses all others. Reached only by boat and measuring 15,000sq ft (1394sq m), the palatial Private Residence is a hotel in itself. Among its many facilities are a private spa and gym, rooftop and terrace sundecks, a sea garden and wine cellar. Other frivolous extras include a waterslide that extends from a roof deck to a coral pool and a 1,000sq ft (93sq m) open-air bathroom. It costs from £5,200 ($A9020) per night for up to six people.

Island tee-off

Despite Velaa and other resorts offering golfing experiences throughout the Maldives, the country's original golf course remains its biggest. Found at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa, the 7.5-hectare course accommodates nine par-three and par-four holes. What it lacks in space it makes up for in novelty, with overwater villas, coconut palms and the iridescence of the Indian Ocean providing a novel tropical backdrop to each game. Green fees start at $US22/$A24.

New heights

Opening this winter, Amilla Fushi resort is setting itself apart from established resorts by offering accommodation 12m up. Guests who elect to stay in a treehouse villa will have an entirely new perspective on this low-lying nation. Back on the ground, the resort in the Unesco biosphere reserve of Baa Atoll will also include exceptional leisure and diving facilities.

Drift off

With 80 per cent of the country standing less than 1.2m above sea level, the Maldives' existing resorts could vanish if climate change-induced increases in sea levels leave the nation submerged. In anticipation of that occurrence, Dutch Docklands is developing Ocean Flower, a floating, flower-shaped resort. Set for completion in 2016 and standing in the North Male Atoll, 20 minutes by boat from the airport, the property's 185 luxury villas will feature underwater rooms. By floating above this delicate ecosystem, rather than being built into it, the idea is that the retreat should remain in decent shape whatever might happen to the country in the years to come.

The Telegraph, London