Hotel Review: OBLU by Atmosphere at Helengeli
As advertised, the speedboat ride to Helegeli is short and scenic. We alight and walk straight into the airy reception on the jetty, open on all sides to a full view of the sun-kissed sea and the gleaming island across a walkway. The smiling general manager, Rein W M van Zandvoort, greets us cheerfully as staff clad in bright-coloured shirts and matching sunglasses serves welcome drinks.
On the way to our rooms, I enjoy the sensation of walking through a tropical garden. The sandy path to the water villa is lined with purple and green boat lily, giant elephant ears, and periwinkle in various shades of pink.
There aren’t many signposts but the island is easy to navigate. Everything is within 100 metres. But I take a wrong turn, trying to guess the names of the plants, and end up near a sculpture. The nakaiy sculpture is one of two art installations on Helegeli created by local artist Umair Badheeu – an initiative of Mr Zandvoort to give guests a taste of Maldivian culture.
The installations are based on the nakaiy, an ancient Maldivian weather calendar system that divides the year into 27 distinct periods of up to two weeks. It is derived from the Indian Nakshatra system.
The bed is the first thing that catches my eye as we enter the beach villa. White net fabric drapes down from a canopy of bamboo sticks. With an aged piece of wood for a headboard, the bed seems to float a few inches off the floor.
A turquoise blue daybed piled with cushions of pale lime green, blue and fuchsia, sits near the windows. The stark white walls create the feeling of space with pops of colour reflecting the greenery outside. A glass lampstand woven with rope, starfish lights, and a carved ceramic TV holder adds a nautical touch.
Double doors open to an outdoor bathroom. The rain shower is atop a wall lined with a mosaic of blue tiles, flanked by squares with purple plant, Hawaiian ti, and dumb cane. Looking up you see rectangles of cobalt blue sky.
It is a good day for snorkelling, I think to myself.
Renowned for its house reef and a hotspot for seasoned divers and beginners alike, Helengeli’s underwater garden is truly breathtaking.
Schools of parrot fish and angel fish swim past, flashing bright yellows, vibrant blues, greens and pink. I was lucky enough to spot a black tip shark and a turtle.
If you get too excited and miss lunch, you won’t have to go hungry until dinner. A selection of grilled seafood and sandwiches are served in the late afternoon at Helen’s bar, which invites you to lounge lazily and watch the sunset.
I return to my villa to find a ‘walrus’ donning white OBLU sunglasses on the freshly made bed. Palm fronds arranged to wish me ‘good night’ and two chocolate covered heart-shaped marshmallows on the work table makes me smile.
Dinner was next. The pathway to the restaurant is illuminated by carved white lamps and flame-shaped giant LED lights among the vegetation. Couples sip cocktails in the bar by the pool area, now bright with twinkling lights.
Dinner is a spread of international dishes with a Moroccan theme. A smiling Maldivian hostess escorts us to a table beneath a rope chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Ravenous after the snorkelling, we feast on Moroccan rice, succulent lamb, and pumpkin salad. I hurry through the delicious main course after a glance at the dessert counter. The sight of poached pears, mango mousse and date puddings makes me abandon resolutions to cut back on sugar.
A waiter approaches bearing glass bottles of OBLU water made and bottled on the island’s plant. Using the crystal purification method, the bottling plant produces more than 500 litres of still and sparkling water a day, saving over 40,000 plastic bottle waste per year. Its sister property, Kanifushi, uses the same process, I am told. You won’t find any plastic bottles or straws on Helegeli either. All plastic waste is collected and sent abroad for recycling.
The island’s environment policy also extends to its laundry service. Guests notify the housekeeper if the bed linen and towels are to be replaced.
At the bar, the DJ plays soft music to the beat of the gently-lapping waves. The music becomes more upbeat as the night progresses. A fitting end to a perfect day.
I wake up to an exceptionally beautiful morning. Luxuriating on the veranda with my usual cup of coffee, I am struck by the difference the stillness and open vista makes to your mood.
OBLU sunglasses and flip flops on, I walk to the restaurant’s seating area facing the beach and pick a spot to enjoy the blue-hued view through the glass windows.
The outdoor deck is lined with green parasols and sits halfway on the water. Smiling waiters in blue-green leaf-printed shirts serve coffee and tea. Breakfast is eggs, grilled tomatoes, pastries, cheese and fruit, while the DJ plays soft music in the background.
After breakfast, I head for a walk on the beach, just a few steps outside my room. Two sun loungers sit under a tall sea trumpet tree facing the heliotrope and the sea lettuce plants that line the shore. The divan with cushions on the veranda begs you to curl up with a book.
With enough activities the day before, I decide to check out the ELENA spa. A range of luxury spa products are on offer. The spa centres around the natural elements of air, water, fire and earth.
In an open air room with bamboo walls, I feel drowsy as soft hands work their magic and soothing music lulls me to sleep. Dozing off, I’m reminded of Mr Zandvoort’s words. It’s a feeling, he said. You can’t really describe it well enough to do it justice but you know it’s wonderful. He was right.