Tuesday, April 29, 2014

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

Four Seasons Maldives has two sister resorts. Here Select Collection visits the little sister, a quick speedboat journey from Male, and full of lovely surprises...

The approach to Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa is beautiful, with the arrival pavilion picturesquely standing over glossy turquoise water. The island spa is part of the lovely vision, and a LONG sweep of white beach. This is the sunset side. The other side also has a sweep of white beach – the sunrise side. 

The island is like a village with one main street, exuberant with palm fronds and flowers, bright bougenvillea, fragrant franjipani. It felt warm, friendly and intimate. Service was amazing – at least for us. Every restaurant had already heard about our special food regime and we did not have to say a word. They know how to make you feel welcome, of course. It IS Four Seasons...

A garden island, bright and welcoming

Watersports on the sunset side and a long curved beach

The lagoon is wide and calm - and right in front of your villa wherever you are, whether sunset or sunrise.

View over the lagoon from spa island

View from the beach on spa island

Palms and gardens line the sandy main street

And some surprises. These sand sculptures are renewed every few days...


...and a Maldivian hut is on display at the roadside,
which also has a jewellery boutique 

There were a lot of young adults as guests  – more than at the other islands we visited in March and April. The surfing is part of what attracts youngsters. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa hosts a famous week long surf championship.

There are 4 or 5 bars and restaurants. We treasure two great dining memories: Dining in sole splendor on a gazebo  at the end of a pier, surrounded by water, at Baraabaru. Sunset at the Reefclub Restaurant & sunset bar – dreamy pastels and magic over all. Breakfasts had a lot of choice and an organic corner with organic natural yoghurt and organic musli, plus a full Japanese breakfast with sushi and meso soup.


In the afternoon - the sunset bar

Later from the Reef  Club 
At the Reef Club restaurant and adult pool there are magical sunsets, and guests gravitate here to feel it…

Other charms...

The pool bar

Entrance to Cafe Huraa
Pool view from breakfast

...and a swing in the sunset

VILLAS

There are 96 beach and overwater villas at Kuda Huraa. See map.

We had number 204 on the sunrise side (65 sqm).  It was easy to love our Beach Bungalow, right on the beach, given privacy with a glossy green tropical hedge. Our bungalow was neat, yet felt spacious, as you stepped out onto a furnished deck, leading to your own Bale / Gazebo with a double bed under a roof and a sparkling tiled pool.  Deliightful to sleep there...

Beach Bungalow (65 sqm). Bedroom with sitting area

Garden with deck, pool and gazebo with double bed -
 a few steps from the beach

The garden was sandy  – an extension of the beach, with palms and flowers – and lots of busy little hermit crabs dragging their shells around.

In the back garden here was a second (open air) shower. There was a view out from the rectangular chic bath tub, and the feeling of space and orderliness was improved by an ample dressing room.

It was a  few steps to the beach where we had a thatched umbrella and sunbeds (sometimes occupied by other guests). Over the beach, and then 4 kicks to coral and snorkeling terrain enlivened with coral frames.

The house reef is over on the sunset side, near the water villas. They recommend you go out with a boat to the house reef and time did not permit that for us - just a pleasant while floating over the corals and coral frames right in front of our villa.

Suave and spacious contemporary
bathroom looking into our back garden
Detail on the patio


We also inspected a slightly smaller Beach Pavilion without an inside sitting area – with an extra bed set up for a kid. It also had a bale and a pool without the deck. 

And we looked at a watervilla...

The line of water villas seen from
the Reef Club Restaurant


Water Bungalow bedroom


The overwater villas all have an aqua theme and pleasant decks with sunbeds, and pools. They stretch down a long pier and swimming is possible at high tide – the house reef is actually close by. An island further out will be used for a new bunch of future residence water villas. Private villas attached to hotels are a big trend, and in the Maldives perhaps more so....

UNDERWATER SCENES & THE SPA

Though we snorkeled in front of our villa, we actually saw the biggest variety of coloured  fish from our massage benches at  the overwater spa. At least 5 or 6 brightly coloured varieties swam below us seen through the glass floor panel. The spa is a real charmer on an island reached by Dhoni from the jetty.  The expertise level very high – we enjoyed an oriental massage lesson by the ultimate master. What a touch. He sends wellness vibrations into you. The masseurs we experienced the next day were really good. 
The Dhoni makes a picturesque start to a wonderful experience.

