We’re approaching the end of the rainy season, we’ve passed to what the ancients called Fura, a period when it’s mostly calm with plenty of sun. It’s good weather for travelling and a great time to end up at Six Senses Laamu. It’s one of those properties that’s been on my wish-list for a while, to get up close and personal with this magnificent hotel is pretty awe-inspiring, just as I have suspected.
The hand of a certain hotelier seems pretty conspicuous in the design; it’s wood almost all the way. The pier, which houses the jetty, is home to several striking places built from weathered, curvy wood; it’s as though they’re driftwood sculptures rearing up from the sea. There’s a wine cellar and charcuterie, an ice cream parlour that creates a string of unusual flavours (lavender, anyone?) and a chocolatier whose beguiling chocolate sculptures draw in scores of awestruck adults and young children.
I have a taste of the chocolate fudge; it’s rich and dark with a hint of raspberry. It verges on the sublime, and I can eat so much more if dinner doesn’t beckon.
The over-water public areas have several charmingly misshapen glass portals through which you can glimpse the lagoon. This earthy, organic design is continued in the rooms. The beach villa, where I’m staying, is practically all wood, sustainably sourced from New Zealand and elsewhere. The polished wood floor displays curious indentations and more than an aesthetic, it’s pragmatic, preventing you from slipping. The outdoor bathroom is a nod at the traditional Maldivian gifili, with cadjan ‘walls’ concealing its interior.
That evening, at one end of the pier, the Longitude restaurant springs to life. Tonight, there’s a focus on Asian cuisine and instead of the worn buffet concept, the restaurant is transformed into a bustling Asian street market with chefs manning live cooking stations. My perambulations through this wonderland finally take me to a sprightful Sri Lankan who makes me an egg hopper.
“The eggs are fresh from our chicken farm,” he says. “You see if you can spot the difference.”
The hopper takes a while, though, and during that time I find myself sampling Chinese vegetable dumplings and a handful of maki made with local fish. The rice is sweet and piquant, the fish fresh. But it’s hopper that takes top honours. Perhaps the knowing that the egg is farm-fresh enhances the experience; the hopper is savoury with a smidge of sourness. I pair it with katta sambol, another Sri Lankan delicacy that’s traditionally made with Maldivian tuna chips (cherished by our neighbour) and caramelised onion and chilli. Overall, there’s a gamut of flavour, a meal fit to end or begin the day with.
In the morning, I make a beeline for the jetty on my bike. Six Senses has personalised it to my height and it’s even got a tag with my initials. This is the best way of transport in the island; eliminating the need for buggies. Unless it’s rainy.
I get on a ferry with staff and some media colleagues and we head over to the island of Maabaidhoo, half an hour from the resort.
“We’re on our way to Laamu’s third annual turtle festival,” explains Ali Rifhaan, who handles the property’s marketing and communications. “Every year with our partners, we raise awareness among school children and the entire Laamu community on marine conservation.”
After a long walk through the dusty, palm-fringed streets of Maabaidhoo, the sound of boduberu approaches us. There are banners strung between tall palms, and the festive spirit is palpable as we reach a clearing. Stalls abound here, some selling quick nibbles and drinks, others geared towards educating people about the atoll’s natural resources. Lots of children are dressed up to perform, their parents standing nearby, watching the performers on stage. It’s the first time that all thirteen schools of the atoll are celebrating this festival, which is now in its third year.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the local community and our partners,” says Merteyne Van Well, general manager of Six Senses Laamu. “The focus today is on conserving turtles. It’s been a year since Six Senses swore to protect its seagrass, an important food source for turtles. I ask you to pledge to do the same.”
I go to the beach and take a look around; parts of the water are dark with seagrass. It’s something that resorts, and even some islands, consider a blemish on otherwise pristine lagoons and most pluck or cut the grass.
“It’s not what you see on the postcards so it’s important to present [the seagrass] in a different way,” Merteyne tells me later. “With seagrass comes all sorts of marine life, turtles and seahorses for instance. Imagine how wonderful it would be for a tourist to encounter these creatures while swimming in the lagoon by their water villa. That’s one way of looking at it.”
Late one afternoon, I board a luxury vessel for a sunset dolphin cruise. It’s led by Maiah, one of Six Senses Laamu’s ten resident marine biologists. She’s young, blonde and reminds me of Aubrey Plaza.
“I get that a lot,” she laughs when I tell her. “Hopefully we’ll see some spinners today. We spot them around here quite often.”
Spinner dolphins are so named because of their acrobatics in the water and out.
“There are a couple of theories on why they do that,” Maiah explains. “Some say they do it for play, others believe it’s to impress females.”
We cut through the sea slowly, Maiah acting as a lookout. For her, outings like these are just as much work as pleasure. She keeps tabs on dolphins like a person engaged in espionage. I relax on a beanbag at the bow, enjoying the breeze. The sun is sloping and the world floods with coppery light.
“Look,” she says suddenly. I hear the dolphins before I spot them. It’s like someone expelling water out of a snorkel. A large pod, about thirty-strong, surfaces and disappears. Some pass by the boat, twisting to peer beyond the surface. The water is glass-like and their size fascinates me. They’re the largest dolphins I’ve ever seen.
“See their jagged dorsal fins?” says Maya, pointing. “They’re bottlenose dolphins, not spinners this time.”
We watch them, thrilled by their antics, until the sun goes down. It’s a spectacular sunset, the horizon is clear, the clouds above awash with colour.
That night, there’s a special treat for us; a tasting menu prepared by the resort’s executive chef Stefan Goehcke. It’s an indulgent affair, and Stefan reveals how much thought has been invested in each creation, to not only make them healthy, but to use fresh and sustainably sourced ingredients. My favourites end up being the Sri Lankan mud-crab tartar, the crab almost dissolving in my mouth, and the poached pigeon breast, whose dark flesh has a lush, gamey flavour.
No trip to a Six Senses property is complete without a visit to their spa. Here at Laamu, it’s a quiet, gardenlike space huddled in the island’s vegetation. At the reception, I fill in a form, much like at other spas, but here they ask you why you want the treatment; to relax, perhaps, or to energise, to de-stress, and they recommend you a therapy. And that’s not all; you have the option of being guided throughout your stay; the concept of wellness extends to your nutrition, with the property’s restaurants providing special wellness-focussed menus.
I follow my therapist, Ratima, through the garden, then up some steps to the treatment room that’s set in the canopy. From here, you can see treetops and the surf breaking beyond the magoo bushes. The room’s décor pays homage to nature, with touches of greens, browns and tangled sculptures evoking birds’ nests. I’m given a whiff of the lavender and coconut-based oil to be used in the massage.
The therapy is unique, starting with the elongated bell-like ring of a singing bowl. My body is rocked back and forth. Ratima relieves tension on both sides of my spine and lower back using her forearms. It’s painful at times yet relaxing in the end. And the only sounds are those of nature; the rustle of the canopy, the breaking of the surf, the occasional clicks of geckos.
I feel my shoulders and neck being worked over by something smooth and hot.
“These are hot stones,” Ratima tells me, “Let me know if they are too hot for you.”
“No,” I say. It’s a curious sensation and I feel the knots in my neck and shoulder dissolve.
Massage over, Ratima leads me to an upstairs lounge close by. She makes me some hot ginger tea and, reclining on a plush deck chair, I sip the drink to the sound of the waves. It’s hypnotic; here at Six Senses Laamu, which seems sculpted by nature, even the sea feels like an extension of the property.