If the weather was a judgement of our stay, it would have been dark and dreary, with sporadic hints of happiness quickly dashed by the frequent knowledge of what would come next. This was June, but certainly romance was not found in the surroundings. Rainy season is not so much about the short bursts of rain, but the bleakness that greets you as you stare into the blackened sky. It is the inconsistency that hurts the most; one minute it’s paradise, the next you may as well be on a condemned, Wilson-less desert island.
Designer hotels have popped up with the regularity of diabetes at a Taco Bell within recent years; from Armani to Bulgari and Trump’s new 1-star American separation camps. Some have better success than others. Cheval Blanc Randheli is yet another, this time owned by LVMH, ye of Louis Vuitton fame.
This was my third attempt to get to Cheval Blanc Randheli. Each time an opportunity came up I decided on elsewhere. Cheaper, more convenient, better facilities, just better – pick any number of reasons. All of the rumours of French snobbery, dress codes, staff arrogance and this being no more than a shopping mall in the Indian Ocean are present to see. This is definitely not barefoot luxury, more Dior Spring/Summer Collection.
Cheval Blanc Randheli has everything I hate in a property.
Except for the fact that it’s absolutely bloody brilliant and frankly one of the finest properties on earth. Who can blame the staff here for thinking so highly of themselves? If you act like a superstar, you better make sure you are one. They are hall of famers.
It has been executed with such elegance that of course the French were involved. There is no showing off, yet everything is showing that they have thought about you and only you. Then, whilst any other hotel would have patted themselves on the back and called it a day, they went back and carried on discussing every single thought and dream the guest would have. This must have went on for months.
No one should arrive to Cheval Blanc Randheli and be wowed. You have already enjoyed their private lounge in Male and flown in their private, custom-fitted and designed plane. You have already witnessed their focus on the guest directly in the lounge: check-in straight from your seat; their adoration of children with a dedicated kids area; their affair with food from a menu of freshly squeezed drinks and snacks; their love of luxury with the entire style and space.
But after 45 minutes of flying north, you will arrive and you will be wowed. Even this old dog learnt a few new tricks. The facilities will make you grin like a Cheshire Cat on smack, as you realise the scale of what they have achieved. 6 islands – 3 connected by bridges – that house a diving centre, 6 restaurants, spa, games room, kids club, bar, pool and 46 of the most beautiful rooms. Oh, and one entire island, accessible only by boat, reserved for their flagship Owner’s Villa, a 4 bedroom masterpiece. If you are reading this and planning on booking it, I can still legally be adopted in 13 countries – it’s not too late for me to be that useless son you never wanted.
And if you proceed, just know what fun I’ll have. The kids club was so good that I wanted to start a breading program to get my child in there immediately. I am not brave/stupid enough to walk into a kids club with a tripod and camera, so you will just have to just imagine Disney World, just with happy parents.
Even their boutique gave pause. Called a “Concept Store”, it had all the hallmarks of a luxury boutique, even down to me being involuntarily dragged into it. Damn you, Louis. Damn you to hell. More appealing was the bar, with a TV installed for the World Cup to be enjoyed. Or for the Germans, just something to watch.
Not short of space, one island is used solely for tennis courts, whilst another is just for their magnificent spa, with sauna, steam room, yoga pavilion, bar, beach and beautiful gardens.
The biggest issue with Cheval Blanc Randheli is how it was made – it certainly wasn’t discovered this way. With so much of the island being man-made, there are naturally some flaws. On one hand, there are absolutely no mosquitos. Praise be to Jesus. But they managed the same feat at Velaa and those guys didn’t march in and wipe out all the locals, like they’re the British or something. I imagine if a bird lands on Cheval Blanc, staff are trained to strangle it in front of their chicks so they pass the message on: never come back. You would need a team led by Sigourney Weaver to find any form of life at Cheval Blanc.
This also means there is no reef, although they will take you to nearby sites on a speedboat. The only time I saw a fish was on my plate. You are actually statistically nine times more likely to see a Chinese family than a fish, even when snorkelling.
Whilst there is a lack of wildlife, it should not be mistaken for a lack of environmental awareness. There is almost an entire absence of plastic on the island, from straws to keycards being made from wood. They absolutely do not pretend to be an eco resort, but there is a commitment towards the idea. The island deserves preservation – it should not be underestimated how beautiful it is, with the white, soft sand making it ideal to walk barefoot.
Yet the real beauty of Cheval Blanc is within the 3 most important areas of a resort: rooms, service and cuisine.
