Friday, January 17, 2014

WEEKEND BREAKS, part 1, The Maldives

Just three nights in the Maldives and back home in wintry Stockholm, totally relaxed. Guest blogger Sonja Catani is an inveterate weekend traveller - a WeekendHopper. Here she reveals her test of a weekend in the Maldives, and shares her weekend-hopping secrets.

Weekend hopping test site in the Maldives - Huvafen Fushi

#WeekendHoppers - introducing a weekend in the Maldives!

It’s the perfect getaway plan: have important business lunch in Stockholm Thursday, spend 4 days in the Maldives at Huvafen Fushi and be back totally relaxed Tuesday morning in time for daughter's Christmas play where she's staring in the epic role as an angel. How does it work? Well, it's a secret formula, but after years of research I will now share it with you! 

First a bit of background:

For personal reasons, our couple's vacations outside Sweden cannot be more than 4-5 days at a time. Still we manage to travel every second or every fourth week - our friends call us the "speed dating travellers". We? We call ourselves the #weekendhoppers!

Time is a luxury commodity today. When we finally embark on faraway travels we usually end up spending too long in one resort watching each other and the family members climbing the walls (palm trees/bungalows/sailingboat-masts/skilifts) and jumping at each other after a minimum of around five to seven days: 

HIM: 10 more days to go honey, you can do it! The kids will soon relax. 

HER: yeah sure D A R L I N G, this is like day five, seven or nine (lost count) when I already have a standard day-long appointment at the spa and the kids are banned from most kid’s activities and you are still laying on the sun-bed covering your Blackberry with a panama-hat completely unaware of impending nervous break downs most other family members are suffering whilst your life is really quite the same as in Stockholm except for the sudden bursts of sunlight and warmth and the panama-hat! (breathe...)

Or the weekend breaks, with or without kids, leaving Friday and returning Sunday night: You leave town stressed on Friday night and return Sunday night even more stressed.

So if you recognise yourselves in descriptions above, panama-hat or not, here's our solution: cut a day off from everyday obligations both sides of the weekend = #WeekendHoppers

We know this works because we've done this to Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan etc. and now introducing the Maldives! 

Just a speedboat hop from the international airport
you find Huvafen Fushi, the scene of
our WeekendHopping test 

I probably don’t need to tell you what a paradise set of atolls and islands the Maldives are, but if you’re not convinced yet try any of these links:

As I mentioned we had lunch in Stockholm (it was already dark, wet and depressing by lunchtime) and then jumped on Qatar Airways flight via Doha to Male arriving the next morning after a great flight with excellent food, long conversations (whenever do we have time for that otherwise?), a movie and a good sleep in full flatbed seats on board Qatar Airways new Dreamliner.

Arriving at Male airport is hassle-free and quick (as long as you don’t try to bring in pets or alcohol…). After clearing customs you are met by hotel representatives and in true Venice-style step directly onto a private speedboat to take you to your own paradise island. In our case we arrived 35 minutes later at Huvafen Fushi, a 40-bungalow resort on a private atoll where you could barely see any land in any direction.

Huvafen time
Huvafen has adapted their own time-zone to go better with sunrise and sunset, so in theory we lost an hour, but you gain it back when you leave for your return flight. Once settled in a really well designed and cool bungalow over the water we enjoyed ... 

... our own veranda with our own pool and the fish
swimming under us

Read a book for a few hours and ...

...then headed to one of the restaurants. We chose RAW and after that we didn’t change a winning concept, but ate all of our lunches there. The food was magical. Everything is prepared while you wait and everything is as the name gives away; raw. Their signature dish reef fish Carpaccio with avocado is to die for, the fruit and vegetable drinks are like a one-month detox in a glass and the raw food pizza with sea weed is the best pizza I’ve had outside Naples.

Huvafen - Raw delights

Lazy days
After this great start the days just roll on in a lazy fashion. We swam, snorkelled and sat around in lovely secluded private lounge chairs and hammocks. We read books in the ├╝ber-designed European-style library. We had fabulous 5-course dinners and one night we enjoy a humongous shellfish and champagne dinner setup to the tones of a really good local band, whilst watching small sharks swim literally under our feet where we sit on a terrace by the restaurant SALT, extended on poles far outside the shores of Huvafen. You can have dinner in the wine cave 5 meters underground surrounded by some of the finest wines in the world or you can hang out in the lavish restaurant Celcius after pre-cocktails in the bar by the huge eternity pool.

