If Robinson Crusoe had hung out with Kevin McCloud and Giorgio Armani instead of Man Friday, his desert-island dwelling would probably have looked a lot like Como Cocoa Island hotel: beautifully designed, this resort in the Maldives is the embodiment of understated elegance. Resembling a collection of Keralan boathouses, the individual over-water villas have soothing white-on-white interiors and teak flooring to create an ambience of laid-back romance. The scuba diving here is terrific, and after an afternoon of reef watching you can soothe away any aches and pains in the world-class Como Shambhala spa…
Get this when you book through us:
An aromatherapy gift and daily fruit basket; plus (for stays of five nights or more) a bottle of champagne and (for stays of seven nights or more) sunset fishing
Noon; check-outs up to 6pm are charged at 50 per cent; later, check-outs incur the full room cost. Earliest check-in, 2pm. A guest lounge is available for those leaving late or arriving early.
Double rooms from £617.42 ($854), including tax at 23.2 per cent.
Rates include breakfast but exclude tax.
The Como Shambhala Retreat is beyond good, and offers tempting treatments in its spa suites or in the privacy of your room. The focus is on holistic and Ayurvedic therapy: book in for a 'wellness path' course of treatments.
At the hotel
Gardens, beach, spa, Pilates studio, steam room and hydrotherapy pool, gym, yoga pavilion, watersports centre, dive centre, library, boutique, free WiFi. In rooms: minibar, LCD TV, DVD/CD player, iPod dock, coffee maker.
Our favourite rooms
All the rooms here – Dhoni Water Villas, Dhoni Loft Water Villas, Loft Water Villas and Villas – are individual at-sea dwellings sited off a snake-like wooden pier, with private sun-decks, vintage-style ceiling fans, walk-in showers and roll-top bathtubs. It'll be love at first sight whichever one you choose, but we fell particularly hard for the split-level Dhoni Loft Water Villas, and the ultra-private one-bedroom Villas, with dining bales and outdoor showers. Try to get Villa 1001 or 1003, as they face away from Cocoa Island and have the best straight-to-snorkelling sea access. The Dhoni Loft Water Villas all face directly onto the house reef – pick the higher numbers (from 830 down) at the end of the boardwalk for maximum privacy.
You're not exactly short of places to swim here, but if you don't do saltwater, there's a beautiful beachside infinity pool to splash around in.
The Como Shambhala Retreat is a serene haven, and offers tempting treatments in its spa suites (including a couples pavilion amid tropical foliage) or in the privacy of your room. The focus is on holistic and Ayurvedic therapy: book in for a 'wellness path' course of treatments, one of many massages on offer, or a Sundãri facial There's also a Maldivian rarity: a hydrotherapy pool where jets pummels any aches and pains away. There's a mani-pedi station too and a gym, plus daily yoga, meditation and Pilates classes.
Footwear other than flip-flops won't leave your bag: you'll be barefoot most of the time and heels will just sink into the sand and between gaps in the decking. Snorkelling and diving kit is available to hire – just don't forget your certification.
Screaming infants don't quite fit with the ambience, but two under-12s can stay free in your room (you'll need to pay US$6 tax a child, each day). Babysitting (from US$15 an hour) and kids' menus available (half-board is US100 a child, full-board US$130).
Cocoa Island has an comprehensive eco-policy and takes great care of its pristine natural environment and house reef, as well as working closely with local community projects and charities.
Get a poolside table or go one step further (literally) and dine on the beach. And dining on your room's private balcony is pretty hard to beat, too.
Barefoot and sunkissed.
Set in an open-sided wooden pavilion, Ufaa offers a daily-changing menu of fresh-from-the-sea, plucked-from-the-branch goodness, Malabar Coast and Thai-style dishes, as well as a raw-food spa menu and naughtier staples including pizzas and paninis. Vegans and the gluten-intolerant are well catered for too.
Poolside bar Faru spins a mixed-up selection of chilled-out tracks and jazzy sounds. Enjoy while you sup on lethally tasty fruit punches or ginger mojitos. There are also vitamin-packed juices and fragrant tea infusions.
Lunch wraps at 2.30pm; for dinner, it's 10.30pm. Drinks are poured at Faru bar until 11pm.
The amazing breakfast menu (fry-ups, cereals, buttermilk pancakes, organic egg-white omelettes…) is available 7am–11am; and from noon till 11pm there are light snacks and full-blown meals on offer (we'll have the tandoor-roasted lobster, please).
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
Get to Malé International Airport, and it’s a 40-minute speedboat transfer to the island. Shared return speedboat transfers are US$350 for adults (12 and over) and US$175 a child (ages 2-11; under 2s travel for free). The cost will be added to your rate at check-out, plus tax.
Worth getting out of bed for
Yoga bunnies, water babies and sea dogs all have good reasons to leave the cocoon of their private suites. At the Como Shambhala Retreat, there's a complimentary yoga class every afternoon in the yoga pavilion; if you want to be more bendy than you've ever been, book a few private yoga lessons; guided meditation is also on offer. Diving is definitely the main attraction here: the parrotfish-patrolled house reef is just a short swim away; borrow free snorkelling gear or learn to dive – Como Cocoa Island has a PADI dive centre, and the Maldives is home to some of the world's most spectacular scuba diving – including at the Cocoa Thila site, just behind the resort. If that doesn't float your boat… charter one. Island-hopping excursions or barbecue picnics on sandbars made for two, by dhoni, catamaran or speedboat are a totally tropical way to spend the day. While you're out on the water, keep your eyes peeled for leaping flying fish and spot pods of dolphins. There are also windsurfers, kayaks and catamarans to borrow.
If you fancy a change of culinary scenery, ask about the boat transfers to a neighbouring island and dine in another of Mr & Mrs Smith luxury Maldives stays.
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 Como Cocoa Island – 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 Como Cocoa Island. 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.