Sandbank sojourn

Dig your toes into the sands of Reethi Rah and let the beauty sweep you off your feet

 

The storm clouds gathered swiftly, taking over the clear skies like a legion from darkness. Was I to be marooned on this tiny strip of sand, surrounded by a cold ocean? And then it began.

The rain came down in a vengeful shower. It was a good thing I wasn’t alone in this place. Jeyde, my guide, had promised me that my “sandbank experience” would be a memorable one. Boy, was he right!

Burst of beauty

Ten soaking minutes later, the sun broke out through a dark curtain of clouds, sweeping the sky with shafts of light. The rain almost felt like a figment of our imagination. An enthusiastic Jeyde shouted “let’s snorkel!” and handed me a set of flippers with a mask. With a reef full of coral and colourful fish, Reethi Rah in the Maldives was as beautiful underwater as it was above.

The islands of the Maldives are picture-perfect, set like emerald drops with ribbons of translucent reefs wrapped around them. There are 1,192 islands in the 26 atolls of the Maldives, out of which only 200 are inhabited.

The isle of Reethi Rah stretches out into a deep blue sea, with swanky white yachts bobbing on the clear, green water along the jetty.

The journey from the Malé airport to the jetty on the swish yacht took us about 75 minutes. Thanks to the One&Only Resort group, this gem of an island offers chic comfort amid tall, swaying palms and winding, sandy paths.

Intricately carved wooden pillars stand tall in the reception area while ceiling fans languidly draw invisible circles in the air.

Refreshing welcome

“There are three ways to get around this island — you either walk, cycle or take a golf cart,” explains a guest relations representative.

I’m handed a refreshing drink and a wet towel soaked in essential oils. The combined effect is an instant de-stresser. The golf cart, too, sounds great.

The vehicle moves along a twisty, sandy route and over a tiny lagoon, taking me closer to a beach villa. Started as an ambitious project four years ago, the One&Only Reethi Rah has elegant interiors of wood and stone.

Tiny waves lap on the crusty, pale sand just a few metres from my bed and an aquamarine sea turns to a deeper blue over the breakwaters in the distance.

I was down at the beach in a flash to spot a baby reef shark swimming near the water’s edge.

Fun and sand

Thanks to three restaurants, a soothing spa with fountains and bubbling brooks, a dive centre, a chic boutique, several swimming pools and a daily afternoon high tea at the Rah pavilion, my holiday diary was as stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey.

And while on the subject of gastronomy, Reethi Restaurant served breakfast every morning by the water’s edge, overlooking a tree-swathed sandy bay.

Occasionally, at mealtimes, I caught sight of children throwing bread to fish that swam hungrily below — the unique unicorn fish, among others, and a brown fish with a pair of rather disdainful eyes.

But the majority of guests took off for deep-sea adventures such as big-game fishing, diving and snorkeling. A good many could be found lazing by the poolside or blissfully soaking themselves in the infinity pool.

Dinner was a trifle challenging. Teetering about on sand with high heels was the tricky bit.

Magical moments

The Fanditha Restaurant is a place where Queen Scheherazade would have loved to dine. Fanditha means “magic” in Dhivehi and the fantasies of Arabian Nights translated into reality as the seaside setting evoked a magical ambience.

Scarlet lamps in the lap of the surrounding greenery threw dim shadows on the sandy carpet. Couples on honeymoon sat by the flickering candlelight, which bounced off the sequinned table covers, with toes dug into the soft sand and ears tuned to the sound of waves caressing the shore.

But Reethi Rah is also popular with families, as I judged from the happy shouts of children running along the water’s edge, chasing crabs.

The next night I found myself indulging in tapas-style sushi and sashimi at the breezy Japanese restaurant, Tapasaki.

The sound of splashing waves is a constant companion around Reethi Rah and on a windy night, the long, cylindrical chandeliers of the restaurant twist and sway with abandon.

A golf cart is only a call away and one arrived within minutes to ferry me back to my villa.

Pedalling in paradise

I was up before the birds next morning. The reason was an early-morning dip in the sea with my friendly-neighbourhood reef shark and an agenda that included cycling around the island.

With the day fast wearing on, I had yet to explore the length and breadth of the island on bicycle. So I hopped on my bicycle and rode along.

Thanks to a map, I was able to visit both Turtle Beach and Reethi Beach at the centre of the island and Palm Beach and Frangipani Beach to the far south.

Resorts and spas — the two go hand in hand. Voted as one of the leading spas of the world, the One&Only Reethi Rah Spa offers a choice of holistic treatments.

And while the mothers are being pampered, there is nothing better for the children than to reign over their very own domain — at the Kids Only Club. It’s a place for kids to relax and enjoy activities such as treasure hunts, table tennis and cookery classes.

A qualified staff engages them in games and excursions while a lifeguard keeps a watchful eye on the swimming pool.

Tucked away in a little nook sits the Reethi Rah boutique, a treat for any holidaying fashionista. Stocked up on all things designer — swimwear, kaftan, jewellery — the boutique even has footwear designed especially for the One&Only by Christian Louboutin.

With a name like “Secrets of Thila”, the snorkeling excursion on Turtle Island held a lot of promise. I jumped into a warm sea that morning, a tad skeptical about turtle spotting.

Schools of bright blue angelfish and tiny yellow butterfly fish swam along as if hurrying to run urgent errands.

Hassan and Jeyde, my guides, suddenly dunked deep and pointed out something just below — a turtle! There, in the blue depths, swam a slightly lethargic specimen, staring up at me while chewing idly on his morning meal.

Curiosity got the better of a larger, more alert turtle further ahead and it swam up to the surface, probably to see what clumsy flapping form was invading its watery world.

Island studies

What better than a feast of tropical fruits while bouncing back towards the resort on the traditional dhoni, or the fishing boat.

While enjoying the fruity treat, I asked Jeyde about education opportunities in the Maldives.

He explained that like many his age, his younger brother pursues further studies in Malé, where colleges and universities offer a more comprehensive choice of courses.

However, this has led to a significant part of the population of the Maldives residing in Malé, putting the capital city’s resources under considerable strain.

Contented lot

As I prepared to leave this paradise behind for the concrete maze of a bustling metropolis, I think I finally unlocked the secret to the twinkle in every Maldivian eye.

With a daily dose of sun, sea and breezy palm groves, you cannot help but feel content. Well, it’s time for me to wipe my silly grin off — the one I’ve had on my face since I dropped anchor at Reethi Rah.

This piece originally appeared in Gulf News, the UAE’s leading newspaper

http://gulfnews.com/leisure/travel/sandbank-sojourn-1.501639

 

 

Andrea Bailey

Andrea Bailey

Andrea Bailey is a Dubai based travel writer. She is also a travel consultant with Travel Counsellors and specializes in cruises, family holidays and honey moons. When she’s not out and about discovering destinations and different cuisines of the world, you would probably find her busy with her 3 daughters and her other passions involving art and music.

As a mosaic artist, she has travelled to Italy and studied ancient Roman techniques of the art form and as a jazz flautist she has had the opportunity of performing across various Dubai venues.