Picture your own private island. Now, get those strippers and Formula 1 cars out of there. Picture it again: white sand beaches, blazing sunsets, sunshine and boat drinks, smiling staff and no crowds or unfamiliar faces. You leave your villa unlocked and dive into aquamarine waves mere strides from your veranda. If this were Hollywood, you’d resurface as a hero, with a fish between your teeth. Instead, you bound from the water stupid happy in a perfect paradise – only this time, it’s real and it’s all yours.
You are in Coco Privé Kuda Hithi, a tiny island found in the Kaafu Atoll of The Maldives. Despite this island nation being a veritable beauty pageant of over one thousand gorgeous islands, Kuda Hithi is unique. Put it alongside a name destination like Parrot Cay, Necker Island or North Island, and you’ll see Kuda Hithi is the Goldilocks of private places: not too big or too small, not too hot or too cold, not too busy or too boring. (Kuda means ‘small’. No one seems to know what ‘Hithi’ means, apparently)
At only 13,000 square feet, Kuda Hithi is like a theatrical stage, pristine and prepped to cater for any experience you wish – marriage, party, divorce, escape or, in my case, none of the above. Holidays are not my thing and I hate to relax. I don’t like chocolate either. I’m an over-caffeinated white person. I run on neurosis, anxiety and tension. I panic when the wifi is down. I love the big city, adore parties and hate to swim. And yet… here I am telling you, imploring you, that you REALLY have to go to Kuda Hithi because it is so good for your molecular structure and you get to see pretty fish. If you’re still not sold, be aware that the wifi on here is probably better than it is at your house. Those waves you hear? Definitely not a white noise machine. You may not get it right away, but your central nervous system will send you a thank you note in the morning.
The correct start to this journey of modern enlightenment includes acting like a potentate: so it is written that you must partake of Heathrow’s VIP Service. This is old school ‘star service’, the kind that existed when travel was glamorous and your mom was good looking. In the private lounge area, Graham, my server, puts out endless morsels of edible delight. The lounge itself is a showroom of designer furniture: I fling myself sobbing into the same model Eames chair I lost in a divorce. Wines from around the world are offered, along with exotic cocktails and bubbly items. I hold back the urge to gobble everything. Because he’s a Gentleman, Graham pretends not to notice my struggle. Baggage and tedious passport handling are taken care of while you imbibe and consume, and go, “ha ha” at the thought of the other travellers having to queue like English people. Feel the touch of God’s finger upon you, my son.
Once I’m through security – unhappily, I do have to do that ‘take off your belt and put your laptop on the conveyor’ thing, the very cheek of it – I step into a purring, immaculate BMW 7 Series and am taken through the mile-long tunnel to the tarmac. Just when you’re sure you’re in a Tom Cruise movie, a capable, good looking bodyguard opens your door and there you are – at the foot of your large white thing with wings. It really is, as the service promises, Fifty steps from car to plane and so it’s perfect for those who think they can walk in high heels. (Apparently, many soap stars use this service but opt to go through the terminal so they can be papped. No such attention-seeking for you, Narcissus.)
There are four good reasons to fly Turkish Airlines business class: the business lounge in Istanbul is really just an excuse for the world’s most enormous food fair, once onboard you get rather good Crabtree & Evelyn iPad covers and Turkish Airline cabin crew are incredibly beautiful, kindly people. One so gently blanketed a sleeping passenger, onlookers sighed and glanced at each other in approval, just like in the comedy film Airplane! but sans irony, jive or baseball bat. Above all else, though, fly Turkish Airlines for their turbulence warnings – the most soothing, erotic warnings ever recorded in the history of manned aviation. At first, I thought I was dreaming the whispering, throaty female voice emanating through the cabin and into my bone marrow. But no. It was real – and I wanted that turbulence back again and again and again. I wanted that turbulence all night long.
