Luxurious, over-water villas. An undersea restaurant. A holistic wellness approach steeped in science and powered by nature. Anantara’s destination in the Maldives offers one pinch-me experience after another.
It’s almost too good to be true.
I am sipping my sparkling water, dazzled by a pair of blue parrotfish frolicking not a foot from where I sit. I look down, mesmerized by the undulating arms of a vibrant peach anemone and the clownfish hovering above it and hiding within, when a sting ray emerges from the ocean’s shadows so quickly it’s gone before the phones can capture it. Then, oh yeah, a blacktip reef shark glides by in the distance. And come watch the Clarke’s anemone fish hanging out in the softly swaying purple and lime arms of its sea anemone home. This is no aquarium. We are witnessing mother ocean’s dazzling variety show while sitting in a restaurant six feet below sea level at Anantara’s island resort in the Maldives, not a hair on our head wet and not one touristy piece of chum thrown into the sea to attract fish for the guests.
Later in the meal, there’s an appearance by Freddie, a four-foot, craggy brown-marbled grouper that’s been hanging around since the restaurant was built. Then, cue the welcome turtle.
With one, confident stroke of its front flippers, a two-foot long, critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle glides diagonally across the glass wall separating us. Even the team members who see this show daily (“It doesn’t matter the weather or the time of day, it’s always lively,” says Anantara Kihava’s social media executive and content producer Ibrahim Mausoof) are impressed by the sheer abundance of checklist-worthy fauna attending our breakfast reception.
At Sea, humans are in the enclosure and the inhabited, ever-moving ocean life visits you. If you don’t (or can’t) dive or snorkel, but you want to experience the ocean, Anantara has found this most elegant solution. But the breadth of ocean life seen just beyond the glass has also inspired something bigger.
CONSERVING CORAL, SUSTAINING THE OCEAN
Today is the unveiling of Wonders of Kihavah, a groundbreaking science-based coffee-table-book-meets-research-study chronicling the remarkably rich biodiversity found here. The Anantara Kihavah “house reef” (a coral reef situated within swimming distance of a resort) enjoys a privileged position in the heart of the Baa Atoll archipelago, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and an area world-renowned for its pristine beauty. This nation of 1,200 islands (600 of which are inhabited) in the Indian Ocean is recognized alongside places like the Galapagos Islands as a unique place where conservation, research and development successfully interconnect. Funded by Anantara, and its Dollars for Deeds philanthropy arm, the book marks the culmination of two years’ effort hiring and hosting some of the world’s most acclaimed marine scientists, then putting their story out into the world.
Australian Marine Conservation Society Director Dr. Selina Ward was brought on to lead the study, which aimed to catalog the remarkable biodiversity, even in the aftermath of the 2016 El Nino “great bleaching” that decimated all the world’s reefs. She and her colleagues, fish and coral experts Dr. Storm Martin and Dr. Hannah Markham, had all conducted extensive research work on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and they remarked how surprised and heartened they were to see how healthy, lively and diverse the Anantara Kihavah reef turned out to be.
Scientists recorded an astounding 300 fish species (and 132 species of corals), a delicate equilibrium that only underscores the urgent need for climate action and sustained conservation efforts. The book includes stunning under- and over-water photography, as well as a comprehensive fish index, indicating the areas around the island where each species was found.
Their sustainability efforts go even deeper. The resort employs two full-time marine biologists, who lead restorative coral projects of their own, as well as initiatives involving guests. Not one tree was cut down during the construction of the resort, which opened in 2011 and was built on the site of a former coconut plantation. Individually designed to protect Kihavah’s natural wonders, the resort’s beachside villas were built around the island’s existing flora; coconut trees jut through some of the villas’ ceilings, while guests walk or bike around the interior of the island via paths lined with the lush canopies of old growth native trees.
