Hadahaa Times News just in: paradise has been relocated to a tiny atoll in the Maldives just a dolphin’s leap north of the equator, says Alessandro Tomé
News just in: paradise has been relocated to a tiny atoll in the Maldives just a dolphin’s leap north of the equator, says Alessandro Tomé
I PEER INTO the cobalt waters rushing below me. In amazing striped shades of grey, effortlessly gliding through the water, they seem to lean to their side to have a good look at me. Unfazed by the rather dishevelled sight, they continue their ballet of speed and grace until they break the surface with a jump and I awaken from my reverie with an expletive about a wet iPhone.
This wet awakening can’t spoil my dreamy state, induced as it is by being on Hadahaa Island, inside the Gaafu Alifu atoll in the Maldives. And as I watch Angel Wife screeching in delight at the dolphins, I think, ‘How lucky can we get?’ But then again, I married Angel Wife, so we know I do get lucky.
For Angel Wife, on the other hand, it perhaps isn’t quite as obvious how lucky she is. And after twenty years of being lucky to be with me, she deserved seven months in the Maldives, not the seven days I took her there for. But this place is so magical that seven days brought us more joy, more calm, more renewal of the soul than seven months just about anywhere else would.
We had been to the Maldives twelve years or so ago, all scuba’d up and beached out. And when we left, we kept wonderful memories of it all and even made what we thought were good friends (perhaps like local holiday wines, holiday friends are also best left there). Back then the Male atoll wasn’t yet jammed with hundreds of resorts, boats and sea planes permanently criss-crossing sea and sky, jammed with ever louder and more unpleasant people. Every travel brochure or resort pamphlet we read had more and more of these resorts that felt less and less in touch with the real Maldives. So we never felt it was worth going back.
NOT UNTIL, THAT is, a friend recommended Hadahaa, which had just been taken over by Park Hyatt. I must say when she pronounced the word ‘Hadahaa’, I was already starting to dream about this being the perfect twentieth-anniversary exotic trip that Angel Wife had been hinting about for t
he past two years. But I woke up abruptly at the words ‘Park Hyatt’ tagged on at the end. My preconception made me imagine a big city hotel
plonked on some huge man-made rock with mucho largo Americanos gorging on fa(s)t-food all-you-can-gulp buffets. In bikinis. Dive-bombing the pool and dancing the Macarena at sunset.
I couldn’t have been further away from the truth. Park Hyatt actually owns a growing collection of boutique-sized, exclusive, elegantly designed hotels around the world.
I’m not the keenest on air travel, particularly long distance, nor do I really like staying anywhere other than our own place. So on both accounts, getting to Hadahaa was going to be a risk. But as I said, twenty years with me deserved a little effort. Helped in no small way by a great number of sessions with the shrink, and the most amazing flying experience on the Emirates Airlines A380 superjumbo, after several local landings south of Male we finally got on a speedboat and arrived on Hadahaa a snippet short of 22 hours after leaving home.
My first thought was Angel Wife had better show me lots of gratitude later on. My second was we really both got lucky this time.
Hadahaa is inside the largest and deepest atoll in the world, with the volcano that is the reason atolls exist at all being submerged 80 metres below it, as I would later learn with the wonderful resident marine biologist Arabella. Hadahaa is surrounded by a nearly perfectly round reef that is regarded as one of the healthiest and most diverse in the Maldives.
The finest of white sand surrounds it all, shifting the shape of the beach and island with wind and tide. And I mean talcum-powder fine. Very fresh sand at that, as it has just been excreted from the thousands of parrot fish eating the coral. This also means it doesn’t get hot even though you’re but an hour away by boat from the equator (cue day trip for swimming to the southern hemisphere and back).
If you stay in one of the fourteen water villas, you can take a few steps down into the lagoon, put a mask on and watch the black tip sharks swim by the teeming shawls of reef fish, skipjack tunas and turtles that surround you. Yes, you can really start to think you couldn’t get any luckier. The rooms are luxurious and contemporary, but beautifully simple too. And I’m fussy, very fussy. Once I changed rooms at an Aman because there was a fly. It’s just that I don’t like flies.
ON HADAHAA, IT’S all about letting you enjoy and immerse yourself in the intense, nearly aching beauty and serenity of it. The real magic of Hadahaa is that it manages to make you quickly feel as if it’s ‘your’ island; it takes you into its arms and cuddles you. It gets under your skin and soothes you from inside.
Of course the amazing Vidhun Spa, with its beautiful treatment rooms surrounded by lush vegetation and a ‘natural’ pool, helps too. Not to mention the amazing private dinners by the main pool, on the beach or the pier, prepared by chef Adam. That has much to do with manager Pierre Lang, who has imbued the island with this intimate sense that you’re being welcomed into someone’s private paradise, not as an intruder but as if it were your very own.
We left Hadahaa not just with the usual memories from any nice holiday, and not with friends for London this time. We left with tears in our eyes for leaving a place that already felt so personal, so precious and so our very own. And a bit of anger that others were going to make it theirs, too.
Travel now is all about destination, not the journey, partly because the journey has become such hell. No fairy tale, no magic flying carpet.
But there is a magic carpet, and it is called Emirates Airlines. Imagine being swept up outside your house in a discreet car with a helpful driver. Taken to a special check-in area, where a bevy of staff makes the transit as painless as possible and whisks you into a quiet lounge, with delicious food and wine.
And then you directly access the A380 superjumbo upper deck. Like you, I thought this thing shouldn’t fly, but it does and beautifully. More caring crew, affable to a fault, dance around in beautiful interiors.
If already business is better than any first class in the Western hemisphere, with big seats that turn into real beds, real TV screens, wonderful service and a fun but noisy open bar, the first-class cabin is another galaxy altogether.
Not only is there your ‘suite’ with doors, make-up tray, 28in flat screen, private bar but even caviar with the Dom Perignon. Yes, caviar. And properly cooked food and superlative wines. A seat wider than your average couch, prepared with a mattress. And when you wake up, take a shower in one of the on-board spas. Yes, a shower.