The creative Mr. Phillipose at the luxury resort that is Taj Exotica, Maldives, has designed a Love in the Ocean evening that he wants the gal, and several others, to try out. A boat takes you out to the Ocean Pavilion, about four by four metres and rising four metres above the water. Love in the Ocean is basically an hour-long massage for two followed by your chosen dinner, and telephone for a lift home. On this particular evening a saxophonist and guitarist played as the Moët was poured, and it was essential to try out one of the double bed-sized net loungers cantilevered from one side of the pontoon. Underneath it, fish are attracted by strategically-placed lights.
Net seating is typical of the Maldives – Mr. P. shows me round the ‘back side’ of the island, where his 300 staff live, with their air-conditioned badminton court, football field, gym, canteen, tuckshop, and lounge-type seating. There are net hammocks strung up, around the guest part of the island, strung between trees and used, especially by tired Asian honeymooners wanting to escape the hot sun. I have a hammock in villa 203’s ‘garden’, opening wide to the beach on the west side of the island (all the beach-set villas face west, for sunset watching, while all the over-water villas, mostly off a single arc-shaped boardwalk, face east for the sunrise).
Villa 203 has just been finished, built with his own fair hands by the hotel’s head engineer, who has done a meticulous job. I have a big bedroom, adjacent salon and kitchen, and the bathroom with indoor and outdoor shower that are industry standard here in a country where average luxury-level rates are way over $700. Of course I have a pool, big enough for serious laps, and I can climb up 17 spiral wood stairs to my outdoor upper terrace. I am enticed away, however, to a daily highlight. At around 5.30 p.m., give or take the tide time, four stingrays, each about six feet across, gather for their tuna dinner. Visitors visit, and some are enticed into the water to help. The two resident herons stand aloof, waiting for leftovers.
Another highlight that no fit person should miss is the daily 9 a.m. outdoor yoga half-hour, with Maansi, who says she follows the Bihar school. She is superb. You start with breathing, finish with about five minutes lying down, eyes closed with a bit of chanting, and in between you have struck poses you never thought were possible. Today I am with a Swedish girl who is way over six foot, three lower-level Brits and a family from India, with the not exactly slim mama wearing full sari (I am tempted to open my eyes to see how, on her back, she manages bringing her forehead up to legs supposedly vertical). Ideally follow Maansi’s magic with a session in the Jiva Grande Spa, either an ayurvedic or normal pressure-point massage, or a facial where creams from 12 little ceramic pots, presented to you beforehand, evoke an aroma of rosewater as they are used.
After this I walked home. There are no bikes on this intimate island, but they can buggy you. I wonder how Miss Sweden manages to walk along without having to duck. These umbrella trees are so low. I pass the over-water dinner restaurant, an open-centre shape which allows you to look down at fish swimming far below. I pass the pool-side lunch restaurant, where specialties include a Maldivian lobster burger, or an order-ahead $200 pizza, with wagyu and foie gras and caviar and gold leaf and more – more mundanely, I recommend the house Taj Exotica burger, with, base up, lettuce, fried egg, 180g of Australian beef bound with garlic salt, cheese, onion rings and pesto, all encased in a really tasty wholewheat bun. You must also finish with the opera dessert. A silicone cloth is put over the whole table, the chef squirts artistic squiggles over the whole, and finishes by carefully placing chocolate bombes and gateaux.
Yes, you eat well, at this luxury resort – private jet passengers order it, the whole time. Try a Maldivian Fiesta, with such local dishes as curries of spiny lobster or yellow fin tuna, and the tuna flakes (mashuni) that locals have at breakfast, or any time. I had a truly memorable breakfast, on my terrace and watching the pale turquoise lagoon water. Shah, a PDA with personality and a big smile, who somehow produced information on this, that or whatever without my specifically having to ask, arrived with breakfast necessities and set it all up. I had a damask cloth with patterned runner, perfect papaya and more – and a whole, fresh rose, not merely petals.