Maldivian resort Cheval Blanc Randheli offers escapism, aquatic adventure and relaxation, overseen by an architect at the very vanguard of luxury travel…
You may not have heard of Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy. But readers will definitely be au fait with his work. Many of the luxury resort fripperies you see oohed-and-aahed at on magazine covers, desktop screensavers and Instagram feeds were pioneered by him – whether it’s private plunge-pools, over-water hammocks or spa-like bathrooms. His guiding vision of luxury is “the freedom to do exactly what you want, privacy and space” coupled with l’art de recevoir, a French concept meaning ‘the art of hospitality’.
It’s a failsafe ethos sprinkled liberally over Gathy’s latest venture, Cheval Blanc Randheli. Stretching across six of the Maldives’ 1,190 islands, the resort is every bit as dazzlingly beautiful as his previous luxury handiwork. I’m a freelance consultant and, after completing a challenging 18-month project, I was in desperate need of R&R. Taking time out always means being plagued by anxiety and booking Cheval Blanc was no different. If I went, would I miss the next big contract? But I definitely made the right call.
Cheval Blanc Randheli, The Maldives
It’s just 40 minutes from the capital Malé by seaplane to where the cyan seas give way to pearly sands and palm-thatched villas that meld seamlessly into their surroundings. Saeed, my majordomo (personal butler), met me on arrival and for the next few days was there to deal with 5pm champagne requests or whisk me around in a golf buggy. Recent guests included the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge. Well, if it’s good enough for royalty…
Saeed also handed me a snorkelling kit, so within minutes of finishing my 11-hour journey, I was slipping straight into the sea from my villa’s ocean-side deck, soon surrounded by multi-coloured wrasse and damselfish. I also came face to face with a toothy, but harmless, baby blacktip reef shark. One word of warning, though: Maldivian marine creatures are mostly docile, but should you spot a lionfish (characteristics: red-and-white zebra stripes, flamboyant pectoral fins and venomous fin rays), don’t approach.
Cheval Blanc Randheli is run by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy’s [LVMH] hotel empire, and I was initially concerned the décor may be an exercise in bling-branding, with quatrefoils and Louis Vuitton monograms plastered on every available surface. I needn’t have worried. Aside from the bottle of Moët tastefully tucked inside the villa’s welcome pack, the ostentation was kept to a minimum. The seven-metre-high ceilings in the villas were cathedral-like, imbuing a sense of space and calm, enhanced by French windows leading onto the private infinity pool, dining area and aforementioned deck.
Yoga in the sun
As if being lulled to sleep by the lapping sea outside wasn’t relaxing enough, one morning I hopped on a dhoni (traditional fishing boat) to the resort’s ‘spa island’, where I engaged in open-air yoga and a ‘relaxing sensorial journey’, an hour-long terracotta-oil-infused massage treatment from Cheval Blanc’s Guerlain range.
On holiday, there’s one rule I steadfastly adhere to: never set the alarm. I had to break the rule repeatedly at Cheval Blanc, such was its array of irresistible activities. You only need one look at the toys at the watersports centre – paddleboards, kayaks, fly-boards, Bond-like Seabobs – to realise this is no place to while away the hours in bed. One afternoon, I took a jet-ski ride with an experienced staffer at the helm. Zooming around the islands at 60mph was exhilarating and just the right side of terrifying. At one point, we came to an abrupt halt when my driver spotted some dolphins, and wanted to ensure we had time to watch them splash and play.
The hotel also has a luxury yacht, which can be used for fishing, snorkelling or swimming trips. On my sunset fishing trip, I was introduced to a traditional Maldivian technique, using just line and hook. After many unsuccessful attempts, I eventually managed to catch two emperor fish. Between the hotel’s five restaurants, we could have our spoils cooked any way we wanted – culinary heaven for this pescatarian.
The reef-fish ceviche, grilled lobster and sashimi were delicious but guests can request any dish they like (ingredients permitting), part of a bespoke service that extends to wine and even the colour of the bed linen. And speaking of wine, there’s a dedicated museum, which includes a 1947 Château Cheval Blanc Vandermeulen that would set you back a staggering $35,000 (£24,000) a bottle. The museum is also available for tasting sessions with the French sommelier.
For all the fine wines and luxury, it’s impossible to be in the Maldives without thinking about the effect of rising sea levels on the country. Dolphins can now leap higher than the archipelago’s highest point (just 2.4 metres above water), and according to some predictions the entire country could disappear before the end of the century. For its part, LVMH has a stringent environmental policy, with the resort planting coral frames to help regenerate the reefs.
As impressive as the Cheval Blanc’s location and architecture are, the most commendable part of staying there is the staff and their nothing’s-too-much-trouble attitude. Although many a burnt-out professional entertains ideas of swapping a busy, stressful workload for life on a tropical island, the reality is somewhat different, with staff isolated from families for weeks at a stretch. To remedy this, LVMH has built them living quarters, a sports area and their own private beach. This healthy attitude to work/life balance seems to have the desired effect, instilling a positivity that cannot help but rub off on guests.
Just as my immediate instinct on arrival was to leap into the sea, I wanted to spend the last moments at Cheval Blanc in the water, too – lying in the infinity pool at midnight gazing up at the stars as the sea lapped underneath the deck. Jean-Michel Gathy, for your hospitality concepts I’ll be eternally grateful. No prizes for guessing what my desktop screensaver is now.
British Airways flies from London to Malé from October-April from £732 return. ba.com
Water Villas at Cheval Blanc Randheli start from $1,600 (£1,105) per night. Rate based on two sharing, including breakfast, all taxes and service charges.
For more information visit randheli.chevalblanc.com/en