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Paradise close to home

The Residence Maldives stays true to its name and provides a magical experience that also feels like home.

Words by Yogita Agrawal

Photos by The Residence Maldives and Yogita Agrawal

Having traveled across the world I had come to believe that the most exotic destinations were the ones that were the hardest to get to. But, this holiday made me discover a paradise close to home.

Hello there! Before I proceed with the rest of my story, I am Yogita Agrawal Nahar, a product designer, and accidental entrepreneur. My deep-rooted love for design and insatiable desire to create products that feed my curiosity and bring smiles to people’s lives led me to start my design studio, Ware Innovations.

I believe that good design is not just about a singular product, it's about the story behind its creation, the people that put their heart into making it, and about the experiences that surround it and add a soul to it. So naturally, I can’t help but notice the little things that make any good experience truly wonderful. That being said, I am about to share one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, woven with my observations of the little design details that tied it all together so beautifully.

Early this April, I was invited by the Residence Maldives for a retreat to their property The Residence Maldives Dhigurah. My husband Rishabh Nahar, was happy to volunteer as my photographer, lifeguard, and date for the trip (I’m really scared of deep waters, ironic isn't it?) and joined me on this little adventure.

After almost two years of being locked down due to covid restrictions, the joy of sitting on an airplane was unmatched. I am one of those people who fall asleep the moment they are on an airplane and wake up only to the landing announcement to enjoy the feeling of zooming into a new landscape. As I rubbed my eyes open and peaked out of the little capsule window hoping to capture a fluffy cloud I was left spellbound by the view that lay before me. Little islands of turquoise, the blue-the shade of turquoise you imagine only when you dream of paradise- with patches of green amidst the deep blue ocean until we landed on an island as long as the airstrip with hundreds of coconut trees waving at us “Hello!”. The Residence Dhigurah is a ten-minute boat ride away from this island.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a young and cheerful Melanie, a Mauritius national who has now made the Maldives her home. As she drove us over to the reception from the arrival jetty we moved from under the bluest blue skies to what felt like the lushest green tropical forest just like in the movie, Madagascar. Chatting with Melanie, we discovered that the hotel has been built on an untouched island and the residence team has preserved most of its flora and fauna, retaining its natural beauty that simply cannot be recreated artificially. The four-kilometer island stretch has gorgeous winding roads with sunlight glistering through its cooling foliage. As we rode through the island were greeted by guests and staff biking around with their hand on heart and warmth that creates the feeling of having known each other forever.

During check-in, I was given the best gift I could ask for on a holiday- a super well-planned itinerary, with my meals and activities all chalked out. Being an entrepreneur the one thing I look for a break from on holidays is making decisions of any kind, but I also hate missing out on anything, so this was the best de-stressor for me. The team had planned my days, made reservations at different restaurants for all my meals, and pre-booked all the water sports and activities I wanted to go for, all on a leisurely schedule. If only someone could do this for me at work, too!

Arriving at the room, we were delighted to find two basketed bikes parked outside our villa. We would later realize that these bikes were going to be our best companions for the next few days. The villa was a perfect blend of traditional Maldivian architecture with a contemporary touch of minimalism. The high ceilings, with wooden beams and Ratan textured roof, together with the tall French windows, added a cooling airiness to the room. Our bed faced the endless Indian Ocean, the private pool deck led directly to the lagoon. I knew that very moment that for the next few days my morning walks in the park would be replaced by walks in the cooling ocean waters.

One often wonders why you need a private pool on an island that is literally surrounded by water everywhere. But, I would later discover that nothing beats the feeling of floating in the pool at night and enjoying the pure spectacle of the star-studded sky. Since the Gafu atoll (where the property is located) is the closest Maldivian atoll to the equator with little inhibition close by, the skies are so clear that you can see every star visible to the naked eye, till your eyes tear up at the utter spectacle of the universe that surrounds you.

We spent most of our day biking around the island in our swimwear with our flippers in the basket ready to dive into the waters whenever our hearts desired. The island stretch has gorgeous winding roads (mapped to minimize cutting down its tall coconut trees) shaded by trees, and it was a joy to ride along the paths and explore the lovely indigenous flowers, as well as the beautifully tucked away treasures the resort has to offer, like its tree-house library and game room. Since the house-reef surrounds the entire hotel island, whenever we would feel like taking a dip we would jump in from almost anywhere, and swim over to the reef to explore a whole new world below.

