AN EASE OF LIVING
Cheval Blanc Randheli has perfected what the French call the art de recevoir – the art of hospitality. What is the ultimate luxury, after all, than to emphasise detail, originality, exclusivity and quality?
By Terrie V Gutierrez
The author Pico Iyer once said that, “In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.” In Cheval Blanc Randheli, that ne plus ultra of resorts in the Maldives, frequented by the famous and a firm favourite of celebrities, paying attention to the experience they give their guests is their reason for being.
The experience starts at the airport, where friendly staff whisked us off in a chauffered car to the resort’s private lounge, to be refreshed with welcome drinks or food, as the case may be, and wait for the resort’s de Havilland Twin Otter seaplane to be ready, while they saw to our luggage. The resort is one of the very few in the Maldives with its own seaplane; the rest of the atoll-hoppers will have to make do with the Maldivian Airlines’ sea planes that will call on several resorts on their route.
It’s a 40-minute flight from the capital, Male, to the unspoilt Noonu Atoll in Northwest Maldives, where the resort is spread out over several islands. As the plane banked and touched down on the water, we could see what seemed like the entire of the resort gathered around the dock, ready to greet us. Check-in was a breeze before we were each whisked off in buggies to our villas by our respective majordomos. Each villa gets one majordomo or butler who will make sure you have everything you need – from unpacking your suitcase, replenishing snacks in the villa daily, to arranging activities for the day or reservations at the resort’s five restaurants – even drawing up your evening bath, complete with frangipani flowers. Nothing is too great or small. During my stay, I forgot my key once and I only had to call Vladimir, my majordomo, to locate it for me.
Even among the many luxurious outposts in the Maldives, Cheval Blanc Randheli stands out. When it first opened around five years ago, it raised the bar for what a luxury resort ought to be – or maybe, just showed everyone how understated luxury, style and taste combine to make this one of the most exclusive resorts in an area replete with them.
Designed by architect Jean-Michel Gathy, who is behind some of the world’s most beautiful resorts, the 45-villa property is nothing short of sensational, with just the right touch of elegance and simplicity that are the hallmark of the resort. In the property, nothing screams designer or luxury, nothing is out of place. Nothing is ostentatious or loud, it’s all very tasteful and subtle.
The villas are contemporary and painfully elegant, done up in an elegant colour palette of the resort colours – taupe, white, oyster gray with accents of bright yellow. Vast in scale and detail- driven, the one- or two-bedroom villas, some of which are built over water or on the island in private beachfront locations, feature a sleek swimming pool (which I only got to use once), loungers and a huge daybed.
“Luxury is in each detail.” — Hubert de Givenchy
The interiors are spectacular. As looks go, it doesn’t get any more chic than this. A huge living room greets you as you enter the villa, further down is the bedroom, and beyond that is the huge tub and his-and- hers toilet areas, complete with Guerlain toiletries. There is a choice of two rain showers, inside the villa or al fresco. The living and sleeping areas are separated by impressive seven-metre handcrafted wooden doors that can be swivelled to close should you want to be cocooned in your bedroom or bath. Left open, they stand sentinel in the lofty space. Angled cathedral-style ceilings create a sense of openness and space, not that you’d be wanting more – the smallest villa is nearly 2,600 square feet.
The villas are a contrast of contemporary and beach chic – travertine, cinammon wood, soft leather and contemporary coffee table books all blend together with the organic materials that the villas are furnished in, like rattan, bamboo, thatch and coconut shell. Contrasting the beach vibe are bespoke design elements and artwork – for instance, 45 “colour spots” by artist Vincent Beaurin, different for each villa – hang above the huge bathtub. Throughout the resort and the restaurants, artwork is used as decorative elements to delight and surprise guests.
“Luxury for me is having my days free to do as I please.” – Marty Rubin, novelist
At Cheval Blanc Randheli, it’s the thoughtful details that impress – the simple greeting or charming artwork on the sand in the walkway towards the villa, the cheerful notes left with my juice or snacks and even the bicycles provided for the villas, which allowed guests to explore the island on their own. Or, if you’re like me, you could always call your majordomo to come pick you up in the buggy and take you wherever you want to go.
For instance, getting a treatment at the only Guerlain Spa in The Maldives is a must. A short ride in the resort’s dhoni (traditional boat) will take you to the spa island, where you can choose from an extensive menu of treatments – from facials to massages. Spending the day here is utter bliss, as we did. It’s easy to sink into a contented torpor after having a luxurious spa treatment followed by a healthy lunch. Spa island also has a white sand beach, where you can sunbathe or soak in the waters of the Indian Ocean.
Within easy speedboat reach is a reef for snorkeling and dolphin watching. It’s a thrill to be able to spot colourful fishes, sharks or a ray or two. In our case, we were lucky to spot a curious eagle ray, which swam by us a few times. Time your visit later in the year for a good chance to spot manta rays, which are known to frequent the area. The area is also a great place to spot spinner dolphins, which, if you’re lucky, will come out to play just as you are looking for them. The only problem you’ll have is trying to capture the creatures with your camera as they frolic. Should you fail to do so, “Ah, but the memory is the greatest photographer, no?” as one of the staff so wisely put it, as consolation for not being able to Instagram the moment.
The more fitness inclined can choose to have a yoga or pilates session while adventure-seekers can take advantage of the fully equipped water sport centre, where an instructor can teach you how to use a jetski or windsurf or any of the other activities on offer.
Want to play some tennis? The resort has a tennis island, possibly the only resort that has one. Think about it, an entire island in the middle of the Indian Ocean dedicated to tennis? It’s so indulgent that it’s one of those things that make the resort truly in a league of its own.
The food at the resort is on a par with the best, I must say. With four distinct restaurants, you only need to choose which one to try first: There’s White, the all-day dining restaurant that takes brasserie-style cuisine to the next level; the overwater Italian restaurant Delani; a must-visit is Dyptique, its dual-sided Japanese and Asian-themed restaurant for its curated teppanyaki; and there’s Le 1947, named after Chateau Cheval Blanc’s prestigious wine vintage.
“Privacy is the last true luxury.” – Valerie Plame, spy
But what really sets Cheval Blanc apart from all the other resorts in a region known for luxury tourism is the one-of- a-kind four-bedroom Owner’s villa, set in its own private island, of course.
This is probably one of the most expensive digs in the world, where guests who value their privacy can stay. With its own jetty, it’s minutes from the main island, but completely in a world of its own. Set up like a private home, the villa comes with a full list of mod-cons, including a smaller villa for the guests personal staff, including their own private chef, should they bring one. If they didn’t then, the resort would be happy to provide a dedicated chef to do the cooking for the guests.
“Luxury is the ease of a T-shirt in a very expensive dress.” — Karl Lagerfeld
Despite the elegant hedonism of it all, the resort’s vibe is very much residential, with the villas set up like they could be your home, albeit a very chic version of it. And perhaps that is what the ultimate luxury is: Madame Coco Chanel said it best, “Luxury must be comfortable. Otherwise, it is not luxury.” And that, in essence, is Cheval Blanc Randheli: an ease of living and an appreciation of the finer things in life.