No Shoes Required - Kanuhura

Carolyn McKay escapes her everyday life to spend a few days on the idyllic Maldivian haven of Kanuhura, where peace and tranquillity prevail rather than A-listers and brash billionaires

Idyllic island getaways surrounded by stunning white-sand beaches, azure waters teeming with all manner of sea life and abounding luxury tend to typify the sublime Maldives, set in the Indian Ocean around 800 kilometres off the west coast of Sri Lanka.

Providing a reliable opportunity for discerning travellers to completely escape real, everyday life, on lavish, serene havens which offer discreet, first class service, makes the Maldives an obvious choice for a once in a lifetime getaway, or a yearly sojourn for those who can afford it. But there are now so many high-end Maldivian offerings – where one can experience island life at its most relaxed and explore amazing underwater worlds – that choosing a resort is not as easy as it used to be.

Of the some 1,000 coral islands which make up the Maldives’ twenty-something atolls, The Cultured Traveller was destined for Kanuhura – an established and much-loved resort in the peaceful and laid-back Lhaviyani Atoll, located in a part of the sprawling nation which is still relatively undeveloped. Hence my visit. Whilst many luxury travel column inches are currently prone to covering this pop star in that Maldivian resort, regularly point out that ‘this award-winning resort is a favourite among A-listers’, or extol the virtues of a resort which ‘feels more French Riviera than Maldives’ replete with hip nightspots and VVIP lounges purpose-designed to cater for Hollywood’s elite, The Cultured Traveller didn’t want any of that (not on this trip anyway) but was rather seeking a getaway somewhere one was unlikely to bump into Leonardo DiCaprio on a tropical bender.

As is common with almost all deluxe Maldivian resorts, I was greeted by Kanuhura’s staff immediately after my relatively painless flight from Colombo to Malé, and seamlessly transferred to a waterside lounge in preparation for a short seaplane transfer. The stress and cares of my daily life began to dissipate as soon as I sunk into a comfy sofa with a fresh passionfruit and mango concoction in my hand. A dashing young barefooted pilot, at the helm of our half-hour hop, further lightened the tone and enhanced the carefree mood.

It was hard not to be awestruck by the palm-fringed islands and deserted beaches of dazzling white sand, framed by stunningly clear turquoise waters (all of course synonymous with this part of the Indian Ocean), as I soared overhead towards Kanuhura. That short seaplane flight really felt like the beginning of a rather special vacation experience.

Coming in to land on the calm lagoon, inside the reef that surrounds and protects the resort, gave me a bird’s eye view of long and narrow Kanuhura, as well as the two smaller islands of Jehunuhura and Masleggihuraa that make up this tranquil idyll in Lhaviyani Atoll.

Formal check-in procedures having been completed in Malé meant that as I stepped off the seaplane, to a backdrop of sarong-clad Maldivian drummers, my barefoot adventures immediately began. And, after a customary fresh juice and lemongrass-scented cold towel, I was whisked off for a whistle-stop tour. An immediate orientation is of course optional, since most guests are just desperate to get to their lodgings and ditch their everyday clothes tout de suite. But I wanted to know what was where a-sap, not least so that I could make the most of my time at Kanuhura.

Appropriately known as ‘The Heart’, Kanuhura’s central hub boasts the usual Maldivian resort offerings, including a spa, gym and dive centre, plus several restaurants and bars. From there, broad pathways bordered by lush gardens and colourful vegetation emanate outwards across the large yet intimate-feeling island towards a variety of 80 stylish yet unpretentious villas, generously spaced apart, 60 of which sit directly on the beach. Complimentary bicycles are readily available to get around whilst buggies are also on hand if need be.

Leaving the main island via a wooden pier, I was destined for one of Kanuhura’s 20 stilted over water villas which was to be my temporary Maldivian home for the next four days. Every Kanuhura villa boasts stunning broad vistas, sunrise or sunset views, plus a beachside location or private pool, or hovers over the Indian Ocean. Mine was delightfully the latter, with a wooden deck rolling straight into the sea.

Stepping onto the villa’s cool, whitewashed floors, my shoes immediately came off, and stayed off for the duration of my stay. Calming décor with a distinctly sunny vibe is flashed with colour accents influenced by the natural environment, including turquoise and greens from the sky and sea, and soft pinks and oranges from the corals of nearby reefs. Geometric prints add fun. Natural light literally floods everywhere.

