For well over a decade, I’ve been told that ‘the Maldives will sink in 10 years’. Thankfully it hasn’t happened yet, but the spectre of climate change threatens to submerge the 1200 beautiful islands in this archipelago country, the highest natural elevation of which is a smidgeon over 2m above sea level. In the meantime, to “get in whilst I still had the chance”, I selected a few destinations so that I could experience it for myself. This post is a continuation of my Active Escapes series; it highlights a destination that’s almost indescribably spectacular in The One & Only Reethi Rah, a hyper-luxe resort island that’s larger than the capital city Malé, which offers an almost-inexhaustible suite of activities, which boasts a hyper-rarefied representation of elegant European hospitality, and which to my mind is utterly “exceptional, worth a special journey”! Click MORE to be transported to paradise & read my full piece…
This post is going to fail at its purpose, for it is impossible to convey the world-class brilliance of this venue through either writings or pictures; but I’m going to give it a shot! The One & Only Reethi Rah (OORR from now on), translates to Beautiful Island for fairly obvious reasons. At once, the place utterly demolishes the fallacy that ‘all you can do in the Maldives is sunbathe’. Yes you can, should you wish, and the surroundings are certainly conducive to it with 12 different beaches and 40 shimmering pools to sample. However, you can also be so active here; think tennis, golf, football, training, yoga, boxing, tai chi, running, cycling, badminton, sketching, painting, pottery, volleyball, climbing, waterskiing, speed boating, big game fishing, parasailing, wake boarding, canoeing, diving, shark & turtle adventures, snorkelling… and 3 shops. Those were just the activities I tried myself. It’s possible to spend a mega-active fortnight here and still fail to scratch the surface! For those with a short attention span, please don’t inadvertently rule out the Maldives!
For those with a broader attention span, I must compel you to book in to the OORR. By way of declaration, I don’t review hotels: I recommend where readers might like to go for wonderful active escapes. I’m not an advocate for the One & Only group and receive no compensation for this review, the only reason I’m authoring this is because I loved every single part of it, and will soon explain why. If you’ve lusted after those impossibly perfect photos of palm trees languidly draped across white beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters with a surface like glass, and huts majestically poised atop the ocean; I can promise that it’s even more breathtaking in person!
Arrival at the OORR on their sumptuous yacht, just 45 minutes from the airport, sees you warmly greeted by the entire senior team at the arrival jetty. It also delivers you into a photoshopped bliss, where the colour saturation has been dialled-up to delicious levels. The aesthetics are naturally enchanting and immaculately maintained, right down to the raked beaches. All the senses are heightened and the mouth physically drops because who knew our planet was actually this beautiful. Involuntarily, your body starts to relax as if you exist on a different wave-length here – it’s not just another part of the world, country, island or hotel; it’s an all-encompassing feeling you get which descends upon you like nothing I’ve ever encountered before, and it’s quite otherworldly. This is an escape for the mind, body and soul unlike any other.
There is also a curious dynamic at play; far from experiencing what I thought would be an alien service ethic, something foreign that I might think of as ‘Maldivian’, OORR feels strangely familiar. I have felt this before; at the highest levels, in France, in Italy, in Greece… It’s a sort of Continental European excellence, an effortless sophistication combined with seamless execution, and of course, charm. There is something of a ‘French revolution’ at play here, delivering an infusion of the very best the country has to offer. The General Manager, Jean-Luc Naret, is not only a visionary hotelier, but a brilliant giant of haute gastronomy, having presided over the illustrious Guide Michelin for almost a decade; the Executive Chef, Emmanuel Soares boasts 30 years experience with some of the world’s most renowned chefs as well as a laser-focus on innovative perfection; the Resident Manager, Jean-Noel Sangaraille, is a One&Only Group veteran with an impeccably well-measured approach to fine hospitality… All have an intense dedication to detail, a pathological compulsion for quality, boundless passion and professionalism, but also hugely engaging personalities. This is representative of the feeling that pervades the entire resort, and explains the quality of the results that come from it; whilst guests might not consciously notice it, I believe this ‘tone from the top’ is the big secret behind the magic here!
In a break with ‘Active Escape’ tradition, I’m going to abandon the 4-part approach, as there’s simply so much to convey, and I don’t want to be too hamstrung! Here are my 15 favourite components (and please note, it was tough to narrow it down to just 15!):
1) THE SPA COMPLEX
Surrounded by wild green tropical forest, you’re cocooned in a beautifully manicured garden adorned with little treatment huts scattered about the land. It’s restoratively peaceful, with just the sound of birdsong floating on the gentle maritime breeze to punctuate the silence. You can have the usual steam/sauna/ice bath with experience showers etc, but also countless treatments (which are expertly executed, often by visiting professionals flown in for a residency). If you prefer, you can simply lie in one of the strategically positioned hammocks, simply sipping some herbal tea and grazing on some nuts!
