Tag Archives: Maldives

Maldives: Romancing the Blues

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY fly GoAir to Malé and discover an isle of bliss in the Indian Ocean – Mövenpick Resort Kuredhivaru at Noonu Atoll in the Maldives

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Who could have imagined that in under two hours, a direct GoAir flight from Bengaluru would literally deposit us on a dreamy island cluster in the middle of the Indian Ocean? We were on the seasonal winter flight (return fares to Malé from Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai start at just Rs.9,999, available till January end). According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, GoAir topped the On-Time-Performance Chart for 15 months in a row till November last year! However, December was festive season and Malé sure had a lot of air traffic. The captain’s voice crackled on the PA system “I expect to be floating around for another 35 minutes until I receive air clearance to land. Sincere apologies for the inconvenience… but this situation is beyond our control.”

So we hovered over the clouds, taking in the spectacular birds’ eye view. Malé, the island capital looked like a long strip of land, populated by mosques, markets and colourful clusters of tall buildings neatly arranged like a LEGO set. The bustling mercantile city is ringed by a coral reef and waters spangled with boats. The urban mood here contrasts the laidback setting of the islets and atolls around.

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It was pretty apparent why Maldives remains one of the top honeymoon destinations in the world – it fits every definition of a tropical paradise with crystal clear waters in every shade of blue, hotels and resorts to suit every budget and private island resorts luring one to venture further to the faraway atolls for privacy, comfort and the perfect ambience for romance. Its proximity made it a top choice for Indians in particular. Many on the flight were newlyweds; the fresh mehendi, sindoor and lac bangles on the young girls were a dead giveaway.

Travelling Business Class on GoAir brought all the perks of seat choice with more leg room, pillows and blankets for a restful ride. With friendly staff, hot meals and priority baggage, the on-board experience and landing procedure was literally a breeze. After immigration check at Velana International airport, we collected our bags and were whisked to the Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) VIP lounge for coffee and snacks where we awaited our seaplane to Kuredhivaru.

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With just 10-12 seats, these were the most convenient modes of transport to access the luxury resorts set on remote islands and atolls. The nearby islands had ferries and motorboats and we noticed several folks queuing up outside the airport. Our address, the Mövenpick Resort Kuredhivaru was located in the tranquil northern part of Maldives in Noonu Atoll, a 55-minute flight away.

Being a hopping flight, we watched guests disembark onto a deck mid-ocean – not your everyday landing spot! Their motorboat was on its way but they looked positively marooned as we took off. A while later, we were in for the same adventure! At dusk we landed by a bobbing deck, disembarked and clung to the railings as waves and gusty winds bounced all around us. In the distance, the yellow lights of Movenpick Kuredhivaru, our address for a few days, glimmered seductively as we heard the whirr of a speedboat coming towards us.

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Greeted by the staff at the end of a long jetty that snaked like a ramp towards the hotel reception and lobby, we cat-walked down its lit-up length, cautiously glancing at the waters below. Downing the welcome drink and after a brief check-in, we were carted off to our exclusive Overwater Pool Villa. Designed to floor guests the moment they enter, each villa has a glass-floored foyer. The thrill of watching parrot fish and manta rays swimming right under our feet is inexplicable.

Our bedroom had a spacious dresser on one side and a plushy bath on the other, fitted with a gorgeous bathtub overlooking the sea, separate shower and WC cubicles, twin wash basins and driftwood framed mirrors besides large outdoor tanning decks with a plunge pool. The minimalist décor lauds the unspoiled splendor of uninterrupted ocean views with large ceiling to floor glass doors. Another wow factor was the creative use of 3.5 million coconut shell tips, cut into small neat squares that cladded the sliding doors, headboards and amenities’ counters in the rooms.

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Dinner was an elaborate affair at Onu Marché, the main waterfront all-day dining restaurant serving global cuisine and international buffets. Set on the beach overlooking the Dive Centre, it flaunted a high, acutely sloped bamboo roof with indoor and outdoor seating. Onu Marché translates to ‘bamboo marketplace’ in Divehi, the Maldivian language. With signature chef specialties for a Mediterranean themed night, a laden buffet counter and tapas section besides live cooking stations, we were spoilt for choice.

Sipping tropical cocktails and wine, we sampled amazing seafood paella besides wholesome slices of cheesy grilled pizza topped with aubergine and peppers and Swiss-style gourmet grilled cheese raclette, enjoying live music under its breezy market-style setting. The dessert counter at the far end, rounded off the evening with delectable double scoops of Mövenpick ice-cream and chocolate. Needless to say we were back here for a beachside breakfast the next morning.

