Maldives, like Dubai, is always trying to go one step further, one rung higher up the luxury level. In the case of the forthcoming Waldorf Astoria Maldives it might just reach that target. The gal was the first ‘outsider’ to have a preview, five months ahead of its anticipated opening – sadly, she missed by two days the Doha-based owner’s regular visit as it would have been great to congratulate him on what he and his company are obviously achieving. Even the arrival was superlative: a brand-new 70-ft Princess three-cabin boat that will be tweaked in Waldorf Astoria colours, is pretty special. Thirty minutes after leaving Male, you are there, with no hanging-around for seaplanes that seem invariably to run late.
I arrived and there was the management team, on the temporary dock, in what will be back-of-house area. Soon some of the 121-villa’s initial 250-strong team will begin arriving, later to be complemented by an additional 500: GM Etienne Dalancon, facing his third hotel opening but the challenge of his first-ever resort, has been here nine months, and has almost seen the complex from bare-sand up, though even at that stage the plantings, which had begun well over a year before, were indications that this will be an unusually lush resort (the individual walkways to over-water villas, for instance, are already liberally flanked by greenery). Overall, it is a fascinating, C-shaped design, mainly reclaimed land to produce a horseshoe that is 3.5 kilometres from one end to the other. Every villa has access to water, beach or lagoon. Smallest size is 80 sq m inside, plus 149 sq m of garden. Every one has its own pool, from 10 metres long, with double swings, as shown in the photo of Etienne Dalancon above. See a video of a mock-up room, below.
Among many outstanding features at Waldorf Astoria Maldives will be its restaurants and bars. There is a Syrian restaurant that looks plausibly like a village in the countryside near Damascus, in the good old days of course: you dine in peripheral alcoves that evoke the courtyards of houses. The Chinese restaurant of course has a significant private dining room but you can also dine outside, on a beach that has yet to be formed. Of course there is an all-day dining, with an adjacent family-friendly room and, throughout, cathedral-high ceilings (this will be a resort that is all about SPACE). It also has a sensational, jaw-dropping wine cellar. Go into what looks like an ancient stone tunnel – admittedly carved in the last few months – to the cellar dining room, which seats 12. Leading off are storage rooms: with a Marseille guy in charge, expect a superb wine list, although only about 40% of his wines will be French, and he has not yet finalised the hotel’s Champagne partner.
And now for the highlight of highlights. Those who know the bamboo walkways above, say, Soneva Kiri in eastern Thailand, or the vertically-oval restaurant walkway of the Flying Elephant at Park Hyatt Chennai will find a relation here at Waldorf Astoria’s outdoor treehouse restaurant, Terra. You walk up around a curved, granite walkway flanked by bamboo sculpture – you are actually above the wine cellar, though you would not know it. As you go up and around you pass seven adjacent pods, one big enough for four diners, the others for two, all having completely private dining, looking down through bamboo, at the resort, and its beaches, and royal blue and azure waters. See why this will be such a memorable luxury resort? NOW SHARE THE BOAT ARRIVAL, AND A LOOK AT A MOCK-UP VILLA