The Party Island — Finolhu
“Actually, it’s not a party island.” Or so I was assured more than once during my stay at Finolhu, the words usually just audible over the Rod Stewart/Michael Jackson/Sugarhill Gang blasting out of the sound systems in seemingly every public space—from the spa, with its treatment cabins named after the likes of Karen Carpenter and Barbra Streisand, to the second story of Baa Baa Beach Bar, a man cave with arcade games, self-serve beer taps, and a beanbag-lined screening room (“Cinema Retro”). There were flame throwers and aerial-silk acrobats performing by the main pool; a woman dressed as a mermaid frolicked periodically in the water. Highway signs inexplicably marked the intersections of paths. A Nikki Beach–style hangout, the Fish & Crab Shack, was set halfway down the long sandbar adjacent to the island (a dhoni boat ferries people from the resort’s main jetty), where I watched a gaggle of Russians with epic tattoos slurp down champagne next to a palapa-style DJ booth. In my own beach villa, the resort literature trumpeted the arrival of a“retro-inspired paradise for fun-loving beach-erati!”
In short, and with apologies to Finolhu’s branding team: it’s a party island. Finolhu is the second resort from the Small Maldives Island Co. (the other is the more family-centric Amilla Fushi, which opened in 2014), owned and operated by two Australians, one of whom earned his Maldives chops as general manager of the One&Only Reethi Rah. Their concept was to import the jet-set glamor of Mykonos and St. Tropez to the Indian Ocean, flagrantly eschewing the local thatched-roof building vernacular, along with most every other conventional reference to local culture, in favor of man caves, mermaids, and lots of out-of-context antique signage.
Fair enough, and to each his own. But the thing is, Finolhu is in the Maldives; specifically, in the Baa Atoll, one of only three UNESCO-designated World Biosphere Reserves in the Indian Ocean—which made the zeal with which its creators proselytized about the high-flying hedonism of their vision, to the exclusion (at least on my visit) of any mention of the country’s environmental and wildlife issues, feel slightly tone-deaf.
That said, Finolhu has some notable things going for it—starting with its prices. With one-bedroom beach villas coming in at around $850 in the low season, it offers better value by local five-star standards. The rooms themselves are sleekly designed, with wide private patios laid with Balinese tiles, enormous beds under pitched, palewood ceilings, and gorgeous outdoor bathrooms, those in the beach villas bowered in palms and bougainvillea. The food was creatively conceived and beautifully presented, from the crunchy soft-shell-crab tacos at the Fish & Crab Shack to the poke and heavenly spiced crispy eggplant, vivid with roasted chiles, at Kanusan, the Pan-Asian restaurant. And there’s the island itself, whose windswept sandbar should, on an early-morning ramble, fulfill just about every permutation of castaway fantasy that’s out there.
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