2) THE FITNESS CENTRE
The gym, much like everything else on the island, is sea-facing. It’s overflowing with the top-of-the-line Technogym Artis range equipment (the kind I reviewed during my tour of their factory HERE), and it’s big enough to be a viable standalone facility in London! It boasts all the equipment you could need – kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, TRX, resistance bands, rowing machines, treadmills, pilates machines, power plates, kinesis machines, bicycles etc. There are some awesome personal trainers on hand for 1-on-1s, and they host a fully-packed timetable of classes such as Tai Chi, sunrise yoga, kickboxing, and meditation, to name but a few. There’s even a beach-based Queenax machine for some ultimate functional endeavours!
3) AFTERNOON TEA
On the northern tip of the island is the middle-eastern Fanditha restaurant, ideally poised to catch the final dramatic glimpses of the sun as it makes its way to bed for the night. There’s a delicious selection of treats to suit all tastes, from the healthier fruit skewers, all the way to baklava and custom-made crepes. There’s a bohemian relaxed feel here, and you can lounge on divan-style bolsters and Arabic carpet beds, whilst watching the sunset. On selected evenings, there are late-night parties under the stars with live DJ entertainment, creating a chill-out ambiance amidst chandeliers dangling from trees.
4) THE REETHI RESTAURANT
I was fortunate that the first night I wandered in to The Reethi Restaurant, it happened to be the ‘Taste of Asia’ night (which happens every Saturday). Possibly the largest and most varied buffet I’ve ever seen in my life – thai salads, Peking duck, curries, wok stations, tandoories and much more. On other nights, they serve a delicious selection of dishes cooked on slabs of Himalayan pink salt – think fresh fish aplenty!
This dramatic wooden temple sits on pillars above the water hosting an exquisite dining space. Various sections are themed in different ways, and the floor to ceiling glass screens allows guest to look over the water and into the kitchen for a ‘open- concept kitchen. The service is impeccable. You’ll find flavours from Asia Pacific and the Mediterranean mixing to form a light, contemporary cuisine that’s pitched at just the right level; neither too fussy to be off-putting, nor too casual to under-deliver.
5) CHEF’S GARDEN
Sitting in a candle-lit garden under a blossoming starry sky is quite magical. This venue delivers on a “garden-to-table” theme, with al-fresco charm. They serve up food flavoured and garnished with the organic vegetables and herbs grown in the gardens pictured below. If you love flowers, have a wander into the Orchid Garden between meals. It’s just the sort of local sourcing that I love to find in hotels, and I think they could make more of the organic fayre, and believe it’s on the Exec Chef’s relentless agenda.
6) THE BEACH CLUB
This was my favourite lunch venue by some way. If you can muster the strength to escape the perilously comfortable beach cabanas, amble over to The Beach Club, remove your sandals, let your feet rest in the soft white sand as you take a seat and look out over the turquoise Turtle Bay beach. As the gentle ocean breeze soothes you, enjoy some subtle deep house tunes courtesy of the island’s resident DJ and perhaps devour what was the best tuna Nicoise I’ve ever tasted, intricately assembled using fresh Maldivian tuna caught that same morning. Or indeed any other of the freshest selection of salads, seafood and grills…
7) THE BREAKFAST BUFFET
A hallmark of any excellent hotel is the breadth of its breakfast offering; none I’ve seen are wider than this. I would wake around 0600 every morning with the fiery sunrise streaming into my room – early perhaps, but totally worth it to make the most of this paradise. A gentle walk to the Reethi Restaurant later, and following their ‘Booster Shot’ of fresh juice, I’d take my favourite seat on corner of the terrace and enjoy my coffee and fresh fruit salad. Every morning a handful of tiny sharks would swim by, as if to wish me good morning. N.B. I’ve only photographed the inner sanctum of the buffet below; theres so much more beyond it!
This is OORR‘s centrepiece Japanese restaurant, a sort of Zuma on stilts, in which much of the resort’s culinary emotion seems invested. Here, ‘gentlemen are required to wear long trousers’ or a house sarong is enforced – both charming bit of occasional etiquette, and amusing at the expense of the poor gentleman involved! Housed in a vast standalone stilted structure sitting atop the water, with four Teppanyaki open-air stations, it’s a really interesting concept which fuses sushi with the sharing ethos of tapas, encouraging guests to dip-in and sample… The results are exceptional Japanese cuisine that is precisely executed and a delight to savour. There’s also a pretty big school of sharks that sleeps outside the restaurant, every night!
