The Indian Ocean is always a hotbed of hotel activity, with new resorts arriving regularly, especially at the top end. April Hutchinson finds the openings to have on your radar
I’m sitting in a chic little lounge at the seaplane terminal at Male International airport, where I’m handed a refreshing icy towel and a glass of cool tea, swiftly followed by an iPad.
I’m directed to a video on it, where my butler is seen waving and saying hello to me from the resort in anticipation of my arrival.
Sure enough, when I get there he greets me on the jetty, drives me to the villa in a golf buggy, shows me the room and whisks a couple of garments away for pressing.
He is back in a few hours to escort me to sunset drinks in the Whale Bar, which looks like – well, a whale.
There, I enjoy a signature cocktail while watching a champagne sabering ceremony against a crimson sky.
Welcome to luxury, Maldives-style, and in particular the St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort. Competition in the Maldives is high and the past two years have been particularly exciting for luxury hotels.
Soneva’s second resort in the Maldives, Soneva Jani, has also grabbed the headlines, thanks to its rustic-chic villas boasting slides from the roof deck directly into the lagoon and roofs that slide open to reveal the sky.
And back on the scene this year was Kanuhura after a renovation by Sun Resorts in a “gypset” style, beginning right from the stylish landing jetty, to Iru, a bar set on one of the nation’s best beaches, where teepees dot the sand.
The 180-villa Dhigali also opened in the summer, with an ultracontemporary design and is one of few resorts in the Raa atoll, close to a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
Another of the newest luxury arrivals is Grand Park Kodhipparu, designed by renowned hospitality experts Hirsch Bedner Associates, with 120 villas, of which 65 feature pools.
Fushifaru, which opened just last month, is a 49-villa resort headed up by an all-Maldivian team that offers Korakali for all-day dining, Raakani Grill for Asian flavours and Fanihandhi Bar for drinks, or guests can take advantage of a private picnic on an idyllic sandspit.
Looking ahead, the Baglioni Resort Maldives is due to open in spring in Dhaalu atoll with 96 villas in an elegant Italian design reflective of the brand – there will also be a three-bedroom presidential water villa.
Lux North Male Atoll will be the group’s second resort in the Maldives when it opens in April. A new-build 67-villa resort, it’s designed as a “departure from the thatched-hut castaway atmosphere of the traditional island resort”, with Sri Lankan design firm Miaja instead drawing inspiration from the Art Deco style of Miami’s South Beach.
Opening before the summer is Movenpick Resort & Spa Kuredhivaru, a first for the brand in the Maldives, with 32 beach and 70 overwater villas, and a 14-room spa.
Meanwhile, Kudadoo Private Island by Hurawalhi, designed by renowned architect Yuji Yamasaki and slated to open in early summer, will be an adults-only island with just 15 overwater villas.
It’s also five minutes by boat from Hurawalhi, home of 5.8 Undersea Restaurant, the largest restaurant of its kind in the world.
Also coming next year will be a refurbished Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort, which was previously the Jumeirah Dhevanafushi. Also under the Accor umbrella, there are plans for a Fairmont resort in the Maldives too a couple of years down the line.
Next year promises to be a big one for Mauritius as the Indian Ocean nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence – National Day is March 12 – and it looks set to benefit from a swathe of luxury hotel refurbishments.
The island is hoping to build on a successful 2017, which has seen visitor numbers rise by 6%. An increase in British Airways’ frequencies from three to five-weekly out of Gatwick from November-March may help too.
One&Only Le Saint Geran closed in February for a multimillion-dollar refurbishment and reopens in December.
Based on its own peninsula on Mauritius’s northeastern Belle Mare coast and within 60 acres of gardens, its 142 rooms and suites are all totally renovated and a new addition is the 646-square-metre Villa One, with 24-hour private chef and butler.
More than 50 of the rooms are now connecting, while two- and three-bedroom suites have been created too.
Mauritius-based Lux Resorts and Hotels is well known for its “lighter, brighter” approach, and plans for its latest renovation are set to be real crowd-pleasers.
Having been shut for six months, Lux Grand Gaube reopens with a flourish in December, following the masterstrokes of UK-based interior designer Kelly Hoppen.
Set in sprawling tropical gardens created by award-winning landscape designer Stephen Woodhams, Hoppen has been working with Mauritian architect Jean-Francois Adam on the $32 million renovation of the 186-room hotel, creating a “retro-chic tropical retreat”.
The resort includes an adults-only peninsula and a spa three times the size of the original one, while a pop-up bar, French Kiss, inside a converted Citroen H van and the Rum Treehouse, with 80 rums on the menu, bring the fun.
Also fresh from a three-month renovation is an island stalwart, Heritage Le Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort, located in the south.
The renaming of the resort aims to emphasise its strong golf offering – including an 18-hole Peter Matkovich-designed championship course – and wellness also now has top billing, with a pavilion for yoga, tai chi, pilates, qigong and meditation added.
All rooms now include dedicated butler service and new personal beach attendants aim to cater to guests’ every whim.
The project also included refreshing the 19th-century Chateau de Bel Ombre, which offers fine dining overlooking an enormous banyan tree and the Heritage Golf Club.
For the first time, guests can now spend the night in the chateau, in a “suite” that spreads over the whole of the first floor.
Also having undergone some changes, Sun Resorts’ Long Beach Mauritius, a resort on the east coast, can now boast the world’s first Cinq Mondes Spa & Wellness Retreat.
A six-month programme of experiential events and activities is also new, including bootcamps, DJ classes and a range of chef-led culinary pop-ups.
Seychelles is riding high on a wave of popularity, with an 18% global increase in visitor numbers.
When it comes to resorts, a lot of the buzz in Seychelles for the past year has been around Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which took up residence on the island of Felicite.
It is the only resort on the private island, occupying just a third of it, with 30 villas. But the hot news for 2018 will be the opening of Four Seasons Resort Desroches, the group’s second hotel in the country.
It will open on March 1 as the only resort on the island, and will be home to 40 suites. Guests will have nine miles of beaches all to themselves and can explore the new Discovery Centre.
They may also bump into some of the local population of 150 giant Aldabra tortoises, part of the Island Conservation Society’s Tortoise Sanctuary.
The destination is bound to come under the spotlight in 2018, thanks to new British Airways flights.
After a decade-long hiatus, the direct service – the only one between the two countries – will resume from Heathrow on March 24, flying twice-weekly.