Into The Blue

A stay at the newly opened Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi will plunge you into the depths of experiential luxury. Adeline Wong visits the sumptuous haven in the South Malé Atoll and feels irrevocably inspired.

With 1,200 islands, year-round dry, sunny weather and more than 130 resorts to choose from, it’s hard to think of a more tropical idyll than the Maldives. Cerulean waters, powder white sand dunes and ombre sunsets make the island nation an aspirational spot for honeymooners yearning for romantic seclusion and a dreamy escapade for leisure seekers looking to disconnect from the world.

Even the most Instagram-worthy photo of Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi can scarcely prepare you for the staggering expansiveness of the newly opened resort. A two-year project in the making, the 122 all-villa paradise - each with its own pool - spans three interconnected islands in the South Malé Atoll. To explore the entire length of the resort – all three and a half kilometres of it - will require a languorous 40-minute bicycle ride.


Part of the charm – and sometimes the frustration – of reaching your resort in the Maldives is the seaplane transfer from Malé. If you are the sort who loves travel but hate the travelling, unpredictable weather conditions or late-night flight arrivals can put a dampener on the getaway experience. (Seaplanes in the Maldives do not fly at night.) Here is where Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi blows the competition out of the water with its strategic location and hassle-free arrival experience. You can land at Velana International Airport, clear customs, board the resort’s own 70-footer yacht, and be sipping on a lemongrass cooler at the lobby in just under an hour.

First-time visitors who choose Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi as the starting point to explore the Maldives do so at their own risk: the luxury resort sets a pretty high bar for subsequent trips to the island paradise. The villas are categorised into three main room types: Beach Villa, Reef Villa and Overwater Villa. The smallest, a King Beach Villa, measures 234 sqm, while a carvernous three-bedroom Overwater Villa spans 1,113 sqm. It is the only resort in the Maldives where all the bungalows offer a 180-degree vista of the Indian Ocean, which is not a coincidental feature. “It was designed in such a way that no single accommodation is compromised,” explains Dino Michael, global head of Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, over lunch at Glow restaurant with a small group of editors from Singapore and China. “People tend to have a very romantic notion of the Maldives. When you arrive here you will find that it is everything you have ever wanted from the island, and then we give you so much more, from the sense of space on the island to the room size,” he adds.

The skeptic in me is inclined to take Michael’s statement as brand speak until my personal butler, Thibault Sanna, transports me to my villa in a buggy, one of over 40 available on the resort. My home for the next three days is a thatched-roof beauty made in heaven, a one-bedroom, 276 sqm Grand Overwater Villa buillt on stilts, overlooking the impossibly blue ocean. The six-metre highceilinged hideaway houses a generous living room, an oversized king bed and an elegant dresser. This is before I find myself standing on the glass floor of the wardrobe area (if you are lucky enough, you might see reef fish swimming below your feet). A separate shower, toilet and bathtub complete the bathroom wish list. Smart technology ensures all the light settings can be controlled using the iPad located at the bedside table.

Step outside and you’ll find another shower, a floating daybed, a dining gazebo, a 10-metre infinity pool, and a hammock hanging over the Tiffany-blue ocean. Why have breakfast at The Tasting Table when it’s really more glorious to enjoy it in the privacy of your own deck? Tip: order the floating breakfast to make a splash on your Instagram feed.

As indulgent as my experience is, this villa (US$1,760 to US$2,800 a night) isn’t the last word in exclusivity and luxury. The resort is currently putting the finishing touches on two standalone Stella Maris Ocean Villas and a private independent island. Set to launch on 1 October, both can only be accessible by yacht. The private island - yours for between US$45,000 and US$75,000 a night – can house about 18 people in a two-bedroom overwater villa and threebedroom beach villa. Guests will not only have a dedicated chef and concierge team but will enjoy exclusive access to a spa, gym, entertainment centre and five pools.


In a resort as expansive as this, you can bask in the privacy of your own villa and never feel the need to step out of your peaceful cocoon, but the call of the sun and ocean beckons. Kids will be entertained by the supervised Young Discovery Park, which boasts outdoor water slides with splashing buckets, and an indoor area for cooking activities. Adult distractions come in the form of a sprawling spa where therapists recommend apothecary-style massages based on the four elements in your body, using essential oils from Elemental Herbology. Mornings can be spent toning your core muscles over a contemplative Pilates mat workout at the Ocean Pavilion with the sounds of lapping waves as your company.

A 15-minute speed boat ride away, you can be snorkelling in the some of the bluest waters in the world and spotting an amazing school of butterfly fish, sea turtles and clownfish, after which a lie down on the sandbank is a mandatory pleasure. If that is not enough, a marine biologist will take you on a private diving session and help you capture breathtaking moments in the ocean. Few guest requests are considered off-limits, says Etienne Dalançon, the resort’s general manager, who cites one odd challenge by a guest to have a haircut on a remote sandbank before his dinner. “The aim is not to say no to our guests but to say yes and try our best to realise it in the best possible way,” he says.


When it comes to dining, serial resort-goers have probably experienced it before. Your villa is great but the cuisine options are underwhelming. And when the island you are on is as remote and self-contained as the Maldives, there isn’t much you can do about it. With Waldorf Astoria the expectation goes up – after all, this is the same luxury brand that invented the Waldorf salad and eggs benedict. Here, the resort has upped the dining game with the most number of restaurants and bars in the Maldives – 11 to be exact.

Much of the credit goes to director of culinary, Vijayakant Shanmugam, a Singaporean who runs a tight ship with a team of 70 chefs to provide stellar dining experiences. There is Terra which offers seven treetop dining pods. Li Long is the first fullfledged Chinese restaurant in the Maldives featuring a custom built wood-fired oven for Peking duck. The Rock, a subterranean cave-cum-wine cellar, houses 7,000 bottles. The best time to visit Yasmeen, an al fresco Middle Eastern restaurant decked out to look like a traditional house in Syria, is in the evening when the temperature drops, and where you will be fêted with some of the most delectable flatbreads and mezzes on the island.

The dining destination that generates the most buzz is The Ledge by Dave Pynt, the eagerly anticipated sister restaurant of Pynt’s one Michelin-starred Burnt Ends in Singapore. Located by the resort’s main pool, The Ledge exudes sleek casualness and serves several familiar favourites of Burnt Ends, such as Jamaican Chicken with Lime Crema, and Grissini and Ikura. Singaporean head chef Deborah Yeo and her team work the four-ton dual cavity oven and elevation grills fired by sustainable jarrah wood at over 700 degrees. It may be early days but as a staff arrives to present a hulking 1.8kg, 45-day aged Blackmore OP ribs to the table, you realise The Ledge has it down pat.

Unexpectedly, it’s at Glow restaurant where I had my best meal. The lemongrass chicken curry, a Malay-inspired dish, is served with fragrant coconut milk infused brown rice, while the gluten-free dessert – hibiscus with guava sorbet – takes some heat off the tropical weather A wonderful story of farm-to-table herbs unfolds as guests are taken on a tour of the restaurant garden where about 25 herbs like lemongrass, curry leaf and rosemary grow verdantly.

If you do manage to visit all 11 F&B eatablishments (which will require a tempting five-night stay) and are wanting more, request for a special experience. Perhaps the idea of getting whisked away on a yacht to the nearest sandbank for an intimate dinner, where chefs can fire up the freshest seafood on an outdoor grill, will appeal to you. Because in The Maldives, even the wildest wishlist is just a phone call away.

Gourmet Traveller