9) THE ROOMS
Over the past 10 years, the OORR has rightly earned its reputation as the quintessential Maldivian destination, synonymous with exquisite experiences; which of course means that the rooms have been here for 10 years. But whilst they’re unchanged, whilst they don’t feel remotely dated, and whilst they’re still beautifully appointed and sumptuously comfortable in every way, there’s a complete renovation coming within the next half-year – because there’s a mantle to be defended, presumably! These spacious villas all face the sea with their own slice of raked private beach, and most with their own pools. Depending on which way you’re facing you’ll either enjoy an explosion of colours to wake you in the morning (my preference, no alarm clock required) or a sunset masterpiece each night…
I went entry-level – a beach villa with pool – yet my vast room had a towering ceiling vaulted with bamboo struts, a cavernous bed, and a stone bath tub with a stunning view – it’s a design style which is modern yet personal, infused with authentic ‘island’ character, is clean and fresh, and equipped with everything you’ll need; to my mind, it was the perfect room which enabled me to enter maximum relaxation-mode from the instant I finished unpacking. The detailed flourishes are really quite exceptional; everyday, an unusual exotic ‘superfood’ arrives in your room complete with an explanatory card – a plate of rambutan, a brace of sapodillas, a tray of rose apples! At night, alongside turndown service, a delectable financier is deposited silently under a cute mini cake stand by your bed, baked fresh that afternoon – an ingenious gourmet touch which really speaks to you of comfort at a time you relish it the most. You’d be forgiven for not wanting to leave your palace although looking out of the room it would be a crime not to! The pool is gently illuminated at night, and every morning I would open my French doors, rest my feet in the soft powdered sand, walk to the sea and dip my body in the water and just <<ahhhhh>> breathe…
10) WATER ACTIVITIES
There are a whopping 12 beaches and 40 pools on this island! The main pools are located near Reethi Restaurant where you can find the adult-only (yes children are welcome on the island, but I never heard any, the Kids Club facility did a sterling job!) infinity lap pool which cuts 30 metres out into the lagoon and also features a unique bubble bed at one end! My other favourite pool was the lush tropical green pool in the image directly below – most unusual for a Maldivian island. The surrounding ocean is just a burst of aquatic wildlife, where aside from snorkeling and diving you can go water skiing, speed boat hire, parasailing, wake boarding… or just sunset touring!
11) SCUBA DIVING & SNORKELLING
The reefs in the Maldives offer some exceptional diving with a visibility of up to 50 metres!! Whether you’re new to diving or a pro this is one place you have to try! You can choose to snorkel a little by yourself with the complimentary kit provided to you in your room – just off the coast you’ll likely encounter the likes of manta rays, black spotted sting rays, butterfly fish, sweet lips, fusiliers, groupers, giant moray eels and many other tropical creatures of various sizes. Alternatively, a short boat ride away you’ll be able to see some of the best shark sites, as well as the 1988 wreck of the Hembadu, the Rasfari Protected Marine Area, and some excellent turtle and manta ray viewing too. There’s also a resident team of experts to help take you through PADI-certified dive programmes. The Maldives is somewhat of a mecca for this purpose!
12) TENNIS & GOLF
OORR hosts two tennis courts with a resident pro for coaching. You can book in any time for a game, or spend an hour or two practicing with a coach. There’s also a golf simulator – an indoor booth with a programmed selection of championship courses. If you choose to book during the rainy season and find you’ve an hour to kill indoors whilst the storm passes through, this works a treat!
13) MORE FITNESS ACTIVITIES
It’s not just about swimming in the sea – you can also;
– go for long [power] walks around the island…
– go cycling on their collection of bikes…
– Navigate around their mapped-out running routes – you can even dispatch a marathon if you feel up to it!
– hit the rock climbing wall
– try some bodyweight calisthenics whilst you stare out at the ocean…
14) THE ARTIST STUDIO
Christopher and Beres Hogan run a beautiful Artist Studio where guests of all ages can paint with subtle professional guidance. It is a sublime touch, positioned next to the beach club, overlooking the ocean, benefitting a gentle breeze, and softly shaded from the sun. The result is an incredibly rare opportunity to let your unconscious take over, to enter a therapeutic, almost meditative state amidst the most beautiful surroundings on the planet. The most unlikely artists emerge from this practice; the likes of oligarchs while away afternoons perfecting their holiday canvases, which the resort will bubble-wrap for you to take home. I cannot imagine anyone would fail to enjoy this activity, regardless of how creative they may or may not be! From a mental wellbeing perspective, this is an absolute gem which leaves you feeling more elated than you’d have imagined possible.
15) THE BESPOKE CLASSES
One of the things which makes this quite a special destination for fitness is the custom-made classes the schedule for you. Sunset yoga on a private pontoon? No trouble. Sunrise beach-boxing? Done. OORR will cater for your active escape to be precisely as active as you wish.
You can’t really ‘sum this up’. This destination is the definition of ‘world class‘ in every way, and I’m comfortable it will keep improving. There’s no escaping the fact that it’s the most expensive place I’ve ever booked, hands down. But then, it’s totally unique, completely incomparable to other supposedly-beautiful places I’ve seen on this planet, and has generated a feeling of complete, utter, total, wholehearted relaxation in me. I have never felt so close to inner peace, whatever that may be. The high cost has given me access to something incredibly special, something I shall seek to re-live; One & Only is not a misnomer!