St Regis Maldives Vommuli Island Resort, on Dhaalu Atoll, 50 minutes by seaplane from Male, shows how a luxury resort benefits from having owners with a fresh eye. The Chennai-based Appaswamy family already had midscale properties back in India but the Chairman’s son and mid-20s grandson wanted to do luxury. They asked Singapore’s WOW Design (Wong Chiuman and his wife Marina Warner) to come up with Italianate over-water villas based on manta fish, which could also be called, in plebeian style, dustpan-shapes. Marry this with St Regis’ luxury thoughtfulness and, says the gal, you get unique moments. Arrive at Male airport and you are driven across to the hotel’s seaplane lounge in a Bentley: in that lounge, there is a video loop showing a welcome from the butler who will actually later be in charge of you – and, for the record, Mohamed Nasheed was absolutely outstanding and, unlike so many of his ilk, he never intruded
There are 330 fulltime employees living in the middle of a ten-hectare island that, with tangent boardwalks and overwater villas, has 77 villas in total. I loved villa #520, 280 sq m inside with a big deck and ten-metre pool – see a video, below. In St Regis style, toiletries were Remède: add a new-look easier Francis Francis espresso machine, 31 coat hangers – of which I used two – and hardbacks that included Brian Fagan’s Elixir; A Human History of Water, plus The Stylish Life – Yachting, and Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs. All the overwater villas look similar: WOW’s concepts for public areas show bulau wood can be sculpted in different ways, as in curvilinear over-water spaces for Iridium Spa, and also a mammoth whale shape for the appropriately-named Whale Bar. Here, six evenings a week a Ukrainian saxophonist plays (see her in the video, below). After sundown toasting mutual friends in Monkey 47 and tonic, Scottish GM Alexander Blair and I had simple, yummy, Aussie steaks and truffle fries at what, post sunset, becomes Whale Grill.
We dined beneath a ceiling with nine interlinked panels, the hotel’s version of the bar mural that is a feature of all St Regis properties. The chef, about to host, with the sommelier, a regular dinner in the Wine Cellar, came by to say hello – his team can do kosher, and sushi (to which I can attest) plus any Oriental and, of course, that universal favourite, Italian. Every Friday there is a Maldivian night, with food and music: the hotel arranges for guests who want to visit local, Maldivian-village islands, and perhaps see some of the pre-school local kids whom the hotel breakfasts before class, in a school the hotel re-built. My own breakfast, by the way, was at the splendid buffet in the all-day-meets-Italian, Alba, see below. I cycled there on my MG-label bike, which was my introduction to Priority Bicycles, the brilliant modern company launched by former software expert David Weiner – he has replaced chains, which rust, with carbon belts, which do not.
One outstanding feature here, by the way, is the open-circle stainless sculpture shown above – called Eye Sea U, it is created by Alex Davis specifically to balance the Warner-Wong wood simplicity. Yes, St Regis, as a brand, has style, and so do the owners. Set among the luxury resort’s lush interior undergrowth is a brand new wood and glass pavilion, which will be an Ivar jewellery emporium, named by his jewellery designer daughter for Ravi Appaswarmy (she is mentored, apparently, by someone high-up at Van Cleef & Arpels, now part of the Richemont empire). A long-established pavilion, by the way, has an excellent 24/7 Technogym with, bliss oh bliss, both BBC and CNN: the busy daily schedule of free classes ranges from beach fitness to jumping and various yogas, and pay-for anti-gravity. Oh dear, my seaplane was coming. Of course Alec Blair was there to see me off, in between working his device. I arrived back at Male to find a message from Mohamed Nasheed thanking me for coming. AND NOW, FOR A PLETHORA OF IMAGES, SHARE A BUGGY RIDE, A TOUR OF VILLA 250, THE WHALE BAR AT SUNSET HOUR, AND THE FOLLOWING MORNING’S BREAKFAST