Rihiveli is a very special resort that gets even more special with every passing year. That is because it is one of the diminishing number of resorts that remains true to the original spirit of the Maldives.
A true 'No Shoes No News'
You take your shoes off on the jetty when you arrive and walk down the narrow sandy path that flows through the middle of the island. Here there are no concrete paths, no central hub of restaurants, reception, bars and swimming pool. On this island they don't even have air conditioning. It is a place where well-heeled French (70%) come to switch off from the life of hectic Europe and live simply for a while. Italians, Germans and British who have discovered it, are happy to take the other rooms.
The resort is something of a sophisticated club where most of the facilities and activities are included, where people make acquaintances around affable, mixed dinner tables and enjoy evenings of light entertainment together, organised by the big, cheerful, informal Baba.
Fine food with a local sensibility
In a thatched overwater restaurant, guests enjoy simple food, frequently from the sea, made into classic European and Asian dishes. It is a change to see a kitchen not afraid of local spices. The buffets also have particularly impressive salads and fruits. For lunch there is always the option of a barbecue on the neighbouring desert island, to which you wade out, canoe or sail.
There are in fact two desert islands in the lagoon for the guests' pleasure. The second is an even more secluded 'bird island'. They can be reached at any time with any of the free watersports equipment. Lessons too are freely given by a notably friendly staff. Waterskiing takes place twice a day from a pontoon in the deeper water.
The lagoon, swimming and snorkeling
For those who love big lagoons, this is a dream. Though it is rather too shallow at low tide for swimming, small pools have been created off both sides of the island. It also means that the reef is inaccessible from the beach but there are two free snorkel trips a day. In general, it must be said, the snorkeling, in terms of corals in particular, is not the best around.
Of all the free excursions, the most popular is the 'bivouac', where 2 to 4 people spend a full day cruising around the atoll to the south, visiting inhabited and uninhabited islands and then sleeping on deck under the stars. The other excursions are of the usual variety though they do also offer serious big game fishing (for which you pay serious big money).
The beach that looks into the lagoon, the sunset side, is finer than the other side, which is augmented by pumped sand and has a low lagoon wall. But the view to the open sea here takes in the two beautiful islets. On such a narrow island, there is little to choose in terms of location, especially since every room has its own private setting of a beach and view to water.
Rustic elegance is perfect
The 48 bungalows are no doubt compact but their simplicity and rustic elegance is all you want. Put the fan on, let the breeze come in through the door and open slats, look out past your hammock to the lagoon and know that this is the way it should be done. There is no generator or air conditioner hum, just the lapping of the waves.
Echoes of the South Pacific are evident in the beautifully designed bar and games building, with its high thatched roof that slopes sharply down and reaches low to the ground around its open sides. Right in the middle of the island (and next to the similarly designed boutique) this place becomes the focus around sunset when guests gather to watch the daily spectacle and partake in a pre-prandial game of boules. After dinner the place fills up again for a drink and camaraderie and maybe a table tennis tournament or bodu beru on the beach.
The secret is the staff
Of course, the mainstay of this wonderful experience is the Rihiveli staff. They create an inclusive, family atmosphere where nothing is pushed but everything is possible. The key to it all is the fact that many staff members have been here since the resort began 26 years ago. And many guests have come back 10, 15 and 20 times.
Reviewed by Adrian Neville