By nature, I am not prone to harbouring grudges. However, this is not borne of some saintly forbearance on my part; but like any mercurial person it takes me all of 5 seconds to simmer down. Yet, for the past week there’s been a candle to my wick and it’s finally caught; so please excuse me if this review smacks of #firstworldproblems but I like a good axe-grinding as much as the next woman.
The Maldives is well travelled terrain for many of my friends – but they all seemed to go to the same resort, The One and Only. Maybe it was vanity, but my fiancé and I thought to shirk this citadel of beefy neckless post-Communist charm (his words not mine) in favour of somewhere equally good but with less self-congratulatory smugness round the pool.
The Cheval Blanc Randheli is the recently opened LVMH resort in the Maldives and the first in their hotel portfolio. The photos were full of elan and sophisticated promise.
On my last visit to the Maldives we stayed at the Anantara resort; a charming natural Island with lush vegetation, tropical flowers the size of dinner plates and a lucent turquoise lagoon. Experience builds expectations. We were crossing the equator goddamit.
I expected fireworks. Being fanned with palm leaves by the pool. Rooms out of architectural digest. Bluer skies. Coral flamingos. A talking monkey here and there.
Not a flamingo in sight. In fact, no birds at all. The only animals at the Cheval Blanc are reptiles; lizards galore and the saurian emaciated clientele. Body-envy of a notorious salad-dodger aside, prior to arrival I couldn't dream that the island would be anything besides a lush tropical paradise. However, there are things that carefully photoshoped images do not betray - and as you will see in my photos, the resort is peculiarly photogenic.
Almost the entirety of the resort is artificial. There are no flowers. The earth is barren but for the smallest driest saplings trying to take root in the imported strata of sand and cement. Without the shelter of vegetation, everywhere you go you're accompanied by the pervasive igneous heat.
Practically all the resort's communal areas are outdoors. I felt like a frankfurter in an Odean hot-dog machine. Apart from your air-conditioned villa, there is nowhere to hide from the swelter and sweat patches.
The design of the resort is minimalistic with the sort of fashionable sterility that simply doesn’t appeal to cluttered minds, lovers of knick-knacks and collectors of kitsch.
The villas looked, and to their credit were, stunning. Cathedralesque proportions, good amenities, subtle design choices.
The Cheval Blanc has three categories of room – beach, lagoon and garden villas. The garden villas are the priciest (£2,300 a night as opposed to £1,200), with the front part built over the lagoon and (supposedly) a lush private garden in the back.
We were promised an absolute smasher of a villa. Yet, we arrived to a villa like all the others. Furthermore, there wasn't a garden in sight but a small dry plot with some shrubs and a hammock outback.
What's worse, there was no sandy azure lagoon - the whole reason we went to the Maldives in the first place. Our villa overlooked a swatch of deep blue water with razor sharp coral, which quickly gave way to a 150 foot abyss. All at an extra £1100 a night.
Here lies the problem - location matters. You want to paddle in crystal water with soft creamy sand underfoot. Instead, my fiancé had to watch as his diminutive fiancée was buffeted by waves against Flintstone-sized underwater boulders - deeply unsexy. Yet, the Cheval Blanc only has six water villas where you can avoid such a fate and which are favourably positioned within the lagoon.
It took four days for us to be downgraded to a cheaper room in a better location. There was no attempt by the management to refund us the difference. No meaningful conciliatory gesture apart from a few petals in the bath-tub.
Some of the staff we encountered were genuinely excellent (the lovely Emmanuelle Seigner lookalike maître d' at the restaurant and the smiley housekeeping who left a towel-monkeys on our bed).
However, more generally the service was indifferent and achingly slow. Even drinks took a minimum of 40 minutes to arrive as we sat there, tongues hanging like Alsatians. Similarly, waiting for a buggy to drive you (the 20 minute walk) to the room, could take 15 minutes of panting in the heat.
The resort boasts Michelin style cuisine. The food was very expensive, working out between £200 and an eye watering £1000 per dinner. And if I'm honest, not that great (although granted, the Maldives generally isn't the best for good cuisine).
The purpose of this review is really to give people a realistic picture of the resort. I've omitted details like construction cranes still working in the water, as these are temporary teething-problems.
I really am a believer in giving praise where praise is due and in the power of honest feedback. Had we read this review before booking we probably would have picked a different hotel.
Finally, I really wouldn't want someone pinning their hopes and savings on the dream holiday only to be disappointed. The Maldives should be relaxing, beautiful, and soothing; but if there's one place that won't leave you a chiller-chinchilla it's the Cheval Blanc.