Escape Plan: Manhattan-style luxe in the Maldives

Relaxed extravagance done right at the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

Editor’s note: See other Escape Plan stories here.

Well, I am late to the party, okay? After all that has been posted, vlogged, tagged and shared about the Maldives by every beach-loving, social media-reliant acquaintance I know, I finally get my turn.

It’s not that there weren’t chances to visit. It is just that the Maldives, for all its cobalt-and-sand tinted renown, didn’t feel as big a draw to me as it should. Not when the legendary beaches of Indonesia’s Nusa Penida or Thailand’s Koh Tao are just a little over two hours away by air from Singapore. So why get on a four-hour flight to Malé (the Maldives’ capital city), followed by a bumpy 50-minute seaplane ride to an island resort in the middle of the Indian Ocean, when our neighbouring beach getaways are all within reach?

St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort is located on the private island of Vommuli in the Dhaalu Atoll. Photo by St. Regis

The obvious answer, as I belatedly discover, is that the Maldives isn’t your regular beach getaway. Its hype—a tapestry of aquamarine, bleached sands, and languid luxury that has enamoured travellers for decades—is real. Even within the country’s seemingly standard offering of sun, sea and overwater villa spa massages, are distinct pockets of relaxed opulence. There are currently over 170 resorts in the Maldives, of which the sublime The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort has taken gentle pleasure in proving me wrong.

I don’t even know why this would surprise me, but the Maldives from 30,000ft up in the air really looks the way it does in the brochures. It is that picturesque. Another forgone conclusion: on the ground, the islands’ famed seclusion and laid-back joviality—and the people who work tirelessly behind and in front of the scenes to keep the bliss—will surpass expectations.

The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort certainly did. Catering to the quietly rich and disarmingly famous, The St. Regis has managed to transpose its Manhattan-born, old-world resplendence and service to a tropical island half the world away. A 35-minute seaplane flight to the south of Malé, the resort is located on the private island of Vommuli in the Dhaalu Atoll. The property’s relative seclusion and prime real estate—it is situated between two house reefs—informs its look and vibe. Designed by Singaporean-based Wow Architects | Warner Wong Design, nature-inspired silhouettes mould the landscape. The overwater villas are shaped like manta rays, and the spectacular Iridium Spa, the largest overwater spa in the country, is built with distinctive pods and resembles the outline of a lobster when viewed from the top.

Speaking of Iridium Spa, I had just about the best massage of my life there. It sounds hyperbolic but the 90-minute Iridium Signature Touch really did feel like a best-of massage treatments, combining deep tissue, hot pad, aromatherapy (and heaven knows what else as I drifted in and out of sleep) techniques. The Blue Hole Pool, which guests are invited to take a dip in after treatments, was a refreshing perk-me-up. It is the largest hydrotherapy sea water pool in the Maldives (and, stretching out into the sea, I reckon the most beautiful), with gently pounding jet sprays to further knead those back muscles.

Despite what guests affectionately describe as “barefoot luxury” when talking about The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, the brand’s New York-style glamour and sophistication is deeply embedded in the island property. At the appropriately shaped Whale Bar, The St. Regis’s sunset Champagne sabrage ceremony, to commemorate the day’s achievements and signify the transition from day to night, is a daily highlight. Only here, guests are basked in the sea breeze and surrounded by an iridescent, orange-y Indian Ocean. Cocktails are a must when you are at The Whale Bar. If you are only going to have one drink, try Island Mary. Infused with kala namak salt, it is a take on the iconic Bloody Mary, which The St. Regis concocted back in 1934.

Enjoy stunning sunset views at the Whale Bar. Photo by St. Regis

The property is divided into four zones—lagoon, beach, jungle and coastal—with interiors reflecting the location. The beach villa where I stayed looked nondescript from the entrance, but once inside, I saw that it was brimming with characteristic The St. Regis touches: a high ceiling, art deco-esque design accents combined with island-style refinement, and a view of the private pool and the beach.

There are 77 villas and suites, all spacious, tranquil and gorgeous. The Caroline Astor Estate and John Jacob Astor Estate, however, offer the most exceptional experiences. The former houses three large bedrooms and three bathrooms, two private terraces with plunge pools, and staff quarters. The two-storey, three-bedroom John Jacob Astor Estate, on the other hand, is the resort’s crown jewel. Situated at the tip of the lagoon zone, its panoramic vistas let you enjoy both sunrises and sunsets. And for the rest of the time, there is a private gym, private cinema, spa suites, swimming pool and private beach to keep guests occupied.

The butler recommended I set aside time for snorkelling. The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort’s house reefs are unlike others, he said. I took a short swim out and, true enough, the clear turquoise waters were teeming with beautiful fish. To get the most out of the resort’s underwater experiences, however, book a diving expedition at Vommuli Dive & Watersports Center, and be guided by professionals to snorkelling trips in The Red Snapper, The St. Regis’s yacht. Also available for charter is the Azimut 66, winner of the Most Technologically Advanced Yacht award at the World Yacht Trophies 2016, which is great for longer trips.

Enjoy hearty by elevated casual Western dishes at Crust & Craft. Photo by St. Regis

As it is with the seafaring activities, guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options. From hearty lobster burgers and cold beer to lavish Middle Eastern fare, the resort’s culinary team melds fine produce sourced from around the world with herbs and vegetables harvested from the resort’s garden.

There are five restaurants to feast your way through your stay: the main restaurant Alba, Orientale (pan-Asian), Crust & Craft (casual Western), Cargo (Middle Eastern) and T-Pan (Japanese teppanyaki), where I had the stay’s most memorable meal. Joined by two couples, one from Miami and another from California, the communal-style set-up could have slipped into an awkward evening for introverts. Perhaps the time spent at the spa and the beach had lightened our moods. Certainly, the outstanding sake helped. By the time dinner ended, we agreed that the only thing that surpassed the meal was the company.

The resort boasts one of the best house reefs all of the Maldives. Photo by St. Regis

The young Californian couple, in the Maldives for the first time on their honeymoon, could have walked straight out of a travel brochure. Giddy with romance, the wife gushed about the “the most amazing time at St. Regis”. I asked if they would be back. “Wouldn’t you?” she replied.

St. Regis