Synonymous with idyllic beaches, barefoot luxury and romance, the Indian Ocean’s top-end resorts are broadening their appeal, says Sam Lewis
Bone-white beaches and sparkling turquoise seas have long made the Indian Ocean a romantic hideaway for couples. Travelers who want to escape the crowds, enjoy epic diving and barefoot escapism can still find their Robinson Crusoe fix on the far-flung islands of the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles or even off the coast of Madagascar, Tanzania and Mozambique. Here, top-end resorts offer little more than luxurious thatched villas with plunge pools and stunning ocean views — plus 24/7 butler service, of course.
But many Indian Ocean islands now cater to wider audiences with more than nature to occupy guests who easily become restless. In the Maldives and Seychelles, some resorts now offer Olympic-sized pools, spacious spas, tennis courts and a choice of restaurants, while in Mauritius, many offer championship golf courses and instruction by world-renowned fitness coaches.
And on several pristine Indian Ocean beaches, the footprints are getting smaller, with various resorts now catering for kids. In the Maldives, a range of family-friendly options offer glitzy teen discos with DJ booths in addition to dedicated kids’ clubs for younger children. Operator Greaves Tours points to the One & Only Reethi Rah, offering child-minded spa facilities, separate dining facilities and a clubhouse featuring the latest in computer technology.
To meet demand, other resorts such as Amilla Fushi and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island are now building purpose-designed houses of two or more bedrooms, while in Mauritius, resorts continue to cater for kids big and small with teen clubs, activities and watersports academies.
Not surprisingly, the all-inclusive offering — long popular in Mauritius — is now taking root in the Maldives. Take Amilla Fushi, opening in November, which will offer a 50-minute spa treatment for each guest, every day, with all watersports complimentary too.
Co-founder Tom McLoughlin says he wants to wave guests off without ‘bill shock’. “We want our spa experience to be accessible, indulgent and worry-free, so guests can enjoy it without worrying they can’t afford to have treatments.”
Many travelers are also demanding community and wildlife excursions — islands such as Fregate Island Private offer free walking tours and slide shows led by ecologists. But for those who see culture as a priority, Sri Lanka is perhaps the best choice, with its bewitching blend of beaches, tea, temples and exotic wildlife — and prolonged peace means it’s now attracting substantial investment. New hotels opening include Cape Weligama — sister property of Tea Trails in the Central Highlands — and Raffles Colombo.
Such is demand that operator Abercrombie & Kent is setting up an office in the country offering authentic tours by guides who include a local published author and a university professor.
“Sri Lanka is very much a destination of the moment and we’ve seen visitor numbers double over the last year,” says A&K product manager, Marianne McNulty, who adds that variety is the island’s unique selling point. “One day you can be exploring a UNESCO site, the next sacred Buddhist temples, the day after a national park, and the day after that one of the country’s pristine beaches.”
Read on for a rundown of some of the Indian Ocean’s hottest resorts.
