There's a battalion of beaming staff gazing skywards and waving enthusiastically as our private seaplane touches down on the turquoise waters surrounding Cheval Blanc Randheli, one of the most exclusive and luxurious private island resorts in the Maldives -- and probably the world. After captivating 40-minute flight from the capital, Malé, to northeastern Noonu Atoll -- with views straight out of a David Attenborough documentary -- we prise ourselves from the chauffeured buggy and are whisked away along palm-fringed sandy tracks to our palatial overwater villa.
At the front door, we're greeted by our very own majordome (that's butler to you and me) who's available 24/7 to help with everything from unpacking suitcases to ironing jackets to booking restaurants and back rubs. On the veranda we find neat rows of perfectly fitting espadrilles and flip-flops (so that's why they asked our shoe size!) and two Schwinn bicycles personalised with our initials. We're offered a free massage to banish any travel-related stress but decide the fastest route to relaxation is by wallowing in our infinity pool with that complimentary bottle of chilled Moët & Chandon that's awaiting.
It's a royal welcome and one that staff have had the chance to present on many a venerable guest. Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, gave their regal seal of approval when they spent a week at this serene tropical hideaway in March last year, only months after the resort opened in late 2013. These days the guestbook reads like a James Bond movie cast, with Russian oligarchs, Saudi princesses, sports stars, fashion doyens and Silicon Valley billionaires all jetting to experience the resort's jaw-dropping levels of pampering.
The lure for those seeking the ultimate sybaritic escape is the resort's reassuringly luxurious parent company, LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), which owns a coterie of top-drawer brands, from Céline and Fendi to Bulgari and De Beers. The conglomerate also boasts an impressive wine, champagne and spirits portfolio, including the revered Saint-Émilion grand cru from which the hotel brand takes its name. The group's first foray into luxury hotels was the cool, contemporary and utterly decadent Cheval Blanc Courchevel ski lodge in the French Alps, which opened its doors in 2006.
Consisting of a crescent of six small islands peeping out of an aquamarine lagoon, Cheval Blanc Randheli stretches two kilometres from tip to tail, with each swathe of sugar-white sand and tropical foliage connected by wooden bridges or a short boat ride. Most guests stroll or cycle around, although you can also hop aboard on a passing buggy.
Our villa is one of only 45, all of which have 12.5-metre infinity pools, direct access to the crystalline waters, timber terraces with outdoors showers and garden dining pavilions. Of the three accommodation categories, families tend to favour the spacious Island Villas, which have one or two bedrooms, a tropical garden complete with shady hammocks and access to a secluded stretch of beach. The Water Villas are perched over the ocean, while the Garden Water Villas are partially over the sea but also have private gardens. Those seeking total solitude and maximum stretch space can opt for the sprawling four-bedroom Owner's Villa, which is set on its own island with a private spa, dedicated team of staff and personal jetty, from which you can visit the other islands in traditional wooden boats called dhonis.
Your villa's wow factor hits the second you step inside, as your eyes adjust to the scale of the lofty cathedral ceilings and the mighty one-tonne pivoted oak doors, which soar seven metres high yet rotate 180 degrees in the breeze, seemingly as light as feathers. The sea-facing wall pretty much slides across to reveal uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean, with occasional sunset performances by pods of acrobatic dolphins. Materials such as teak, rattan, bamboo, cinnamon wood, thatch and coconut shell give the interiors a natural understated elegance, while the interior colour palette is dominated by warm taupe, oyster grey and white with occasional bursts of sunshine yellow. The stylish splendour spills outside onto a private decked terrace complete with shaded daybeds, outdoor shower and angular white sails that provide privacy from neighbouring villas. Everything from the Bose surround-sound speaker system to the black-out blinds is controlled by a handy iPad, which is also loaded with information about tempting resort offerings, from traditional fishing trips and night snorkelling to the delicious, freshly made fish curries on the in-villa dining menu.
The mastermind behind the resort's show-stopping look and feel is renowned Belgian-born hotel designer and architect Jean-Michel Gathy, who has created an environment so effortlessly chic and supremely tasteful that it could easily double as a backdrop for a high-fashion shoot.
This bar-setting level of luxury continues into the gastronomic realm with dining options to match even the most extravagant of cravings. Named after Château Cheval Blanc's most pretigious and sought after vintage, Le 1947 offers the kind of French fine dining found in the top Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, with incredible presentation, attentive service and decadent décor (think crystal chandeliers and Christofle silver cutlery) to match. Expect a 13-course menu packed with gourmet treats such as foie gras terrine with passion fruit and coffee jelly, or wagyu beef in a crust of marrow and mushroom. Top the experience off with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1982 from the heroically sized and world-class wine menu, but be prepared to part with around US$7,300 a bottle.
Japanese or East Asian? That's the dilemma at intimate and inventive restaurant The Diptyque, which has two menus and two distinct dining areas arranged around a live cooking station. For special occasions, reserve La Table de Partage. The chef will serve a bespoke menu in this private dining space accompanied by vintage wine and champagne -- in magnums only.
Overlooking the ocean at the tip of the main jetty with tables outside under the stars, The Deelani is by far the most romantic location and serves Mediterranean delights from grilled fresh seafood to tasty tapas and crisp pizza. For breakfast, barbeques and more laid-back dinding, there's The White restaurant. Nestle your toes in the talc-soft sand and enjoy the sea breezes from the alfrsco terrace.
If the strain of choosing which daybed to snooze on is stressing you out, escape to Spa Island (a three-minute journey by dhoni from the main pier) where you'll be kneaded, scrubbed and rejuvenated by a regiment of therapists armed with Guerlain lotions and potions. If you only have time for one treatment, opt for the Randheli Sun Ritual, which includes exfoliation, moisturising, and even a refreshing dip in the sea outside your private spa villa.
Once your battery is fully recharged you may wish to consult with your own "experience alchemist", who is on hand 24 hours a day to make all your holiday dreams come true by arranging a bespoke itinerary of activities. If you fancy working up a sweat, then ask for a session on the golf simulator or arrange for a boat to take you on the five-minute trip to neighbouring Maakurandhoo Island, where the resort owns private tennis courts built to Australian Open standards. Former ATP player Lukas Koncilia is the coach. There's also a state-of-the-art gym and classes in yoga, pilates, circuit training and tai chi. Or take advantage of the three-square-kilometre lagoon on one of the resort's raft of watersports gadgets, which range from Seabobs and Flyboards to a jet-propelled surfboard that can hit 65km/h. Or kit up at the Padi dive centre and head off in search of turtles, dolphins and rays with the resort's resident marine biologist.
Or you may just want to give your "alchemist" the week off, retreat to your villa and get stuck into that bottle of Moët instead.