Vibrant house reef, cinematic underwater restaurant, and direct shark access from your villa. On their first overseas post-pandemic trip, one family finds that visiting the Anantara Kihavah is like stepping into The Little Mermaid.
As we approach the jetty by speedboat, I see a party of at least 10 waiting to greet us. ‘“Look alive, guys!” I say to my family as we coast to a gentle stop, the hypnotic beat of the Boduberu drum in the background already working to soothe edges. It is a living postcard: the pristine white beach lapped by crystalline aquamarine waters, framed with coconut palms swaying in the breeze. I feel strangely numb—the setting is almost unreal, too perfect. The sensory overload might be heightened by the fact that this is our first escape from Malaysia in two-plus years… and what a way to make an exit.
“Kihavah means ‘young coconut’ in Maldivian,” says Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas general manager Ross Sanders, as we are each handed one as a welcome drink. Jambe, our villa host, ushers our family of four onto the buggy bound for overwater villa No. 211.
The villa is bright and spacious, reflecting the hues of the sky and sea, designed to make the most of its overwater location. The sliding doors to the left of the king-sized bed open to reveal the infinity pool, while the doors in front of the bed open onto the deck, where there is a dining table and a large swing bed overflowing with plump cushions for dozing on in the breeze. Further on, three hammocks are suspended over the water. Down the stairs, deckchairs beckon, and from this platform a wooden ladder descends into the clear waters of the Indian Ocean.
The large, white marble bathroom is a dream with high ceilings, and Moorish arches and design accents. The sunken bathtub has a see-through glass bottom. And there’s a divan in the center of the space, should you want to lay back and chat with whomever is languishing in the tub, or singing in the outdoor shower. Someone has made note of our sizes, as four bathrobes and four sets of comfy bedroom slippers await in the perfect fit.
It’s 5 p.m. and we’re booked for drinks at SKY at 6 p.m., but we change into our swimsuits. Our six-year-old spotted the inflatable water park bobbing in the sea in front of the watersports center, so we must go now! On our bicycles, each labeled with our names, we wobble down the wooden walkway, (Have they had to fish guests and bicycles out of the sea?, I wonder) but soon get the hang of it. Then, we are running down the beach, whooping as we hit the water and swim out to the inflatable obstacle course. Three rounds of jump/scramble/slip/cling/slide are as much as my old knees can take. Besides, it’s time to cycle like the wind back to get ready for drinks and dinner.
On the opposite side of the island, at the culinary complex housing SEA.FIRE.SPICE.SKY., the vibe is decidedly chill. As they pour me their standard glass of champagne (right to the top, thank you!), I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and shed… the tension that comes with traveling with small kids compounded by the pandemic… my disbelief at the jaw-dropping setting. When I open my eyes, the sunset dazzles in indigo, violet, burnt orange.
Later, we enjoy Teppanyaki theatrics a la Benihana at FIRE, then Jambe picks us up and all but tucks us in.
We wake at daybreak, opening all the doors in the villa, making our way out onto the deck, espressos in hand, to sit and peer into the sea where there are colorful reef fish to spot. Then, we cycle to Plates for breakfast by the beach. Every meal that we have at Anantara Kihavah is stellar in both quality, execution and authenticity; from the chocolate babka and Maldivian curries at the breakfast buffet, to the linguine vongole at Manzaru, and the Indian and Thai offerings at SPICE. Even the villa service children’s bolognese with added vegetables (I sampled a teeny bit) was delicious.
On another morning, we drowsily head to SEA for a private breakfast, unprepared for the magical experience to come. The Anantara Kihavah signature restaurant is an underwater jewel box, each facet a window into the thriving marine life. The coral dance, the fish flit in and out, and we wait for the turtles to come and peek at us—it’s like being in a scene from The Little Mermaid. Our private waiter serves us: fresh juice, champagne, fruit, pastries, lobster benedict, fluffy pancakes. We learn the names: sweetlips, soldierfish, trevally, damselfish, parrotfish. We ascend from the restaurant in a dreamlike state, into real life—but wait, is this real life?
I get complimentary snorkeling gear from the watersports center and dive in from my villa, immediately seeing a cowtail stingray, black tip reef shark and huge blotched stingray. I freak myself out a little bit and am henceforth too chicken to go out to the reef alone. On another day, I do 30 minutes on the house reef with Hossam from the dive team. We swim along the reef wall and I am astounded by how alive it is, how colorful and teeming—it’s just the house reef! Two hawksbill turtles are out hunting for breakfast and I bob and dive with them (at a safe distance of course).
The days begin to meld together and my family’s cup is full. We go on a dolphin cruise, keeping our eyes peeled for bottlenose and spinners as we whizz past the atolls, buffeted by the wind. A post-dinner session at the observatory has our daughter marveling at the lakes and craters of the moon in high-def, and on another evening we snuggle up for Cinema Under the Stars, enjoying mini lobster rolls and giant bowls of popcorn. We make friends with the Aamaal, Khartini and Thoi at Thithtiboli, the kids club, and negotiate family time with our little one, who would like to abandon us and move in.
On one evening, we go down to SEA again, this time for a wine-tasting session. The Anantara Kihavah wine cellar is famed in the Maldives, having been honored by Wine Spectator for its exceptional selection, including a 1840 Taylor’s Vintage Port and bottles of Dom Perignon being aged on the seabed. I swirl and sip and try so hard to focus on the Mora Negra, but I am distracted by the flurry of activity in the water as dusk descends. Here are the hawksbill turtles, not one, not two, but three, simultaneously, on different sides. A lionfish sits on a rock, next to a baby lobster, feeling her way out. A nurse shark soars by and scores of giant trevally pass. Is this real life?
At the spa I have an appointment with the visiting wellness practitioner, Vinod, for a Himalayan sound healing massage. He begins with my head, he is massaging, but also somehow reading me, asking questions about countenance and ailments. While I answer, I have the feeling he already knows, as though my body is transmitting everything via osmosis through his fingers. He plays the singing bowls—he has about 12 of varying sizes—then places them on my body, instructing me to absorb the vibrations. He massages, and I float. I am away, but I also want to be present for everything that he is doing. He massages mindfully, masterfully, as though he is listening and learning my body. I, in turn, am observing everything, the transcendent effect it is having on me. Finally, I hear him telling me that the experience has concluded, but I cannot move my eyelids, nor my limbs. He gives me time, then finally says, “You have to come back now,” and then I do.
All too soon, it’s our final breakfast. We get the table closest to the water—throughout the week, there have been no bad views, just constancy: the soft whiteness of the sand and clouds, the turquoise ocean, green of the trees, bark brown from the thatched roofing, and the deep azure of the sky. The chefs, knowing my husband’s fondness for Sri Lankan cuisine, make him a breakfast featuring both styles of hoppers. Then, it’s time for goodbye. As with our arrival here at Anantara Kihavah, there is a line of people at the jetty, except now we know them all: Jambe, Arun, Earle, Linde, Prabhash, Thomas. “I’ll be back for Christmas!” says my daughter. Jambe escorts us onto the boat, then onto the floating platform where the seaplane is docked, seeing us all aboard. His name, by the way? It means ‘always at your side.’
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas; from US$2,200 per night, for two adults on half board, inclusive of all taxes and service charges