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The following day way we took a tour around the resort, exploring its sun-dappled pathways and spacious villas and suites nestled in the woods with easy access to the beach. The 3-bedroom Beach Spa Pool Residence was a luxurious option, ideal for a large group or family of six adults or four adults with kids. Packed with amenities, a lavish living and dining area, spacious baths, even a private double spa treatment room with a 1-hr daily massage thrown in, it wore the perfect vibe for a private beach party with no one else around!

Lunch at Latitude 5.5 was an Asian experience with delicious prawn laksa and Singapore noodles tossed with stir fried pork and prawns. The beach and dazzling blue waters by the restaurant was gorgeous, enticing several guests to take a dip, float in the sea or lounge on their beach towels for a mandatory tan; though some were sunburnt to a lobster red!

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After we turned a happy umber, we lumbered back to soak ourselves in our plunge pool over the house reef. Being a family friendly resort, we watched parents encouraging their kids to indulge in water sports activities. The Little Birds Club was a convenient addition with engaging activities for kids – arts and crafts, nature walks, outdoor games and storytelling, dance, music, a kid’s pool, etc.

The two days went by in a blur – borrowing fins and equipment from the Dive Centre for some self guided exploration of the house reef, snorkeling and turtle spotting at Kendhikulhudhoo Island – a 30-minute boat ride away, luxuriating in the signature Raahlu (literally ‘ocean wave’) therapy at Sun Spa by Esthederm, the daily ritual of the Chocolate Hour at 4:30pm and dining on the day’s catch at Bodumas, the overwater seafood restaurant. Soon, it was time to say goodbye…

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Our last dinner with the wonderful Mövenpick team (James Kiragu, Vaibhav, Jamila with Beral, Mohit and Khae attending to us) was truly special – a jungle theme dining experience by the beach with fire torches and lanterns featuring delicious traditional Indian cuisine. Led from the front by their General Manager Maciej Gruszecki (Matt), the whole team epitomized what Swiss precision and warm Maldivian hospitality was all about. Their personal attention ensured that all their guests have a memorable holiday and often return. A big thank to you all and Ankita and Shirali from GoAir and Amisha of Accor Hotels for a beautiful Maldivian experience.

On the flight back from Malé to Bangalore, we met Capt. Anup Ghosh and the GoAir team whose impeccable onboard service guaranteed a comfortable and restful business-class experience. Getting to Maldives has never been easier. However, saying Dhanee (‘goodbye’ in Dhivehi) was probably the hardest thing to do.

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FACT FILE

Getting there:
Fly direct to Velana International Airport, Malé from Bangalore, Mumbai or Delhi (2 hrs). Choose from national carriers Air India or Air Maldives, or low cost airlines like GoAir. www.goair.com

Getting around:
Head to the Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) lounge from where seaplanes fly you to your island resort (20 mins to 1 hr). www.transmaldivian.com

Where to Stay:
Mövenpick Kuredhivaru Resort
Ph +960 656 3000
www.movenpick.com

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Theme Dinners at Onu Marché
Monday – Barbeque
Tuesday – International
Wednesday – Maharaja
Thursday – Spanish
Friday – Arabic
Saturday – Fisherman Night with local cuisine
Sunday – Mediterranean

For more info, www.visitmaldives.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was written exclusively for the blog, courtesy GoAir and Mövenpick Kuredhivaru Resort Maldives/Accor Hotels.

Seventh Heaven: 7 Amazing Honeymoon Vacations

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Andean vow renewals, secret beaches, thermal geysers to romantic escapades by Mayan ruins, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY choose an eclectic list of honeymoon destinations that are truly off the beaten track

Seychelles_Photo courtesy - Fregate Island Private

Couples take seven marriage vows, walk seven rounds around the sacred fire and promise to be with each other for seven lives. So what’s a wedding without a celebration of togetherness that makes you feel you’re in seventh heaven? Here are seven secret hideaways for a dream honeymoon…  

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Romantic baths in thermal geysers of the Tatra Mountains (Poland)
Get on a flight to the charming old Polish capital of Krakow and drive 80km south to the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska near the Slovakia border. Thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers across the entire Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are channeled from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate yourself in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, it is possible to use the outdoor pools in winter as well! Just 14 km away, Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is an adventure sports hub with Nordic hikes, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping and skating. For a more leisurely experience, take a ride in decorated horse-pulled sleighs called kuligs or a romantic stroll down the popular Krupówki Street lined with stores, restaurants, carnival rides and performers. Shop for unique Zakopane souvenirs, such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese). Enjoy a Polish meal at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio with highlander music, Polish vodka and a celebration of local Goral culture through traditional dances, music, costume, cuisine and stunning wooden architecture.

