Taj Exotica is unquestionably in the top bracket of Maldives resorts.
Yet even this elite group is getting crowded and it makes sense to have unique selling points - that is, particular aspects of a holiday that your resort does better than anyone else. Here, those aspects are the sensory pleasures of well-being and good living. Specifically that means the spa and the cuisine, both of which are world class.
There are, of course, other selling points which aren't quite unique. Anyone arriving on a long haul flight (and especially the night arrivals) will appreciate the fact that the resort is just a 15-minute luxury speedboat ride from the airport. This proximity also enables the special submarine and seaplane excursions (for a complete view of the country) as well as easy access to Male for the historical tour.
Big Game Fishing can also be arranged but other excursions are more along the lines of private sunset or starlight cruises, for Exotica is essentially a slow, ultra-calm place where people glide around in their own romantic couple space. The simplicity of the island and its surroundings work to accentuate this.
The huge, shallow lagoon with its soft, white base shines out a shade of turquoise that is at once uplifting and calming. Set in the middle of this vast seascape is the thread of sand and vegetation that is Embudu Finolhu, the island's native name. At the southern tip is the spa; near it is the speciality restaurant and the swimming pool. Then come the land rooms, the bar, the reception and jetty and finally the main restaurant, all looking west to the sunset. On the other side is the library followed by the water bungalows running the length of the east side.
56 of the 62 rooms in total are water bungalows, split between Lagoon Villas (24), Deluxe Lagoon Villas (21), Deluxe Lagoon Villas with plunge pool (10) and one Presidential Rehendhi Suite. They vary in size and detail but essentially share the same design and furniture. The style is rich, substantial and refined but never overstated. The oatmeal and light yellow tones of the fabrics and walls offset the formality of the teak furniture and decor. The first of the Lagoon Villas have the hum and edge view of the service area and a number of the Deluxe Lagoon Villas have the lights of Male on the horizon, but otherwise the views are unbounded.
The land rooms have the luxury of extra space, outdoor shade and an over-sized plunge pool with decking on 3 sides and the beach on the other. The path down the centre of the island runs behind the rooms though guests often prefer to stroll along the beach in front. The beach itself is broad, pure white and slopes imperceptibly into the lovely lagoon. Beach connoisseurs would note it is not the very softest Maldives can offer.
The truly sublime aspects of Taj Exotica are the haute cuisine and the spa. Individually they are in the top 3 or 4 in the country; together they make a compelling case to fly half the way around the world.
The Jiva Grande Spa is the premium spa product of the Taj Group. As such it eschews any pretence or window dressing. This is a spa with a thorough-going, Indian-based philosophy with integrated treatments, exercises and diets. It also looks great – under thatch by the sea, surrounding a floral courtyard.
The exercises are yoga and meditation with the in-house teacher (a glass-walled gym is over the water just outside). The diets and the treatments are worked through with a theayurvedic doctor. The treatments may be strictly ayurvedic for specific conditions or focused on relaxation, cleansing and beauty. The signature offering is drawn from an Indian bathing ritual and involves anointing with therapeutic mud, essential oils and Experience Showers.
Although most people are on full board every meal is à la carte. For the ideals of presentation, integrity and freshness the single plate precisely prepared by the chef is the only way. For extra variety, some nights of the week there are extended set menus and also specials such as 'Wok around the world' and 'Feed me, Asian tasting’. Then, beyond this, there is a line at the bottom of the menu that says if you have a dietary preference the chefs will be happy to take care of it. This takes the options to infinity. If you would like a complicated lobster menu for dinner, just mention it at lunchtime.
The main restaurant covers the whole gamut of Asian cuisine. The specialty restaurant is very fine dining around Western and Mediterranean cuisine. If there is a house style it is beyond nouvelle cuisine, beyond fusion and molecular and back to rejuvenated mother's cooking! Or put another way, it is elevating and redefining traditional regional cuisines. And mother never presented a plate like this.
By the way, the bar is one of the best looking in the country and the library is the best in the country. For those pleasures of the body and the mind, Taj Exotica has its own perfect niche.
Reviewed by Adrian Neville