Naturally, a superyacht is the best way to get to little Kuda Hithi. Although the tiny island is only 30 clicks from the Maldivian capital of Malé, a normal boat can take a gut-busting 45 minutes. If you’ve been a glutton in Istanbul, you’ll want no shaking or pounding. Sultans of the Seas is the only private superyacht service that can transport you to the island in style – yes, with more snacks, champagne, a double bedroom, sun deck. With three different yachts from which to choose, I suggest the one called 007 – but I would. They are also available as a floating luxury hotel to take you around the islands, if you so wish.
The Sultans of the Seas superyacht is hysterically luxurious yet quite practical. By the time you swan up to Kuda Hithi, you feel pampered like a star – but humble too, and in a good mood, like a proper person of note and achievement. Moi-meme, I must pry my hand from the champagne bottle that I have been holding in a selfish death grip since Malé Aeropuerto. On the long jetty of Kuda Hithi stand sky-blue liveried staff, all with strong smiles, handshakes and a cool towel. Walking up the jetty you become aware of one thing: perfection is going to be too imperfect a word for this verdant wonderland. Seeing Kuda Hithi for the first time feels like you’ve just met your best friend, only he’s an island.
Dotted with coconut palms and tropical flowers you can put in your hair, you’re taken over white sand paths, past the flaming fountain and to the end of the sweeping, long infinity pool. In the open-air bar, you’re told of the five opulent villas nestled in its foliage. Designed by award-winning architect Guz Wilkinson, they are chic yet organic, sleekly functional. The master apartment above the main building is seriously James Bond, with dual Fontini showers, outdoor Jacuzzi, own infinity pool and the best view of the seafront. Seen from the ocean, it looks like Dr No’s summer abode. Ken Adam would have been proud.
Taken to the steps of my villa, The Gecko, seeing the infinity pool and then – gasp – seeing the dazzling sea just feet away, I had to mess with Hiawatha:
“By the shores of Kuda Hithi,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the villa of The Gecko,
Best of the lot, damned straight, my Gecko”
The man taking me to the villa smiled. Maybe he’s accustomed to people being insane with delight. Later, I discover The Gecko really is the best villa. With the sea directly at my doorstep, I saw an incredible sunrise every morning.
After frolicking in my huge egg-shaped open-air bath, private fountains (I have two), WC with squirty hose (gotta love that), glass shower, infinity pool, well-stocked mini-bar and the Indian Ocean itself, it was time for lunch. This is where the island manager makes sure you’re comfortable and to remind you that you’re entitled to treat the place like it is yours. After all, with Kuda Hithi, when you’re there, you’re supposed to feel like you own it. (In fact, you can treat the whole island like a messy bedroom if you want.) Musing on this, I find out that the island’s private chef is cooking everything I love and that I can have as much as I want of everything. If baffled, you ask for a Maldivian food night. This is a mix of Arabic and Indian cuisine – an extremely tasty array of curries and moreish spicy fishes that even ichthyophobes would like. Add to this a superb selection of wines and spirits, it’s hard not to oink appreciatively.
Kuda Hithi is staffed with about 30 people (counting the gardeners and Sisyphus, the guy who sweeps the beach every single morning) but they are invisible until you want to see them. Whatever you want magically appears. What you don’t want magically disappears. You don’t feel lonely or isolated. You can visit with your partner or friends, depending on your party. Or you can stay in your villa and listen to the island. Of course, there is a huge plasma screen TV tucked away, iPads that run the lights and the music of your choice. I could go online all I wanted. And yet, the more freedom I had, the less I desired. The nervous snortiness I so love in myself was giving way to something softer and more human. After a night of sweet sleep, lulled by sound of real waves, the lyrics to South Pacific’s Bali Hai start to make a lot of sense. “Here am I, your special island. Come to me, come to me.” I never thought of myself as a tropical type. How wrong I was.