I’m not a great swimmer, and quite frankly I was always scared of swimming in the ocean, but the world under the water is just so enchanting that every time we went snorkeling my fear seemed to dwindle little by little. The resort has put in an exceptional amount of effort to maintain and nurture their house reef, which starts just one meter away from the arrival jetty. A lot of reefs in the Maldives got bleached during the tsunami, but the Faluma reef is untouched. Through the conservation efforts of the Residence team, the house reef here is green and colorful. In fact, some of the colors of the fish just do not exist above land, the vibrant orange clownfish, fish in tones of deep purples and yellows, stingrays, and reef sharks about the reef. The magic cannot be described in words. What’s even more fascinating is how many sea turtles reside around the house reef! Since the water in the reefs is shallower, the water is flooded with sunlight and there's something truly enchanting about watching the turtles swim through patches of sunlight before they disappear into their hideouts in the depths of the reefs.

The residence has two properties, The Residence Dhigurah and The Residence Falhumaafushi, connected by one of the longest man-made boardwalks in the world, flanked by the most beautiful white sand beach called the abandoned island. We would bike down to the middle of the bridge, right above the abandoned island, and watch the crabs crawl into their homes as the sun disappeared into the ocean. This is one of the spots where you can witness the sun and moon greet each other before they switch their ownership of the skies as you swing on a hammock and wait for the sandy beach below to be covered by water.

Over the complete span of our stay, we discovered that the residence has many lovely sunset spots and one of our favorites was the 42-meter long infinity Swimming pool, right in front of the bay. Just when the ocean would begin to get a little choppy, we would grab a drink from Cafe-Del-Sol and slide into the cool water of the pool, waiting for the sun to take a dip into the ocean. Cafe-del-Sol, the beachside cafe with its cozy cane cabanas was our spot to enjoy a fresh salad and pasta, read a book, and take a nap in the afternoons. The servers made sure we never repeated a drink or a meal and enjoyed all the variety of food they prepared. Though the smoked mozzarella and tomato salad were irresistible and we made sure we had it multiple times.

Being vegetarian I was a little worried about the variety of food options, but that was hardly an issue and we enjoyed the most diverse meals throughout our stay. Having two interlinked sister properties meant that the resort had 6-7 different restaurants all serving a unique menu. Moreover, the Residence runs an initiative called the Earth Basket, where they grow their fruits and vegetables, everything from spinach to mint, to tomatoes and chilies. Most Maldives islands import 98% of their produce from other countries. An initiative like this is a huge step forward towards sustainability. The Earth Basket Initiative not only helps the resort reduce their carbon footprint but adds an unmatched freshness to the meals they serve. They are also working on creating a farm-to-fork cooking experience where guests would get to pick fresh produce at the Earth Basket and prepare a meal.

Now that we’re on the topic of food I have to tell you about Falhuma. The Falhuma restaurant has been built as a standalone structure away from the rest of the island, such that it is only connected to it by its boardwalk. It appears like a glowing lotus floating in the middle of the ocean by night. If someone flew me down to Paris for dinner, it wouldn’t match up to how fantastically romantic the Falhuma dining experience was. Imagine sitting on a deck surrounded by the ocean on all four sides, with the star-studded galaxy right above you, and the reflection of the moon on the water in front of you, and the ocean as your orchestra. Hands-down the most romantic dining experience that left me with goosebumps and made me want to nibble on my meal because I didn’t want this dreamy dinner to end. Even though we were seated on the deck, the interiors of the restaurant lit by delicate glass chandeliers only added to the magical backdrop. The meal began with a local traditional ritual wherein the hosts washed our hands with rose water in a beautiful bowl. The idea was to cleanse our hands and leave us with a sweet aroma of roses. The meal ended with a local server sharing the love story of the mermaid and the trader, which inspired this restaurant's architecture and experience. The heartwarming story just completes the entire experience, but I won’t tell you about it, because I want you to go there and feel the love I felt when I heard it for the first time.

Another picturesque experience is the Dolphin safari. Imagine being in the middle of blue waters, atop the roof of a traditional wooden Dhoni, and whistling to the dolphins. Now imagine the joy of watching them hear your amateur call, and yet join you alongside your boat playfully jumping in and out of the water, as though they are excited to see you. The connection we felt to nature especially during all the water experiences was truly surreal.

