Was it all a dream? Some sort of abstraction from consciousness? Had delirium set in? It seemed so real. The colours so incredibly vivid, the sealife so lustrous. I felt incredibly lucid sojourning under the luminous morning sun, deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean. The heat instantly envelopes you when you’re a mere 380 miles from the equator. It was a stark contrast from the ashen winter morning that now sat before me. I needed to find the red pill and somehow get back – back to the pure shores of Kudadoo.
I hadn’t departed England’s cold and frigid borders for over a year. A global pandemic had put paid to any notion of travelling to the far corners of the world for some time. So, as our speedboat connection glided between the lagoons of Lhaviyani Atoll, the visceral culture shock was palpable. Kudadoo is a 45-minute flight from the capital, Malé. There are four international and 12 domestic airports dotted across the island nation, so you can put wheels down anywhere your captain is brave enough.
On our approach to the two-hectare island, the Yamazaki designed ‘Retreat’ loomed into view. Although a great many journalists are guilty of making the exceedingly cliché Bond lair reference when faced with iconic architecture, I have a feeling Kudadoo is more likely to play host to James whilst he takes his obligatory break after all the killing for Queen and country. The Retreat is a two-story testament to sustainable design practices. Designed by renowned New York-based architectural firm Yuji Yamazaki Architecture PLC, it features a rooftop solar panel system providing 320-kWp (kW peak) renewable energy which powers the whole island. During the day, the deliberate gaps between the cells allow for gleaming sunbeams to cut through the giant walls of cedar. It stands apart as the only fully solar-powered resort in the Maldives.
READ THE KUDADOO FEATURE IN THE MAURO COLAGRECO EDITION
As we approached the jetty, we were greeted by Miki, our Island oracle and all-around fixer extraordinaire. Each residence has its own dedicated butler, in addition to separate accommodation should you opt to bring a staff. On our brief tour of the island, I only spotted three other guests which is not surprising considering the resort only accommodates 30 people in 15 over-water residences. When the island was being developed, the decision was made to keep the same native plant palette of Coconut Palm, Sea Lettuce, Iron Wood and Beach Hibiscus. So, to preserve the flora and fauna of the island ecosystem, all the residences were built out over the water on the sand lagoon.
The exteriors of the residences themselves resemble a string of traditional wooden Machiya townhouses, and the boxed cedar in muted tones is briefly accented by the building’s simple fretwork. The interiors are sublime, airy, ordered, modernistic and filled with light. At 300 square metres, it’s a sizeable living space to retreat into without ever leaving and, though I personally find that odd, many do.
Now, I should probably have mentioned earlier that after almost a decade of travel publishing and filming, whether I believe it or not, I am becoming ever more difficult to truly impress. “Jaded” seems a little harsh – let’s try “discerning” on for size instead. It’s not personal you understand; it’s not even business. It’s the byproduct of being hosted by some biblically good hospitality establishments. So what of Kudadoo you ask? Well, it wasn’t too bad at all if you like phenomenal. I titled the feature ‘Elysium’ after all. Perhaps I should have titled it “Kudadoo, a love affair in the Indian Ocean”.
As we toured our residence, a bottle of Louis Roederer, Delamotte Blanc de Blanc chilled in a rather fetching ice bucket. I was enamoured by the wood and brass finishings and took great pleasure in chilling bottles from the separate and well-stocked wine fridge next to the minibar. If your palette requires something older, there is also the owner’s private cellar to choose from, which includes Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Pétrus amongst its limited and highly-rated vintages. But, in the 30° heat, I was more than happy to maintain my predilection for Taittinger Rosé and Ruinart.
Kudadoo has an everything included approach. Anything, anywhere, anytime. Everything under the moon, if you will, from therapies to fine dining, water sports and beyond.
The residences are, again, designed by Yuji Yamazaki Architecture and, as you might expect, they evoke a distinctly Japanese feel through the use of unpolished cedar wood, granite stones and a distinctly Ryokan aesthetic. All residences are surrounded by an internal walkway around the property promoting the flow of both light and air. What strikes me first is the carefully curated furniture and the marriage of light and dark wood. From the sustainable teak four-poster bed to the Tasmanian oak floors, nothing is an afterthought. All the wooden materials used in the construction originate from New Zealand, Canada and Indonesia, and have been sourced to ensure no damage to wildlife and land. The exterior roofs are made of cedar shingles with the internal roofs made of local coconut leaves in the traditional Maldivian way. In keeping with the sustainable approach, the residences are designed to promote a natural flow of air. Open the sea-facing sliding doors onto the 44 sqm terrace, and then the wall of frosted glass at the rear of the property to reveal a Zen cedar-lined indoor/outdoor bathroom. The calming breeze through the property once all doors are open is sublime, though we only realised this on our final day. What’s more, as soon as you open the sliding doors, the smart home system shuts off the air conditioning. Another big green sustainability merit.