1. Le Touessrok
Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts took over management of this resort in August and will relaunch as Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius in September 2015 following a complete renovation. Improving this legendary resort will be difficult. It’s already considered the island’s most glamorous, with a Givenchy Spa, fleet of butlers, and two private islands — one with a Bernhard Langer-designed golf course. letouessrokresort.com
2. Outrigger Mauritius Resort & Spa
Located on the southern tip of the island on a stunning beach in the Bel Ombre nature reserve, this resort lies adjacent to the Heritage Golf Club and reopened early this year after a refurbishment. All 181 guestrooms have ocean views, while the pool has a swim-up bar — a popular place for parents to gather when children are at the kids’ club. outrigger.com
3. Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita
Testing teens? Let them run wild at the resort’s Young Adults Centre with computers, video game consoles, a pool table, and a disco and DJ booth. There’s a kids’ club for younger children and all ages can enjoy golf and tennis. Adult golfers will also be in their element, thanks to the Ernie Els-designed 7,500 yard, 18-hole, par-72 championship course, which guests can enjoy for free. Six striking oceanfront holes culminate in a final shot that’s surely among the most spectacular in the world. The resort also has Wimbledon-inspired AstroTurf tennis courts and a spa with 12 over-water treatment rooms. fourseasons.com
4. Hilton Mauritius Resort & Spa
Situated on the west coast, on the white sandy beaches of Flic en Flac, this resort is in a superb location and reopens in October after extensive refurbishment. Offering affordable luxury, there’s a range of restaurants including a themed buffet and a rejuvenating spa — one of the largest on the island. For party-goers, the Arena Night Club is a short walk away. hilton.com
5. The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa
Opened in August facing the idyllic Turtle Bay, a marine park on the northwest coast of Mauritius, this Starwood hotel offers all the signature Westin amenities, seven restaurants and bars, a spa, gym and a kids’ club. Weddings are likely to be a focus, with a Westin Wedding Specialist overseeing special occasions, which can take place in the hotel, on the beach or in a chapel. westinturtlebaymauritius.com
1. Fregate Island Private
A 20-minute helicopter ride from the main island of Mahe transports guests to this private island resort in true James Bond style. With only 16 villas, there’s a secluded atmosphere and absolute privacy is guaranteed as each residence has steps down to a secluded stretch of beach. There’s a spa, but bespoke treatments can be arranged anywhere, along with picnics and romantic dinners. Guests get around the resort in solar-powered golf buggies and can attend eco lectures or take a private tour with onsite ecologists to discover Fregate’s most intriguing wild inhabitants — Fregate beetles, found nowhere else in the world, plus giant Aldabra tortoises that can live to the age of 200, and over 100 species of birds. fregate.com
2. Constance Lemuria Resort, Praslin
This 105-room luxury resort features the only 18-hole golf course in the Seychelles, and has spectacular views from the 15th of Anse Georgette — just one of the several stunning beaches nearby. With a spa, tennis courts and kids’ club, it’s ideal for active travelers, groups and families who want a range of facilities to choose from as well as barefoot luxury by the beach. lemuriaresort.constancehotels.com
3. Avani Seychelles Barbarons Resort & Spa, Mahe
Due to open later this year, this resort was formerly operated as Le Meridien Barbarons Beach and is currently undergoing an $8m refurbishment. Located on the west coast of Mahe Island with direct access to a beach, this affordable upscale resort will be ideal for families with its children’s club, cooking stations and nightly live music at the pool bar. avanihotels.com
4. Enchanted Island Resort, Round Island
JA Resorts & Hotels’ first property outside of the UAE has a superb location in the center of a designated National Marine Park and is only four miles — or a 20-minute water transfer — from the main island of Mahe and the nearby international airport. The five-acre island offers just 10 villas, each with an infinity pool, plus a bar, restaurant, pool, spa, gym, yoga pavilion and watersports center. And for guests with island fever, there’s the buzz of Mahe and a host of other nearby islands to explore. enchantedseychelles.com
5. Dhevatara Beach Hotel, Praslin