I must have looked through every brochure available before finally calling it: I had so little clue what the difference in the room types. In the end we stayed two nights in a Garden Water Villa (#23) and the remaining two in an Island Villa (#14), which I hoped would finally resolve this enigma. Quite simply, the interior of every room is the same (around 250 sqm), it comes down to which part of the island it’s on and what is outside. This means even in the cheapest room category you are sleeping in a masterpiece.
Garden Water Villas face out directly onto the ocean and offer a small, private beach and garden area, whilst Island Villas lead onto a beach – apparently private, yet no more than anywhere else. The Island Villas benefit from all sliding glass door either side of the living room, so you can be indoors, yet enjoy outdoors. For someone who loves going to hot environments, I don’t actually like being in the sun – I go full blown lobster in about 15 minutes from my pasty Irish/English skin.
The design is breathtaking, and I do not use that lightly. I have been somewhat privileged in my travels, but it still took me by surprise. Unbelievably elegant, with so much space, light and style. And even a free non-alcoholic minibar. The layout, like everything else, perfection. It just kept on giving, with suddenly a kitchen and guest bathroom discovered, and then there’s a private beach followed by an outdoor dining area. The lap pool, a thing of beauty, apt, as I did prefer to look at it than use it, for fear of freezing to death.
As if my sleep wasn’t already perfect in their sublime bed, those bastards even got me the exact Tempur pillow I wanted. They are impossible not to love. Each evening, padding appeared by each side of the bed, just for your feet to rest upon as you got in and out of bed – something I’ve only ever seen in La Reserve Paris before. They take sleep very seriously here.
The huge ceilings and ability to alter between open-plan with the large ceiling-high doors is genius. As if you didn’t have enough space, the design makes you feel like you’re in space. The huge wardrobes, shower with double entrance from his and hers vanities and incredible in-room tech are just a few of the touches that prove Cheval Blanc truly understand their customers. If you can convince someone to spend £10,000 on a handbag made from dead animals, you know a thing or two about how to treat people.
The icing on the cake was the tech. It is without any hesitation the best implementation I’ve ever seen in any hotel, and actually proves that you can actually use a tablet. The iPad provides information from dining to group activities, and controls everything: AC, sound, lighting, TV, AirPlay, blinds and so on and so on. They even had the foresight to add a “Master Switch” that turns all the lights off after 3 minutes, giving you plenty of time to be tucked in, turn on the TV, watch it rise from the cabinet at the end of your bed and watch any number of their freely available selection of movies.
To find fault, as it is my nature to, there was a strange lack of plugs anywhere, except the side of the bed. There actually is a socket next to the vanities, but I only found it whilst reading a review of Cheval Blanc that commented how how hard it was to find them. I think irony is overused, but it’s worth taking a moment to use it here. Opening the main doors somehow always turned into a puzzle, with the Do Not Disturb button being next to the Open Door button on the way out, yet on the way in we’d always push the wrong door forward, meaning it could not be locked again.
But all of this is minor compared to the strange deployment of never-ending steps and dips, just waiting for you to crash through the nearest window and show up on Jeremy Beadle’s latest hit venture. Although it apparently has a purpose behind amusing the staff with all the accidents, I have never seen it anywhere else. Cheval Blanc’s strap-line should be “mind the step”.
Even with this, I would rate Cheval Blanc’s rooms amongst the best I’ve ever stayed in: up there with Saffire, The Brando, North Island (more the space than the actual villa design), Iniala and Miavana. The interesting thing with that list is, excluding Saffire, every one of those properties base room types are amazing. It’s rare to be able to stay at a property and know wherever you are that it’s great.
Then there’s the service. Cheval Blanc just gets hospitality. The constant ask for feedback, management everywhere, servers immediately present when you sit down – basically, the complete opposite of The Brando. It’s like they’ve taken all their knowledge of selling and implemented it into a well thought out machine of hospitality. The immediate offer to unpack; the daily snacks; the on-arrival complimentary laundry for 3 pieces so whatever you arrived in is clean for departure; the mini-bar restocked if you barely even look at it; the omnipresence of management everywhere, with the GM and F&B Director coming along for every meal to say hello.
You do not just see it within the service, but the facilities. I loved the thought put into guest satisfaction and experience, which you could tell just by observing small details, such as each restaurant offering a cold towel that has a different scent. That theme was even present during the spa, where rather than giving you a choice of oils, they present them to you as a story whilst the fragrance drifts down to your nose. Not feeling special enough? Try out the Cheval Blanc custom built golf buggy to get around the resort.