DIVE, SNORKEL & GET YOUR BUCKET LISTS READY
A visit to Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas is a multi-bucket-list endeavor. The immersive underwater dining experience of Sea is of course a standout. So is staying in one of its expansive over-water villas, which are positioned in an ellipse on stilts over the turquoise lagoon, each with a private pool, moonlit shower, loo with a view. The island also has the Maldives’ most powerful telescope for guided star gazing, something that can be done over cocktails and storytelling with the resident astronomist. We saw Saturn!
From June to November, giant manta rays hang out at nearby Hanifaru Bay, the “underwater valley of giants” that’s a 40-minute speed boat ride from the resort. I’ll never forget having to intentionally lift my legs to avoid the nine-foot giants gliding beneath me. If you’re lucky, gargantuan whale sharks stealthily emerge from the deep and mingle with their filter-feeding manta friends.
SPA & NUTRITIONAL WELLNESS
Guests of Anantara take pride in the property’s environmental stewardship, in the hiring and training that reaches deep into the community and of course the highest quality cuisine and amenities. But the brand is best known for luxurious, spa-focused wellness experiences, each unique to far-flung, exotic locations. So off to the spa I go. It’s located at the end of a curving, wooden-planked walkway, with overwater treatment rooms offering spectacular cerulean views, should your eyes remain open.
I will be first to experience one of its new Optimization Retreat options, which starts with an epigenetics assessment, treatments aligned with my goals, then personalized nutrition advice.
Resident nutritionist and naturopath Kelly Manning plucks some hair root samples then puts them through a bio profiler, which creates a detailed report about my body’s vitamin, mineral, essential amino acids, antioxidants and contaminants. For 90 days I’m to avoid a list of foods that might be causing stress to my body’s digestive and immune system. I am not allergic to these foods; the test simply indicates that they can drain my body’s energy resources and stop the absorption of certain nutrients which are crucial to enzyme and metabolic function. Easy enough: no trout, poppy seeds, beef, corn or barley for three months.
But here’s the game-changer: Kelly partnered with a holistic chef, who trained and educated the Anantara Kihavah culinary team on vegan food, so that starting November their menus can include recipes inspired by the epigenetic experience. My results indicate I need to balance some severe environmental exposures (hello EMFs from air travel and constant cell-phone exposure) and can use some adrenal support. In our session, Kelly suggests I eat more “cleaning foods” like anything green, nuts (lay off the Macadamias for a while, though), and certain seeds. Also seek out watermelon for its magnesium and vitamins A and C.
At lunch later that day, I’m served a personalized green smoothie of apple, banana, flaxseed, walnut and a little watermelon. I sample kitchari (a traditional Ayurvedic dish of rice, mung beans and a variety of spices and vegetables), an island poke bowl and a vegan “faux” gras terrine of cashew, mushrooms, miso and sesame that tastes incredibly decadent and fills me for hours. Hard-pressed as I am, I eye the two desserts, a raw vegan blueberry cheesecake (which I declined for the macadamia nut ingredient it contains) and instead choose a Wolffia Globosa B12 Booster Ball—as fun to eat as it is to say. Wolffia Globosa is a nutrient-packed species of duckweed (considered the world’s smallest flowering plant) that contains almost all the essential amino acids, bioavailable vitamin B12, omega-3 fats that I needed. Yum.
Later, I head back to the spa, and linger in the shop, which sells the high-end London-based 111Skin brand, known for its rose gold facial. But I’m drawn to the shelves containing the beloved Ayurvedic Subtle Energies line, which my massage therapist had used to delightful effect during my blissful Marma massage, which incorporates long, firm, flowing movements and therapeutic techniques at various levels of pressure. (Marma points are anatomical locations in your body where, according to Ayurvedic principles, a concentration of life energy exists. It is said that there are 107 points in various locations around the human body, 11 in your limbs and 37 in your head and neck region alone.)
The aromatherapeutic Subtle Energies formulations are intended to balance emotions, release stress and reduce anxiety, while the Marma therapy and chakra balance align vital energy centers. Delivered by a seasoned massage therapist, the Marma massage is a must-book treatment. I’m adding it to the long list of unforgettable experiences at this breathtaking property. anantara.com