For more travel ideas across Poland, visit www.poland.travel

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Private beaches, secret coves and isles of love (Seychelles/Maldives)
Located 1,000 miles away from any major landmass in the middle of the Indian Ocean but reachable by a 4-hour flight from Mumbai, Seychelles opens a hidden world of tiny islets, secluded coves and private island resorts surrounded by endemic flora and fauna which bestow an air of unprecedented privacy and romance. Dive or snorkel hand in hand in crystal blue waters, stroll through tropical forests to spot iridescent birds or go on nature trails over the islands’ granite mountains. Head to remote hideaways like Desroches Island Resort, 230km southwest of Seychelles’ largest island Mahé, voted among the world’s best remote island resorts. Enjoy sailing trips, romantic cruises, spectacular fishing, indulgent spa treatments, exploratory island cycle rides and breathtaking sunsets. Laze in private pool villas nestled along the coastline at Fregate Island Private, a 3 sq km ecological sanctuary where the only other guests are 2,000 free-roaming Giant Aldabra Tortoises and 100 species of birds. Or choose from great hotels on the main isles – Constance Ephelia or Northolme on Mahé, Constance Lemuria and Raffles on Praslin or Le Domaine de l’Orangeraie at La Digue. And, honeymoons needn’t cost the moon. Find romance on a budget with distinct Seychellois flair, thanks to Seychelles Tourism Board’s packaging of the finest small hotels, chalets and guesthouses into one brand – Seychelles Secrets! For a quicker escape, Maldives is just a short hop from Kochi. A private seaplane sweeps you up from Malé Airport to Viceroy Maldives Resort at Shaviyani Atoll in the unchartered north where 60 villas encircle a lagoon resembling the hull of an inverted Maldivian dhoni (fishing boat). A 15-min luxury speedboat ride from Malé takes you to Taj Exotica, an exclusive, romantic island resort set in one of the largest lagoons in Maldives while Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef at Hembadhu Island in North Mal Atoll has numerous dive sites, a private reef and a shipwreck!

For a romantic holiday that doesn’t break the bank, visit www.seychellessecrets.com

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Luxury and adventure among Mayan ruins (Belize)
Horse rides to Mayan ruins, hikes through tropical rainforests, champagne picnics by the river and ancient cuisines and massages handed down across a thousand years; Belize has all the ingredients of an exotic honeymoon vacation. Located on the eastern coast of Central America, it served as a British colony between 1862 and 1973 known as British Honduras. Caracol, easily one of the most impressive Mayan sites in Central America, has as many as 35,000 buildings dominated by the spectacular Caana or Sky Palace. Inspired by it, the small luxury resort of Ka’ana at San Ignacio in Western Belize is the ideal spot for a romantic tryst. Stay in a private pool villa, with gardens, plunge pools and your own personal houseman. Laze over breakfast in bed with chaya (Belizean super food), eggs and fried jacks. Learn the secrets of Mayan cuisine from a traditional cook and prepare ancient recipes on a fogon (brick and mud stove) – tortillas, tamales, caldo and dukunu, a corn dish similar to polenta. Get a Mayan Abdominal Massage at Ka’ana Spa and ride on horseback to the majestic Mayan site of Xunantunich accompanied by an archaeologist. For exotic adventures, hike through the jungle, cross three rivers and swim into the hourglass-shaped entrance of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a sacred cave in the heart of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, where ancient sacrificial ceremonies took place. Or drive through rugged terrain to a private 400-acre reserve where you zipline through the subtropical jungle, a suspended bridge and a hydraulic elevator that whisks you 50 feet above the canopy.

To book your Belize holiday, visit http://kaanabelize.com/

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Luxury yachting in the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean)
While a cruise ship is great for a luxurious holiday, for a honeymoon you might prefer the privacy of a yacht. SeaDream’s ultra-luxury twin mega-yachts SeaDream I and II operate 5 to 20-night sailings in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Amazon River and the British Virgin Islands of the Caribbean between November and April. Its compact size allows you to sail into exotic ports and unexplored harbours beyond the reach of larger cruises. Stop by at idyllic islands like Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Nevis, Norman Island and Virgin Gorda, famous for The Baths, a geological wonder. Soak up French flavours at St. Barts, Tobago Cays in the Grenadines or Gustavia with its stunning beaches, resorts, restaurants and adventures. Plan a boutique yachting experience of 6, 7 or 10 days, with just over a hundred guests for company. All-inclusive fares include an impeccable wine cellar, ‘Cuisine A La Minute’ and an open bar with unlimited Sushi, and enough to do on the yacht besides offshore activities like mountain biking, helicopter rides and swimming with dolphins.