From atop the sumptuous king-sized bed I laid and took in the spectacular uninterrupted ocean vistas. A generous bathroom boasted a free-standing al fresco tub complete with its own frangipani tree. And the dressing room was amply stocked with the full range of amenities for every activity that one might embark upon during a Maldivian vacation.

I guess that the pièce de résistance (if one had to choose my favourite part of the villa) was the outside deck, which was cleverly designed to provide privacy from neighbouring villas but large enough to feel like a whole other room – complete with over water hammocks adorned by plump pillows, a chaise ideal for lazy morning coffees, generous sunbeds and a bijou dining area. And with Kanuhura protected by a natural reef, the waters under and around my villa were teeming with everything from manta rays and spinner dolphins to green turtles, yellow fin tuna and puffer fish, providing a constant show.

Making so much use of woods, stone and other natural materials throughout lends Kanuhura’s over water villas a genuinely relaxed aesthetic without seeming to try too hard, and it was easy to feel ‘at home’ very quickly. That evening I curled up in a sitting nook and began to work my way through the villa’s small but carefully curated library, whilst intermittently gazing at the ocean. For a Maldivian virgin, that first night was truly an astonishing experience.

My morning coffee was accompanied by a soundtrack of the gently lapping ocean whilst I watched the sunrise’s spreading glow. Then, to my wonder, literally out of nowhere and delightfully interrupting the tranquillity, a large pod of spinning and jumping dolphins came into view, appearing to rejoice in the new day.

Young, enthusiastic and professional staff throughout Kanuhura make it very easy for guests to choose and feel comfortable with whatever type of holiday they settle on.

More than 40 different dive sites within an hour’s boat ride; a range of complimentary classes including yoga, pilates and even Maldivian warrior training, together with the usual snorkelling, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding (also free), are complemented by tennis courts, volleyball nets and even a football pitch thanks to the island’s ample size. Kanuhura’s size also means that it’s easy to find a shaded day bed or a deserted area of dazzling white sand to indulge in some quiet time away from other guests. Herein lies one of Kanuhura’s many qualities – the abundance of so many options as well as enough activities to keep guests busy for weeks on end.

One afternoon, after a short boat ride across the lagoon, I found myself on Kanuhura’s exclusive deserted island of Jehunuhura. Here, I lazed on a sunbed, sipped cocktails and was spoiled with freshly grilled seafood, including tuna tataki. I could happily have remained on Jehunuhura for the duration of my stay.

Another afternoon I dropped anchor at dream-like Kokaa spa. Staffed by highly-skilled therapists hailing from Thailand, Indonesia and India, a wide range of rejuvenating treatments are offered to unwind both physically and emotionally as well as soothe the soul. To fully experience Kokaa, arrive early and make use of the steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi before your treatment, and be sure to relax afterwards with some ginger tea in the spa’s serene lounge.

Countless delectable culinary options abound at Kanuhura, courtesy of five restaurants and two bars. All-day-dining A Mano restaurant not only puts on a lavish breakfast spread, but also serves delicious Maldivian curries, divine Chinese dim sum and supremely fresh sushi and sashimi. Poolside Bottega dishes up authentic Italian fare with style and flair. Meanwhile, on the beach, Veli is everything one expects from a deluxe Maldivian feet-in-the-sand dining experience, complete with an open kitchen serving traditional Asian-Fusion cuisine. It’s worth skipping lunch to be sure of a hearty appetite to feast under the stars on Veli’s delectable tandoori lobster, prepared in a traditional Indian oven.

One evening I set sail in a traditional Maldivian dhoni for a sunset fishing expedition. Whilst not an experienced angler, within moments and to my great surprise, I caught a red mullet. The next day at Cowry Bar, my catch was grilled and served for lunch with a zesty lemongrass sauce. I have to say that eating one’s own catch was deeply satisfying!

Either pre-dinner for sundowners or post-dinner for a digestif, Iru Beach Bar on the northern tip of the island is the perfect place to recline with a fancy drink and forget that the real world exists. Although pretty much everywhere I wondered barefoot around Kanuhura was carefree and super-relaxed. And whilst the resort was running at high’ish occupancy during my stay, it was not unusual to pad around the island’s shores without seeing another soul for hours.

After packing my bags, I stepped onto the deck of my villa to enjoy one more glimpse of the cyan waters in all their glory. Leaving such a haven is never easy, but Kanuhura’s wonderfully friendly staff, for whom nothing was too much trouble, made it even more difficult to say goodbye. I reluctantly found my shoes that had been tossed aside days earlier, and made my way across the island for my seaplane ride to the real world, vowing to return to my Maldivian heaven at the next available opportunity.