My stay list featured my reasonable request of squash/syrup in the room, yet they took it one step further here: someone approached me during breakfast and asked me which one I’d like. During football, popcorn was bought over to enjoy; our choice of still and sparkling water started to appear without asking.
There are a few areas that could be looked into. As creatures of habit, breakfast was always the same, yet always had to repeat the order, only to watch them get it wrong – that is, unless a certain member of staff was present. We were also frequently asked the same question by different members of staff, meaning they are not communicating properly. Room service was slow, with a drinks order taking nearly 40 minutes, but my favourite and moment that could only result in laughing was with their newly appointed trainer. Lucie met her on our final evening, spoke to her and arranged for a session at 9am the next day. She failed to show up, but then came over during our departure to introduce herself, like she had never met us before. Don’t do drugs, kids.
You are required to sign for the bill, which I thought a shame, but then it doesn’t have anywhere to ask for a tip, so they’re not doing it to force guilt, more likely to force you into ensuring you’re aware that the pasta you just ate cost more than my first house. Lastly, the butler did a good job, yet without offering the mind-reading nature of Iniala, North Island or Aman-i-Khas.
Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French and International cuisines are available at their 6 uniquely themed restaurants. Never sitting back, they opened a Teppanyaki grill in December, although I am starting to wonder if there’s some legal mandate for these in the Maldives, as both Velaa and Soneva Fushi recently had one installed too. Still, it was one of the highlights of our stay, with surprisingly excellent dishes served in an intimate environment. I do not recall better Japanese food in any resort outside of Japan.
The Deelani offered exquisite Italian dishes, whilst The White offered a huge variety of international cuisine, ranging from foie gras burgers to Chinese, Arabian and Indian dishes. With all day breakfast available, I certainly did not leave hungry.
1947 is their flagship, fine-dining French cuisine – a weekly changing 12 course tasting menu. The vibe could not feel any different to the myths. 1947 does have a dress code, but even if I managed to fulfil it: trousers, shoes and a top classier than a wife-beater. With white curtains separating the guests, it had a rather familiar vibe to The Brando’s Les Mutinés, but unlike there it came with a $325/pp bill, and an unimpressive menu. I would normally have something to say, yet Villa Feltrinelli already taught me how to spend so much on a meal, be disappointed and quickly move on.
I’m like a gambling addict when it comes to fine dining – for every £5k I spend, only about £500 brings any sort of return, but I keep doing it and looking for that next win. The bill was $866 with just one glass of wine, and two dishes that brought true displeasure to my existence. When they asked for my feedback the next day and I just mentioned I wasn’t a fan. They comped my meal. That level of service completely blew me away.
Feedback is taken very seriously here. A $19 soup appeared during lunch, as if it was designed for a sick hamster – the portion so small. Upon the recently appointed F&B Director hearing of this, the next portion arrived as if it was curing hunger.
The Brando will still retain my crown for best food, but Cheval Blanc did an excellent job.
I wish I could tell you more about the activities, but I was too relaxed to try any other than the dolphin cruise. Well, I wanted to try it, but the weather once again saw an end to that. It was kind enough to allow us to depart to a warm goodbye the next day, as Velaa collected us to take us on the next part of our Maldives adventure.
Cheval Blanc has new properties appearing in the near future: St. Tropez, Paris and Bali. Start the countdown, it will be worth it.
- You’re in the Maldives – what more do you want?
- The weather. 2 days of perfection, one of clouds and another where it looked like it could snow at any moment, even though it was still 28C.
- The position of the arrivals/departures meant we frequently heard the sea plane throughout the day.
- Tremendous style
- Massive focus on customer satisfaction
- World-class facilities
Everything about Cheval Blanc is pure class and feels immensely stylish and relaxing, all without any hint of snobbery. Service, accommodation, facilities and (most of) the food is up there amongst the best. It may even be the only hotel in the world to have properly implemented a usable iPad control system. I know some will have issue with the man-made nature of the island and lack of a reef, yet as we don’t dive and rarely snorkel it doesn’t bother us.
Normally this is where the story would end, but after departing Cheval Blanc we made our way to Velaa and Soneva Fushi. On return to Male, with low expectations for the Turkish Airways lounge, we asked if it would be possible to use Cheval Blanc’s lounge. They collected us from the plane, drove us over to their lounge, provided us with drinks and then drove us back to the airport. As it turned out, they stayed open just for us. I love this property.
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