Ice skating, sharks, turtles, haute cuisine, 23-metre slides, massage therapy, palatial villas, butlers and classic Rolls Royce style electric carts, the uber luxury 5-star all-inclusive private island, Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is luxury turned up to 11.
1300 years ago the Maldives was called "Dvipa Laksham" or a hundred thousand islands. It was later referred to as Treasure Island by Arab and Persian traders who came for the pearls, agate, spices, fish and coconuts. For me, these names conjure up visions of islands drifting in such clear water that they appear to float in the sky. Start with that image in your mind's eye to visualise this paradise.
We flew first class (business class) with Srilankan Airways, which was a delight. We were personally greeted at Heathrow Airport and our bags whisked away. The aeroplane staff were warm, friendly and personable. An excellent vegetarian curry, delicious Piper-Heidsieck champagne and a lovely 18-Year-old Chivas made the ten-hour flight positively fly by.
The premium luxury Ozen Reserve Bolifushi resort occupies the top western corner of South Malé Atoll, a mere 25 minutes from Velana International Airport in the island's luxurious and spacious catamaran.
As the island appears in the distance, you catch a glimpse of the jetty and some large yachts moored beside it. A row of water villas on the right house the massage and therapy rooms. Further west at the end of the island, two rows of guest water villas spiral out to sea like the claws of a lobster. Turquoise waters lap the powdery white sand like molten glass, topped by acid-green palm trees that sway in the gentle breeze. This is heaven on earth.
We are welcomed by our butler Asfar and Leroy, the head of food and beverages for the island along with other members of staff casting scented petals at our feet. This is how everyone should be greeted everywhere they go, along with a Barry White soundtrack.
Asfar escorts us in style to our room in an electric cart shaped like a classic Rolls. These marvellous cars (so incongruous on a tropical island) are available 24 hrs to chauffeur you to a restaurant, bar or the beach of your choice. Perfect for evening jaunts, particularly after a few glasses of bubbly. Registration takes place in the comfort of the lounge overlooking the sea, a plunge pool and the gorgeous outside terrace with a dining table and palm trees.
Our two-bedroom Earth Pool Reserve Sunset is absolutely magnificent. A two-story house floating over a pool, connected to the sandy beach by a terrace with lounge beds and a thatched four-poster bed.
Entering the villa is a shock of luxury, the ship styled lounge is bright, modern and plush. A kaleidoscope of bright rich colours, from the dark red ceiling to the multicoloured carpets, dark wood cabinets, curved built-in sofas and glaring red Smeg fridge. Cushions of all hues are scattered in abundance, highlighting the welcome bottle of champagne cooling in a bucket on the table.
The main bedroom is adjacent and both rooms look out over the pool and beach, a mere hop skip and jump from the crystal clear waters. As with all the rooms, the ceiling is recessed for more space and texture.
There are giant screen smart TVs in every room, quite why, as the view is spectacular and not a moment should be wasted in this exotic paradise watching TV. Yellow wood tables contrast beautifully with the green marble and dark teakwood floor.
The bathroom is a masterpiece, a decorator's triumph. The free-standing bath seemingly carved from a giant white pebble is backlit by floor-to-ceiling glass windows, framed on both sides by artistically stencilled organic wood panels and soft yellow marble. A white fabric sofa faces the twin green marble sinks.
Yet my favourite aspect of the villa was the impressive and sturdy rich red mahogany stairs that circled up to the next floor. However, it was the first floor that grabbed the children's attention. The stairs open onto a pool table room with glass doors leading to a terrace with a table and chairs that overlook the sea. You could almost jump directly into the water. Further on was the twin room with its own terrace and large walk-in closet that doubles as an extra bedroom if needed.
The place instantly felt like home with such a lovely cosy atmosphere and relaxed vibe. It had everything you needed including a truly private secluded beach.
Lunch took place on our private terrace as the villa includes in-house dining. Waiters prepared the table and laid out our order with exquisite care. Bliss when you have four children as you don't have to marshal them from one place to another.
Refreshments over we all plunged into the sea, so transparent that you were suspended in mid-air above the coral reef below. The reef is live, only metres from the beach and drops away quickly. Dive and you are immediately surrounded by shoals of fish of every hue, shape and size: triggerfish, flutemouths, trumpetfish, warty frogfish, vermillion rock cod, batfish, starry rabbitfish, micro-goby, leopard blenny, parrotfish, sweetlips and butterflyfish. A blaze of fascinating forms in electric colours that dart and whirl around you.
