The ‘art de recevoir’, as the French say, you must experience in the Maldives at the outstanding CHEVAL BLANC RANDHELI, a LVMH resort.
The phrase ‘in style’ has been stretched in many directions in recent years and people are often confused by its meaning. For me, as the editor of a luxury travel magazine, the picture is more clear. Traveling in style to arriving in style to being waited upon in style equals perfection.
My story begins at the international airport of Male, the capital of the island nation of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The courteous Cheval Blanc Randheli staff await the arrival of me and my children, and a driver wearing white gloves takes us to the very stylish Cheval Blanc lounge in the seaplane terminal where serenity reigns and the colour scheme is cool, simple and sophisticated.
In the lounge I am handed a menu of breakfast delicacies, from freshly made blueberry muffins, pain au chocolat and coconut cake to a large variety of teas, even the most exotic ones, and a fresh pressed juice selection. Every ingredient is there to make the waiting time as pleasant as it can be, entertained by soft chill-out music and dimmed light. And the little ones have their own playground, better equipped than even big kids can dream of!
Outside, the very stylish Cheval Blanc taupe and yellow seaplane is waiting. Seven passengers board (eight is the max) and we’re off to discover somewhere of unimaginable beauty. High up in the air, we see little turquoise dots of water and large sandbanks in circles below us, and after 45 minutes, the barefoot pilot lands the plane in the water as close as we can get to the resort’s jetty.
We look out of the window, excitedly trying to guess which, among those on the palm-fringed sandy beach, will be our maison for the coming days, and see people happily waving at us. The warm welcome is even more obvious as we step out of the plane and are greeted like long lost friends. ‘Hello Karine. Hello Mary Joy.’ What a heart-warming welcome!
An en suite villa like no other
Solene, the very attentive PA of the general manager, introduces us to our majordome, Mossa, who immediately takes us to villa No 5, a gorgeous two-bedroom villa on the beach. A small sandy path through lush vegetation leads to the villa’s entrance and we enter a world of unexpected interior design and architectural grandeur.
Grandeur in every way, as ceilings are made as if they were those of a cathedral, high and majestic, large sliding doors open to both sides of the spacious living room to give it a seamless indoor-outdoor feeling when you come in from the pool on one side to the outdoor dining on the other.
Should you have sandy feet there is an outdoor shower and a bathroom with all amenities to save you the headache of crossing the living room without messing it up to reach either your outdoor dining or your en suite bedroom and dressing room just behind the bedroom. As spacious as you would wish it to be at home!
A full sized mirror inclined towards the wall does its magic; looking at yourself, it feels like your body has suddenly become as slim and tall as a supermodel! (I wish).
The bathroom is just as impressive, the bathtub standing majestically in the middle. On the left and right side of it, the white sinks (one each for madame et monsieur) are sunken into a black surface and next to it, the appointed chair invites you to do your make-up or look at your shaved face in the magnifying mirror.
A very large glass shower with entrances from both sides (again meant for madame et monsieur) invites you to try the marvellous body wash and shampoo, soothing body and hair like no other I have tried.
The adjacent outdoor space has another large shower for those who like to wash off the sand and salt in the open air.
I have rarely seen (if ever) such an en suite and en suite and en suite villa, all open and intelligently connected at the same time, or not connected if desired, as the gigantic doors can be closed to give each space its privacy. The two largest of these rotating doors weigh two tons!
The 15 loft-style island villas, with a surface from 240 to 300 square-metres and seven-metre high doors, were imagined by French architect Jean-Michel Gathy. The sense of openness, the choice of materials, teak, bamboo, thatch and coconut shell and the palette of white, taupe and oyster grey combined with splashes of yellow with sculptural colour spots by Vincent Beaurin make each villa truly spectacular. All feature private infinity pools.
For those who prefer the feeling of living above the ocean, the 15 overwater villas and 14 garden water villas (with private garden) are the choice, no less impressive and secluded on a different island connected to the main island by a flat bridge. Bikes for the whole family or the butler on a buggy will take you from one end to the other.
Your majordome will be there at any moment you need him 24/7. This is the first time I have let someone unpack my suitcases, so sure am I that it will be done with the greatest of care.
He will remind you gently of what your excursions, and dinner and breakfast wishes are, and so many other unexpected things will be provided through his sense of attention to you and his thorough knowledge of the maison and its surroundings. Surrender your watch to your majordome and let him compose your experiences!
One evening, as we come back from a dolphin watching sunset cruise, Mossa has already organised our movie set-up and dining on the beach in front of our villa in the sand. The screen is up, the table ready for the choice we have made from the in-villa dining options on the carte blanche menu via the iPad. This tablet device makes everything so easy, from choosing entertainment to food menus and restaurants, from light options in the villa to movies and so much more. You need a manual to go through everything but it’s worth it!
Noonu Atoll, where Cheval Blanc Randheli is located, is great for reef snorkelling, and for those who love fishing adventures in company or sunset cruising on the maison’s private yacht. Active types can even play tennis on the neighbouring Maakurandhoo Island; and romantic couples can opt for a Thari Spa night where you firstly cruise on a local dhoni across the lagoon, then experience a treatment at the amazing Cheval Blanc Spa, followed by a candle-lit dinner under the stars.
A ballet of service
On our first evening, I am picked up by my majordome and taken to Le 1947, named after Chateau Cheval Blanc’s most sought-after Grand Cru. As we walk along the saffron-red corridor with huge 1947 letters on the wall and candles lining the way, there is a trendy, metropolitan, ultra-chic feeling in the air.
