Visualise blue, just blue – the clearest, prettiest light blue you can imagine. Add in a splash of azure to a cloudless sky, an abundance of luscious greenery, a handful of gently swaying palms, a drop of turquoise to crystalline waters, a couple of idyllic, wooden dhow boats – and there you have a picture perfect, dream destination also known as the Maldives.
A visit to Conrad Maldives Rengali Island is everything it looks in the photos (trust me when I say #nofilter) – it’s all white sand, glistening waters and clear blue skies – and in this case, a gourmands dream.
As adventurous lovers of food, you may be wondering how one small island (or two adjoined by a 500m bridge in the case of Conrad Maldives) is going to satisfy your culinary cravings – but as was I, you’ll be surprised to find a total of 12 food and beverage experiences awaiting, which provide a wide-range of delicious cuisines made with the highest quality ingredients – the ocean to table concept being a true highlight.
After a 30-minute seaplane journey from Malé Airport, your stylish arrival to Rengali Island – topped off with cold towels, iced beverages and a warm welcome from Conrad’s friendly team – couldn’t be more dreamlike. It’s immediately obvious that exclusive luxury is a key ingredient at this resort, and whilst you soak up the sights of silky white sand beaches, all it takes is one deep exhale, and realisation hits; you’ve touched down in paradise and all that’s left to do is explore, indulge in culinary creations on offer and embrace the habitual barefooted bliss of Rengali Island.
Ocean oasis or beach retreat?
Once check-in is done and dusted, you’ll be escorted to one of island’s 150 varied luxurious villas – good luck choosing because the term ‘basic room’ definitely doesn’t apply here.
Nestled amidst jungle-like settings of the beachfront, exotic private villas with lavish, tropical interiors and a private walkway to the ocean prove perfect little hideaways – complete with gorgeous outdoor Roman-style baths.
While dreamy water villas rest picture perfectly on stilts, with a section of glass floor paneling inside for viewing soft waves crashing below. What’s better yet is that these villas come equipped with their own terrace-top infinity plunge pools. And, if you’re not spoilt for choice already, self-indulgence just stepped things up a notch at the retreat water villas, where each individual villa comes with a private spa treatment room. For those travelling with the children, the resort also has six larger villas, ideally designed for families.
Wine and dine
Now that you’re settled in and slightly less awestruck, it’s time to discover what’s on the menu.Yes, the Maldives may be isolated but whatever you’re in the mood for will be available, confirms the resort’s Executive Chef, Marco Amarone. “Our island is perfect for those interested in food.
Whether it be freshly caught fish or seafood, dinner under the sea, succulent grills, Chinese cuisine by celebrity chef Jereme Leung, private dinners on the beach or healthy, organic food at the spa – dining options are plentiful” he explains.
Just when you think things have reached a pinnacle, you discover Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, the first all-glass undersea restaurant in the world. It’s like being inside an aquarium, only you’re not – the fish swim in open waters above, while you dine safely confined within the breathtaking restaurant. Although it’s open for both lunch and dinner, without even mentioning the food, just a visit to this outlet is alone an experience not to be missed.
Next up is dinner at The Wine Cellar, set below ground level with a cosy, seductive allure. The outlet serves degustation wine dinners hosted by a chef and sommelier, and the evening takes you through six paired courses, which are each explained on individual tabletop fold-down screens throughout the meal. From a squid ink tajarin carbonara with salmon roe and sea urchin, to Alaskan crab legs served with oscietra caviar, and olive oil poached legine with pinot noir au ju white asparagus, tomato chutney and sautéed clams – it’s quite a divine, scrumptious seafood affair.
For breakfast, take a stroll to Atoll Market, where you’ll find a wide-range of cuisines served at live cooking stations.
But, if you’re watching what you eat on your travels, or are simply just health conscious there’s the open air Mandhoo Restaurant that sits overwater and brings focus to bio-dynamic gourmet cuisine, cooking using only organic produce and beverages – to form a menu inspired by the Spa Retreat’s five elements.
“Mandhoo is all about health. Using quick cooking methods and the finest produce, the menu here was carefully engineered with the assistance of a nutritionist. A spa menu can’t just be about small portions and pretty presentation anymore, there’s much more too it – down to calorie count, flavour, cooking methods and preparation techniques, there’s a lot that goes into creating healthy cuisine, which is also tasty and fulfilling,” says Chef Marco. As an added extra, the dining experience at Mandhoo also allows you to feed exotic fish and sharks below at intervals throughout the day.
