I will be honest – the Maldives is my favourite place in the world. You would think it would be incredibly hard to pick a place, but I cannot lie. So for the third time in as many years, Mr. O and yours truly returned to this beautiful part of the world to celebrate my birthday (or rather, to end my birthday month in style).
On this occasion, we travelled with Sovereign, with whom I also went to Madeira earlier this year, and stayed at the Coco Bodu Hithi resort, 45 minutes away from Male airport. Our Sovereign experience started a couple of days earlier, when Laura, the local concierge gave us a call – you may think it is nothing, but has been one of the most special parts of travelling with Sovereign (i.e. having someone local, who you can reach 24/7). Laura wanted to give me some practical advice (like not to buy duty free alcohol as you are not allowed to bring any into the island, to stock up on magazines and books and to let me know about the weather, as well as small details like I didn’t need to bring any adaptors as the UK plugs are standard in the island).
Our journey from home in the UK to paradise took exactly 14 hours door to door – and we took advantage of the fact you can pick any airline, class and dates for your journey with Sovereign. Needless to say, and after two very good experiences with Qatar Airways in previous years, we road tested its business class again (and hit the jackpot on BA/Oneworld tier points as we collected 560 each roundtrip). But when we got to the hotel, got off the boat and on to the jetty, we stopped and smiled. And just enjoyed the moment – because it is never always like this. How beautiful.
The difference with Maldives hotels and others is the fact that the hotel knows exactly when each guest is arriving (by speedboat or seaplane, depending on the distance to Male), and you are always welcomed by a dedicated staff member who will take care of check-in. Ours was as efficient as it could be – and very friendly. We sat down, had a welcome drink, left credit card details, were given a map and a little orientation to the island and then asked if we wanted a buggy or to walk to the room. We chose the later, as it gave us the opportunity to chat to Ricarda, our hostess, and stretch out legs after the flights (when you fly with Qatar Airways, you stopover in Doha).
By the time we made it to our room, which was an Escape Water Villa (there are four room categories – Island Villas, Water Villas, Escape Water Villas and the new Coco Residences). I had seen the photos and knew what to expect, but I love it when reality is as good as the mental image. How could one not?
Escape Water Villas at the Coco Bodu Hithi are, in effect, 1 bedroom suites, with a separate living room, bedroom and bathroom. And pool, of course. The curtains open all around and if you do not like blue, don’t go there. You have been warned.
The room was very spacious, but I felt it was somewhat tired – the wooden furniture and the mirrors namely (due to the sea effect). But the decor was good, the bed was excellent and the shower incredibly good. I must confess I was surprised by the toiletries which were from a brand called Green Tea from.. Texas! I will add that they were excellent and I used everything every day and cannot complain. But still felt it was funny.
I know what you want to see next and I will not disappoint you. Is it the bottle of champagne? That went down rather well, I must say. But the first thing I did (after unpacking of course, as it is something I need to do as soon as I arrive), was to get in the pool. Because it would be rude not to.
One of the reasons why Sovereign and I chose Coco Bodu Hithi was because of the dining options. I must confess I am not a buffet girl and I like having a choice. This island offers 7 dining alternatives, which means you don’t have to repeat any in a week. We actually did – but because we wanted to.
Sovereign offers half board, which means you have breakfast and dinner covered, except for drinks – but only at the main restaurant. When I questioned this – I was pleasantly surprised to be told that we could dine anywhere and a $70/per person dining credit would be applied, which we made sure to test drive.
For breakfast, you could enjoy the buffet (which was excellent to be fair), or if you are staying at the Coco Residences, enjoy an a la carte breakfast. We were given both options, and even found a third: in-villa dining and if you are going down this route, pick the Maldivian breakfast. There will be some tuna, but the banana pancakes are out of this world (and funnily enough, so was the tuna).