In addition to the natural wood, you’ll find an abundance of solid, dark marble floors and andesite natural stone bathroom sinks and baths. Kudadoo certainly lives up to its eco credentials. No more so is this exemplified than by the sheer abundance of marine life that surrounds the island. Next to the considerable infinity pool, swing sofa and outdoor seating area, you’ll find a glass bottomed lower deck. It’s the perfect place to sit and spot the array of blue tangs and octopuses that appeared to favour our staircase down to the ocean floor. If I could do nothing else, I would snorkel from morning to night. The bountiful array of corral, monochrome bannerfish, unicorn fish, buck-toothed parrotfish and occasional blacktip reef sharks remind me of Le carnaval des animaux. While I can claim to have dived in a number of different oceans, I somewhat regretfully have never secured my open water certification. I am told that there are unmissable dive sites in the Lhaviyani Atoll and one of the resorts Dive Butlers will be more than happy to create a bespoke schedule for you to see them all.
Having spent the bulk of the afternoon peacefully listing across the pool, glass in hand, on what I can only describe as a floating day bed, it was time to visit The Retreat’s Sulha spa.You’ll find two double treatment rooms, each with an outdoor bath on a private sundeck overlooking the open ocean. If you prefer, your treatments can be arranged in-room or, as part of the AAA approach, booked on the beach. I am perhaps a little too reserved for a public beach-side massage. I say public; if you were to spot more than two people milling around the island that connects the residences and Retreat, I would be impressed. Having adorned signature Kudadoo robes, we ascended the cathedral-like stairs to the second floor of The Retreat. Here, you’ll be seated with a cup of hot tea and given a moment to contemplate and compose yourself under the Lunaria seed style light fixtures that sway gently in the breeze. I highly recommend visiting the Lonu Cave, a Himalayan salt stone or Halotherapy room with 1,000-year-old stones that are renowned for decreasing allergy symptoms, improving sleep and detoxifying the lymphatic systems. I opted for the Touched by the Ocean massage, a 75-minute signature treatment that works heated herbal poultices along the body. The masseuse then adds super-hydrating organic body balm and, within minutes, I am asleep. I’m not sure whether spa etiquette dictates that I should be present in mind and body, but I am notorious for clocking off during treatments. I remember drifting off in a Tibetan singing bowl workshop in Thailand, much to my chagrin. That being said, the instruction was to lay on the floor and take in the deeply calming sounds. The teacher even highlighted my slumber as the highest honour for a practitioner. We hear what we want to hear. Kudadoo also offers a Sound Shower which helps the listener access their theta brainwave state. At some point during the massage it felt as though the room was underwater – I was lucid but still sleeping as a wall of water reminiscent of The Abyss filled the room, sideways. If you think that sounds sectionable, imagine what the therapist thought when I said it out loud. Once again, all treatments can be booked through your butler and are available morning, noon and night.
Feeling restored and in a deep state of calm, I walked back to my residence through the island with its beach hibiscus, screwpine and palm tree lined walkways as the sun began to set. I perched on the edge of the terrace, legs swinging in the breeze with nothing more than the ocean soundtrack and a sunset reminiscent of Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight. All was right in my small microcosm of the world. I realised that in less than 12 hours, Kudadoo had managed to achieve something that usually takes me a matter of days. Real peace and tranquility. A calmed mind, if you will.
All that remained of the evening was to decide where to dine. Would we lock ourselves away in the residence and dine on the terrace or venture out to The Retreat? As a board-certified foodie, there was no chance I would be able to leave the resort’s cheese cave and wine cellar unbothered for even one night. So, I quickly donned the only acceptable outfit in 30°, a cashmere jumper and shorts, and headed out into the night. It’s worth noting that not one pair of loafers or trousers were worn during the entirety of the stay. Air conditioned or otherwise, there would be no smart dining attire for me on this trip despite packing to the contrary. It’s a long way to bring a linen jacket only to have it air in the wardrobe for a week.