Next on the gastro journey is Ufaa by Jeremy Leung. Ufaa, meaning ‘happiness’ in Maldivian, is everything it promises – from the laidback, welcoming interiors (including fabulous sand-filled floors), exquisite, authentic Chinese fare, to the knowledgeable, friendly servers – it’s the perfect spot for sharing an afternoon or evening with your loved ones. It’s the kind of place you visit twice, and the server remembers your favourite drink and how you like it, he knows your spice preference and what temperature you like your meat – Ufaa really offers a home comfort. Don’t miss Chef Leung’s hotpot dish, served with his signature broth and fresh fish, meat and seafood – or the handmade noodles that it’s served with.
If you’ve still got time to spare, enjoy dinner under the stars – either as a private dinner on the beach, or at the Japanese-inspired beachside Koko Grill. It’s a teppanyaki-style dinner, with chefs cooking up made-to-order dishes before your eyes. Or, for the romantic sunset lovers with an appetite for fresh grills, there’s Sunset Grill, which sits above water and has cute, little private decks for privacy and a bit of holiday intimacy. The menu stuns with suggestions from both the land and sea, varying from Maldivian lobster (with bubbles, of course), fresh sea scallops and reef fish, or herb crusted yellow fin tuna – fished locally – to Cape Grim beef sirloin or ribeye, Scottish lamb rack or duck break served with pickled Japanese cucumber.
Dining options at Conrad Maldives really are endless.
“Food is always moving forward, and personally as a chef I understand the importance of keeping your interests in global trends alive – our menus here at Conrad Maldives reflect that. You may think that because we are remote and far away from much of normality, that we’re out of touch with the latest in food, but I can assure that we are not,” reflects Chef Marco.
Moving into this year, the chef also has plans to introduce Maldivian cooking classes, a chef’s table, Sunday brunch, and a few other food-related concepts – perfect for all of you discerning foodies.
Relax and rejuvenate
So, your stomach is full and you’re ready to explore. I know – the Maldives has a reputation for lacking in activities, but that’s definitely not true (unless you plan on staying for several consecutive months). Aside from lazing around on the stunning beaches or various swimming pools, there’s a range of unique experiences available. Head out on a dolphin-spotting excursion, fishing trip, or go snorkeling with whale sharks, where you’ll bump into schools of tropical, beautifully coloured fish, eagle rays, manta rays, turtles and more – the experience is breathtaking, so don’t forget to bring the GoPro along.
Or if you’re in the mood to for a little action, take a trip to the water sports center to find jet skis, kayaks, jet packs, diving equipment, and more. Be sure to pick up your snorkeling kit from the Dive Center – you never know what you’ll see at beaches surrounding the resort. Paddle over to the reef where an array of gorgeous coral live – the neon pinks and eyeopening yellow and orange shades can be seen perfectly in the clear waters, along with Nemo and all of his friends.
Relax at early morning yoga, which takes place at an idyllic yoga pavilion overlooking the ocean – it’s true tranquility. Then have some fun in the afternoon at a cocktail making class – what’s best is savouring your masterful creations afterwards, while chilled tunes play in the background – it’s a real ‘watching the world go by’ sort of moment.
Now, whether you’re looking for your annual detox fix or just a reason to be pampered, the resort’s spas (yes, there are two), are both well worth a visit. First there’s the Over-Water Spa, which is every bit luxurious and magical as it sounds. It’s slightly secluded and branches off out into the water with several treatment rooms with glass flooring enabling you to see the ocean life below and receive your massage simultaneously. Secondly, the Spa Retreat is a different affair completely. Here you’ll not only be able to have a range of holistic treatments and spa packages, but receive the services of a naturopath, nutritionist or personal trainer – this is also the place to come to have your hair done, or do a bit of shopping – you can’t beat the islandchic wear.
No matter the spa you choose to visit, expect a truly personalised service. The spa team really can’t do enough for you and make it their business to ensure you’re as relaxed as possible. Ladies, to add to the beach look, ask your therapist to braid your hair as the massage wraps up (…I kept mine in for 2 days!). It really is the perfect rejuvenation retreat, and you’ll leave walking on air.
Pristine island elegance
Whatever direction your journey in the Maldives takes you down, I’m sure by the end of your adventure you’ll agree that it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.
Natural beauty aside, the small islands offer much more than meets the eye and more importantly, they are safe. It’s a classy getaway destination where you’ll not be hassled by street vendors or tour companies trying to sell day trips (in fact, there are no taxis on Rengali island, just golf buggies for chauffeuring you from A to B). It’s all very carefree and is the type of place you truly feel sad to leave upon departure.
As your seaplane takes off and you soak up your last postcard view of the island, you’re left with a profound sense of calm, amidst thoughts of gently splashing waves, softly swaying palms, mouthwatering food, and of course, inescapable beauty.