The Maldives along with Bora Bora in the French Polynesia have long since been regarded as the world’s most idyllic and luxurious destinations that tick all of the boxes on the utopia checklist including: house reefs teeming with colourful aquatic life, pure white sands, clear turquoise seas, beautiful palm trees and exclusivity that makes the guest feel as though they have landed on their own private island. You would think that with the increase in consumer tourism in the last 20 years or so that these sought after destinations would cater to demand by becoming more approachable for those on a budget but in fact, many of the private owners of the island resorts have made a deliberate and concerted effort to keep these luxury hideaway resorts exclusive.
The Maldives consists of 26 atolls (groups of small islands with natural ocean lagoons) that compromise of 1,200 coral islands of which approximately 900 are completely uninhabited. Typically many of the island resorts have neighbouring uninhabited islands where guests can enjoy a true John Crusoe experience of having a paradise island entirely to themselves where they can walk barefoot on soft white sands, swim in warm shallow oceanic pools and indulge with a fresh seafood picnic.
Considering the natural settings of the Maldives are by default so close to perfection, this puts extra emphasis on the resorts to really excel in service, comfort and luxury worthy of the beautiful surroundings. This dynamic puts extra pressure on the resorts to impress so that they stand out from the rest and this can only good news for the lucky guests who are visiting. This is where the Maldives really come into their own, service in this part of the world is a livelihood and a lifestyle opposed to merely just a job so guests often find that they are weighted on hand and foot with genuine warmth and a friendly smile. Even the most luxurious 5* hotels in Europe are prone to the occasional begrudging bellboy, disinterested receptionist or unreasonable manager but in the Maldives service is seen as something to be proud of and staff are always going out of their way to ensure that you are well looked after. It is an intoxicating treat to be so well regarded as a tourist and makes your custom feel thoroughly appreciated.
Of all the many top-level luxury resorts in the Maldives (and there really are a lot!) Cocoa Island continues to topple the rest because it is the one resort that continues to find the ideal balance between relaxation and luxury and which offers the most impeccable service. From the Maldivian capital of Male, speedboat transfer is a fast and fun way to arrive at the resort. Immediately upon arrival, the manager is waiting on the port to greet you in personal and to hand you fresh towels and refreshments. As you walk along the candlelight jetty towards the island, stingrays and baby reef sharks can be seen swimming in the shallows around you. It isn’t unheard of for dolphins to swim with snorkeler’s in the bay and hospitable stingrays will slide up onto the beach during feeding.
The water villas that are perched in the ocean on stilts are large, spacious and modern with outdoor showers and all the latest gadgets including ipod docks and plasma televisions. Each villa has its own private pool on an outside jetty with sunbeds and steps that lead directly into the ocean so you can sit with your feet in the sea from the privacy of your own villa as marine life with all the colours of the rainbow glide beneath you. The exterior décor of the villa has them shaped in the traditional Dhoni boats of the region which resemble charming Nordic vessels from child’s fantasy story.
One of the many aces up Cocoa’s sleeve is its dense population, the total number of villas does not exceed forty and it is not unusual to spend most days without encountering another soul as you laze in a hammock or swim in the water. This is certainly not the place to go if you want a party atmosphere; the charm in Cocoa is its tranquillity, a calm oasis to recharge your batteries in a serene and peaceful bounty. As Cocoa purposely restricts its number of visitors, it has more focus on personal attention for its guests. There is only one restaurant on the island presided over by Italian chef Raffaele Dadone. As with everything else on the island, the food here is exquisite and of the standard you would expect of any Michelin star restaurant. Dishes might include tuna tartare with pomegranate dressing, avocado, tomato and cucumber salad or whole masala spiced lobster cooked in the tandoor with lacha salad, lemon pickle and mint raita. There is more than enough variety to ensure the menu never gets tired and only the best, organic and freshest ingredients are cooked. More often than not, seafood is caught fresh from the same shores of the island the same day.
If the pace becomes too laid back, the island lays on plenty of complimentary water sports activity including kayaking and wind sailing but if you fancy getting away from the island altogether to explore the surrounding environment, there are a number of exciting excursions available:
• Luxury island hopping – sail to neighbouring islands on a luxury yacht and your own private crew with the wind in your hair, wine in your glass and fresh fruit on your plate.
• Sunset Cruise – watch the dolphins leap on golden horizons as the sun sets. Your private crew will be happy to provide champagne and a gourmet antipasto platter.
• Snorkelling Trip – although the resort has a first class house reef, the boat captain is an education on all the surrounding hotspots that offer the most fascinating aquatic wildlife. The Maldives is largely considered second to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for being one of the best places in the world to see marine life in its natural habitat.