For more cruise itineraries, visit www.seadream.com

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Coastal Drives, Castles & Fairytales in the Emerald Isle (Ireland)
A landscape of lakes, glens, sandy beaches, rolling hills and winding roads around a patchwork of emerald green countryside; the romantic scenery of Ireland is the stuff legends are made of. Little wonder that the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ chose Northern Ireland as its filming location. (There’s even a 3-day medieval tour retracing plot points and key scenes!) Treat yourself to a fairytale castle or enjoy seclusion in a quiet country cottage. There’s no better place to start than Dublin, a city founded by Vikings a thousand years ago. Today, a vibrant city buzzing with art, culture and music, here you can go on Viking tours, Literary trails and pub walks. For a long drive, go north to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and begin your road trip up the Antrim Coast. The 155-mile Causeway Coastal Route, one of the most scenic road journeys in the world, takes you past Larne, gateway to the Glens of Antrim and Glenarm Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest estates. Stop at Ballycastle, a seaside resort and walk across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge suspended across a 20-metre chasm. Drive to Armoy to see a road lined by a drooping canopy of trees called The Dark Hedges. Continue to Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site with thousands of hexagonal basalt columns lashed by the sea. The audio tour captures its legends with typical Irish wit and charm. The ruins of Dunluce Castle nearby, is a scenic spot. Head inland to Bushmills, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery for a tipple and end your tour at Londonderry (Derry, for short), the only walled city in Europe.

For more tourist trails, visit www.ireland.com or www.discoveringireland.com

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Take a train, ski or paraglide from the Top of Europe (Switzerland)
If you are feeling on top of the world and want a destination to match your mood, fly to Zürich and take a quick train to Interlaken. As the name suggests, it is ‘the area between the two lakes, named after the towns of Thun and Brienz. Check into the exclusive Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa overlooking the large central meadow of Höhematte for an unhindered view of the majestic Mount Jungfrau (the Virgin), soaring 13,842 ft. With casinos, restaurants and souvenir shops, the main street Höheweg is quite literally the tourist highway. Enjoy a horse carriage ride, explore Interlaken on foot or take a guided e-bike tour to a local Swiss farm to try local cheese and bread. If you’re into skiing, take the amazing century-old narrow gauge Alpine railway to Kleine Scheidegg or ride past stations like Wilderswil and Schynige Platte to Grindelwald. After a typical lunch of rostis and fondue, walk to the cable car station for a ride to First (7,170 ft) for a great view of the Bernese Alps. Zoom down at 80 km per hour on the exhilarating First Flyer and take the cable car from Schreckfeld to Grindelwald for the train to Interlaken. But for the ultimate high, escape to Jungfraujoch, the very Top of Europe at 3,454 m for a guided tour of the snowy attractions – Alpine Sensation, Ice Palast, Plateau and the Sphinx Observatory, at 3,571 m, the highest structure in Europe. Perched on snowy crags against a dramatic backdrop of peaks and glaciers, the domed astronomical station has served as a lair for super villains and mad scientists in several films from Bond to Krrish 3. After the customary selfie at the fluttering Swiss flag, drop by at Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven, opened by Swiss tennis star and Lindt ambassador Roger Federer. He even played a tennis match on the Aletsch Glacier overlooking the Sphinx! Savour a romantic meal at the Restaurant Crystal, touted as the highest in Europe. And if weather permits, paraglide from Jungfrau all the way down to Interlaken! On your way out, visit St. Beatus Caves at Beatushöhlen, Switzerland’s first and only underground cave museum around a maze of stalactites, stalagmites, lakes and waterfalls. Stop for lunch at the Castle Oberhofen and continue to Thun for a guided city walk, before flying out of Zürich.

For more Alpine trails, visit www.interlaken.ch or www.myswitzerland.com. www.victoria-jungfrau.ch/en/meta/home

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Vow renewal ceremony at Machu Pichu (Peru)
Fly to Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, where Pre-Colombian architecture and dramatic Inca wall art on the streets will enchant any visitor. Stay at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio as you visit the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, the formidable fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the amphitheatre, the Inca baths and other impressive sites like the Plaza de Armas or Square of the Warrior. From Cusco, board the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train and rumble through the dramatic landscape of Sacred Valley before arriving at Machu Pichu. Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, just steps away from the citadel, is the only hotel adjacent to the Lost City of the Incas. Enjoy an earthy dinner at the in-house Tampu Restaurant and wake up early to have privileged access to the site at sunrise. You could enjoy your honeymoon or make this dramatic backdrop your wedding venue or renew your marriage vows in the ancient Andean tradition with live Andean music and an authentic Shamanic ritual to strengthen the bond of love.

For more exotic vacations around the world, visit www.belmond.com/luxury-hotels

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Select Magazine for Spenta Publications.