For many, mention of the Maldives conjures up images of a distant tropical paradise, complete with crystal clear turquoise water and idyllic overwater lodging. Needless to say, this small country has a lot to live up to for any travellers who are lucky enough to venture to this bucket list destination in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Although the Maldives is comprised of over a thousand coral islands, when planning a recent trip there was one that really stood out to us, Kandolhu Island. Maybe it was the modern architecture, or the lively house reef, or the fact that it’s an intimate island featuring just 30 villas, some of which are enticingly situated over the ocean with stairs leading into the blue – whatever it was, we set off to explore one of the most picturesque destinations in the world.
Travelling with my girlfriend, after a one night stopover in Singapore from Sydney, we arrived in the capital, Malé. From here we were guided to the resort’s own airport lounge whilst we waited for a seaplane to take us closer to our destination, 70 kilometres south west of Malé in North Ari Atoll. The short 25 minute flight provided some amazing views of the islands below and we soon landed and disembarked onto a small pontoon, then jumping on a speed boat for 10 minutes which is the final leg of the journey to Kandolhu Island.
We stepped foot onto the island and were instantly in awe of the natural beauty surrounding us, complimented by architecture that seamlessly blends minimalist luxury with traditional Maldivian style. Countless shades of blue flow onto the white sand that surrounds Kandolhu. You can actually walk around the entire island in about five minutes, so you’re never far from the bar, restaurants, spa or Noovilu Sports, who offer a range of water activities for the island.
Part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a collection of the world’s finest and most luxurious small properties, Kandolhu did not disappoint upon arrival. We were greeted by a welcoming team with tropical refreshments and led through the luscious greenery then along the boardwalk directly to our room to check-in, rather than going through the usual process at reception. It was impossible to hide a beaming smile as we were shown around our villa. The fact that this vivid island would be our home for the next week took a while to sink in.
There are five different room types which make up the 30 villas on the island. The most obvious difference being that some are set on the beach whilst others are over the water. Each villa features modern interiors and everything you need in terms of comforts such as a king-size bed, air-conditioning, sun loungers and complimentary Wi-Fi. There’s also a mini-bar and in-villa wine cellar, flat-screen tv, espresso machine, iPhone dock with speakers and iPad for guest use.
Our Maldives trip was filled with ‘tough decisions’, so choosing which villa type we thought we might like best was only the beginning. Other difficult things we had to choose between included whether we should have lunch in the restaurant or in the room, snorkelling vs paddleboarding, swimming in the pool on the deck or having a bath overlooking the water – hard calls like that.
Ocean Pool Villa
The Ocean Pool Villa is Kandolhu’s most lavish form of accomodation and when looking at photos you wouldn’t be wrong to question whether it’s even a real place. This overwater villa features a glass walled bathroom looking out over the ocean with a generously sized bath tub perched on its edge. Strikingly modern, thanks to a renovation of the entire island in 2014, the bathroom sits alongside the Ocean Pool Villa’s pool. So just in case you get tired of swimming amongst an entire colour spectrum of tropical fish, there’s another glistening body of water where you can splay to your heart’s content.
We spent our final three nights in the Ocean Pool Villa and woke up each morning in utter disbelief – it’s honestly breathtaking. The bedroom is equally as modern but retains a distinct island feel through the use of wood which gives a warmth to the interior. Designed by one of the Maldives’ most influential architects, Mohamed Shafeeq, Kandolhu’s ambitious architecure sets the bar for luxury accomodation in tropical surrounds.
Another option if you’re looking for a villa over the water at Kandolhu, is the Ocean Villa. With many of the same drawcards as the aforementioned Ocean Pool Villa, including a private deck with sun loungers, umbrella, daybed and outdoor dining table, this villa offers a more affordable over-water luxury experience in comparison to the Ocean Pool Villa. We spent our first three nights at the resort in this room type and made good use of the oversize deck, as well as wandered down the stairs every hour or so for a swim or snorkel in the house reef that’s literally right in front of the room.
Those concerned with privacy need not worry as the villas are cleverly designed in a staggered fashion for seclusion. Whilst vision from deck to deck is not completely obstructed, we barely saw a soul other than the odd guest exploring the reef in front of the villa with mask and snorkel. It’s likely they’ll be paying more attention to the turtles beneath the surface than anything you’re doing anyway.
Again, a stand-out is the bathroom design that features a jacuzzi, twin vanity and is very generously sized. You won’t find many private jacuzzi views that can compete with the one in this bathroom. Although it did tend to get quite warm in the bathroom on occasion, opening the door that leads directly to the deck was all you needed to do and the ocean breeze took care of the rest.
If the beach is more your thing but you’d also like a private pool on your deck, it’s likely that the Pool Villa will be your accomodation of choice. Situated on the eastern side of the island, the bedroom opens out onto the pool deck, with a pair of sun loungers set up on the sand and then the ocean beyond that. Greenery provides privacy and is fitting of the tropical environment. One of the most appealing features of the Pool Villa is the large open air bathroom with freestanding bath, providing a tranquil island experience without skimping on any luxuries.
Jacuzzi Beach Villa
The most affordable form of accomodation on Kandolhu Island, the Jacuzzi Beach Villa offers a decadent bathroom in the absence of a pool. Prominently featuring a large garden shower, this room also offers a sundeck, day bed and dining area. It’s an excellent option if you’re not fussed about a pool and prefer to jump in the ocean, which is just metres from your villa anyway.
