The award-winning Taj Exotica, part of the prestigious Indian Taj Hotel Group, is extremely small and intimate due to the narrow shape of the island. The Indian service and hospitality here shines through to make any guest's stay special. Exclusive and private, the resort has an understated elegance. It is not pretentious or as flashy as its rivals. The décor of the hotel isn't the most contemporary but the natural tones and materials used are restful as they sit in harmony with the natural surroundings. The Taj Exotica is ideal for a romantic escapade or for a group of friends. The hotel does welcome families although the hotel isn't ideal as it doesn't particularly cater for children.
The Maldives consists of over a thousand islands arranged into what is commonly-known as atolls, or groups of islands, although the word ?atoll' actually denotes an island made of coral surrounded by a lagoon. Located in the South Malé Atoll, the island is reached via a 20 minute speedboat ride from the airport.
Around 200 islands of the archipelago are inhabited (recorded at the time of our visit in April 2010). Each hotel has its own island (unless you stay in the capital or Hulhule, the airport island). Among the 200 or so inhabited islands, some are inhabited by locals only - hotels and locals rarely mix unless in a work environment within a hotel structure. By this, we mean that there are no local villages which share a hotel's island and vice versa. Tourism and local life are kept separate. This means that there are no cultural activities on hotel islands, although most hotels tend to organise excursions to neighbouring local islands for the day.
Upon arrival at the airport, everything may seem very confusing, with people milling around all over the place looking lost - you will notice a row of hotel kiosks, and a row of Maldivian Air Taxi or Trans Maldivian Airline kiosks behind that. When you come out of the arrival doors, just look out for your host who should be waving a Taj Exotica placard. Your host will then take you to the jetty to catch the boat to the hotel.
Open in 2002, the resort had to close for renovation after the Tsunami in 2004 and reopened fully refurbished in 2005. Today the hotel is part of the Small Leading Hotels of the World label assuring an experience of high quality. The hotel has also won various awards including one for quality and commitment. The service here is what distinguishes it from its larger flashier rivals.
The hotel has wireless internet access at a fee. Otherwise, the hotel is proud of its coral reef gardens which guests can also sponsor and name. The hotel is actually aiming at being as environmentally friendly as possible and have been awarded a silver Green Globe certificate in 2008.
Guests must take care when swimming out in the sea; pay particular attention to the signs indicating strong currents. It is also worth noting that the Taj Exotica runs on Malé time and not an hour ahead, as on most resorts.
Upon arrival, guests climb out of the boat and walk along the long jetty that stretches from the island's golden sands across the pristine waters. Designed to look more like a luxury African lodge than a exotic island hideaway, the reception area is cosy and well-appointed. The colours and materials are discreet. If you like bright contemporary design, the more discreet Taj isn't the place for you. The island is itself long and narrow, so you walk down the centre of the island the ocean is visible on both sides. The villas are set on each side of the island along the beach. The island feels small but not cramped. The spa and gym are found at the other end of the island. The centre of the island isn't blessed with the thickest of vegetation but this gives guests more space to move around. Jiva Grande Spa, an authentic Indian spa, offers a range of signature wellness experiences. At the spa, all treatment rooms are above water which adds to the relaxing experience. A great effort has gone into the spa which is the jewel in the crown - definitely an experience not to miss out on. For yoga fiends, there is also an outdoor yoga pavilion where daily sessions take place in the mornings. Otherwise there is a small gym housed in a magnificent glass pavilion above the water which is just enough to get your heart rate going between the succulent meals and heavy sunbathing sessions.
Away from the reception is the hotel restaurant, the hotel boutique and upstairs guests will find the very cosy entertainment area. Set under the beamed roof of the building, with soft lighting and inviting cushions, this room would be very easy to take a nap in! Here you will find a large screen television; DVD player, pool table, board games, books and free internet access.
Otherwise there is the beautiful infinity-edged pool towards the centre of the island hanging off the edge of the beach. The decking here is a lovely spot to sunbathe or to watch the sun set.
There is also a water sports and diving centre.
The small hideaway has 62 villas in total of which 24 are lagoon villas, 31 deluxe lagoon villas with pools, 4 deluxe beach villas and 2 villa suites each with their own private plunge pool. All villas are decorated in a similar style of neutral tones and natural materials. All rooms have spacious marble bathrooms which look a little dated; although they are functional, they are not as luxurious as one may expect from a Taj resort. All bathrooms have lovely smelling refill Molton Brown amenities including a few extras like lip balm and face cream. The wooden thatched roof villas are discreet and in keeping with the nature of the island. The Taj Exotica is far-removed from brash luxury! The water accommodation has its own private decks leading straight down into the sea with an outdoor rain shower ? an exterior shower is highly underestimated! The villas are warm and cosy. Guests will feel right at home here, however the wow factor in the villas is lacking ? having said that, the real jewel is outside! The sober décor allows the warm Indian Ocean waters to glow even brighter through the large windows which should be décor enough.
All rooms are kitted out with flat screen televisions, DVD/CD players, complimentary tea and coffee making facilities and a cable internet connection.
The 24 Degrees is the hotel's main restaurant serving a range of creative international cuisine, including absolutely delicious Indian specialities not to be missed out on - we found the meals here to be the best in the archipelago! The restaurant does not operate under a buffet system; all meals are à la carte. The restaurant is located inside a thatched roof open pavilion. Guests can also opt to eat on the beach, although it can get quite hot here. The service here is absolutely impeccable. Otherwise for something a little lighter, there is the Equator bar which again, has been made to look like a luxury African lodge. The deck here overlooks the sea. The atmosphere is relaxed and the service, just as in the hotel's other outlets, is friendly and very efficient. Here a range of cocktails and traditional vintages as well as high quality Cuban cigars are on offer all whilst listening to the rustle of the palm trees and the chilled out soulful music in the background.
The hotel has a second restaurant which serves a progressive world style cuisine including a range of sea food, meat, game and vegetarian dishes in an open air circular pavilion that floats above the water. For something a little more special and romantic, The Deep End is an excellent choice with its tumble of crisp white table cloths and candle light.
The Taj Exotica has a beach service every forty-five minutes when guests can cool down whilst basking under the sun's rays with complimentary ice cream and other refreshments. The lagoon is one of the largest in the Maldives which looks stunning and is fun walking around in, however this does mean that because the coral reef is far from the beach, there is a little walk before reaching a decent spot for snorkelling. Diving boats have to be reached via boat.
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