Spa Dhoni


Spa reception
Arrival for a couple's massage
- a foot washing ceremony

Overwater massage cabins - colourful inhabitants of
the underwater world  seen through the peephole
of your massage bench. Masseurs with real expertise
Wonderful massage oils

CORAL RESTORATION & TURTLE BREEDING

Funding for coral frames is donated by guests and is part of a dedicated coral rejuvenation programme at both Four Seasons Maldives. Gradually the structures with a few live corals attached become covered with brighter corals and more natural looking, and most importantly feed and shelter fish. 

They also have a turtle breeding programme at Kuda Huraato help improve survival for the threatened Olive Ridley turtles – at sister prperty Landaa Giravaaru there is a refuge for injured turtles, dear sweet beasts of the sea. 

There, at Landaa Giravaruu, which I visited on a hotel inspection when in Baa Atoll, they say that the injured 3 legged turtles have lost their buoyancy mechanism but when it is back to normal they will be able to survive in the open sea.

Olive Ridley turtle in the Kuda Huraa breeding programme

DOLPHIN CRUISE

We could choose between a 3 hour shark safari or a sunset dolphin cruise on arrival. The weather was unfair. Unusual blustering winds and  waves, so it was not the romantically smooth pink tinted magnificence it can be. They used a big wooden dhoni with mostly young guests on board. The cruise started with an informative half hour lecture at the marine centre.  On the way out we saw people surfing – and we did see plenty of dolphins in the unruly sea. Jumping and even spinning (spinner dolphins).



STYLE

The style at Kuda Huraa is Arabian and brought memories of Marrakech. This Arabian style is marked....

At Cafe Huraa
At the reception

WHO TO STAY

For those who prefer a very sheltered lagoon and the ease of walking around, this is a good option. It is pretty, cosy and intimate with typically good Four Seasons service. Young adults seem to thrive here. For surfers or those who want surfing lessons, extend the stay. With the nice bright kids club and a kids pool along with the very sheltered lagoon, it also suits young families who want things to be easy and orderly. The coral on the sunrise side is only a few kicks from the beach.

Landaa Giravaaru is the big sister of the two Four Seasons properties, more famous - but is further afield and needs a seaplane transfer while Kuda Huraa is only half an hour by speedboat from Male international airport. Kuda Huraa makes a good combination with Landaa Giravaaru as if you book both you get seaplane transfers free (from the airport to Landaa and then return to Kuda Huraa or from Kuda Huraa to Landaa and then back to the airport) (special offer - ask us about validity). If wanting to combine with Landaa Giravaaru we suggest you stay 3 nights at Kuda Huraa on arrival or departure. Definitely you should include a number of spa treatments and make time for the shark safari.

Arrival jetty - a welcome with Maldivian
singing and drumming -
and a fond goodbye


(c) All images by Aleah L Stanbridge Photography 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi is famous as a barefoot tropical paradise in harmony with nature. Yet another of the Select team experiences days and nights here barefoot. And concludes: this is real luxury...


Dining by candlelight with toes in the sand as the sea whispers onto the beach. Barefoot cocktails.

Barefoot a la carte
Sunset cocktails

Barefoot champagne...

Barefoot walking or cycling on a sandy labyrinth of paths through the jungle to your villa hidden on its own beach …

And getting lost in the jungle labyrinth – that too is part of the transforming luxury. It’s the magic of slowing down, and forgetting your other life full of dates and times. Of listening to the birds and being handed a fresh coconut just cut down by a gardener...

Winding sandy paths through lush greenery

Quaint lizards dart across your path

The map doesn't always fit with the labyrinth of paths  -
part of getting lost in the jungle

We call it getting lost in paradise…

Shoes are optionally confiscated on arrival in playful fashion by your Mr or Ms Friday Рas your butler is named. Crusoe style and eco-sensitivity have been notable since inception of Soneva Fushi in 1995, named after owners Sonu Shivdasani and his Swedish wife, fashion model Eva Malmström.