To my surprise, upon arriving at the restaurant, we were joined by some fellow dinner guests who had swapped the rarefied comfort of their residences for the company of sommelier Ilyas. The seasoned veteran will happily take you on a tour of the cellar which features over 80 labels and the owner’s private collection, all with a Wine Spectator rating of 88 or above. Personally, I couldn’t stay out of the adjacent cheese room. I haven’t honestly encountered anything like it since visiting the Chedi in Andermatt. The ‘Cheese Cave’ has 30 varieties of cheese in addition to a charcuterie that’s touched by the hands of god. It includes Saveurs de Maquis, Olivet au poivre, a whole Pata Negra ham, pistachio Mortadella and more kinds of chorizo than I was able to fit into my overly greedy face. Thank god for all the swimming and daily trips to the gym.
In addition to the resort’s foodie highlights, Kudadoo offers an off-plan dining approach. If you’ve a favourite dish or even an anally retentive diet plan, the kitchen team will be happy to oblige. However, the dining menu is sublime, so I encourage you to try the local dishes alongside the more traditional western options. I opted for sashimi and the scallop ceviche to start. Unless you are willing to get out there and catch your own fish at dawn, you won’t find fresher, I assure you. Somewhat uncharacteristically for me, I opted for the same dish twice during my stay. The Maldivian Wahoo fish curry was just that good, and I was raised with a penchant for all things spiced so I can safely say that I should know. Try the Nasi Goreng, Singaporean Chilli Mud Crab, Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek Tortellini, Tiger Prawn Toast and the Beef Tartare. Christ, just try it all and book a detox when you get back, okay? Guests can also use all the facilities at nearby sister resort Hurawalhi, including dining in its 5.8 Undersea Restaurant and Kashibo with its authentic, Asian-inspired dishes. With some fellow diners now in tow, we agreed to a digestif on the terrace by the Retreat’s bar. Cue the Hibiki and a cigar from the humidor. By this point, I wanted for nothing..
After a hard night’s gorging (lets call it what it was) on fine cuisine, I woke early to catch the sunrise over the Indian ocean, fresh coffee in hand. I had decided to maintain my workout plan during the trip, so I made my way to the resort’s gym, complete with a sea view, yoga instructor, personal trainer and life coach. I am not sure what the life coach might have been able to accomplish in the short time I was there, but next time I might well let them try, just to test their credentials. My cooldown was a morning beach walk around the small island’s pure shores. I spotted baby reef sharks in the shallows chasing bait fish as the local grey heron stalked on, hoping for an easy meal. When I arrived back at the walkway to the residences, I could see a small army of staff waiting patiently outside the villa. I had thought that my partner might awake at the agreed time for breakfast, but no such luck. I smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry, Miki, don’t you have a key?”
But our unwaveringly diligent butler would never enter the room without being invited in, even when opening the door for us. Now, readers, I appreciate that the floating breakfast might have become somewhat of a social media novelty, but to be brutally honest, I couldn’t care less about your thinly veiled disdain. I have never personally had breakfast ‘afloat’. What arrived that morning was a incredible cacophony of delicious honey mango, lime mascarpone smoothie bowls, pancakes, waffles, french toast, croissants, more raiding of the cheese cellar, smashed avocado, a croque madame, eggs benedict and a chorizo de rioja omelet. I had put in two hours at the gym to justify the magnificent, brunch-sized meal before me and I intended to dine and then lay motionless next to the pool for the remainder of the day. Or at least until 3pm, when we met Alex from the dive team and headed out to Kuredu Caves to spot sea turtles.
As I said before, If nothing else, I could spend all day snorkelling and diving in these abundant waters. Alex, our dive leader, was originally from Bern and had started her diving career in Southeast Asia. As the slow moving current took us along the shoreline, our boat followed as Alex pointed out a number of sea turtles coming up for air. Kuredu Caves is also known as ‘Turtle Airport’; a series of overhangs starting at eight metres and dropping down to 20 metres make it perfect for spotting porcupine fish, moray eels, scorpion fish and lion fish. We even tried a little free diving, with Alex flexing her lung capacity as she dove down below the overhang. Going beneath the waves is a must at Kudadoo – the Lhaviyani atoll is renowned for its incredible snorkelling and diving, and is known to have some of the best dive spots in the Maldives.
