What immediately makes an impression at COMO Cocoa Island is the quiet. Though it’s in Male’ Atoll, and with a few resorts and the inhabited island of Guraidhoo nearby, it’s as though I’ve walked into a dome of silence when I step on its soil.
It’s welcome and refreshing, especially to someone coming from the city. Benjamin Kreuz, the resort’s general manager, points out a couple of reasons for this: the property doesn’t have motorised water sports nor does it have buggies.
It’s a small island, not even 400 metres in length and half the land is taken up by the COMO Shambhala Retreat, unsurprising since COMO properties are known for their focus on wellness. I’m booked for a spa session the next day, and our butler, Zarra, allows my younger sister Nai and I a peek into one of the buildings. Beneath its high, slanted ceilings is a large indoor hydrotherapy pool. It’s a curious thing with seats like deckchairs and nooks with nozzles for massaging. The complex also houses a library and reading area; guests are encouraged to come, relax and read, Zarra explains.
As Nai and I follow Zarra down the wooden walkway, we bump into an old New Zealand couple. They’ve been here four nights and are enjoying the change of pace. It turns out the woman is into yoga in a big way.
“I can’t get started without a morning session,” she says. “Excellent place for yoga.”
I tell her I’m going to the spa the next day.
“You’ll love the signature massage. It’s a must. My husband loved it too.”
“I’m more of a paddle boarder,” he laughs.
We talk about the weather, which, for July, has been incredible; no storms thus far and the sea is as still as a lake in the mountains. Then we go our separate ways.
We observe the rooms as we go along; there are just 33 villas, all over water. Some appear to be traditional dhonis converted into houses, others resemble old-school dhivehi huts with cute portholes for windows.
Our room is spacious and simple. High ceilings slope down and meet whitewashed wooden walls. Tall glass doors let in loads of golden sunlight and lead out to the deck. The mahogany floors shine, and there are flashes of warmth in the room’s décor – the reds and oranges in the rug and in the oversized cushions on the seats.
Zarra explains the room to us then leaves, warning us of triggerfish, photos of which he shows us from a handy in-room guide to common marine life.
We go out on the deck.
“It’s great, so perfectly calm,” remarks my sister reclining on the deckchair. “You can’t hear anything but the waves. Nothing to see except the sea and distant islands. It’s almost like a dream.”
“It’s because you haven’t been out of the city in a while,” I reply.
“You don’t think it’s nice? Quiet?”
I pretend to mull it over for a bit.
The deck is a great place to take in the sights, it doesn’t draw attention to itself; instead, it points nature’s way.
“I really like our room,” she goes on. “It’s kind of spiritual.”
“Spiritual?” I laugh.
“Yeah, wood gives me that feeling. It feels so natural, part of the earth.”
Before sunset, we have a little swim. That’s what’s great about these villas, the house reef is just metres away and the lagoon is completely at our disposal. The water is lovely and warm. A giant clam right by the steps of our villa fascinates Nai while I swim out to the reef.
You don’t have to tiptoe through the room to access the shower after a dip. There are steps from the lagoon leading to a separate outdoor bathing area. It’s well thought out.
At dinner we meet Kreuz and his Maldivian wife Sary, who entertain us with stories culled from their travels. I ask him how long he’s worked at COMO Cocoa Island.
“Two years now,” he says. “I think this is the last true Maldivian resort.”
“Why do you say that?”
“We’ve been here for fifteen years, and over that period, we’ve remained unchanged. We’ve arrived at a balance between guests, our team members and nature.”
“I think I know what you mean,” says Nai. “It’s not crowded, you have so much space here.”
“Yes,” beams Kreuz. “It’s not a busy island. And we’ve kept our design simple; it’s an understated luxury that we offer. Plus, we’re close to several world-class dive spots and there’s great snorkelling around the island.”
Nai says she wants to go snorkelling the following day and we move things to Ufaa, the main restaurant.
Dinner is splendid, as reviews have so enthusiastically said. There’s also a separate Shambhala menu containing more wholesome options for the health-conscious. We try oysters and wagyu carpaccio for starters, followed by a beautiful pan-fried kingfish in a sweet, tangy homemade sauce. We finish off with baked Alaska and chocolate mousse and head back to our room.
The next day, Nai goes snorkelling while I pay a visit to the COMO Shambhala Retreat. From the reception, my Balinese therapist, Tari, guides me to one of the four treatment rooms. A pleasant herbal smell wafts out as she opens the door and soft, unobtrusive music plays in the background. I’m in for the COMO Shambhala signature massage, she tells me. The pressure will be gentle to medium but I can always tell her if it’s too much. My feet are washed and scrubbed as an entrée, and I’m given a whiff of the lavender-based oil to be used in the massage. It’s great, I tell her. And now, the main event.
She starts pressing on my body, gently, then begins with my left side, working her way up from the legs to the top of my neck. There’s rocking back and forth, and she makes flowing gestures with her hands. There are brief, painful spells as tension is released from my back. Then she moves over to the right and repeats the process. I flip, my legs and arms are worked over down to individual toes and fingers. She presses points at the back of my head that have never been touched. Then, after hot compresses on the neck, chest and feet, it’s over. Shambhala means ‘a place of bliss’ in Sanskrit – the massage lives up to the name.
Back in our room I meet a visibly excited Nai.
“How was the massage?” she asks.
“It was really something else,” I say. “What about you? Had fun snorkelling?”
“Oh man, it was really dreamy,” she says. “I went through a school of these really dazzling blue fish. You know, just so vivid. I saw some healthy corals too, brain corals, branching corals. It was really amazing. I was totally relaxed until I saw a triggerfish, and I immediately froze and tried to act like a piece of driftwood.”
Towards sunset, we’re on a boat headed towards a fishing spot. We relax on plush seats on the upper deck. The view is quintessentially Maldivian; green islands, blue-green sea, baby blue sky flecked with golden clouds. We enjoy the scenery with ice-cold drinks in our hands.
Once we arrive, Nai tries to bait her hook while I leave the baiting to Koki, our guide. I can’t remember the last time I went fishing. But every time I get a nibble, my heart starts to thrash. Nai catches two and she and the crew tease me as I go through several pieces of bait without a fish to show for it. Then, right after sunset, I get a big tug. I yank the line as Koki has instructed and start pulling. Midway, I feel it slacken, and just as I grow despondent, it gets taut again. Koki helps me pull it in, and it’s a keeper, a large-eyed bream. We have amassed quite a decent catch by then and Nai and I settle on a fish to be cooked. One of the crew has caught a large strawberry grouper.
“You can have this,” he says generously. “It’s the best of the lot.”
We let out a whoop and a laughing Koki shows us a menu and we choose cooking methods. We’ll be having fish for lunch and it’s part of the excursion.
And at noon the next day, we feast on the fruits of our labour, our crew’s labour, rather. Half the grouper is cooked in a deliciously rich coconut gravy, the other is made into sashimi. Paired with saffron rice the curry is knee-weakeningly good, the spice giving it a little heat, the coconut cream adding a silken sweetness. The fish is so tender there’s no need for a knife. It’s a fitting end to our journey and a testament to how good life on COMO Cocoa Island can be.