Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Maldives – A Review By Punam Mohandas
Don’t be fooled by the rustic surroundings amid placid waters of the clearest aquamarine. In spite of the Enid Blyton-ish Enchanted Woods feeling, the Taj Exotica Maldives is one of the most upscale properties of the Taj Group, with premium room fitments and every possible comfort anticipated and catered to.
As the speedboat nears the jetty, one can hear the sound of drumbeats. In local Maldivian style, all guests are welcomed by a drummer with a dhol and by the front office ladies garlanding one with a necklace made of seashells, while yet another staffer clicks photos of the excited guests, which is then placed in a handmade album decorated with leaves and presented at the time of check-out.
The lobby is a small unprepossessing space, open on the sides, with a wooden roof and a long, hanging lamp as the centerpiece. It is one of a cluster of low-roofed buildings, adjacent to a couple of restaurants, the library and the boutique.
The Taj Exotica is situated on a 717-metre long island, with the staff quarters at the other end from the guest rooms, ensuring there is no noise or, more importantly, disturbance from the generators. Accommodation comprises of 64 villas including six suites. The villas are categorized as follows: Lagoon Villa (71sqm) the only category without a private pool; Deluxe Lagoon Villa with Pool (94sqm) all on stilts over the lagoon; Deluxe Beach Villa with Pool (200sqm); Premium Beach Villa with Pool (193sqm) the only category not directly over the water, however, they do offer freshwater plunge pools; One Bedroom Ocean Suite with Pool (195sqm); One and Two Bedroom Beach Villa Suite with Pool (270/365sqm) and the Rehendi Presidential Suite (500sqm) which goes at US$10,000 per night in high season.
The One Bedroom Ocean View Suite has a pool that is larger than the other categories, with an artificial beach in a circular shape beside the pool and overlooking the lagoon; this manmade beach is present only in the ocean one-and-two bedroom suites. Pleasing cream walls with abstract paintings and a beautiful flowered Indian counterpane with royal blue edging are a soothing complement to the wooden flooring and roof. This room category has a walk-in closet with coconut shell door panelling. There are two large screen televisions, one in each room, a small powder room for guests and a pantry, however, no cooking facilities; since in-room dining orders are served on heated trolleys, there really is no requirement of microwave ovens and suchlike.
One enters through a narrow, arched, seemingly mud-baked entrance much like any island home, to the Two Bedroom Beach Villa Suite with a pool near the beach, beyond which is the lagoon. The deck here can accommodate six people. The living room is done up in fawn and navy blue, similar to the bedroom, while the bedroom upstairs is done up in forest green and fawn. Walk-in wardrobes lead to the bathrooms; this room category has three bathtubs. An indoor toilet has separate sinks to the right and left of a door which opens out into an outdoor shower and bathtub area. This room also has a couple spa room with another outdoor bathtub here and a separate entrance for the masseur/masseuse. The upstairs bathroom also has full facilities, with shower and another bathtub. The upper level has only a large patio, while the pool is downstairs, near which is a swing and two sun loungers, with two more on the deck and another two on the beach itself. These rooms also have a pantry area with a separate butler entry.
Although there are higher categories, the Deluxe Lagoon Villa with Pool seem to be the most popular choice of accommodation and leave the guest feeling totally pampered. In a necklace shape around the lagoon, each villa is unbelievably classy under the thatched roofs, with the trademark Taj touch of understated luxury. One enters through a long, narrow foyer with two wardrobes. This category has the same running aquamarine and deep blue colour theme in the upholstery and cushions, offset by a high, vaulted, wooden ceiling. The bed is sensibly facing the lagoon while the TV, also sensibly, is on a revolving stand. The linen and mattress are exceedingly comfortable. Amenities include a chocolate as well fruit platter.
The wide deck outside has a small table and two chairs, as well as two sun loungers just above the plunge pool. A narrow ladder leads down to the lagoon; each villa has its own private access to the lagoon, although swimming is not advisable at night.
The bathroom is very spacious, offering a sweeping view of the lagoon. The bathtub and shower, although self-contained utilities, are within the same space; there is a separate door leading to the outside deck in case one wishes to have a shower after a swim. The bathroom is superbly appointed, with magnifying mirror, weighing scale, bathrobes, romantic essentials like candle and incense and plenty of outsized bath towels.
Every villa has a tea/coffee maker (offering a selection of teas); three complimentary one-litre bottles of water that are replenished in the evening; electronic safe; large screen television; iron and ironing stand; umbrellas; mosquito repellent; rain slickers and a tasteful wicker basket in which you can carry your things to the beach. The resort uses only Molton Brown toiletries. On the last night of the stay, Housekeeping treats guests to a special surprise of a rose petal filled bath.
All the villas overlook the lagoon and have either a sunrise or a sunset view. Moreover, all rooms have rain showers, while the bathtubs have a panoramic view of the water expanse, with a one-way glass. Every villa has individual life jackets and fire extinguishers.
F&B options include the 120-covers, all-day dining 24Degrees, which offers nightly themed dinners on the beach, to the accompaniment of live music. As an ultimate in luxurious pampering, breakfast is only a la carte! There is an extensive range of splendid Indian or international dishes to choose from, all cooked fresh and served at your table, accompanied by a small, complimentary platter of croissants, Danish pastry and juice.
Although 24Degrees is billed as all-day dining, there are periods when it is closed so that the staff can take a service break and guests are then encouraged to visit the 38-covers Poolside restaurant or the 60-covers Equator Bar, which also serves a Maldivian high tea beginning 4pm.