Our villa was next to the Royal Reserve, the jewel in the crown of Ozen Bolifushi. A private estate over 3000 sqm with a main Sanctuary, two guest villas, a large private pool, extensive decks, floating breakfasts, a six-person jacuzzi, a private spa and a gymnasium. It occupies one entire end of the island, with a boat dock at one end and a boat-themed private dining pavilion at the other. Priced between $10,000 and $40,000 per day, this is the ultimate luxury retreat.
Our butler Asfar popped by to deliver our bikes, the healthiest way to get around the resort. These expensive bikes were in excellent condition which meant that every trip turned into a race, mowing innocent bystanders down mercilessly. I jest, but they proved endless fun, making each jaunt to a different beach or restaurant exciting. The island is beautifully landscaped with vertical gardens, fronds and palm trees framing the sandy racetracks or paths.
Bolifushi Reserve is justly famous for its cuisine, which is the finest in the Maldives. There are four restaurants on the island, not including the Ozar Bar; Sangu, OriginE, Tradition Saffron and Vista Del Mar.
Vista Del Mar is the standard port of call for lunch or dinner. You can sit inside with the air conditioning (philistines) or outside under canvas sails looking out at the water villas. A mixture of buffet and a-la-carte, presenting a selection of European and Asian cuisine and the local catch of the day. You grab your starters and order your main course from the menu. Arif, the sushi chef spots me as an aficionado from the outset and prepares me a wonderful platter, and does so every day for the rest of the holiday. He is warm, friendly and knowledgeable about the area, so we both look forward to our regular chats.
Fresh fish and meat are cooked in the open kitchen as you order. The range is superb: Andalusian gazpacho, clam chowder, tom yum, Tuscan lamb ragout, shellfish, Spanish paella, nasi goreng, yellow fin tuna, barbecue pork belly, black angus tenderloin steak, thai curry, dim sum, mixed seafood risotto... a veritable smorgasbord of international cuisine. The selection of included beverages and cocktails is nigh on infinite, but we did our best to try them all.
After a superb meal, we wandered over to the Ozar Bar for a little "Après-nage". An architectural marvel of intricate wood and glass enclosing a circular bar. Drinks shelves tower upwards into the sky, accessible only by a red-burnished mahogany pole ladder. The adjoining long main pool is spectacular in grey slate, furnished with four poster beds and stepping stones across one end. This is the place to relax in utter tranquillity and partake in an obscene variety of cocktails and snacks.
We sank into the plush sofas, ordering whisky and champagne (included) whilst the kids played snooker. A Maldivian band srummed a few covers that were frequently better than the originals. Their rendition of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen was brilliant and moving.
Sangu serves Arabic cuisine on the main beach next to the arrival jetty in the open air. The food is authentic and exceptional. On your initial visit go for the dinner tasting menu, a crash course in all the wonderful and varied dishes they offer. Ones we particularly loved: assorted cold mezza platter, hummus beiruti, yalanji, hummus bil lahim, fish sayadieh, grilled prawns, lamb mansaf, levant fatayer and the desserts: mahalabia, um ali and luqaimat.
For lunch, they serve a mix of Arabic and international food for all the family, a wide selection of mocktails, frozen fruit and champagne cocktails, including an Avocado Margarita and a Smoking Bloody Mary, both of which are guaranteed to perk you up from the night before.
The OriginE restaurant is a sumptuous affair; glass panels, marble effect tables, mahogany floors, soft fabric chairs, low lights and a stellar wine collection lining three walls. If it wasn't for the sea outside you would swear you were in the most expensive eatery on the Upper East side of New York. The kids ordered the Wagyu beef and ordered it again for seconds. The food was exquisite and the service incomparable, the chef popped out to say hello and both he and the staff were keen, attentive, informative and justly proud of their culinary achievements.
The entrance to Tradition Saffron is awe-inspiring, twin elephants guard a free-standing portal that leads to a garden and water feature, before entering the fabulous restaurant itself. Tradition Saffron is a marvellous mystery tour of Indian street food focused on saffron, the spice favoured by Indian royalty. Derived from the crocus flower, it has a complex sweet floral taste and can only be harvested by hand, so is expensive to produce. We started with pani puri water, sweet and spicy to prepare the palate, then potatoes with tamarind & mint sauce with tamarind juice drinks, the first thing you order out on the streets of India.
Our charming host Lav talked us through the culture and history of each course. Then in order; a tamarind gin martini infused with tamarind berries, a bongo with coconut, mango and pineapple, a coral reef made with litchi, a jal jeera spicy vodka, a tipsy mango lassi and finally a whisky infused with curry leaf. Luckily this was accompanied by a traditional Indian Talhi, a range of Indian dishes from all over the continent focused on specialities from each region.
