Velaa Private Island has the advantage among the many luxury resorts in the Maldives of having a top-tier brand awareness on a par with, say, Las Ventanas and Nihi Sumba. But, unlike those two other resorts, Velaa is truly independent, with no affiliation to Rosewood or Leading. And, says its GM Michal Smejc – a highly experienced international banker who knew nothing about hotels when he took over – he does not need consortia or associations. The 47-room resort can, and does, fill its villas by itself. It achieves 60% repeat visitors, has a long waitlist for the festive season, when a 12-night minimum is required. And, says the gal, its average room rate hovers around US$3,000, everything extra.
How does it achieve this? Michal Smejc’s highly successful eldest brother bought the island, 500 by 500 metres and formerly two big watermelon farms. It would be his own retreat, and he put in all his great passions, gorgeous Rousseau-type undergrowth with flowers – rare in the Maldives – covered squash and tennis courts, nine-hole real-grass golf designed by José Maria Olazábal, and so on. Smejc senior realised, with his own professional activities requiring constant global travel, he might as well share his island, so he added beach villas, and over-water villas (see a video of villa 25, below), and a standalone one-bedroom Romantic Villa, reached only by boat. The resort’s boats and marine activities must surely be the best in the Maldives – see another video of some of its water toys, chosen by the owner’s three teenage sons. There is also a marine biology station, highly impressive, which is so far transplanting over 3,000 coral nuggets, many sponsored by resort guests who receive regular underwater photos of how their ‘orphan’ is growing.
To show yet another of the owner’s passions, just look at Velaa’s Tavaru wine tower, 22 metres tall and reached by an exterior elevator. At the top, as a video shows, you have a 360-degree tour of the island. Come down a floor to a 14-seat teppanyaki restaurant. Below you have wine storage and, at ground level, a ten-seat wine cellar restaurant. Dine there surrounded by such treasures as Screaming Eagle, still in boxes, and standing bottles of Ch Phélan Ségur 2005 St-Estèphe. Look at the wine list there and prepare to faint, or go to heaven, your choice: pride of place is Romanée-Conti Grand Cru Monopole 1978, US$52,995. You can dine at a slightly more understandable rate: at our overwater dinner in Aragu (‘essence’), the dinner-only gourmet restaurant with superb live pianist, we drank Blagny Premier Cru Sous le Dos d’Ane Dme Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1991. The two butters were Bordier. I could have had Gillardeau oysters and Gourmet House Caviar but went instead for two pointillist plates, first bites of Japanese bluefin tartare and then Japanese Saga A5 tenderloin.
And at breakfast the brands include Dorset Cereals and Echiré – no brand for this luxury resort, per se, but every item within it is the best. Bathroom toiletries are big-size Clarins, labelled for the hotel, and the magnificent spa is Clarins MyBlend: spend time here not only for over-water treatments but for the cantilevered hot tub, and, not open to the water for obvious reasons, the room filled with snow. Come to think of it, there really is nothing missing here. Want a climbing wall? Yes, sir. Want a kids’ club that youngsters really like? This one was partly designed by the owner’s daughter, then aged five. Want superb and happy staff? Well, says Michal Smejc, this is his mantra. Look after the team and they look after customers, even from the first arrival (see the photo above). Everyone says that but here, I must say, it really works. But, he stresses again, this is not a resort, it really is a private island that happens to invite you to stay. NOW SHARE A BUGGY-RIDE TO THE VILLA, AND TOUR VILLA 25, SEE THE WINE TOWER, AND GASP IN AWE AT WATER-TOYS-FOR-BOYS