With only 10 individually styled suites, this beachfront boutique hotel is ideal for honeymooners looking for an intimate haven with top-notch food and personal service. Situated on picturesque Grande Anse Beach, one hour by ferry from Mahe, it’s well suited for those who simply want to chill out. Bikes, canoes and snorkeling equipment are free and there are two restaurants — one offering informal beachfront dining for guests who want to feast on fresh fish and meat platters with their toes in the sand. dhevatara-seychelles.com
1. Island Hideaway, Dhonakulhi
This luxury resort re-opens in September following a huge refurbishment and development of deluxe over-water villas with Jacuzzi swimming pools. Guests can dive the Dhonakulhi reef daily — it’s only 30-90ft from the shore — and come face to face with manta rays, dolphins, turtles and whale sharks. For a change of underwater scenery, there are over 20 more dive sites within 60 minutes of the resort by dhoni, a traditional Maldivian sailboat. A popular resort for couples and newlyweds, facilities include a nightclub, two tennis courts, a gym and spa with 12 treatment rooms. There is a kids club but keep in mind that getting here means a 45-minute flight from Male International Airport to Hanimadhoo Airport, followed by a 20-minute speedboat. island-hideaway.com
2. Vivanta by Taj — Coral Reef
Few resorts can claim to have their very own shipwreck only a few feet from the shore, and this is just one of the many attractions for divers at the Vivanta. Just one hour by luxury speedboat from the Maldives’ international airport, this island has numerous dive sites nearby for beginners and the more advanced. Each one of the 62 villas has a modern design with a mixture of beach and over-water options together with an infinity pool and spa. All-inclusive programs are available. vivantabytaj.com
3. Ayada Resort
Restless types should look no further than Ayada Resort. It may not be the easiest to get to — it’s an hour’s flight from Male to Kaadhedhoo, then a further hour by speedboat — but the journey is exhilarating and the resort is worth the wait. Located in the Southern Atoll region, there are world-class surf breaks, including Love Charms, 5 Islands and Tiger Stripes. And for those who prefer activities on land, there’s badminton, tennis, football, volleyball, yoga and Pilates. With all that exercise, guests will need to refuel — an easy task with seven restaurants to choose from. Aches and pains? The resort’s 37,674sq-ft spa and health club by ESPA should do the trick. ayadamaldives.com
4. Atmosphere Kanifushi
Opened late last year, this five-star all-inclusive resort has the first Olympic-sized pool in the Maldives, but most go to laze on the island’s long sandy beach. Each one of the 150 beachfront villas and suites features a minibar, restocked twice a day, plus free items such as sun screen and insect repellent. Just a 30-minute seaplane ride from the airport, it’s suitable for couples and families, with interconnecting villas and a kids’ club. atmosphere-kanifushi.com
5. Coco Prive Kuda Hithi Island
Located in the North Male Atoll, the resort caters for up to 12 guests in total in one grand ‘master residence’ and five luxurious villas. Accommodation comes complete with a chef, daily spa treatments, unlimited premium beverages, complimentary watersports and scuba dives with a qualified dive-master. Other wow-factors include a mezzanine infinity pool and a vast wine cellar. Guests also have access to five fine-dining restaurants at the neighboring five-star resort Coco Bodu Hithi. cocoprive.com
1. Amangalla and Amanwella
Soak up the colonial splendor of the restored Amangalla hotel, in the center of historic Galle, with its cobbled streets and church spires, before heading to the spa for hydrotherapy and an ayurvedic consultation, where a personalized treatment program can be arranged. Two hours drive away on the coast, near the village of Tangalle, is its sister property Amanwella, a modern jewel built around a sandy beach — the perfect place to rest after exploring Sri Lanka. amanresorts.com
2. Amaya Hills
Amaya has a collection of affordable hotels dotted around Sri Lanka, and this four-star, 100-room property, nestled in the picturesque hilltops of Kandy, is best-known for its scenic views of the forest-covered Hanthana mountain range. Nearby activities include jungle trekking, cycling, hiking, bird-watching, fishing and night safaris. Guests can end a perfect day with a body massage, using ayurvedic medicinal oils in the spa. amayahills.net
3. The Beach House, Sri Lanka
