“It was a lone voice in the middle of the ocean, but it was heard at great depth and great distance,” wrote Gabriel García Márquez in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. At the onset of this current pandemic and hours after exchanging vows, my wife and I answered such a clarion call from Fasmendhoo, a less than 50-acre tract of sand in the Indian Ocean and home to the Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa.
Reopened as of August 1, the exclusive, all-inclusive hideaway premiered in December but Covid-19 soon paused operations. Among the last guests before its four-month hiatus, we can attest that if adversity shows true colors, this private-island retreat sparkles across the spectrum.
As the world began to seek social distance just days before our wedding, we rolled the dice on making it to our destination as falling travel-restriction dominoes threatened to crush the honeymoon. After all, the unchartered territory was being navigated by vacationers and hospitality providers alike by the middle of March.
There are times when ignorance is, indeed, bliss. “The Health Protection Agency Maldives has confirmed that US citizens are currently banned entry,” stated an Emerald representative’s email, unnoticed by us while in transit. “Even if you can get your connecting flight, you will not be allowed to leave the airport upon arrival at Male, and may face being stuck in quarantine there. Therefore, sadly, we would not recommend you flying.”
That would have flattened our effervescent moment, sipping Champagne and listening to Sinatra croon “Come Fly With Me” while the first strand of cyan-framed islets in the Maldivian pendant appeared off the wing. Instead, we were soon smiling naively as the burka-clad customs official (Islam is the constitution-mandated religion and only Muslims can be citizens) extended her hand for our passports and summarily stamped us through. Obviously, she had also missed the memo.
Less than an hour later, our De Havilland Twin Otter float plane made its final approach; Emerald’s 60 overwater villas extending out from the miniature atoll like the tail of a manta ray. As the aircraft taxied to the resort’s welcome dock, the reception party—including general manager Srikanth Devarapalli—looked as relieved and, admittedly, surprised as we were to be greeting each other.
“The remoteness of the island comes with logistical challenges,” mentions Devarapalli later. “We have to always have a Plan B.” As far as my wife and I were concerned, the coronavirus had already required enlisting every letter of the alphabet just to get here.
Shuttled by golf cart to our home for the week, we passed many of the 60 additional beach villas, along with a fitness and sports complex, four themed restaurants, a collection of boutiques, a full-service spa (the couple’s massage is a must), dive center and water-sport facility. It’s a sybaritic compound presented with a tropical-chic aesthetic that blends modern design and eco-conscious materials.
“People have psychological expectations of the Maldives and what their resort should look like; thatched roofs for example,” explains architect Ed Poole of Poole Associates Private Limited, the firm that designed Emerald. “We’ve had to balance this with how to build sustainably but still deliver that look and feel. Using alang-alang and bamboo, we have reduced the use of timber by 95 percent and created gorgeous villas and surroundings, but with our own unique expression.”
That expression translates throughout each of the living spaces, including our more than 2,000-square-foot enclave—set about 15 feet above the crystalline, reef-fringed shallows—which includes its own 160-square-foot swimming pool extending from the deck. Inside, splashes of colorful marine art and fabric accents complement the alabaster-like walls draped with rich wood treatments. The warm tones are contrasted by the cooling expanse of marble flooring in the vast bathroom that features an iridescent-tiled walk-in shower, a standalone two-person tub and a separate dressing room.
The interior ambiance reflects Emerald’s overall intent. “We aim to make our guests experience the natural elegance and natural freedom that’s authentic to the Maldives,” notes Devarapalli. “And ensure they feel comfortable at all times.”
This focus was made exponentially clear by the fact that instead of the usual 250 guests that can be accommodated, world conditions had kept our total number to about 25. The resort, however, remained fully staffed, and all amenities—save for dive rental and instruction—were still on the menu. It was hard not to feel a semblance of survivor’s guilt, similar to when the World Trade Center towers collapsed while I was on vacation in Hawaii. The collective question at the time seemed to be: “Is it OK to still enjoy ourselves; to have fun?” Now, the global health crises had left this geographically quarantined oasis untouched. It was, unintentionally, the perfect storm for pampering.
“No other all-inclusive resort in the Maldives offers such range of activities, dining and experiences for couples and families,” mentions Devarapalli, “and our all-inclusive aspect has not meant that we hold back on quality.” To understand this, one needs to wander no further than Aqua—the open-air confluence of international flavors—or the Mediterranean-themed Beach Club Grill, the two most casual venues, yet each with superbly prepared fare.
“Our culinary style is based on three components: authenticity, creativity and healthy choices. We are also developing our own organic garden for the vegetables and herbs used,” explains executive chef Aldo Cadau. It’s Cadau who personally oversees two private honeymoon dinners on the beach for us as we sup by the light of torches, accompanied only by sand carvings—created specifically for each occasion— and the sound of the sea.
Whether noshing around the Teppanyaki tables at Le Asiatique or savoring the Picaña steak at Amazònico, indulging in the varied cuisine is certainly a highlight at Emerald. This becomes especially true in our case, when a member of the team, chef Benny, returns to Aqua’s kitchen on his day off just to make grandmother’s South Indian specialties for breakfast and lunch once he finds out my father was from his home town on the subcontinent. What Michelin-starred cuisinier can match that?
But going above and beyond seems to be Emerald’s bottom line. One morning, the front office manager, Rajeshwar Rao Kalakuntla, greets us with news that our return flights have been canceled and the soonest ones were two days later. We tried to explain that we would be checking out per our original date and would just find a room in Male, but he dismissed the notion with a wave; “No, you will stay here with us.” The additional days, we would find out later, were gratis.
Emerald’s concern for the wellbeing of its guests is more apparent than ever since its return. “We have been Covid-19 free with no positive cases from the beginning,” assures Devarapalli. “And now we have incorporated 25 new hygiene & cleaning protocols.”
These increased precautions include the use of mobile UV-light disinfectant trollies and electrostatic sprayers, as well as the implementation of temperature checks on arrival and departure, face masks to be worn by staff at all times and a kit in every residence that includes sanitizing spray and wipes, masks and gloves. In addition, a newly appointed hygiene manager will ensure that all measures are in place and enforced.
Looking back now, after news of the reopening, I’m reminded of another passage from Márquez’s celebrated novel: “It was time when they both loved each other best, without hurry or excess… they were on the other shore.” At the start of our married life, that other shore was the Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, an insular Eden lush with human kindness—a panacea we all could use a dose of these days.