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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gordon Ramsay reported to be considering new Maldives restaurant

According to tourism blog Maldives Finest, Gordon Ramsay proposes to open a restaurant on the experimental multiple-hotel island development of Thumburi. 
I'm yet to hear this from another source but the same post quotes Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation as the source (The MMPRC company is basically the tourist board and operator of Visit Maldives). 

If verified from the celebrity chef's team (and if it actually comes into fruition) this is fantastic news and could encourage some exciting competition amongst Maldives' top resorts.

In my opinion it is a brave choice to pick Thumburi as it's a new concept in the Maldives. Thumburi will be the country's first island to offer more than one resort in one place. Until now there has been just one resort per island with no local communities sharing the island (only staff and guests).

By contrast guesthouses and 'city hotels' are located within island communities where different laws apply with regards to alcohol and pork consumption and the wearing of bikinis (they are banned in inhabited islands, except for resorts, only with the small exception of some islands offering small private tourist beaches where you can flash the flesh).

Thumburi will integrate several resorts, hotels and guesthouses and since no communities live there the special legislation which permits liquor, pork and yes, skimpy swimwear has been applied to this island just like it has on every resort island in the Maldives. Alongside the tourist accommodation there will also be shops, restaurants and scuba diving centres.

While this concept is new to the Maldives it is of course a very popular concept to have a variety of accommodation and services combined together on other tropical islands (albeit larger ones) across the world such as Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, Langkawi and Mauritius (although they also have communities living there too).  It'll be really interesting to see how Thumburi develops.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Beyond the beaches: Historical finds in the Maldives

There's a lot more to Loama Resort Maldives than meets the eye! (Although it's pretty easy on the eye, isn't it?)

The Maldives is better known for its beaches than its historical sights (and let's be honest, rightfully so) however it brought a ray of sunshine into my day today to read some ancient baths had been uncovered during construction of a new resort at Maamagili in Raa Atoll. Thankfully the resort, Loama Resort Maldives, recognises not just the historical significance of this discovery but also the appeal it will hold for its visitors and hence has decided to preserve the 'vevu' as it's known in the local language (Dhivehi).

It's too easy to write-off travellers in the Maldives as only being interested in getting a good suntan (or more recently perhaps taking as many trophy photos as possible) but in fact there's a significant percentage of tourists I've come across who are eager to learn more about the country's culture and history. This isn't just limited to the guesthouse patrons (who shouldn't be pigeonholed either). Just chat to any Maldivian resort butler or F&B attendant about how many questions they get asked about their home country by curious guests. Look at the number of cultural excursions that get booked up at resorts motivated enough to put them on their programmes. And think about the number of guests who eagerly gobble up Maldivian cuisine on 'Maldivian night' and are enthralled by 'bodu beru' (traditional drumming) performances.

As it turns out, the 'vevu' at Loama dates back to the Maldives' pre-Islamic era, so that's pre-1153AD (when the Maldives converted to Islam). Before 1153 The people of the Maldives were largely Buddhist (with some Hindus also). There are several Buddhist stupas (an estimated 59 according to historian Hassan Ahmed Maniku), ruins of temples and other archeological remains lying under mounds of sand and vegetation on other islands in the Maldives.

Returning to the recent find at Loama, announcing the news on the Facebook page the resort said;

"Vevu were used as public baths and later for ablution. Sandstone used in the construction of Vevu points to the pre-Islamic period, and the symmetry of the two wells suggest it may have been part of a temple. 

"Vevu are constructed by layering sandstone blocks approximately a metre below the water line till about half a meter above ground. There is an octagonal ledge cantilevered at low tide level for people to access the well."

It's appropriate the resort's slogan is 'Yesterday's heritage, today's culture'. According to their website they seek to promote Maldivian history and culture, promosing guests: 

"A nation’s culture is best reflected in its people’s way of life, and this is what the resort seeks to capture in all its natural glory. Watch the artisans of today bring age-old craft to life, experience ancient rituals and customs first-hand, and immerse yourself in the old world of Maldivians going about their daily routine, untouched by the passage of time."

It genuinely sounds intriguing to me. I've noticed an increasing number of resorts in the Maldives cottoning on to the demand for cultural activities just over the past five years; Dusit Thani's 'artisan village' and the mini-museum at Velaa Private Island to name just two recent examples. As a history-lover I say hooray for that. The Maldives has a fascinating (albeit fragmented) cultural heritage to discover if you dig a bit deeper.