For lunch, you could go to the buffet – we did try it twice, and again no problems, or go to the Stars restaurant by the Coco Residences. We liked having different menus – and after a couple of days really got hooked to the in-villa dining, which is most unlike us. Why? Because we felt time by went way too quickly and we had to maximise swimming, snorkelling and spa time. And early sundowners.
For dinner, well, this is where Christmas comes early. And I have to say – the food was excellent at the resort. Our favourite restaurant was the Beach Barbecue, which we tried twice – the setting was stunning and I never say no to grilled tiger prawns. We also tried the Japanese restaurant, the fine dining (Stars) and the buffet (one night only, on arrival). I can’t praise the food and service enough. But perhaps the most beautiful setting was Aqua, where it was just us… and the sea. One night, we also asked for a traditional Maldivian curry to be cooked for us, which wasn’t a problem. And it was yummy.
For pre and post dinner drinks, you had 2 options – by the Coco Residences or by the main reception area. I was pleasantly surprised to see both bars busy after dinner, every night, but must say I found the gin selection very limited. I did ask for wine glasses and we were able to enjoy more European-style ones. I also found the bar area slightly out of date, stylewise, which was disappointing – bearing in mind it must surely be the most used areas of the hotel. Seats were comfortable and all, but white is dangerous – if you see what I mean (and the green indoor area just didn’t go with anything else).
I enjoyed one massage courtesy of the hotel, but to give you an idea, Mr. O and I enjoyed 11 others during our stay. The spa was stunning and the therapies available were excellent. We had a standing appointment at 5pm each day, which would enable us to just about make it to sunset after showering by 7pm. A one-hour aromatherapy massage cost around $100 + Tax.
There are plenty of activities to be enjoyed, and Mr. O went fishing one day, but two really stood out from the menu.
The first was a private snorkelling session – it lasted an hour, but we got to know where the best places to spot beautiful fish/coral were and, even better, Lisa, one of the marine biologists, took some photos of us. Mr. O is a diver and I am not, but having Lisa gave me the confidence to then go out on my own (and with Mr. O).
On our penultimate day, we went on a private sandbank picnic, which meant we were taken by boat to a nearby sandbank, and had half a day to look each other in the eyes a bit more. I am joking – it did feel like a private island and the food was delicious.
And before you start worrying, the boat crew is nearby (although at a distance) and you know when they pick you up. They set up the little tent and everything else, and then pick it all up at the end.
This was the best experience we had and I highly recommend it.
What was it like?
We spent a week at Coco Bodu Hithi and we really enjoyed it. We thought service was outstanding and so was the food – but all in all we thought it was excellent value for money. All the extras were reasonable and cocktails cost $15, which is less than any other city in the world.
Our Sovereign experience was faultless – but I must confess I did not want to come back. But Laura made it super easy as we approached Male Airport island – our Sovereign concierge met us again and organised for someone to pick up our luggage and escort us to the Qatar Airways check-in. It is small things like this that make us really appreciate travelling with Sovereign – and I shall repeat the experience again and again.
You can catch up on the best bits by watching this video.
Factbox: I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip, and opinions are, as always, my own. A 7-night stay at an Escape Water Villa with economy flights with Qatar Airways via Doha costs from £1,700, including half board (breakfast and dinner). With business class flights from London Heathrow, the same experience costs from £3,700, depending on travel dates.
All Sovereign guests receive speedboat transfers. Sovereign has a current special offer for this hotel, whereby you can stay 7 nights and pay for 5 nights for holidays between 12 April – 31 October 2015 or stay for 7 nights and pay for 6 nights for holidays between 01 November – 26 December 2015.
On this trip, I used a Leica X Camera, which I adored. I have been testing various Leica cameras over the year (see my posts on Prague and South Africa) and I think I found ‘my match’. Priced from £1,550. For their size, Leica X-Cameras feature an impressively large, professional image sensor with a high resolution of more than 16 megapixels, resulting in images of superior brilliance — down to even the finest of details. All this is complemented through an elegant iconic design and the use of high-class materials.