by Teresa Machan, The Telegraph, July 7, 2017
‘Nice motor,” I said to the chauffeur, having just clapped eyes on the souped-up golf buggy parked at the hotel jetty. Modelled on a BMW classic and furnished with cherry-red carpet, walnut-effect dashboard and gleaming chrome grille, it was hands-down the most stylish resort conveyance I had seen.
The ride from the jetty of Jumeirah Vittaveli resort to its brand-new Royal Residence was almost as exciting as the 20-minute transfer I’d just made from the Maldivian capital Malé, aboard one of the company’s 52ft Stealth iSpeed catamarans (think of them as F1-style water limousines). I could have walked the short distance to the Royal Residence in half the time, but if you’re going to check into somewhere as grand as this – a private retreat with five bedrooms and six bathrooms – a quick spin in one of its two “royal buggies” is a must.
The recent opening party for this private hideaway was attended by 300 guests, including the vice-president of the Maldives. Three weeks previously, our group – the first to stay at the Royal Residence – had dined on baby lobsters and Kobe beef in its waterfront restaurant, perused the fragrant lily pond from the outdoor sunken lounge, swum off the private beach to the house reef, and relaxed in the master suite’s full-size Jacuzzi and (alone for this bit) in the Kelly Hoppen egg bath.
In terms of facilities, all the determinants of uber luxury can be found in this $35,000-a-night retreat with an area of 3,500 sq m (equivalent to two thirds of a football pitch). Once through the door, however, I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole. The main entrance of the Royal Residence, concealed from the resort behind an unremarkable gate, is reached via a short path of stepping stones across a reflection pool. A stylish living and dining area gives on to a large deck flanking a proper, lappable pool with fibre-optic lighting. From here, the Residence fans out to encompass three guest villas, a Zen-like sunken lounge with olive-green sofa seating and a sea-facing lawn. A private waterfront restaurant and a second sun deck (with a rustic bar and overwater hammocks) overlook a beach washed by a welkin sea.
Pretty as a picture, it is a collective tour de force in indoor-outdoor living. In the rectangular living pavilion, a dramatic jewelled curtain separates a lounge with luxe, tactile upholstery from the dining area, where there is a full bar and a 10-seater dining table under a bejewelled chandelier.
This decadent room, with its 72in TV encased in gold leaf, at first felt incongruous – more suited to a luxury Dubai apartment than to a tropical island hideaway – but the latest tech is a prerequisite for money-no-object travellers. Where else can occupants enjoy a state-of-the-art sound system with theatre surround as well as a research-quality telescope?
Lest this high-tech gadgetry is not enough, the Royal Residence comes with its own on-site service quarters. In addition to the butler there’s a dedicated chef and a team of housekeepers – as much a part of the Royal Residence experience as the private gym and spa. One of the most relaxing aspects of my stay was having such service on site – removing that awkward dilemma of wanting something, but not sufficiently to pick up the phone. It is far nicer to have someone discreetly anticipate that need. This attentive but unstuffy approach put me at my ease, but those who find it too much can request total privacy or, if they have a preference, ask for a female butler.
Our butler, Khalid, had a ninja-like knack for appearing just as a thought bubble formed (“Could I do with a…?”). This occurred whenever I left my key card in the villa (at least three times a day), wanted another cafe Americano or some sparkling water, couldn’t find my sun hat or returned from aerial yoga covered in mosquito bites and with the gait of an 80-year-old. “I’ve run you a lavender bath,” Khalid said. When I emerged I found he’d left a tube of antihistamine cream for me.
A massage therapist is also on call, and the butler serves as a go-between for all tailored requests, whether it is chartering a yacht, booking a scuba dive or organising a personal trainer. Early one morning, an instructor came to teach us kick-boxing. All we had to do was roll out of bed, throw on some exercise kit and trip across the lawn to the beach. I found owning my holiday space liberating. Safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t upset any fellow guests with my dripping-wet clothes, I cooled off by launching myself straight into the glass-calm sea.
As the Royal Residence “host” (in normal circumstances, the person paying) I found my dominion in the Sanctuary, the name given to the largest villa. This and two guest villas (one twin, one double) open on to the same picture-perfect panorama of pool, sunken lounge, lawn and beach. The 530 sq m Sanctuary includes a gym (with step and running machines, mats, weights and TVs) and a spa pavilion with a pair of massage beds. These are set in a concealed garden with a covered patio housing a full-size Jacuzzi with a built-in pop-up TV.
