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Lucy grills Amber about her recent research trip to the Maldives in the Indian OceanCocoa Island in the Maldives


So, Amber, welcome back: tell us a bit about your trip to the Maldives – was it all lying about on beaches catching rays (my guess, judging by your tan, which is still astonishing after a week back in Grey Britain)?

Well it was certainly about catching rays (sun rays, not manta rays or sting rays, although we saw plenty of both), but we were there to check out Cocoa Island and Huvafen Fushi for Mr & Mrs Smith’s collection of boutique hotels and luxury resorts in the Maldives, plus my Mr Smith [DJ Rob Wood – also our TuneSmith] was doing music consultancy for Huvafen Fushi whilst we were there. Oh, and we were taking a bit of a holiday as well!

I see <jealous pause>. Did you have a favourite beach?

The Maldives isn’t a destination that HAS beaches. It’s a destination that IS beaches – each resort is its own tiny island. Cocoa Island is only 350 metres long by 100 metres wide; it’s not like you can ‘go to the beach’ – you’re already on it! All floors of all public areas, restaurants etc in most resorts are sand, and it is physically impossible to wear anything on your feet other than flip flops (I didn’t even bother with those).

Actually, my chosen sunbathing spot at both Cocoa Island and Huvafen Fushi wasn’t the beach but our own private deck. At Huvafen this featured our own freshwater plunge pool, but both decks gave us direct access to the aquamarine, bath-warm sea – it was so quiet and private: the ultimate luxury….

Amber at Huvafen Fushi in the MaldivesGreen. With. Envy. OMG, just look at the colour of the water in that snap of you… Go on, rub it in a bit more – are the Maldivian islands really as beautiful as they look in the pictures?

They really are – even after a long flight (it’s 10 hours in total, usually via Dubai), coming in to land at Malé is like flying over paradise. The Maldives are truly breathtakingly beautiful, even if you’re staying in a hut! Actually, having said that, I wouldn’t have been happy in a hut. Which is lucky really because both Cocoa Island and Huvafen Fushi are absolutely dreamy. That’s me at Huvafen Fushi, BTW.

Where exactly in the Maldives is that? Any bits of your journey there particularly intrepid?

The Maldives is actually quite difficult to find your way around – so many teeny islands (almost 2,000 in total) dotted across 19 atolls – but we were lucky to be spending half our time in the South Malé Atoll and half our time in the North Malé Atoll, neither of which is too difficult to reach from the airport and capital at Malé. We did all our travelling by luxury speedboat, and whilst I usually loathe boats, I surprised myself by really enjoying the journeys. Spotting dolphins on the way to and from Cocoa Island definitely helped, as did the hunky be-headscarfed Maldivian crew of Huvafen Fushi’s luxury launch….

Tsk, and what does Mr Smith have to say about that?! Moving swiftly on… Would you recommend island-hopping in the Maldives, or is it better to stick to one resort?

The two islands we stayed on (Cocoa Island and Huvafen Fushi) would make the perfect two-hotel pairing for a Smith getaway – they’re both half an hour in opposite directions from Male, so it only took us just over and hour to get from one to the other, and whilst they’re both beautiful and luxurious retreats, they’re a total contrast in style and ambience. Huvafen Fushi really has the wow factor, with high-tech gadgets for Mr Smith to fiddle with and private plunge pools in all the rooms. It’s very very cool, and the staff team on the island are great fun.

That whole resort is renowned for its luxurious atmosphere – any other particularly decadent features?

Vinum at Huvafen FushiHuvafen Fushi is the perfect place for those that take their hedonism seriously. Their spa is to die for, and has super-cool underwater treatment rooms. When you check in, you are introduced to your own Thakuru, or Maldivian Butler, whose mobile number is pre-programmed into your room’s phone. They’ll pick you up at the drop of a hat and zoom you wherever you want to go in a golf buggy, and generally help you with anything you need (even obtaining a replacement contact lens in my case – thanks Nashath!).

They have a fabulous underground wine cellar where GM Marc, who is a brilliant host, holds an amazing dinner every Thursday, surrounded by 6,000 bottles of wine. There are loads of other decadent aspects of Huvafen, but half the fun is discovering them for yourself, so I’m not going to spoil it…. Apart from to say, ask them about spending the night on a dhoni, stargazing from Lonu Veyu (a little sea pool) and eating in their ‘secret’ restaurant, Cardamom Lounge….

And how is Cocoa Island different from Huvafen Fushi?

By contrast, Cocoa Island is a much quieter, far more understated take on luxury: privacy is highly valued and respected. It’s a very special place. The rooms (all set out over the water) are breathtakingly beautiful – all white panelled walls and crisp linen awnings that float in the breeze. We stayed in a one-bedroom villa, the most spacious and private room type…

Ooh, get you!

It’s a tough job… but I had a nosey around rooms in all the different categories, and I can safely say they’re all lovely, but my other favourite was definitely the Dhoni Loft Suites, Cocoa Island’s second-cheapest room type….

I know you’re a beach bunny by nature, but did you get up to anything much other than lying supine on the sunlounger?

Hmm, not really! Although I treated myself to some gorgeous spa treatments (for professional research purposes only you understand). Cocoa Island features the Como Shambhala spa, where focus is on Ayurvedic influences and aromatheraputic treatments. And Huvafen Fushi’s gorgeous over-the-water spa uses a little-known range of products from Australia called Li’tya, which I loved discovering.

And just because I didn’t want to do anything particularly strenuous doesn’t mean you can’t: it goes without saying that water sports are right on your doorstep, snorkelling, diving, all boxes ticked.

Ok – I think we’ve heard quite enough from you about your ‘work’! I’m off to have another look at the Maldives collection (and maybe check availability for December!)

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