Recently reopened after an 18-month spruce-up overseen by Sun Resorts (the Mauritian hotel group that recently bejazzled Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok), this journalist was one of the first to step ashore and sample the new-look Kanuhura. Forty minutes by seaplane from Malé airport, it’s one of the bigger islands located in the northern parts.
First impressions are good. Light airy villas with a zesty Floridian vibe and delightful palm-fringed outdoor bathrooms. Nothing OTT, nor bling. No hi-tech fizz-whizzery. The money’s been put where it counts: into the food, the staff and keeping the island immaculately groomed.
In its new incarnation, Kanuhura aims to attract an international bohemian crowd. The in-room literature – always my first port of call – speaks of a ‘gypset’: a mix of ‘gypsy’ and ‘jet set’ who roam the world chasing parties, luxury and the perfect light for a selfie. The concept is based on the capricious antics of a wavy-haired American super-model-cum-jewellery-designer called Erin Wasson who is the resort’s current muse.
Few notions could be more incongruous with what I find on Kanuhura. At breakfast, I’m greeted not by tassels, tattoos and feathered headdresses but by navy golf shirts and linen sundresses. Mothers and sons. Couples with teenagers in tow. Groups of friends ordering bottles of Prosecco. Most of them are repeat guests. The Swarovski family, for example, have been returning to the island for several decades.
Repeat business goes a long way to explaining the distribution of guest villas along the island’s beaches. Unlike most upscale resorts in the Maldives, where privacy is currency, the bungalows on Kanuhura stand just a few feet apart. While this upends the whole ‘marooned in paradise’ concept that fuels the honeymoon industry, it lends a brilliantly convivial atmosphere (once you get over the fact that you can see your neighbour’s tan lines). Embrace it, I say, and by day two, you’ll be waving over your new friends to share your ice bucket at gin ‘o’ clock.
A resort curated for free-spirited, wild-hearted gypsy souls? Not exactly. Somewhere you can disconnect from the modern world, kick back and make new friends? Spot-on.
Furthermore, Kanuhura excels in the very places where it isn’t even trying. At A’mano, for example, where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served buffet-style. It couldn’t be more agreeable, straight-forward, quick and delicious, catering to every possible dietary requirement. In the spa, there’s also a sense of ease and confidence. Filled with the scent of lemongrass and coconut oil, there’s an impressive range of treatments with everything from ‘crystal massages’ to ‘cellular restoration journeys’ despatched by charming waif-like therapists. One could easily choose something different for each day of a two-week holiday, and with massages this good, a few hours of wet weather from time to time is no bad thing – and almost unavoidable in the tropics…
Like all Maldivian resorts, there’s plenty to entertain eager-beavers: snorkelling trips, dhoni cruises, visits to local islands and big game fishing, and plans are afoot for a teenage hang-out on the eastern tip of the island – think Peligoni in paradise. If the general manager has it his way, there’ll also be a martial arts academy installed in the sand by 2018 – a first for the Maldives.
Prefer to stick pins in your eyes than sign up to ‘beach Zumba’? Kanuhura owns a pair of palm-tree strewn islands just off the coast that have ‘leave me alone’ written all over them. “Despatch me pronto!” I commanded my villa host the moment I learned of their existence. Of course, lavish picnic hampers can be rustled up to take with you, and be warned, unless otherwise instructed, there’s a high chance someone will spring out from behind a bush proffering a glass of Champagne the moment you arrive.
But I’m no sandwich snaffler and care little for Champagne. To me, luxury is time on my own and the privilege of reacquainting myself with Mother Nature – horizontal on a beach towel ideally. Come lunchtime however, and the lure of a professional chef is almost impossible to resist. Luckily, low tide permits wading into the surf (beachbag held aloft) and cruising across to Kanuhura’s other island for a feast of a just-caught red mullet and king prawns. ‘Drift’ could be the smallest restaurant in the Maldives: a tiny shaded clearing sporting a handful of tables and a palm-fringed grill.
Most evenings I headed to the Cowry Club, Kanuhura’s poolside bar, swathed in strings of shells and flickering lanterns. I’d watch the sun sink into the Indian Ocean, spearing olives and pontificating about where on earth my fellow guests could be. It turns out they weren’t, in fact, indulging in elaborate pre-dinner ablutions. They were on the other side of the island at Iru, the hotel’s ‘sunset’ bar, geographically chosen for its God-given glowing apricot skies. Oh well. Good for them. They probably read the in-room literature.
Villas at Kanuhura start from $700 based on two sharing on a bed & breakfast basis. For more information, including special deals and planning your stay, visit www.kanuhura.com.