Duplex Pool Villa
Rounding out the five different room types at Kandolhu is the Duplex Pool Villa. Spread across two-storeys, these villas host a pool, dedicated living area, garden bathroom plus a second bathroom and airy bedroom upstairs. The view from the balcony off the bedroom will have you looking out over the ocean and would make for a special place to be as the sun is setting.
All villas at Kandolhu are fitted out with world-class furnishing brands. Hülsta beds and cabinetry can be found in all rooms, along with famed Bisazza Mosaico tiles in the bathrooms. Other manufacturers include Parador, known for their use of materials derived from sustainably managed forests, and premium brands such as Alessi, Laufen and Rolf Benz.
Set amongst tropical trees, Varu Spa is a tranquil place to unwind during your stay at Kandolhu, offering a selection of treatments for ultimate relaxation. Whether you’re after a couples treatment or something for yourself, I recommend arriving early to enjoy the terrace with pool and sun loungers before laying back for your massage or treatment of choice.
Opposite the spa is the island’s gym, so if you can bring yourself to do it, you’re able to keep your exercise routine going throughout your holiday.
The dedicated recreation centre on the island, Noovilu Sports, offers a range of non-motorised water sports for guests of Kandolhu, free of charge. In addition to snorkelling, there’s windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, catamaran sailing and kayaking on offer. If you’re looking for a lesson in any of the above then the Noovilu Sports team are more than happy to arrange that for you, which will cost extra but hey, you’ll literally be riding the wind in no time. We spent most of our time sticking to snorkelling and hanging by our pool but we did enjoy some stand-up paddleboarding one morning which provided a bunch of laughs and even a bit of a workout.
It’s easy to sound like I keep banging on about the house reef but it’s truly incredible. Unlike many other resorts where you’ll have to be taken to the best spot for snorkelling, often a fair way off the island, Kandolhu is surrounded by a colourful reef with an abundance of sea life. As soon as you put your mask on and head under the water you’ll be amazed at how many fish are swimming so close without you even realising from above the surface. We frequently spotted turtles from our villa then jumped in the water for a better view. Although the overwater villa side of the island did get a bit windy when we were there, the opposite side provided the best snorkelling I’ve experienced in my life. One afternoon we had a guided snorkelling tour with an instructor from Noovilu Sports. He knew where all the hot spots were for turtles and took us along the outer edge of the reef where there were countless different species of fish, a few rays and even a couple of tiny sharks.
If you’re looking to go diving whilst in the Maldives, Kandolhu is a top choice. You’ll be at some of the best dive sites in the area within minutes on board a Maldivian dhoni. There are three dives on offer each day, and if you’re not so experienced with caves and overhangs, there’s certified courses for beginners as well.
Restaurants & Bar
Boasting four restaurants, a bar, in-villa dining and private dining on the beach, Kandolhu has no shortage of options in the food and drink department. Whether you opt for Bed and Breakfast, À La Carte Dining, or the Ultimate Inclusions package, it’s likely you’ll find meal times to be some of the most enjoyable and romantic parts of your day.
A heavenly spot to say the least, kicking back with a drink in hand at Vilu Bar as the day slowly turns to night is one of things I miss most about my time at Kandolhu. We pretty much had the same routine every evening, which consisted of heading to the bar for a few drinks before dinner. There’s an extensive list of cocktails, as well as beer and a finely tuned wine list. It’s easy for a few hours to fly by whilst enjoying the view, and the staff will make sure you’re never left waiting for your next beverage. I found we saw other guests most at this time of day, as people began to wander in from their villas to have a drink or dine in one of the bar’s neighbouring restaurants.
Offering all-day dining, The Market is where you’ll be heading for breakfast and lunch at Kandolhu. The selection includes a range of local and international cuisines and is not dissimilar from what you’d find on a modern Australian menu. The Market is also open for dinner and is a great option if you’re in the mood for a more relaxed atmosphere than the other three restaurants.
As the sun sets, Sea Grill opens, serving up amazing dishes using some of the finest ingredients from both land and sea. Local seafood and quality cuts of meat make up the menu and we enjoyed one the nicest meals we had on the trip. The atmosphere is intimate at this restaurant, with the curved layout providing a sense of privacy whilst dining. The servers assisted us in selecting a wine that would pair nicely with our meals and we thought the whole experience was on par with some of the top restaurants back home in Sydney.
With two sittings per night and a maximum of six diners at a time, Banzai was definitely the most entertaining meal of our trip. Sushi and Teppanyaki is the offering and our 9:30 pm booking had us enjoying being the only guests in the restaurant and therefore the sole focus of the chef. It’s the whole nine yards here with knife tricks and flying food, and is an exciting way to end a day on the island.
Mediterranean is the game at Olive, set on a higher level with panoramic views of the ocean. After our first meal, we couldn’t wait to come back a second time to taste more of the menu. We were quite blown away by the sophistication of the food, which really elevated the whole Kandolhu experience.
Kandolhu Review: Final Thoughts
It’s safe to say that I’ve never experienced a holiday destination quite like Kandolhu. I’ve always been a fan of tropical getaways but this Maldivian experience is in a league of its own. I had high hopes for the trip, for months dreaming of relaxing in the idyllic surrounds, and there was not one point during my stay where I ever felt disappointed. Quite the contrary in fact, my expectations were blown out of the water and I hope to make it back to this intimate piece of paradise in the not too distant future.
Discover for yourself at kandolhu.com.