It was my third day at MAIA before I spotted another guest, and even that was just the back of a shoulder behind a chair in the restaurant – a chair which had been carefully designed for its occupant to be nigh-on invisible. Managing Director Frederic Vidal explains that these chairs required two trips to Indonesia to perfect them, which is an indication of how seriously guests’ privacy is taken at this little piece of paradise in the Seychelles.
Set on a private peninsula which juts out from the south-west coast of Mahé Island, MAIA is an all-villa property open only to hotel guests, set on an unspoilt cove of white sand, turquoise waters and palm trees. 30 sumptuous one-bedroom villas cater for a maximum of 60 guests on the property at any one time. All are virtually identical, although the shorefront properties are usually reserved for families (sofa-beds can be provided for children), while the hillside villas offer a magnificent view of either adjacent bay. Villa 221 is the furthest from the beach restaurant and spa, but has arguably the most panoramic view. Immaculately thatched and Balinese in style, villas have their own infinity pools, complete with waterfall and overhanging frangipani trees. My luxurious accommodation gave me the best sleep that I’d had in weeks, and also indulged me with a huge bathroom, an outdoor day bed, a surround-sound speaker system, and even my own banana tree branch hanging by the bar, for whenever I fancied a snack.
My enjoyment had much to do with how exceptionally well I was taken care of during my stay. The real charm of MAIA becomes apparent with the individual Seychellois butlers allocated to each villa. On hand 24 hours a day, Samantha took exceptional pride in her work. With a 35 per cent return rate, guests usually ask for the same villa and butler each time, and readopt the same habits, whether a certain arrangement of pillows, coconut water fresh from the tree at 11am, lemongrass tea from the garden after meals, or a favourite Belgian ice cream. Butlers will arrange anything from meals served in the villa to coordinating guest schedules, and have even been known to assist with marriage proposals!
With all meals available throughout the day, MAIA has a ‘wherever, whenever, whatever’ bespoke menu service, and the five cosmopolitan chefs (from Syria, Thailand, Australia, the Seychelles and France) are happy to prepare breakfast at sundown, lunch at midnight or pre-dawn dinners for Muslim guests during Ramadan. Private dinners and BBQs can be arranged on the beach and in your villa as well as a popular ‘cook your catch’ service. It’s no wonder MAIA has been awarded ‘Best Hotel for Food’ in Condé Nast Traveller’s ‘Hot List’ for 2010 and 2011.
Complimentary activities on offer include boules, kayaking, hiking, snorkelling and beach picnics, while diving, deep sea fishing and excursions to neighbouring islands by helicopter (MAIA comes with its own helipad) or private boat are all available at an extra cost. My cooking lesson by the Thai chef proved to be great fun, as, adorned in an apron and chef’s hat, I learnt how to make some of my favourite dishes, including tuna tartare and grilled Thai king prawns. The hotel’s garden, featuring a variety of palms, lemongrass, Aloe Vera, cinnamon trees and cashew nut trees, has been voted the best in Africa, and its head gardener will happily provide guests with a tour. The coco de mer tree produces the enormous double coconut native to the Seychelles that the French tourists call coco-fesse (‘buttocks coconut’), due to its evocative shape! And last but not least, the programme for VIK (Very Important Kids) includes sandcastle building, treasure hunts, crab hunting and cooking lessons, to ensure that younger guests are kept well-occupied.
Found amidst an orderly jungle of vines and majestic trees, the spa comprises a series of pavilions embracing the contours of the island’s volcanic rock, tastefully thatched with ylang ylang. Relaxing to the sounds of nearby waterfalls, I spent several blissful hours enjoying MAIA’s signature massage, developed to soothe the body’s tension points with a series of slow strokes, the 10-fingered massage to release pent-up stress, and the intensely luxurious La Prairie Caviar facial which left my skin sparkling, plumped and healthy. These experiences and complimentary daily yoga sessions left me more relaxed than I’d been in months.
Starting each day in the placid waters of my infinity pool, gazing at the breathtaking view, to watching the rosy sunset from an outdoor bath filled with bubbles and fresh flowers picked by the butler, I was in heaven at MAIA. While clearly a destination for honeymooners (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went to neighbouring North Island) and those seeking privacy, more than that, MAIA offers anyone a refuge of pure tranquillity – a place to relax, recharge and start from scratch.
So was there anything to fault? I have to admit the experience was pretty perfect, aside from the rain. Oh, how it rained. From grey drizzle on landing to incredible electrical storms on the final night, it rained from start to finish of my Seychelles trip. Admittedly, this was only two and a half days, and with average temperatures ranging from 24°C to 30°C, I wasn’t getting too bad a deal. It certainly didn’t ruin my trip.