There’s much talk about this place or that being the ultimate getaway. We have to admit that we’re guilty of being as fickle as a three-year-old when it comes to choosing our favourite things, but when it comes to hideaways, we think we need look no further than Coco Bodu Hithu in the Maldives.
Words: Simon Balsom
We have to be honest and confess that we live rather blessed days and nights in that we get to travel the world and experience some of life’s more refined things. We’ve stayed at all the best hotels in every one of the world’s truly global cities, and we’ve gone luxury at many of the world’s leading resorts and spas too. We’ve done all this and, generally, we’re impressed by the standards and flattered by the service we receive.
Having said that, and as our regular readers will attest, we’re not typically one’s to gush. Until now, that is…
Coco Bodu Hithu is the desert island hideaway you’ve always dreamed of. Planted on an island that was, until recently, little more than a pile of tree-covered sand rising out of the shallow waters of this part of the Indian Ocean, it’s easily walked within 15 minutes from top to bottom. A walk across the island is even shorter. So small is the island that the majority of villas are built on stilts and can only be accessed via lengthy wooden walkways atop the water – or you can swim around the island if you feel adventurous. You’ll see a variety of rays, baby sharks and occasionally turtles as you walk to and from your villa. As you sleep, they’ll be swimming beneath you. You don’t get that anywhere on 5th Avenue.
So small, yet so much luxury
The island may be small, but the management and team have the place stocked full of luxuries, great food and good service. And yet, it’s not luxurious in a stuffy way. You can forget shoes – Havaianas are order of the day… every day. Dress for dinner? Those Slowear slacks and that Ralphie polo will do just fine. We’re expert packers – a carry-on can get us through a four day trip to New York – and yet here we came back with clothes not only unworn since we left home, but also unseen.
Each villa is beautifully appointed – straw-roofed, large, comfortable, well-enough equipped for even the longest of stays, outside shower (inside too, to put your mind at ease), firm bed and a choice of pillows, a useful and well-chosen selection of toiletries, outside seating and suntan area with private pool. Each villa is comfortingly very private indeed. You’ll have neighbours, but the chances are you won’t see them. We’ve probably overhyped the small size of the island – but the two-hundred-or-so other guests will remain largely invisible.
Breakfast at the beachfront restaurant, ‘Air’ (remember though, everything here is pretty much beachfront – unless it’s directly over the sea that is) is the time you’re most likely to get a sense of your fellow guests. Even then, you’re likely to be too engrossed in the fresh fruits, fresh pastries, meats, cheeses and strong coffee to give a hoot who else is on the island.
Coco Bodu Hithu is the perfect disconnect
It really is. As always, we arrived with a full reading list, and an equally full email inbox that we had committed ourselves to emptying. It didn’t start well – the distractions of the empty seas surrounding the island and the knowledge that looking one way the next stop was India and the other, next stop Australia – tempered the urgency to work through the emails. The laptop sat forlornly for the majority of our stay. The reading list was worked through steadily however. As was Coco Bodu Hithu’s spa menu. More of this later, but a worthy mention goes to the regular morning and evening yoga sessions. Held on a stilted deck two metres above the gently swelling waves, you’re unlikely to find a better spot to zen-out anywhere else. It’ll be you and a small group of fellow travellers, simple yoga, but enough to focus the mindfullness.
Once you’ve got to grips with there being little to do other than relax and unwind, you’ll start to enjoy the simple joys of life again. Eating for pleasure, and making dining a lengthy and social experience again is the way to go. There are six venues to dine at – each offering a different experience of international and Asian food. Actually – seven – the final night was spent dining at a beach pop-up. Ten tables at the water’s edge, with portable cooking stations set up and thoughtfully providing a wider choice of grilled fish and meat then you’d get in many city-centre hospitality venues. We spent far too long there but, not knowing when such an opportunity would arise again, we’re sure you’d have done the same.
It’s fine dining, but in its most casual sense. Yet while we were getting busy relaxing and discussing the merit of choosing prawns over sea bass, there was a silent whisper of attentive staff around us, each appearing – as if by magic – only when required. The service was, quite simply, possibly the best we’ve ever experienced. Don’t overlook the joys of in-villa dining though – there’s a delightful menu, and you’ll be surprised how attached you’ll become to the cocoon that is your private villa.
It’s spa o’clock
The spa area is set out at the end of its own lengthy jetty. There’s a small but perfectly functional gym to the left – we showed our bodies respect and paid the gym a visit every morning – but the spa is your friend. Just when you think you can’t get any more relaxed, pass by and book a session. There are just eight rooms, but a range of soothing treatments – if you’re unsure, start with the Thémaé Ceremony. It’s one of the spa’s signature treatments, and for sure you’ll be back for more. Jump in the Jacuzzi during your stay, it’s at the end of the jetty, and has one of the island’s signature views – a big horizon of nothingness.
What haven’t we told you?
You may have worked this out for yourself, but it’s worth pointing out that Coco Bodu Hithi is accessible only by boat. Not just any boat though – you’ll land at Malé airport and be guided out of the small terminal by resort staff on to the resort’s own boat. A forty-minute whizz across the ocean and you’ll be welcomed ashore by a team of eager staff. Many villas, including our own Water Villa, will see you assigned a butler to attend to your every whim. The Maldives have a constantly agreeable climate – the rainy season lasts from May to September though – but don’t let that put you off. You’ll notice that time moves at a different pace on the island – in a good way. Embrace it, and you’ll have a memorable stay.