Active stuff
To break up from reading books and articles, we used the gym quite a lot, it’s also built over water and it’s airy and extremely well equipped. I’m sure my best interval training ever was on the treadmill overlooking dolphins that swam past. And we’re not even that sporty otherwise, it was just the whole setting that made you feel like a better person, the kind of person who’d go to the gym every day at sunrise. 

"Feeling like a better person" at the gym

We also went sailing on a HobiCat you can borrow for free and if one wants there’re all kinds of water-fun gadgets like banana-boats, water-skiing, Water Jetskis, surfing, paragliding and so on. But we’re not that sporty… You can also book a seaplane for an excursion to see surrounding atolls or you can go on a traditional Male’ boat cruise and stay on a private sandbank with of course a five-star dinner served under the stars.

Finding Nemo at the spa
Then there is the spa! Once again built over water off the shore, but also including an underwater spa. It’s like having the world’s best massage in the movie-set of Finding Nemo. The underwater spa is spacious and even for a claustrophobic like myself, it feels just wonderful and floaty and harmonious and well just out of this world. 
Finding Nemo massage scenery

The spa treatments range wide and the therapists are really top-notch. I tried four different treatments and was equally happy with all of them, both in the underwater spa and in the overwater spa (where you can watch the Finding Nemo sea life through the glass floor).

Some of the local population

If this is not enough for you and you need even more to do, you can always go shopping – yes, there’s a small fine jeweller’s on the island. I think I will need to bore my husband to death next time so that he initiates a visit there - the jewellery was exquisite.

Why Huvafen Fushi?

Huvafen Fushi is among the top primary luxury resorts in the Maldives and the best reasons to choose it, except for all the ones already mentioned, are;
  •  the relatively short distance to the airport, you don’t lose precious time travelling, but you still have a sense of being absolutely in the middle of nowhere
  •  their own time zone following the sun, sunrise at 7 o’clock instead of 6 and a slightly longer day with sunset at 1900 so you actually feel that you save time when you leave the island
  •  the privacy that the layout of the resort gives. We were amazed to hear from the GM that the resort was fully booked; we thought we were almost alone on the island
  • the design and attention to detail in everything from interiors and arts to food and fine wines.
  • Wifi connection everywhere. It might sound weird, but that is actually relaxing as it gives you the chance to check mails when and where you want, instead of having that nagging feeling that you have to get to a wifi spot

After having spent the whole of Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Huvafen Fushi we boarded the speed boat around 19:00 Monday evening, arrived 18:30 at the airport (I told you the time zone thing was great). Had once again a great flight home on Qatar Airways and landed in Stockholm early Tuesday morning. At 8 o’clock we stood in the dark December weather and watched my daughter play angel in the Christmas play. People around us could’ve thought that we’ve just arrived from a weekend at the countryside, except we were all relaxed, spa-pampered and fit after an absolutely great weekend in the Maldives.

My greatest thanks to Select Collection for arranging our trip! We will try Burma next!

All the best and with kindest regards from the #WeekendHoppers

Sonja Catani


What you need in order to become a successful #weekendhopper:

  • Good connecting flights and airlines that have flat beds. My favourite is Qatar Airways and their new Dreamliner – the air in the cabin is so much better than in any other plane. Qatar also has a great selection of food and wines and the transfer in the premium lounge in Doha gives you a chance to take a shower and a quick coffee. You need to see the flight as a part of the vacation – read books, watch movies and get the chance to have long private talks with your special someone.
  • A travel agency like Select Collection that can track and make sure you always have a back-up plan should something unforeseen happen (yes been there, done that, stood at Bandarayike Airport in Colombo when I’m informed that my flight was yesterday…)
  • An ability to pack lightly so you can travel only with hand luggage, saves precious time
  • A great husband/wife/partner who is as crazy as you are, or an ability to enjoy your own company immensely (I’m lucky to have both)
  • A job where you don’t have to stay in the office every day of the week.

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