Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Deep in the Indian Ocean, The Maldives is an extensive archipelago of over a thousand islands stretching 500 miles in 26 atolls. While the vast majority remain uninhabited, those that have been touched by human hands seem to consist of a scattering of wooden over-water villas.
The result is the blueprint for paradise: tiny coral islands ringed by pure white sand, green palms and some of the cleanest, clearest water in the world. Little wonder that The Maldives has become a byword for luxury with enough five-star resorts to form a universe of their own.
Those who mutter, “there’s nothing to do there,” are missing the point. Sometimes all you desire is to fly and flop. Besides, if you really want more from your day than relaxing on a terrace over the sea, there’s plenty to keep you amused. Snorkelling and sunset catamaran cruises are a must-do, as are picnics-for-two on tiny deserted sand banks. Malé, the capital island, is worth a visit: not least for a bit of local culture that’s hard to find elsewhere.
All non-hotel islands in The Maldives operate under Sharia law and dress codes are respected by visitors who swap their shorts and bikinis for long sleeves and skirts. The National Museum is packed with opulent thrones, ceremonial robes and amazing carvings once owned by local sultans.
Nearby, the golden-domed Islamic Centre houses a striking collection of calligraphy and sheds some light on the Islamic faith of the islanders. The hardest decision is choosing where to stay: a classic beach villa or over-water bungalow dream; an island with oodles of activities or complete isolation; hi-tech or rustic? Surprisingly there’s something to suit everyone and one island in particular has a bit of everything.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, a 30 minute flight from the airport hub on Malé, is all about unpretentious barefoot luxury. And eating. This five star hotel at the southern tip of the South Ari Atoll is actually three islands joined by long walkways that provide good spotting for a hallucinogenic coloured concoction of fish, along with whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins and turtles.
Its two residential islands have countless areas to sprawl in the sun and no less than 12 restaurants and bars including, most notably:Ithaa Undersea Restaurant; The Cheese & Wine Bar offering 101 of the world’s best cheeses; and The Wine Cellar, an underground cellar with over 20,000 bottles of fine wines.
Ten years ago, the world’s first all glass undersea restaurant was submerged five metres below sea level into the Indian Ocean using 85 tonnes of sand to weigh it down when it wouldn’t quite sink. Ithaa, meaning mother of pearl, is a thrill seeker’s bowl of delight for subterranean gastronomes enjoying an ever changing fashion parade of fish.
It’s only fitting that the food should be as sybaritic as the surroundings and dinner will set you back $US325 excluding wines, so get saving if submarine dining floats your boat.
If you’ve ever fancied your chances on MasterChef (whether as a judge or competitor) you’ll be inspired by The Wine Cellar, which gets the vote for the highest-tech grape pairing restaurant in the world, in a chilled sub terrainean cave filled wall to wall with famous vintages.
Table settings interchange with pop-up interactive screens explaining the areas of growth, vine processes and difference between classy crus from around the world. It’s a dinner party atmosphere with an international guest list, hosted by the head sommelier and executive chef who talk you through step by step.
Considering that everything apart from local reef fish is flown in, this is the antithesis of slow food, with more air-miles on one plate than most people spend in a year; starting with a Dom Perignon to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the underwater restaurant. At €150 a bottle the 2004 tasted typically smoky, dry, elegant and refreshing. It’s a lovely mouthful of champagne but the 1995 vintage at €400 bottle is so much rounder and shows what your 2004 will taste like in a decade if you have the discipline not to touch.
Allan Scott’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is a vivacious wine that needs the vibrant flavours of grilled tiger prawns. Followed by Bouchard Finlayson’s Crocodile’s Lair 2012 – a triumph with Chef Benedikt Anetsberger’s sea bass and mushroom risotto.
It’s the oldest of New World wines and apparently even Napoleon preferred a good South African to a Sauternes. This Overberg is one of the country’s finest with signature oak and caramelised vanilla tones – a far cry from your 1980’s house-white but there’s no mistaking its Chardonnay punch.
We went on to try Weingut Huber’s Slossberg with the veal Milanese, experimenting with a variety of glass sizes and shapes. Size matters. Wine smells different. And it tastes different. There’s also something aesthetically wrong about drinking wine from a tumbler. The tumbler glass drinks flat, acidic and is nothing special with the wine striking the back of the throat. The regal all-purpose glass held some decent nose, with a back of the tongue resonance.
By comparison the special Pinot Noir glass showed a bountiful nose full of layers of complexity and flavour that filed the mouth touching the sides of the tongue and remaining long after.
It is staggering the difference a glass makes. Try the experiment at home and prepare to be surprised. If you’re surprised at the mention of a good German wine, don’t be – they just keep the best for themselves. And if there’s one Pinot Noir you need to try, then this limestone toughie is it – a big grown up daddy at £150 a bottle. The roasted lamb loin was served with three mystery wines. And what was interesting was that everyone’s favourite differed.
In fact we had a 2007 Italian Brunello di Montalcino, a 2011 Merlot from Pomerol, and an Australian Merlot Cabernet 1992 from Margaret River – a Caple Layot. Puddings are served with a trio of desert wines.The corn brûlée balsamic caramel paired with the Grande Maison Cuvée Anges Monbazillac 2001, was its namesake: angelic. A fine note on which to leave.
Nightly rates at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island start from US$1,240 (approx. £735), based on two sharing a Beach Villa on a Room Only basis. Rates are subject to change. Prevailing taxes and service charge apply. www.conradhotels.com/maldives British Airways (ba.com) flies direct from London Gatwick to Malé.