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J'AIME SEPTEMBER 2019

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T R AV E L Island

T R AV E L Island paradise SAMUEL COOPER, FROM LUXURY TRAVEL SPECIALIST RB COLLECTION, ESCAPES TO THE INDIAN OCEAN TO EXPLORE THE TROPICAL ISLANDS OF THE MALDIVES AND FIND HIS HAPPY PLACE THE MALDIVES IS FAMED FOR ITS WHITE SANDS AND TURQUOISE SEAS I have been very lucky to travel to some amazing destinations during my time at RB Collection, but this trip was a far cry from my adventures to Costa Rica, Thailand and South Africa where I focussed more on cultural and wildlife experiences. The Maldives has always been the ultimate beach destination where you can really unwind and switch off. For those who know me well, I don’t switch off, and I rarely unwind, so that in itself was going to be a new experience. My journey began at Birmingham Airport where I would fly to the Maldives via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. Check in was a breeze and on this occasion, I used the fast track lane (highly recommended during busy times) so I could make the most of the VIP lounge before departure. A comfortable four-hour flight took me to Istanbul’s brand-new airport which covers 76 million square metres, which cost a staggering US billion to build and transports 90 million passengers a year! Once the entire airport is complete in 2025, it will be able to handle 200 million passengers a year and will be the world’s largest airport. The airport is light, bright and very well signposted throughout. It’s difficult to get lost here which surprised me. An eight-hour flight from Istanbul took me to Male Airport in the Maldives. The airport itself is very small and you are out before you know it. When you walk into the arrival’s hall, you are greeted by all the various hotel representatives ready to whisk you away by speedboat to your little piece of heaven. It had a magical charm about it with all the boats waiting to transport the arriving guests, a very different feel to any place I had ever experienced before. I meet my hotel representative and he showed me the speedboat which would take me to my first hotel for the night, a 40-minute journey to Helengeli which was located in the North Male Atoll. With zero expectations I arrived in style to golden sand beaches, and every shade of blue you could think of. From here I could experience 20 nearby dive sites as well as snorkelling on the house reef and even channel diving. The next day, after breakfast on the terrace, I visited the PADI School and met up with a diving expert who took me out to sea to see what was hiding underneath. I saw an array of sea life, fish of all shapes and sizes, the colours were breath-taking. Later that morning, I met with my speedboat crew who would take me to the next hotel, which was only a 20-minute ride away. I was greeted in true Maldivian style, banging drums, horns blowing; I think all the staff turned up to meet me and I felt rather special. The island didn’t seem too small or even too big. The staff were really friendly, everything was pristine, and looking fresh. I was guided to my one-bedroom pool villa where I would spend the next two nights. The rooms were spacious, warm, and the amenities were of higher 42

A ROOM WITH A VIEW AT OZEN quality. My room felt private with the foliage, plus I could hear the lapping waves of the sea as it was only a few steps away. That’s what I like about the Maldives; you are only ever a few feet away from the calming waters. The resort also has a beautiful infinity pool which looks over the beach straight to the sea, this was the central point of the resort and they also have an adult only pool hidden away. Some worry about ‘island-fever’ in the Maldives, but the resorts combat this by ensuring there is atmosphere in the resorts (without being too in your face). On this island, a singer entertained us in the evening during dinner and drinks and later a DJ gave the island a real lift. Not all hotels in the Maldives will have a DJ, especially as many couples are here on honeymoon, although when I looked around, everything one seemed happy enjoying the music. It was great to enjoy my own private pool villa, and a must for honeymooners! Here, I enjoyed their restaurant, Just Veg. As the name says, its serves vegetarian dishes and the variety and quality of what was on offer was excellent. As I was eating so much at this point, I made the most of the gym, which was adjacent to the water villas, so as you can imagine, when I was on the treadmill, I felt like I was running into the waves. It was the best gym view I have ever come across to date! As with the vast majority of hotels in the Maldives, you can choose from an array of water sports and here they promoted sunset fishing too. I have never been on a seaplane before, so the journey to my next resort was an experience in itself. They are much smaller than I thought, but it’s a great way to see all the various atolls and really take in the views from above. After 35 minutes, I landed at Kanfusihi. Once again, I was greeted to drums, horns and I think the whole island came out to welcome me. My first impressions of Kanifushi is that it felt a much larger island and I certainly had that feeling that you were the only person around. The width of the island is 2.5km whereas Male is 1.9km wide and so if you want a big island with lots of bar and restaurant options, this is the place to be. What I really liked about this hotel was if you were to walk from one side to the next, it would take you a while but every so often you could find an outdoor fridge full of drinks, so you never go thirsty. I had a beach villa at this resort and if you are keen on a stretch of beach, and more privacy this is a good option for you. The quality of the food and the setting was perfect, this was all I expected of the Maldives. I was sitting outside eating traditional Maldivian cuisine, my taste buds were having a feast and so were my other senses; my eyes could see the blue waves crashing against the rocks, and I could feel a warm breeze, I really felt in my happy place. A range of activities are on offer such as a sunset cruise, twice daily snorkelling excursions, and a PADI diving school for those who want to venture further SAM WAS WELCOMED TO THE ISLAND IN STYLE 43

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