We came to the Maldives with a lot of expectations – but bumping into an imaginary character from our childhood was not one of them. However, on arrival at our Indian Ocean boutique resort Cocoa Island by Como – a Robinson Crusoe-esque patch of land, not more than 400 paces long, in the impossibly turquoise lagoons of the South Malé Atoll – we are introduced to Thomas, our personal butler. We can’t help but make the comparison with the shopkeeper from Mr Benn.
We’ve already been seriously wowed by this point, though. Our half-hour speedboat ride from Malé airport included impromptu sightings of a dolphin school and a rather excitable flying fish – our little boat the only audience to his aquatic circus act.
Then the island slipped into view – a sliver of white sand and palm trees, with overwater villas connected to the mainland by an elegant curve of wooden walkway. Well, I say ‘mainland’ but Cocoa Island is a mere 350 metres long, tapering to glossy magazine cover-style sand spits at its extremes. There are just 33 suites and villas out over the water, with a pool-flanking restaurant and bar at one end. The Como Shambala Retreat, yoga pavilion and a hydrotherapy pool occupy the other. Oh, and there’s a volleyball net, too.
So where does Mr Benn’s sidekick fit into all this? See if you can spot the theme…
First things first: Thomas leads us up a walkway towards our accommodation – we’ve chosen a one-bedroom villa, which is one of the most spacious and private categories. It’s pristine. The colour scheme is lots of shades of white on white – linen, cotton, whitewashed wood panelling – with accents of teak in the colonial-style furniture. It’s as if they’ve divined our exact tastes and needs, and designed this room around us. Even Mr Smith, usually immune to anything remotely Elle Deco-friendly, is in awe of how gorgeous our home for the next few days is.
Thomas takes us through the in-villa check-in procedures and gives us a brief tour, but it’s once he’s gone that we carry out our ‘lap of luxury’ – both of us race around the open-plan space, exclaiming at the gargantuan size of our bathroom, the perfect positioning of our outdoor shower, the unbelievable colour of the sea surrounding our deck, the plushness of our double daybeds and the dimensions of our flatscreen telly. OK, that last one was Mr Smith only – I was actually admiring the broderie anglaise linen window panels swooshing in the light breeze.
As we unpack, we start to feel our long journey catching up with us, and our thoughts turn to sustainment. Just then, there’s a knock at the door, and, as if by magic, it’s Thomas with the lunch menu from the restaurant in case we’re feeling hungry. We order quickly from the Asian- and Mediterranean-influenced menu, which also includes plenty of the spa-designed light dishes, and Thomas returns with the food equally rapidly. It’s delicious, but I doubt we’d have regretted any choice from the list.
After a post-lunch kip, we head off to explore, and treat ourselves to a massage at the spa. Mr Smith has the Como Shambhala signature massage – which he insists on calling the ‘Shambolic Haha’, even though he declares it to be the best spa treatment he’s ever had. This is more to do with his questionable sense of humour than any fault of the spa’s. Next, we pick up a mask and snorkel from Cocoa Island’s helpful dive team, and swim out to meet the fish. On the sandy stroll back, we bump into Thomas and stop for a chat. Mr Smith enquires if shark sightings are common, and Thomas casts his eyes towards the sea. As if by magic, a baby black tip reef shark glides by.
As the day comes to a close, we enjoy a pre-dinner drink in our villa and then stroll off down our wooden walkway to the low-key restaurant. Here, with no themed evenings, live entertainment or organised activities, the mood is blissfully serene, and only a few other tables are occupied. Guests are free to choose where they dine – on the beach, in their villa or on their deck. The atmosphere is unbelievably laid-back, and we chat our way through delicious course after delicious course with just the burble of the sea to rival our conversation.
After dinner we wander back to our villa, which has been beautifully turned down for the night. We’re pleased to discover that, having earlier mentioned to each other that more deliciously scented Como Shambhala body lotion would be nice, our stocks have been replenished and doubled – again, as if by magic. We sleepily wonder whether our room is being bugged.
The next morning, we pull back the curtain to discover the Maldivian weather doing what it does best – blue, blue skies with just the faintest drifts of white clouds on the horizon. Thomas lays out a breakfast of kings on our deck and we spend the rest of the day lazing around in the villa – snoozing on our daybeds, flicking through the Fish of the Maldives coffee-table book to identify what we’ve encountered, or donning snorkel, mask and fins, to encounter Finding Nemo cast members. Cocoa Island is lucky enough to have a dramatic house reef – breathtakingly beautiful and teeming with sealife – just metres from our villa.
At 5pm, just as the sun is starting to dip, we zoom off on Cocoa’s luxurious motor launch in the hope of seeing dolphins. After 20 minutes, we’ve found our spot and quiet the engines to wait. And – you’ve guessed it – as if by magic, we’re suddenly surrounded by dozens of dolphins that frolic, jump and spin just for us. It’s the perfect ending to our stay at the resort where everyone, marine life included, seems to be genuinely pleased to see us.
Genuine is a good word for Coco Island by Como. There’s nothing flashy or bling about this hotel, nothing overstated or try-hard. And the team seem absolutely committed to designing your stay around what you want to do and how you want to spend your time. It’s so magical that I almost expect Thomas to turn up in shopkeeper’s garb and lead me back through a changing-room door into the real world.