In the stunning 1947 Evening Bar, general manager Renato is awaiting me for dinner. The bar has an elegant, inviting seating area but I am directed to the glass-enclosed cellar of the most exclusive grapes to have some amuse bouche, accompanied by 2005 Dom Perignon, which professionals describe as ‘a full-bodied DP with so much richness and loads of ripe fruit such as pineapple and papaya. It has a wonderful, creamy texture and a long and intense finish.’ I can only agree.
The place has a strong character, something magical, and the nearby glass-enclosed cigar lounge has a real cosy-stylish atmosphere, completing a fine dining experience. But off we go to the dinner table at Le 1947.
White curtains hang down from the high ceiling in between crystal chandeliers, so total privacy for each table is guaranteed. I feel like a princess in a castle while I am walked to the table and Renato makes me feel like that for the entire evening.
From Bernardaud porcelain to Schott Zweisel and Riedel stemware, to a special collection of Christofle silverware created by Marcel Wanders deemed Jardin d’Eden, each piece is as individual and carefully selected as the next.
Starched tablecloths and napkins are hand-embroidered with the saffron-red logo of Le 1947, mirroring the intense colours of the ambassadeurs’ uniforms, all which create a ballet of service in an exceptional setting.
An exclusive experience
Executive chef Laurent Chancel sources ingredients not only from the Randheli garden but from local markets and suppliers scattered in 25 different countries, from France to Thailand. Day after day, he envisions and refines an haute-gastronomy full of exotic influences: saffron from Talioun in Morocco, black truffles from the famed Richerenches Market or even black garlic from Japan’s Aomori region, cultivating an infinite number of culinary possibilities.
From table to table, Laurent tells guests of his inspirations and the ingredients he uses to compose sublimely unique dishes such as sea scallops en parmentier, crisp emperor fish ravioli, a blue lobster carpaccio or an artichoke velouté.
Le 1947 features only seven tables with a dedicated chef per table. A meal here forms a grand culinary journey. Our dinner includes exotic dishes such as fregola sarda cooked like a risotto; slow cooked egg and summer truffles; and to finish, the most delicious dessert I have ever tasted of chocolate and passion fruit ribbon, dulce ice ceam, apricot foam, compote and verbena ice cream. A masterful and creative gastronomic experience!
As days pass by, we indulge in more delightful dining experiences all over Cheval Blanc Randheli and each one enchants us from fine dining to relaxed alfresco.
The Diptyque, based on the concept of live cooking and interaction between guests and chefs, is split into two areas, each inviting guests to a different culinary journey on each side: east Asian on one, Japanese on the other. Guests can choose to sit outdoors on the beachfront, overlooking the ocean, which gives a romantic island touch to the Asian delights.
Overwater, open-air eating
We have lunch at Deelani on the day we arrive. This overwater, open-air restaurant is the centre of the maison’s Mediterranean cooking, inspired by Spain, France and Italy, with nods to Turkey, Greece and Morocco. Simple and ingredient-focused. I love my fresh burrata and the kids have the catch of the day, which totally delights them too.
Throughout the day, home-made gelati, sorbets and granita can also be enjoyed on the deck, before the restaurant’s atmosphere begins to buzz at cocktail hour. The evenings bring delicious tapas and fresh seafood cooked on a Mediterranean-style grill.
The signature concept of Cheval Blanc Randheli, the White, offers a very chic island atmosphere. Its contemporary, relaxed style blends in with stunning architecture, white sand beach and turquoise waters. The imaginative art pieces displayed on the walls and all over the White are worth stopping to admire. Culinary meets art!
To sit outdoors, feet in the sand, overlooking the sea is a dream come true for us at breakfast, so we alternate the first meal of the day either in the privacy of the villa (ready to jump in our private 12.5-metre long pool after) or in the White, where we can socialise.
The White Bar, the maison’s poolside bar with a choice of all-day cocktails and a delicious contemporary menu, invites us to have lunch next to the large pool overlooking the beach. I have an amazing tasty reef fish ceviche and quinoa salad after – you get the picture of healthy food!
Next to the White Bar, unbelievably comfortable oversized hammocks, ideal for a lazy afternoon siesta, call us to swing and chill for an hour or two, admiring the sparkling ocean.
Gazing at the stars
On our last evening, Solene, Renato’s lovely French PA, invites us for some live music entertainment by a DJ and a fun dinner at the White Bar. The evening is as pleasant as it could be, has a kind of St Tropez touch sipping our ice-cold bubbly (only insiders and fans of the French Riviera would know what a ‘piscine’ is) in this stylish open-air spot, where we stay late with such good company, gazing at the stars.
From the moment we touch base with the Cheval Blanc Randheli family to the special moments for the children in the Kids’ Club Le Carrousel and the watersports centre, where seabob, jetski and flyboard can be experienced, to the healthy, delicious lunch at the Spa Bar on the Cheval Blanc Randheli Spa island across the lagoon (read more about it in our next Special Spa edition) where I experience a signature treatment in the open air with sea breeze and sound of the splashing ocean, we can definitely say this has been the vacation of a lifetime, not least due to excellent staff members who know how to make guests feel like they are living in paradise.
French savoir vivre et faire, outstanding architecture and interior design, topped with the highest standards in service, culinary delights and hospitality can be summed up in three words: Cheval Blanc Randheli.
The art of receiving says it all and Cheval Blanc Randheli is an absolute master in it!