Another Journeys by Design favourite, located on the western coastline of Mahe island, overlooking Anse Louis, Maia Luxury Resort is a one off: super-luxurious, a speciality spa resort, an outstanding beach destination and – food-wise – frequently compared to Europe’s best. Designed by Lek Bunnag and Bill Bensley, it’s a member of Leading Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Having just visited (2010), it’s not hard to see why. It really is that good.
A wood, stone and thatch build, and spread across a steep and well maintained garden hillside – Best Landscape and Turf Maintenance in Africa 2008 – Maia Luxury Resort consists of a main lodge and 30 villas. Inspired by both the area and by east African Swahili architecture, Bunnag and Bensley’s high spec, low impact build seeks to work around the habitat, and pavilion structures are the main architectural forms.
Characterised by enormous peaked roofs, open sides and beautifully polished floors, the shared areas consist of a restaurant (the Tec Tec), a bar, shop and various seating areas, all situated around an enormous pool. The spa is situated higher up the hillside.
Lucky to have for years retained the services of Andre Chiang, who was taught how to cook by Jacques and Lourent Parcel, the food at Maia is exquisite. Chiang left fairly recently, but the kitchen’s creativity, professionalism and sheer panache continues unabated. Advertised as haute light, the cuisine – French, Creole, Mediterranean, Asian – is complimented by a superb wine list, excellent floor service and by the beautifully judged interior design, which is warm and woody. The restaurant’s main visual focus, an enormous chandelier, serves to offset the high ceiling, and its African bracelet inspired shape is echoed throughout by oversized metal ornaments, all reminiscent of different types of jewellery. With enough warning, the kitchen caters for special diets, and the chef is happy to accommodate off-menu requests. A serious gourmet destination at night (complete with maitre ds, sommeliers and the like), the Tec Tec reverts to a flip flops and shorts affair during the day, serving lunches and drinks. Fans of cocktails and snacks can be found at the Sunset Pool Bar.
The villas are divided into 2 classes: ocean and signature. The ocean rooms are further divided – panoramic, view and front – on the basis of position. Designed by Bensley, and set in its own gated garden, each villa includes a lounge, outdoor viewing platform, horizon plunge pool, bedroom, kitchenette and en-suite bathroom. Fitted with i-pod docking stations, Boche speaker systems, concealed air conditioning units and La Prairie bathroom amenities, maintained by a highly trained villa butler, and marked by a beige colour scheme, bespoke door handles, architectural lighting and small intimate details, the rooms are both simple and sophisticated, a type of minimalism born not of a book, but out of the need to reflect the area’s natural and fragile beauty. ‘Respect mother nature first,’ says Bensely. ‘Here, we very gently tiptoed around the site. If you can do that, it’s a win-win.’ Every whim, every need, is attended to, and delightful, unexpected services abound – we arrived, for example, to find a complimentary bottle of champagne and named newspaper on a beautifully made up bed.
Activities at Maia Luxury Resort include the spa and all it has to offer (we enjoyed a particularly brilliant Balinese massage), gym, water based past times (including fishing, snorkelling and diving) and island excursions.
Please note that while beach here is undeniably lovely, it doesn’t compare with the likes of North Island. Also, travellers looking for a more group and central area orientated stay may well find Maia’s decentralised nature – where guests spend most of their time on site at their villas – a little too quiet.