Thankfully we had a session at the Elena Spa the next day. They offer a total wellness program with tailored treatments from Western to Asian, specialising in Ayurvedic massage. An Ayurvedic doctor will check everything from your fitness level to your diet and make recommendations. Experiment with NLP, sound healing therapy, cupping, foot acupressure, trigger point therapy, weight loss programs and fully customised massages. Their signature wind, water, fire, earth, and wood treatments are wonderfully relaxing.
Apart from sampling the superb cuisine, every other moment was spent in the water, coming out only for lunch and snacks. The snorkelling here is magical, the reefs are live and teeming with fish and the temperature stays around 25-30 degrees all year round, so even if it rains, you can swim all day, every day. And it's sunny on average for eight hours every day.
Many everlasting memories were created in that sea. We played with turtles as they dived and admired the metre-long blacktip reef sharks swimming with the current.
However, the best moment came when a large nurse shark, perhaps a metre and a half long fixed me and my sons with his beady eye and circled around us a few times before gliding off into the distance. We were utterly thrilled by this electric eye-to-eye contact with such a glorious specimen. We were also lucky enough to catch Manta rays and Sting rays billowing past in pairs on numerous occasions, silhouetted against the deep blue water just off the reef.
Another memory that will stick in my mind is our Bespoke Dinner on a secluded, deserted beach organised by our butler Asfar. A table was set up with an adjoining ice bucket and champagne, surrounded by petals, lanterns and twinkling lights, just a few feet from the water. The food was cooked to perfection on the barbecue and served by our waiter. The children tucked into the most succulent tenderloin whilst the adults had flavoursome juicy prawns, cuttlefish, octopus and rare tuna. We dined "en famille" with the sun setting over the Maldivian Sea, casting a million reflected hues of pink, orange and fiery red against a baby blue sky. As night fell we drank far too many cocktails, chatted and marvelled at the view. Thank heaven for the Rolls on the return journey.
Halfway through our stay, we moved to two water villas or Ocean Pool Suites, with a luxurious master bedroom, living room, giant petal-strewn bathtub, circular glass floor over the sea, large outdoor terrace, private infinity pool, sunken seats, hammock over the water, dining table and steps down into the sea. We had brought our own paddle board and this truly came into its own, exploring further out to sea and around the island. Hours were profitably employed lounging in the hammock with a good book, admiring the sky and listening to the water below.
Bolifushi also has an eco-ice skating rink, where you can glide serenely around practising your spins and spirals while watching the waves frolic over the fine sand.
Every day around 5 pm the staff fed the fish on Sangu Beach. Sting rays, small sharks, giant tuna, eels and even a pelican rush around, leaping over each other to grab the food. It is an incredible opportunity to see these amazing creatures up close and you can even stroke the sting rays.
The only grain in this otherwise blissful idyll is the dive centre, Best Dive, so misnamed it must be ironic. Our first experience started badly when the English manager tried to charge us for kayaks, a non-motorised sport that is included. When we protested he made a song and dance about letting us off, berating the his staff who had nothing to do with it. Their cowed looks and hurried apologies spoke volumes as to how he ran things. His manner was that of a timeshare salesman who simply wished to rip off all comers. The dive centre is independent, not affiliated with or run by Ozen, a great pity as they would manage it far better. Plus the assigned sea area for non-motorised sports is tiny, so after five minutes you're done. The worst dive centre we have ever come across in all our travels.
For our last day, we took over an Ocean Pool Reserve Sunset With Slide. This phenomenal two-floor villa has a 23-metre slide from the second floor straight into the sea. The slide has a water pump too, so you can reach vertiginous speeds, particularly in small shorts or a bikini as the cloth is the only thing that slows you down. This is sheer unadulterated joy. Who has never fantasised about a slide running from their bedroom straight into the ocean? All childhood dreams were fulfilled.
Ozen Reserve Bolifushi takes luxury very seriously. In particular the dining experiences. A seraphic resort for sensual epicureans. The chefs are world-class and create masterpieces inspired by every country in the world. The produce is of the highest quality and served in the most refined luxury. Think tropical island meets five-star dining worthy of the finest restaurants in Paris. The service is genuine, friendly and attentive and our butler Asfar was a gem who made sure we had a wonderful time and enjoyed everything the island had to offer. The villas are all ravishing palaces, designed and decorated to the highest standard, with impeccable taste. This is the Maldivian island for those that seek the epitome of luxury, beauty, wellness and tranquillity.