Dressed up to dine - barefoot....
Tonight you could dine here a la carte  - toes in the sand

Whether barefoot or not, you are definitely in luxury!  Catching Sonu Shivadasani at the cocktail party on the white sandbank lapped by brilliant aquamarine sea, we found him passionatly articulate on the subject of luxury…in particular luxury and children.

Sonu Shivdasani - sharing his ideas
on luxury - sipping coconut water
on the sandbank in the sunset

While children play happily,  the adults sip champagne
or coconut juice


WHAT IS LUXURY?

"What is luxury?” Sonu asked. “It is something rare. For so many children who come to Soneva Fushi their life at home has no real freedom or adventure.

“But here they have the luxury of freedom and adventure. Here the children are not dumped at the kids club. We let the children take the parents to the kids club, not the other way around. It is their place."

Spontaneous game of football under the palms,
with Mr & Ms Friday
The kids club, The Den, inspires activities all over the island. Pirate ships made out of coconuts among other things…




"Soneva Fushi is natural luxury,” said a British mother of two. “It is a paradise for the whole family. How life should really be, safe and free," added Emily Hallett, barefoot in evening dress, her two children happily playing in the sand among the cocktail-sipping adults.

“When we told the children they could cycle anywhere by themselves, anytime, no more waiting for mummy or daddy to finish their wine, their eyes sparkled.”

British boys - enjoying freedom to cycle in the jungle...

What else makes us call Soneva Fushi real luxury?

Important in the list of luxuries is the  warm, intuitive service at Soneva Fushi, and your own butler 24 hours. So is the incredible food at its four restaurants. Whether a lavish buffet or √†  la carte, the food is fresh, full of flavour, fragrance and colour.

The dessert room (with an icecream corner open all day)
Delights 
Fresh fish - it can't get fresher or more
organic than this line caught catch

And for families and couples who need time together to bond or grow back into their relationships, it is the simplicity of Soneva Fushi, the harmony with nature, coupled with lots of healthy activities.

This is a place for a couple or a family to discover real life again (as against virtual reality). Join in watersports, picnic together on a deserted island, breakfast on the sandbank, enjoy a dolphin sunset cruise, snorkling tour with the marine biologist, even diving courses for children.

Sunset cruise

A deserted island - try being  a castaway for a day

On pristine shores
Castaways in togetherness

Children in the deep
Snorkelling in brilliant seas


EXTENDED FAMILIES

For extended families, this is a great opportunity for bonding the generations. Residence villas offer resorts within the resort – with from 3 to 9 bedrooms. Your own spa is usually part of the deal with massage beds, gym and sauna or steam room. Plus your own kitchen where you can instal your own chef.

Jungle reserve with 4 bedrooms

A new 8-bedroom residence, number 11 - indeed
 a resort within a resort
...with endless pool meeting points

Typical rustic detail - the TV is hidden in a trunk 

A three-bedroom villa (14) with lovely setting on the beach

VILLA VARIATIONS

There are 55 villas, all on the beach, all intensely private. They are all variations on a theme of Crusoe luxury. All villas have fringy palm leaf thatch. The look is whimsical with crooked poles, and garden bathrooms with sandy floors or water features. Modern amenities are there if you want them. 

Couples and little families adore the original double storey Crusoe villas but some prefer the one-storey Soneva Fushi villas or go for the two and three bedroom variations. Some villas offer pools, and all luxuriate on their own beach.
An adorable haven

The delightful Crusoe villa usually has a fairy-tale tower thatched with coconut fronds. One of us slept outside there, with a mosquito net kindly added and the bed made. 

The fringy thatch of the tower - a bed here if you like the open air...


We stayed in 3 different villas to get an all round experience, and spent our last day at a fourth villa.