During the day, there is a lot to do. There are daily spa treatments by a Balinese lady, no less. If you’re feeling sporty – and you will feel sporty on the second day – you can wind surf, paddle board, kayak, snorkel or scuba dive. You can go morning fishing, take a sunset cruise, go big game fishing, have a photo shoot, take a seaplane or chopper island tour. Or you can forget all that, dive into your personalized mini bar and hit the beach with the latest crime thriller on your Kindle Fire. Bets are on that you fall asleep before the detective gets his second clue.
In a way, Kuda Hithi is all about being wet, inside and out.
One day, you can snorkel with a trained marine biologist. The next day you can, as I did, head off to a picnic on a sand bar. This is a ridiculous beautiful strip of sand that rises out of the ocean just so you can eat lunch on it. Nearby coral reefs are loaded with luminous fishes. They are also, in my instance, the home of blue bottles, a type of stinging jellyfish. I swam into a cloud of them, their tendrils lashing at leg, back and armpit. When I came out of the sea, hyperventilating and covered in welts, I felt as if I’d been whipped with bee stings. And yet, no one offered to pee on me – the classic jellyfish antidote. Of course, Kuda Hithi staff had all medical mod cons standing by if I needed them. Naturally, I was too rough and tough for that.
The more you explore the island, the more childlike you feel. Kuda Hithi is a playground, a great place to play hide and seek because of its many nooks and crannies. You’ll be too relaxed to play, though. “Oh, seek me tomorrow,” you’ll sigh as you ponder the virgin horizon. “Okay, I’ll hide tomorrow,” your companion says. Then you both nod off to the sound of waves and are awoken only by the call to cocktails on the beach.
Honeymoons are the most natural fit for the island. Kuda Hithi gets the sap flowing, no matter how dormant the sap has been. Could it be the beckoning blue blood-warm sea? The coconut trees that, really, you shouldn’t climb because they’re near the bootcamp training area? Could it be the small signs of life everywhere – the scuttling crabs, the little lizards, the scented blossoms – white sand that crunches under every step. This is the land of the delicious mañana, and yet with present moments so luscious they could drop ripe from a tree, if time grew on trees. You know what I mean.
Perfectly suited to those travelling with an entourage, nannies or servants, it is also primed for very special events – parties, weddings, family holidays. The minimum stay on the island runs from a minimum of three nights, with a minimum occupancy of two to a dozen, all of whom members of the same group. This way, you never see a stranger on the island. The only stranger you may see is yourself, calm, happy and feeling that you’ve found heaven – only you’ve not had to die to get there. “Who’s that cheerful, balanced person in the mirror there? Oh, it’s ME. Weird.”
There’s a BBQ on the beach, sure, but nobody’s standing around, sporting a Kiss The Cook apron and waving a crusty spatula. There are lobster, prawns, baked potatoes – one of life’s great delicacies when they’re put on coals, served with a dollop of sour cream and caviar – fresh salad and the kind of chilled white wine where the coolness hits your palate before the flavor warms your mouth. A sultry breeze wafts over you. The sun sets, and suddenly, you feel all fictional. You couldn’t make this better if you tried and I tried: “The sun could be a little redder… no actually it’s perfect. That wine could be colder…well, no, it’s great. The breeze could be warmer… no, that’s ideal too.” Even in your crabbiest, most hateful and ungrateful mind set, Kuda Hithi scoops you up into her hand and coos, “There there.”
You may think you know about luxury. So did I. Turns out, I only knew only the insecure side of luxury, not, as Kuda Hithi offers, luxury of the mind. For once in my life, I felt balanced and stable. The wifi was great, but I didn’t care. I hardly checked my emails or messages – and yes, I missed a bit of work, but so what? I was not breathing air conditioning. It was fresh sea air. My body had gone all native and now demanded swimming five times a day, with naps, snacks and dingle-dangling over the sea in a big fig-shaped basket lined with cushions. As I calmly watched manta rays glide shyly near the white sand shore, every cell in my body asked, “What’s a city?”
To book your stay at the Kuda Hithi, visit: www.cocoprive.com.