W Maldives Retreat and Spa
Fesdu Island is home to the W Maldives Retreat and Spa, part of the W hotel brand which effortlessly blends luxury with youthful attitude; at the departure lounge at Malé the capital of the Maldives, Café del Mar competed with Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” on the muzak.
Stepping off the seaplane, we were greeted on the jetty by casually-attired staff members brandishing fruit cocktails, before being given a quick tour of the island by Zahir, our friendly, smiling W representative. We were then taken to our room, a sumptuous over-water villa at the tip of the W’s 500 metre long jetty.
Let me tell you a bit about paradise, apart from the vaulted palm frond roof, king size bed, delicious Egyptian cotton linen and luscious brand-name toiletries. The bed, and the whole, tastefully decorated room, faced a ten metre concertina of glass doors which opened up on to the deck. From the first level of the deck we entered the private plunge pool which, as an infinity pool, seemed to meld with the ocean at its far end. Towards the ocean, the deck then took a step down to the harem-inspired outdoor living area and the obligatory deck beds. Just beyond this, a ladder led down to our private sea-garden, a section of the coral reef just for us to snorkel around. Back in the room, and stepping over the glass-covered porthole in the floor, the bathroom featured a slate and timber theme which contrasted with the neutral, earth tones and tiles throughout the rest of the villa.
The shower also contained a frosted glass floor and the bath along side a fully retractable glass window. The whole villa hosted an integrated Bose sound system, so whether we chose TV, our iPod, a DVD, a CD or YouTube, it could be heard in the bathroom, the bedroom and on the deck. Yes, paradise had been found, although just after we arrived a rainstorm hit and for the rest of the afternoon, all bets were off.
Part of the W hotel experience is the policy of “Whatever, Whenever” – whatever you want, whenever you want it, the W will endeavour to get it for you. It comes with the disclaimer that whatever you want, it must be legal and humanly possible (and, depending on what you want, you may be asked to pick up part of the cost), but apart from these conditions, the staff are there for you much more than at other hotels. Requests have ranged from particular brands of food and drink, and videophone calls with family and friends, to “I want to have a full buffet breakfast at sunrise on the beach” and “I miss my pet chihuahua – fix it” – the theory goes that somehow, the staff will try to help out. As such, a phone call to concierge is answered with “What’s your wish?”. Keeping with the W theme, the minibar is named “Why not a snack?” and the internet connection is known as “Wired”. The concept is cheeky and likable; the room service menu is called “What’s cooking good looking?” and the Do Not Disturb sign on the door reads “When? Not Now”. It so easily could have been a silly marketing ploy, but instead it’s playful and engaging.
Other little touches are nice too – printed on coasters, instead of the W logo, is “What are you thinking right this very second? Write it down”, and the framed photo of us on the seaplane jetty which mysteriously turned up in our room while we were out for dinner one night. Every staff member who we had met addressed us by name. English is widely spoken in the Maldives (and of course in resorts), but if you were wondering, the national language is Dhivehi (trivia alert). It’s distantly related to Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan language, but with strong Arabic influences.
Tuesday morning we woke early, just as the suns first rays kissed the deserted island on the other side of the lagoon. Opening the doors, we dragged ourselves out of bed and into the tropical humidity outside. It was 6am, and about 28 degrees. Sitting on the deck, we watched the sun rise over the extraordinarily beautiful place we had found ourselves. Small waves gently rolled in, breaking over the reef and rippling through the turquoise lagoon in front of our villa. Light, white clouds sailed through the blue canopy above us like fairy floss, while the storms from the night before rumbled threateningly on the horizon.
We spent the morning exploring tiny Fesdu Island, which is about half a kilometre wide. Perfect, white, palm-fringed beaches circle the green speck, which seems to be adrift in a sea of blue. On the horizon, we could make out a couple of other islands, but they were too far away to tell if they were inhabited. In all my research for this holiday, I’ve come across the name “Robinson Crusoe” and the word “castaway” more than a few times; I now know why.
The astonishing beauty of this country cannot be overstated; it is one of the few places I have been in my life where I have actually stopped in my tracks and realised, consciously, how lucky I am to have a sense of vision. This was heightened when, after a long morning spent on the beach, we hired snorkel equipment and explored the underwater world of the reef. Fish that, until now, I never considered existed outside of aquariums, swam directly in front of me. More vibrant than the most colourful birds, the remarkable forests of coral which encircle Fesdu Island are the stuff of dreams.
After a while snorkelling around the reef, I decided to take it one step further and swim out to where deep ocean wildlife meets the warmer shallow waters. Like flying along a cliff face, I was gliding over the edge of the island shelf, teeming with schools of huge fish, slipping through between the branches of coral, while hundreds of smaller fish swam around me. Apparently other tourists had spotted reef sharks and turtles there a couple of days earlier.
More still to come from the Maldives… stay tuned on UrbanDuniya!
Culture shock: 2/10
Language difficulty: 2/10
Quality of food: 7/10
Physical demand: 3/10
Advice and warnings
The Maldives is a very safe place, and even on the rare occasions when there has been political turmoil, it has seldom affected foreign visitors. The island resorts are like enclaves of the Western world, but on regular islands like Malé, the Maldives is a fairly conservative Muslim nation, and you should take care not to offend – that means modest dress, no alcohol and no eating or drinking outdoors during Ramadan. It is illegal to bring alcohol into the Maldives.
All nationalities (including Pakistanis and Indians) can get a free, 30-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Malé, provided they show evidence of a return flight ticket and either a hotel booking, or funds to sustain them for the duration of their stay. For more information, see Maldives Department of Immigration and Emigration.
Getting there and around
From Australia, Singapore Airlines flies to Malé daily via Singapore;
from Melbourne (from $1,396 return)
from Sydney (from $1,413 return)
From Lahore, Emirates offers the best connections via Dubai, from PKR 102,134 return.
From Chennai, Maldivian flies directly to Malé from INR 14,184 return.
From Malé, you take a seaplane or speedboat transfer to the island, pre-arranged (and paid for) as part of the resort’s accommodation package. The cost of this varies from resort to resort.
We stayed at the W Maldives Retreat and Spa. Consider taking “full board” or “half board” options when booking – this means your meals will be be paid for in advance, taking some of the pinch out of the cost. Don’t forget that once you’re on the island all the restaurants are part of the resort, so going to a supermarket to pick up a cheap snack isn’t really an option.