See the map at http://www.mondomaldive.it/Mappe_resort/soneva-fushi.jpg

VILLA 4 SUNRISE SIDE – CRUSOE VILLA SUITE

Our favourite was number 4: a fabulous Crusoe suite with pool:


Garden bathroom ringed by white wall, opening to the pool
The garden  bathroom was as large as
many people's apartments
Everything you need on a beach - white sand,
turquoise water, hammock, outdoor shower, sunbeds,
a rustic place to dine, and
TOTAL PRIVACY

The suite has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms including a vast garden bathroom with a swing. Altogether  3 showers,  2 baths, 3 vanities, a separate dressing table for hair activity, 4 sunbeds…big corner sofa in usual orange and gold, and a sofa downstairs on the patio. Actually easy to find near Dolphin Beach. Heavenly. Other guests we met were very envious when they heard we had that villa. 

The beach sloped down quite steeply into the sparkling turquoise water, so the pool proved  important when the sea was rough.

VILLA 51 SUNSET SIDE  – SONEVA FUSHI VILLA

A magical bathroom with the tinkling of water - for an outdoor
shower follow the stepping stones to the jungl

The bathroom at villa 51 was magical with the tinkle of its water feature and an unbelievably comfortable daybed beside it.  These villas are very cosy, all on one level, with a sofa in the bedroom, and another very comfortable one outside on the patio where you can watch the sea and listen to the waves. Of course you have your own stretch of beach and two comfortable sunbeds, as well as an outdoor shower. Villa 51 faces the so called local island, where Maldivian people live, and is close to Bar-a-Bara sunset bar and the best snorkeling and swimming.

View across to Bar(a)Bara from villa 51

Intimate, rustic and yet luxurious

A place to lounge with a view

VILLA 29 SUNRISE SIDE – CRUSOE VILLA

Villa 29 was a charming Crusoe Villa  well situated a short walk along the beach to the main area. Like all Cruose villas it is a double storey. The view out to sea was lovely, and the swimming very pleasant. There was a smooth rock that you stepped over to get immediately into deeper water, making swimming easy even when the tide was in.

Crusoe bathroom

VILLA 35 SUNRISE SIDE – CRUSOE VILLA

We had a late checkout day in this villa, and found it adorable. The swimming was lovely. One could also have walked to the main area along the beach.

Crusoe Villa 35
Swimming at number 35 Crusoe Villa - the dark patch
is a school of fish

TOES IN SAND DINING

You can dine with your toes in the sand almost everywhere – always with total freshness, choice and flavour. Lavish breakfast and lunch buffets. A la carte dinners and theme buffets. At Fresh in the Garden, one of four restaurants, you might choose to wear chic sandals, but just as well dine barefoot. This a la carte restaurant is reached by a swing bridge over the organic garden.

Next suggested stop from here is the observatory nearby where a qualified astononomer teaches all – adults and children – the night skies over the Maldives.

The jungle sprawls over the island - but in the middle somewhere
 you find the organic garden, Fresh in the Garden restaurant
and the Observatory
Next night, inspired, you might choose to lie on a sunbed and study the glittering heavens while waiting for a 5 course Japanese degustation menu at By the Beach.

And while on the indulgent side, nights out on Soneva Fushi could take you to the open air movie house. With popcorn. Or to the chocolate room open all day till 10 pm, or the ice cream corner ever beckoning. One of the musts is to start the evening at the sunset bar Bar(a)Bara. Other rare treats are in store…

Even in the choosing of wines, Shivdasani spends a lot of time seeking out choice, often organic or biodynamic, labels – his latest find is a producer that bottles only 100 a year.

Soneva Fushi is also a great venue for honeymooners not just for families.

Romance and sophistication

Here you get delirious on pure beauty, dine privately on the beach in the moonlight, breakfast on the sandbank, hide away on your own beach, adore your private villa paradise, perhaps with a swing in the garden bathroom…

Bathroom swing

Another swing - rustic sweetness

Freedom, romance and sophistication, found in the heart of pure simplicity, warm service and a light footprint on the “last paradise on earth”.

Departing from Soneva Fushi - goodbye to the
 wonderful Mr Friday - an emotional moment. 

Specials

Note that we have a long relationship with Soneva Fushi, which means we get great special offers. Every single one of our team has stayed there and has intimate knowledge about the various villas around the island. We are Soneva Fushi specialists!

A special kind of harmony

Organic

SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences)
(c) Images by Aleah L Stanbridge Photography (except for images 12, 21-23, 41, 42, 44 by Soneva Fushi) (c)