• Private Sea-Plane Charter – a view of the Maldives from the sky is one of the world’s most jaw-dropping visuals, each of the picturesque islands appear as tiny droplets in the calm waters of the Indian ocean.
• Submarine Experience – for non-divers, the submarine excursion will take you to depths up to 40 metres below the surface for you to enjoy a colourful display of corals and a vast array of sea life from turtles to octopus, eagle and mantra rays, sharks and a large species of fish.
• Fishing – choose either full day, half day or a sunset cruise for some of the best fishing in the world. You can also choose your preferred method of trawling or bottom fishing depending on what you want to catch. Expect to hook Grouper, Wahoo, Marlin, Giant and Bluefin Trevally, Red Snapper, Sharks and Dogtooth Tuna. Your catch can even be prepared and cooked for you. Experience the thrill of fighting a true champion of the reef.
• PADI Scuba Diving – the resort runs courses at all levels from first-time beginner to seasoned veteran. The personal approach is a welcome touch as those with doubts or concerns are reassured and given peace of mind prior to any dive. The array of aquatic life on display is vast and depending on the season, you could be swimming alongside a whale shark or watching mantra rays glide past you.
For those looking for some real R&R look no further than the Cocoa Island Shambhala Retreat for some Asian inspired treatment including massage, emotionally rebalancing holistic techniques, facials for restorative skincare and authentic Ayurvedic therapies – the ancient Indian tradition of healing and restoring the body to its natural equilibrium. A list of the available treatments is provided below:
• Shambhala Massage – this nurturing massage that uses Cocoa Island signature blended oil to calm and rejuvenate.
• Indonesian Massage – using traditional Javanese essential oils, this massage incorporates rolling and long kneading strokes to renew the body.
• Deep Tissue Massage – releases deeply-held patterns of tension and removes toxins. Techniques include cross fibre friction to increase blood and lymph flow.
• Hot River Stone Massage – a powerful therapeutic massage that utilises hot and smooth oiled river stones that glide along the muscles, correcting deep level tension.
• Indian Head Massage – an excellent stress relieving treatment with a gentle facial massage.
• Pre-Natal Massage – a specially designed treatment accommodating all stages of pregnancy starting with a floral foot bath followed by a full body massage and relaxing facial massage.
• Reflexology – by applying pressure to the reflex points on the feet, the therapist induces relaxation whilst stimulating the body’s own healing process.
• Thai Massage – this treatment unblocks trapped energy with Yoga-like stretches to apply pressure along the meridians and mobilise joints.
• Taksu Massage – an indulgent body treatment designed to relax and renew to leave you feeling refreshed from head to toe.
• Shambhala Bath – a cleaning therapy that exfoliates and softens, Shambhala invigorate salt is applied after dry brushing followed by a soak in a revitalised bath and then a massage.
• Javanese Royal Lulur Bath – Ayurveda helps to rebalance mind, body and soul with all-natural treatments.
• Abhyanga – this rhythmic massage uses specific herbal oils to stimulate the circulation of blood, lymph and prana (energy) followed by the application of exfoliating herbal powders.
• Shirodhara – after an oil massage, a stream of herbal oil is gently poured over the forehead and ajna (eyebrow) chakra. A deeply calming treatment to improve clarity of the senses.
• Swedana – this herbal steam improves circulation and detoxification through skin, relieving stiffness within the body, loosening muscles and helping skin tone.
• Pizhychil – a warm herbal oil flows continuously over the entire body combined with a soothing massage to rejuvenate and counteract stress.
• Shambhala Purify Holistic Facial – purify-infused steam helps cleanse the skin. A warm herbal bolus massage stimulates and detoxifies through acupressure channels.
• Guinot Hydradermie Facial – mild electric currents enhance the penetration of gels chosen to suit your skin. A fruit enzyme peel delivers a deep hydration to the eyes and neck.
At Cocoa Island there isn’t anything you could desire that isn’t readily available. If you lose a battery for your camera, the management will immediately send a speedboat to the mainland for a replacement to be brought to you. If there is something you want that doesn’t appear on the menu, the chef will go out of his way to arrange it for you. It is this level of service combined with the top-level standards of the spa treatment, culinary highlights, beautiful natural surroundings, exciting and unique excursions that make Cocoa truly exceptional. You can laze in a hammock between palm trees and doze to the serene lullaby of water lapping at the stilts of your sunset lagoon villa with a candlelit beach strewn with colourful flower petals that shine underneath the starlit sky. For a lifetime experience, look no further than this slice of paradise.