The previous evening I had christened the bathroom’s oversized stone bath in style, already run by my butler and surrounded by tea lights. As is often the case with fresh-from-the-box builds, the Royal Residence had a snagging list. One night my room phone rang at 1am (the very smart communication system was still a work in progress); the shower was lukewarm; and the bathroom TV, embedded in a mirror, didn’t work. There was no shaving/magnifying mirror and I would have needed a footstool to reach a couple of the clothes rails.
In the living pavilion, the faint whiff of damp – something that goes hand-in-hand with soft furnishings in humid conditions – will need to be addressed in the longer term. And one morning I returned from the bathroom to find a millipede in my bed, fiery orange against the high thread-count sheet. Such occurrences, I was assured, will be rare or non-existent once the rooms become more “lived-in”. Unlike other signature villas on private islands – situated a speedboat ride or even a seaplane flight from the main resort hub – the Royal Residence is located bang opposite the main resort’s Talise spa, and just a short stroll from the watersports centre and jetty.
This means easy access to a PADI dive centre, four restaurants (one of them serving extraordinary Indian cuisine) and a kids’ club. Aside from visits to two restaurants and the dive centre, I barely set foot outside our luxury cocoon. The list of watersports on offer was impressive and included fly-boarding. What to choose?
The next morning, two watersports staff arrived at our beach with the whole high-performance caboodle – Seabob, paddle-boards and flyboard, plus three jet skis for good measure. I felt momentarily guilty about this surfeit of water toys, but then recalled an earlier conversation with Khalid about requests he’d had during his time as butler to the resort’s luxurious Ocean Suite villas. One guest apparently wanted to go to a nightclub (not many of those on the Maldives’ string of coral atolls). Another wanted to charter a submarine for the day. “I suggested a private yacht instead, to see dolphins, whale sharks, turtles and the sunset,” Khalid explained – “and we saw them all. His wife said it was the most memorable day of her life.” On another occasion, a Russian guest wanted to fly his wife to Colombo, in Sri Lanka, for the day to buy gems. “I convinced him to go to Malé instead,” said Khalid. “He was happy with his purchases.”
The Royal Residence has been a three-year work in progress under the direction of the resort’s hands-on general manager, Amit Majumder. Such was the anticipation around its soft opening (finishing touches were being made throughout our stay) that on the day of our arrival Khalid had, rather endearingly, “had a wobbly,” in the words of the Italian operations manager, Louisa. She had found him horizontal, with eyes wide open, on one of The Sanctuary’s specially commissioned rugs. “I can’t do it,” he had said. “Of course you can!” Louisa had scolded in a motherly way, aided no doubt by effusive gesticulation. “Now get up and help me with the cushions on the decking,” she had commanded. “The journalists arrive in two hours.”
Providing transfers to the resort and Royal Residence, Jumeirah Vittaveli's 52ft Stealth iSpeed boats are the only ones of their kind in the Maldives
For Khalid, such failure of nerve is rare and he really does cater for every whim. Whether guests are looking for astronomy sessions, one-on-one tuition by a world-class windsurfer, private-jet transfers, celebrity performers, DJs or a Michelin-starred chef specially flown in, their wish – with a little notice – is his command.
On our final evening at the Royal Residence, dinner on the beach came with a side order of moon – its bright rugged “mountains” and jagged craters visible through our very own Celestron telescope. Astronomer Phil Cash was on hand to help “read” the lunar map. The full moon at that time of year was significant, he told us, because it triggered coral spawning in the Maldives, a spectacular event. Long after we had sunk into our oversized beds, the Indian Ocean would be flooded with pink, orange, red and yellow gametes, turning the usually gin-clear water into a blizzard of coral fertilisation.
Before I arrived at Jumeirah Vittaveli, I wondered how I would cope with all that space. I thought I would feel “over-serviced” and therefore on edge. Suffice to say, by the time that over-the-top BMW golf buggy rolled up on departure day, I felt very much at home.
A seven-night stay in the Royal Residence at Jumeirah Vittaveli Maldives with Elegant Resorts (01244 897515) costs from £12,425pp, based on eight sharing. The price includes a dedicated airport lounge on arrival, breakfast and evening champagne and canapés in the Residence, three hours of spa treatments per stay, 24-hour resident butler and fitness trainer, non-motorised watersports equipment and a laundry service. Also included are flights from Heathrow with Qatar Airways, private transfers and UK lounge passes.