As usual, having spent most of the day in the water, I had entirely forgotten to top up my sunscreen, so the genuinely caring and attentive staff at the resort spa covered me in an aloe vera wrap before my massage. Did you even really travel if you didn’t come back a little burnt? Feeling good is real wealth. Looking good is new money.
Arriving back at the residence to change for dinner, the incredible Miki and her team had prepared a beautiful bubble bath complete with floral arrangements and an array of nibbles. Cured fois gras, date purée, pickled peach and pink pepper were served alongside puffed choux with caramelised onion and chive mousse, toasted almond and beef bresaola. My continued tip of the cap to Executive Chef Edouard and Executive Sous Chef Harshal. Later that evening, having joined management team Bradley Calder and his wife Agnieszka, we were treated to a hearty tandoori grill on the restaurant’s terrace overlooking the house reef. I can tell you that the pork chops were incredible and the wine that Brad was choosing was well matched. But, after several glasses, I can tell you little else; I was clearly overserved. Maldivian hospitality is well known.
The next morning was our final day on the island and perhaps the busiest yet. We had planned to take the Kudadoo mini catamaran sailing, but a lack of wind had put paid to any notions of gliding across the open ocean. Our planned destination was a remote sandbank near the sister resort, aptly named Dream Island. I suggested instead that we might Jet Ski there. Miki was all too happy to oblige and made the necessary arrangements in minutes. Soon after, we were flying across the water at mach 10 trying to keep up with our guide. Dream Island is as you might expect, a beautifully desolate and romantic sand bar about half a mile off shore of Hurawalhi. By this point I was in full nirvana mode; clothes were a distant memory save for a rather effeminate sun hat and SALT sunglasses. We strolled the bar’s shoreline, taking the opportunity to bask in the sheer unbridled escapism of it all. Of the many Maldivian memories now ingrained in my consciousness, the views out to the horizon from this deserted, solitary island are some of my fondest. It’s as close as I was going to get to a Robinson Crusoe moment this year. I needn’t collect driftwood and fishing nets to ensure sustenance though. The sand bar’s beach cabana was fully stocked with a bottle of chilled Taittinger, fresh fruit and macarons. I know, macarons on a desert island – who goes anywhere without a pastry chef.?
After a few hours of hermited bliss, we were collected by Taichi, Fadda, Rastey, Viju and Alibaba from the watersports team. The Maldives is one of the few places you can visit and get an aerial view of your immediate destination whilst on your arrival flight. You see the clearest blue water, occasionally populated by a desert island or string of villas extending out into the ocean. So what better way to truly appreciate the elysian surroundings than by paragliding far above the ocean? The cool sea breeze hits you as you rise higher and higher and the rich tapestry of colour unfolds beneath you. You’ll spot dolphins and, if you’ve a keen eye, you might even be lucky enough to spot a manta ray, though these can very occasionally be seen from the residences, I am told.
With the rest of the afternoon to kill, we spent the day taking in the views from the lower sun deck, stopping only to cool off and snorkel. I was starting to make my peace with spotting the occasional shark out of the corner of my eye whilst out in the water. If you dive regularly I suppose it’s commonplace, but it still raised my blood pressure when I tried to get closer.
As the light began to fade, all that remained was to take supper on the beach. What an elegant setting, I thought, as I reached for my camera yet again. An array of multi-levelled tea lights and lanterns were set up to illuminate the dining spot. This was a well choreographed ballet for the staff, I could tell. I imagine many a proposal has been or would be made from this shoreline. To say it was romantic is an insult to the combined works of Jane Austen – It was spellbinding. Any amorous thoughts were quickly extinguished by grilled octopus with smoked eggplant confit, pork belly, chorizo and watercress alongside crab cakes. This was followed by the ahi tuna burger and double-cooked pork belly. If there was even an inch of room, it was subsumed by the ricotta cheese cake, mango glaze and ice cream. Had we spent any longer on the island, I am quite sure I would have sunk.
Kudadoo is a resort that’s setting a new standard for modern, sustainable luxury. From the fine dining to the unspoilt surroundings, the resorts “anything, anywhere, anytime” approach is a market-leading breath of fresh air. It’s arguably setting the benchmark for all to follow. In a region sometimes too preoccupied with increased footfall, Kudadoo treads very lightly – barefoot luxury at its finest.