The most scintillating outlet is undoubtedly the 60-covers Deep End, serving Mediterranean cuisine and open only for dinner. While this restaurant is on stilts too, the interior seating is shaped like a doughnut, so that one can actually view the pool formed thus through the inner ring – as also watch sharks swim lazily by looking for their own dinner even as you imbibe yours!
Apart from Nature’s contributions, the chef too has much to offer guests, who can experience the unique ‘Dessert Opera’ here, where a silicone sheet is spread on the table and the chef comes by to create your dessert right there and you actually and literally eat it off the table! Quite a novel idea and one that is a sure talking point.
Apart from these and the in-room dining, the Taj Exotica also offers treetop dining or beach dug-out dining or even, an Ocean Pavilion experience, where a couple is offered a spa treatment followed by a sunset cruise and dining at the ocean pavilion in the centre of the lagoon where they can choose between a chef serving them or grilling their own seafood. A butler is in discreet attendance so that it is all perfectly safe; a hotel phone is also handed over to the diners in case of any untoward incident. The yoga pavilion can also be used for private dinners, since it too is situated over the water.
Since the hotel is on its own little private island and heading to Male each time for any recreational purpose can be tiresome, the Taj tries its best to keep its guests entertained – just in case the marvellous, shimmering aquamarine waters fall short! There is a boutique with beach essentials and souveniers, managed by an outsourced agency. The library right beside this is cosy and well-appointed, with some intriguing artefacts, including an antique mirror that holds pride of place on a turquoise wall. Books in different languages and DVDs as well, are available for guest pleasure. There is early morning yoga; a pool table; a freshwater infinity pool; a gym on stilts in the water that offers basic equipment like weights, cycles and treadmills; simple yet unusual enjoyment such as hammocks or a swing in the centre of the lagoon; sandbank barbeques; excursions such as island hopping and PADI certified sea sports such as jetskiing, parasailing, snorkelling or ski bobbing. There are no diving spots at this lagoon, however, the hotel can organise a visit to nearby coral reefs should any guest wish to engage in this.
And of course – there is the Jiva Spa, with its hushed spaces and pleasing fragrance. There are three couple rooms for aromatherapy and two single rooms for Ayurveda treatments. The spa also offers separate steam and sauna facilities for ladies and gentlemen. The Indian therapy is one of the signature treatments here, with a mix of eucalyptus, ginger and peppermint oils used for a deep tissue massage. The masseuse is extremely talented and knowledgeable and uses deft, confident strokes in the treatment. Ginger and peppermint is a superb combination, making for a simultaneously refreshing yet relaxing massage.
The Taj Group tries its best to be eco-friendly on the island, although, of a necessity, the resort does consume 3500 litres of diesel per day. Lots of wood, coconut – the shell as well as the fibre – and other natural materials are used in the décor; even the pens are made of wood. Drinking water comes in one litre glass bottles.
With 244 employees, the local staff are mainly male, while the female staff are from India and other countries. In a pragmatic approach to resort life, the management allows all employees to walk around in slippers. The staff know where each guest is at any given point of time, but it is all very discreetly done. Everybody is exceedingly courteous and friendly; the housekeeping staff in particular are very cheerful. F&B service is very attentive. In terms of food taste, the standard is high, as one would expect from a Taj property. Chef Abhishek not only goes around meeting the guests but also stations himself behind the grill on barbeque nights. The only weak outlet in terms of food is Equator, but I’m told they’re getting a new chef in, so that should settle down too.
The grounds are immaculately kept and it is truly a pleasure walking around this idyllic island. There are thoughtfully placed large bowls of water with ladles around the resort to wash the sand off your feet, so that you don’t dirty the rooms. There are several assembly points and house phones at strategic points in case of any emergency. Pest control is excellent; fumigation is done twice a day. While some purists may cavil at this, between pest-free luxury and creepy-crawlies, I know which I’d choose! Although there are plenty of golf carts available to ferry guests from the rooms to the restaurants, it seems a shame to miss out on walking around the island. In the night, the lagoon around the water villas is lit up with deep blue lights, adding to the fairytale experience. Do keep in mind that the lagoon around the water villas is quite deep, with sharp, broken coral underfoot and hence, one needs to wear the snorkeling flippers, however, the lagoon in front of the restaurants is placid and shallow. Jellyfish are not very common here, so one can enjoy a swim unencumbered. Do note that it is the lagoon that is placid; further out into the sea the waters are very deep and easily distinguishable by a steel grey colour.
If you arrive earlier than the check-in hour it is not a problem, as the resort allows you to wait in the library or use its other facilities until your room is ready. The Taj Exotica Maldives operates its own speedboats for the transfers to and from the island; it is also a blessing that the resort is only about 20-minutes from the airport. Taking a seaplane anyplace is more expensive and also time consuming as it does a hopping leg.
Most major airlines fly into Velana International airport at Male. If you are looking for budget options, consider flying with Sri Lankan airlines with a brief stopover at Colombo, from where the flight to Male takes only 1.5 hours. The Maldives is considered to be an expensive and over-priced destination. Here’s why: each resort is responsible for its own power generation (the government does not provide electricity!) and recycling as well as waste management. The Taj Exotica, for instance, has four generators on its premises. Everything has to be imported into the island, often with high taxes. Milk and other dairy products come in via Dubai. Chicken comes from Brazil and other meats from Australia, while vegetables are from India or Sri Lanka; the Taj Exotica also has its own herb garden. Coca Cola is the only company with a manufacturing plant in the Maldives.
Please note that there is also a 6$ “green” tax per person, per night spent in the Maldives.
TAJ EXOTICA RESORT & SPA MALDIVES
TEL: +960 6642200
FAX: +960 664 2211
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author.