Letting Go is Easy to Do in Maldives

Friday, 26 September 2008 19:50

THE SHEER BEAUTY of the Maldives mesmerized me -- turquoise puddles appeared in the inky sea as we landed.

After the chaos, heat, and dust of a trip to India, it was like sinking in a bath laced with coconut oil. The colors of the sea and endless sky brought peace with no mosquitoes or bugs, no dirt, no hurry. It was the ultimate in letting go.

I have never met an island I did not like, especially an island where you can walk alone for an hour. But after 30 years of exploring special islands, I found what I ached for at Soneva Gili, a Six Senses resort.

The resort is located on one of many atolls surrounding the capital island of Male (pronounced MAA-lay). Guests arrive from Male by a speedboat launch or seaplane, which helps keep the resort separate and remote. In an effort to protect the country's natural beauty, Maldives allows only one resort per island.

Our launch pilot announced the resort's motto -- "No News, No Shoes" -- as we stepped aboard. He collected our shoes and put them in a white linen bag. On the beautiful sands of Soneva Gili, sandals or bare feet are strongly encouraged.

The trip across the Indian Ocean provided us with a 360-degree view of the turquoise sea dotted with atolls, all small and fringed with salt-white sand and fluttering palm trees.

Fifteen minutes later, our launch approached a long pier jutting into the placid sea.

Men dressed in white linen shirts, knee pants and bare feet greeted us. In a British accent, the manager welcomed us.

We were led down a long pier. Promising signs surrounding us were neatly raked white sands, palm trees, and a wave-free surf caressing the shore.

We were escorted to our 2,000-square-foot villa, one of 44 villas positioned over the water to greet the day as the sun rose. Jetties, like spokes on a wheel, jutted out into the ocean to connect some of the villas to the island resort.

We had our choice between two scents for our room: bergamot or ylang-ylang. Having heard of neither, we selected the citrusy bergamot. The fresh scent was alluring as the olfactory nerves worked overtime.

Each villa has a private open-air bathroom and sumptuous day bed. No detail here is overlooked. Terra cotta pots are available on the jetties to pour cool water on your feet. Even the china dishes have fluted edges to match the seashells on the beach.

Tourism is relatively new to the Maldives, where English is widely spoken. Although tourism is the main industry, only 87 of the 1,190 coral islands have resorts. As stewards of the land, the Maldives people limit the number of beds and keep the eco-conscious resorts spotless.

Soneva Gili also grows its own organic vegetables, so salads are fresh and artistically presented. Fish comes from the surrounding sea.

Meals on the pavilions overhanging the water were often solitary affairs. Privacy accompanied us wherever we seemed to go.

We skipped the pool -- too many people, three at one count. Instead, we sat on our platform and took in our surroundings. That was the point.

Villas and umbrellas darkened to the color of whipped honey under the setting sun. The horizon shifted from baby blue to apricot. It was dreamy, like the serial paintings of Monet's haystacks. Nature and mankind folded seamlessly into each other.

Letting go is often hard for Westerners. The Maldives people understand this. Soneva Gili sells it -- peace with no distraction, but for a price.

Most nights we refused the turn down service, but on the third night, we finally accepted. We watched as our attendant folded and twisted the sheets into a heart shape and sprinkled the bed with tangerine hibiscus.

As I approached the bed, I experienced my first whiff of ylang- ylang. A heady, unforgettable scent, it emanated from a sachet resting on the pillow.

The part of the brain that triggers memory best is scent. Sea captains, 10 miles from the Ceylon shore, would sprinkle cinnamon on the deck of their ships and invite passengers topside to "smell Ceylon" even before seeing it.

I packed the ylang-ylang sachet in the bottom of my suitcase. Back home, I opened the suitcase for one last scent of Maldives. Lifting the lid, it was like clicking my heels three times and once more, I was there.If you go-- GETTING THERE: Fly into the International Airport at Male. Then take a 20-minute speedboat ride to the North Male Atoll. Seaplanes also are available.-- THE VILLAS: Soneva Gili by Six Senses on Lankanfushi Island, North Male Atoll (011-960-664-0304, www.sixsenses.com/soneva-gili) has 44 over-water villas and one private reserve. Each has its own private water garden, sun deck and open-air private bathroom. Rates start at $1,477 per night.-- ON-SITE AMENITIES: The resort has two spas, a pool, library, tennis courts, gym, table tennis and volleyball court. A minimum three-night stay includes a bottle of wine, 20- minute spa treatment per person, cocktail party on Tuesdays, teas and coffees in the villa, yoga and tai chi sessions, use of the sauna and steam room, and free access to nonmotorized water sport activities, such as windsurfing and canoeing. For an additional fee, diving school, deep-sea fishing, dolphin cruises and snorkeling are available.-- DINING: The resort has a restaurant, gourmet cellar, over-the-water bar and lounge, organic vegetable garden lunch and in- villa dining.

Originally published by Sandra Scranton, Contra Costa Times Correspondent.



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