As each day goes by, you only wish that you could extend your stay by a few more days, however long you decide to stay here, you won’t feel like going back home. I still remember wondering why the resort was called “The Residence” during my first communication with them, but I think the moment I landed in the Maldives I realized that their name holds their values with utmost care. We were greeted at the airport by the team in Male itself, and we were pampered like one spoils family. They seated us comfortably in the lounge and took care of everything from checking in our bags to getting our boarding passes ready. We didn’t even have to worry about booking a flight from Male to Kuddu, because those flight schedules get decided only a day or two prior, so the hotel took care of the same for us to save us the hassle. You know you’ve chosen the perfect getaway when your holiday begins right from the airport.

The resort aims to be a home away from home, a goal that sounds like it would be hard to achieve given the vast diversity of their guests from all over the world. But, I was surprised at how effortlessly their team made us feel at home. One morning at the breakfast buffet, I happened to mention to my husband how much I was craving an Indian breakfast. The chef overheard me, and the next morning he sent us fresh aloo parathas and with curd, in a floating breakfast basket. We noticed on day one that everyone from the gardener’s to the servers - would put their hand on their heart and greet us with the warmest regards, but what was lovely was that the guests would also do the same, and before we knew it, we were waving out to other guests and greeting them with the same warmth. Without even realizing it, we became a part of their warm culture.

Later during our stay, we got the opportunity to interview the general manager, Mr. Sundaram, and my first question to him was about the culture at the resort. Almost all luxury hotels have great hospitality, but there’s something more at The Residence that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling of comfort. Speaking to him made me realize this culture has been nurtured into the hearts of every staff member by Mr. Sundaram through his love for what he does. He has been at this island since the beginning of the resort being built and treats it as his own home and the team as his family. He is a passionate environmentalist and not a single branch can be cut on the island without his permission only because he wants to save nature and leave it untouched to whatever extent he can. Speaking to Mr. Sundaram, I realized that he is a man with a soft heart, and has only one objective- to make every person on the island feel like they’re being hosted by the family. Amidst his busy schedule, he spent 2 hours talking to us, sharing his passion for the islands, and the many environmental preservation initiatives that they’ve been taking that get easily overlooked as a guest. In their endeavor to replace plastic bottles the resort has its own glass water bottling plant, they use the heat from the air conditioners in the rooms to power the hot water geysers, reducing any wastage of energy. And they’ve signed a petition to save seagrass, which is food for the turtles, making the ocean around abound with sea turtles. His passion for conserving nature is evident in how beautifully nature reciprocates by enhancing the experience of staying at the resort.

The team had scheduled a relaxing massage on our last day. The Residence Maldives has the first and only Spa by Clarins, with a wide range of holistic treatments and massages. Given how active we had been throughout the trip, biking, snorkeling, kayaking, doing yoga, and exploring, the massage was a much-needed treat to our sore muscles. The individual pavilions of the Spa, overlooking the calm waters of the lagoon, and warm green tea on the balcony after the massage, is a great way to appreciate this relaxing experience. The Spa also has its reflexology garden which adds to the overall healing experience.

On our second last day the hotel called us up and I could hear from their voice that something was amiss with our flights, but both my husband and I weren't even ready for the thought of leaving so we told them to not worry and went for a half-day snorkeling trip, saying that if at worst we can’t go back we would just stay back there for the next few weeks.

Here’s a fun fact about the hotel is they were one of the few hotels that remained open throughout the lockdown because one of their guests decided to stay back there for more than a hundred days instead of going home. We would have been happy to follow suit.

We returned to find out that flights to Mumbai in were getting canceled and the only option left, needed us to depart at 4:30 am. The worst time to end a relaxing holiday. But, somehow they made it special, the team had thoughtfully packed us little breakfast boxes, in case we got hungry before the flight, I teared up at the gesture. By the end of our trip, we knew the team by their names, and it felt like we were leaving a relative’s home. They sent us back with the same care and attention that they greeted us with upon our arrival until we comfortably boarded our flight to Mumbai.

Needless to say, the holiday was one of the most heartwarming, beautiful experiences I’ve ever had (it beat even my honeymoon). Being an avid traveler I love exploring new places, but, I know I’ll be making my way back to The Residence Maldives soon. As the speed boat took off from the resort the only thought that came to my mind was that if there is an island I would ever want to be stranded on, this would be it.

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