Divers will love this boutique five-star resort in the newly developed area of Pasikudah Bay, a 60-minute air transfer from Colombo. The resort’s PADI five-star dive school offers trips to nearby wreck HMS Hermes, plus many other dive sites. Some of the 34 suites have plunge pools, and there’s an infinity pool for guests, when they’re not exploring nearby historic sites such as the ruins of Polonnaruw and Sigiriya. beachhousecollection.com
4. Cinnamon Grand Colombo
Staying in the capital couldn’t be more relaxing at this hotel, with its Angsana Spa offering ayurvedic massages and the authentic shirodhara treatment with the flow of warm sesame oil on your forehead. The spa has a gym and rooftop pool with a protective screen roof to keep out harmful UV rays, but if you want a tan, head to the ground level outdoor swimming pool — the largest outdoor pool in the city. cinnamonhotels.com
5. The Kingsbury
The Kingsbury offers sublime views of the city and Colombo Port, and is just a 15-minute walk from the center. Offering an incredible sea-facing infinity pool and bar, the hotel also has several superb restaurants and a Six Senses Spa. Best of all is the Sky Lounge, a hip and decadent rooftop bar serving premium Champagnes, chocolates, cigars and experimental cocktails. thekingsbury.lk
1. LUX Ile de La Reunion
La Reunion’s first five-star property, with its flawless sands and coral-sheltered lagoon, may look like any other luxury property, but first-time LUX guests soon notice subtle differences. Vintage-style telephones dotted around the resort let you call home for free, Cafe LUX serves up great barista cups of coffee, and a screen on the beach allows you to snuggle into a beanbag and watch a blockbuster movie in the evening. luxresorts.com
2. Constance Tsarabanjina, Madagascar
Combine a remote tropical island, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches and you have all the ingredients for a Robinson Crusoe island. Then add thatched bungalows, flawless service, an all-inclusive offering with daily massages and you’ve just discovered the ultimate honeymoon retreat. Sitting 37 miles off the coast of Madagascar, the diving here is also epic. tsarabanjina.constancehotels.com
3. Park Hyatt Zanzibar, Tanzania
Opened this summer, the five-star Park Hyatt sits majestically on the beachfront in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stone Town, the historical center of Zanzibar City. Reminiscent of an exclusive Middle Eastern residence, its architecture reflects its Swahili culture, with a blend of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. Soak up the history of Stone Town before relaxing in the Anantara Spa or by the outdoor infinity pool. zanzibar.park.hyatt.com
4. Azura, Mozambique
The Azura is not one but two luxury eco-boutique hotels on two private islands. Both are situated in Bazaruto National Park, with white sand beaches, turquoise seas and thatched beachfront villas with infinity pools, teak decking and butler service. Dive the resort’s reef from the beach, kayak the mangroves, catch fish for dinner or simply relax in a hammock. azura-retreats.com
5. Fundu Lagoon, Pemba Island, Tanzania
Accessible only by boat, this stylish little beach lodge on Pemba Island offers some of the best diving in Zanzibar. The resort has wooden walkways, sand-covered paths, thatched roofs and 18 tent-style bungalows — each with impressive views of the Indian Ocean. Aside from the world-class diving, activities on offer include wakeboarding, windsurfing and kayaking. Don’t pack too many shoes — this is barefoot luxury at its best. fundulagoon.com
Maldives: The Anantara Dhigu Resort & Spa, located on Dhigufinolhu Island in the South Male Atoll, has a special offer — stay eight nights, pay six — resulting in a package of $5,103 per couple including round-trip speedboat transfers, valid for travel between October 1 and December 23, 2014, staying in a Sunrise Beach Villa on a B&B basis. dhigu-maldives.anantara.com
Sri Lanka: The Amangalla in Galle is priced from $550 per night with Abercrombie & Kent and can be added onto any of its tours. The operator’s new 16-day tour combining Sri Lanka and the South of India costs from $7,295 per person. abercrombiekent.com
Mauritius: The Stay Longer Offer at the Four Seasons gives guests seven nights for the price of five. In September the cost is approximately $606, plus 15% VAT per villa per night based on half-board accommodation in a Garden Pool Villa. fourseasons.com/mauritius
Seychelles: Tangerine Travel offers a Private Pool Residence at Fregate Island Private from 3,850 euros ($5,256) per night. The cost includes most drinks, deep-sea fishing excursions, an introduction to scuba, a welcome massage, an introductory yoga session, laundry, wi-fi, guided nature walks and non-motorized watersports. tangerinetravel.com
PUBLISHED IN THE FALL 2014 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork