NOTE: The resort is no longer managed by Alila. It is now the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.
So you’ve finally amassed enough leave days (and moola) to plan that dream vacation. She’s been pestering you about escaping the cold weather for weeks now. And you want to surprise her with something really stunning — so special that all her friends’ husbands and boyfriends are going to be hating you for months to come. You’ve scoured travel magazines and surfed the right websites and you’ve made your decision. You’re going to bring your hunny bunny to Alila Villas Hadahaa in the Maldives.
It meets all of your requirements. It’s the first (and currently only) Green Globe certified, sustainably built resort in the country. Eco-responsible travellers? Check. It’s also the first (and again only) resort to open in this part of the country. Desert island paradise? Check. Alila is fast becoming synonymous with personalized luxury, so you know she’ll be well-looked after. Pamper her into a romantic stupor so she’ll reward you with passion and affection? Check.
Sure, it’s a bit of a bitch to get to (you catch a short 55 minute flight from Male after an annoyingly long layover, after which you take a 75 minute speedboat ride), but if it were easy, it wouldn’t be so special. And if anything, Alila Villas Hadahaa is special, not just because of its stunning architecture, the unparalleled diving, its sustainable practices, the surprisingly fabulous food, or the postcard perfect views, but because the staff are passionate about ensuring every guests’ stay is an unforgettable experience.
Here’s an almost too short list of 10 things that S and I feel, after an all too brief visit, every visitor and his loved one should experience at this stunning Maldivian resort.
10 Explore the reefs
Every seasoned diver we met at Hadahaa couldn’t stop talking about the reefs here — the very best they’d ever had the pleasure of exploring, they’d tell us rather giddily, like excited children on Christmas eve. With a house reef that is gorgeously preserved, drops an average of three times deeper than most, and is teeming with marine life, the diving and snorkelling around the resort is breathtaking. The dive team also runs trips throughout the atoll. And as Alila Villas Hadahaa is the first property to open up in the Gaafu Alifu (North Huvadhoo) Atoll (which also happens to be Maldive’s largest) you’ll be among the first in the world to get the chance to dive these waters. It’s an opportunity that no scuba buff will want to miss.
9 Enjoy the water
One of the sad realities of visiting most resorts in far-flung locations around the world is that you’re forced to consume a lot of bottled water. Not only is it pricy (for both you and the hotel), but it’s really bad for the environment. I love that Alila Villas Hadahaa, the Maldives’ first truly sustainable property, has created an elegant solution. The hotel filters, purifies and bottles its own water. And they offer both still and sparkling options. Served in reusable and chic glass bottles, this process saves the hotel from discarding over 100,000 plastic bottles a year. That’s reason enough, for me, to raise a glass.
8 Learn to cook a Maldivian curry
While Maldivian food may not have made its mark on the world’s culinary scene, it does offer up some rather delicious dishes. One of the pillars of this cuisine is curry, often made with fish, other seafood or chicken. One of the best ways to spend a fun afternoon at the property is to take a cooking class with the resort’s very friendly and very knowledgable kitchen team. S and I had a blast working with the local chefs, learning a variety of dishes, from a spicy pumpkin salad to a dry squid curry and a really yummy, saucy chicken curry. It was especially interesting trading notes on the kinds of spices used in their curry powders and looking at the differences between their flavour preferences and those of the rest of South Asia and Southeast Asia. During the class, wine was poured rather liberally — which just made us better cooks. And at the end of the class, we got to eat our creations.
7 Watch the sun set over the ocean
Is there anything possibly more romantic and soothing than sitting back on a comfy lounger, either on the gorgeous white sand beach or on the deck of your private over-water villa and watching the sky turn from blue to pink to orange, watching as the light plays off the waves, and snuggling up to a loved one? Yah, we didn’t think so either.
6 Try a Maldivian breakfast
I love rich savoury breakfasts. I don’t get to have them too often. During the work week, I’ll usually start my day with an espresso and a granola/muesli bar or a hard-boiled egg. But if I had the time, I’d love to tuck into a big nasi lemak, a roti prata with curry, or a traditional English fry up. So I was thrilled to try some of the local breakfasts offered at Hadahaa, tweaked of course by the resort’s very able chefs. I love the tuna curry, served with chapati and some spiced, roasted coconut, raw vegetables and a side order of rice. Filling and simply sensational.
5 Enjoy a perfectly mixed cocktail or mocktail
One of the dangers of vacationing on a private island resort is that if the food and the drinks are bad, then you’re, well, kind of stuck suffering through your stay. You can’t pop off property to a nearby bar or restaurant simply because the nearest other bar or restaurant is on another island, and in the Maldives, most likely in another hotel. Thankfully, when I saw the drinks list at Hadahaa, I have to admit, I was all smiles. And when I tasted some of their mocktails and cocktails, I was really happy. Not only has some smart hotelier put together a fantastically well-curated list of wines and booze (especially the hard stuff), he or she has crafted some delicious concoctions and trained his or her staff to make them perfectly and consistently. The drinks list, I should say, wasn’t huge. Rather, it was tight and well-crafted, with choices clearly made by someone who knows his or her stuff. I was amazed, for example, that the bar stocked gins like Hendricks, Juniper and Citadelle; and offered two gorgeous Japanese single-malts. S was equally pleased that the mocktails all tasted great. We especially enjoyed the hotel’s Electrolyte Lemonade, made with coconut water and several fruit juices, and the English Garden Fizz, made with mint, cucumber, soda and lime.
4 Make time for a massage
Spa Mandara at Alila Villas Hadahaa has just won AsiaSpa’s Award for Eco-Spa of the Year. And the award is certainly fitting. The spa itself is beautiful, with private villas built around an old uni tree (a native tree with spiritual significance for locals). The charming and very pretty therapists are all from Bali. And the treatments are fabulous. S and I pampered ourselves with not one, but two treatments each during our three day visit. The first day we indulged in totally relaxing back, shoulders, neck and head massages. The treatments were so good we immediately signed up for full body massages the next day.
3 Eat really well
Several years ago, S and I visited another resort in the Maldives. It was also a beautiful property, with over-water villas and really nice staff. But the food was awful. Which just made us never want to return there or visit any of its sister properties, ever.
For greedy people like S and me, good food is such an important criterion in deciding where we want to stay. Fortunately, the food at Hadahaa was surprisingly, really quite outstanding. There are two restaurants, Relish (pictured above), which is open all day, and Battuta’s (below), which is only open for dinner. We especially loved Battuta’s, which has a bar counter built around an open kitchen. The concept here is Maldivian and Modern Moroccan-Maldivian. Battuta, whom the restaurant is named for, was a 14th Century Moroccan explorer who navigated his way through much of the Maldives’ southern atolls.
Both the modern dishes and the classic Maldivian dishes were delicious. Another culinary highlight of our stay were the homemade ice creams. Not only was there a huge list of flavours, but all of them were sensational. S was especially crazy about the hotel’s rose ice cream while I went nuts over the honeycomb one.
2 Take cool or silly photos of yourselves and the resort’s stunning architecture
Well, this is what couples do on vacation, right? They take photos of each other. And with a backdrop like this — the natural beauty of the Maldives and the abolutely stunning SCDA-designed buildings — it’s only natural to run around trying to create the coolest holiday shots to show friends, families, and colleagues (and to post on the Web for the world to see).
I think at least 60% of the couples we saw during our stay were toting big DSLRs (except for the one couple with the super cool white Panasonic GF1) and could be found setting up shots on the beach, on the jetties, on the decks of their villas, even on the rooftop of Relish, throughout the day. We, of course, were doing the same thing.
1 Do nothing
And of course, one of the best things to do in a place as beautiful as Alila Villas Hadahaa is to simply do nothing but relax. Take the time to do the things you don’t have time to do normally — like snooze in the afternoon, wander aimlessly, read a book, catch up on favourite movies and TV shows, etc. The luxury of simply chilling out is becoming more and more rare. So when you get the chance to do nothing, relish it and enjoy every moment.
And of course, doing nothing with the one you love makes even the cheesiest, laziest or craziest thing all the more special.