News Article

In Conversation with Antonio Saponara at Patina Maldives

20 June 2024

Patina Maldives: More than a Holiday

When you type Patina into Google Maps, at first it seems as though something might have gone wrong. The only thing that shows up is a vast expanse of Indian Ocean, no land – let alone hotel – in sight. When you zoom in, though, and keep zooming in, a tiny ring of islands appears on the screen: the Fari Islands. Zoom in some more and you’ll see that on one of these tiny islands in the sea, there’s a place called Patina. The difficulty in finding it on a screen, though, belies the luxury of this hotel, the first-rate Capella Hotel Group’s outpost in the Maldives and whose General Manager, Antonio Saponara, we’re speaking to today. 

‘We have our 3rd birthday coming up on May 18th’, he cheerfully tells me at the start of our chat, but this fledgling hotel has already established itself as one of the region’s most prestigious, thanks in no small part to Antonio and his remarkable team.

To begin with, there’s simply how Patina looks. Its aesthetics are almost totally unique in the Maldives, designed by a renowned Brazilian architect who wanted to take the hotel away from the classic, thatched-roofed villas of the tropics and towards something much more contemporary and novel. The result is a hotel designed in line with biophilic principles and, yes, I did have to ask what exactly that entails. ‘It’s the principle’, Antonio says, ‘whereby the interior and ambience of a place is blended with its surroundings’, meaning that Patina gorgeously fits in with the surrounding island. Villas boast fully retractable floor-to-ceiling windows on three of their four sides and, in order to minimise their carbon footprint when being constructed, were built off-site and assembled on, meaning less cement and environmental damage.

It’s obvious from early on in our conversation that this sort of approach to sustainability is fundamental to how Patina goes about its business. Antonio cites an example of how plants that were due for clearance on other islands were shipped to the hotel so that they could enjoy ‘another destiny’, and he’s keen to stress how important the marine environment is to everything that he and his team does. ‘We want to create a complete ocean ecosystem around the island’, he says, ‘and the best way of doing that is to plant coral’. This is a key project for Patina – and for the Maldives in general – with huge amounts of money and resource being ploughed into successful propagation schemes.

It tallies, too, with the sort of people who stay at Patina. There’s no dressing it up, this is an expensive place to stay and, as a result, guests are often already deeply conscious of conservation and their environment in their daily lives. Their time at the hotel has to reflect that, meaning that Antonio and his staff have their work cut out to provide an experience that goes beyond a holiday. The programming at the hotel is, therefore, as rich as anything in the area. There’s a frankly quite remarkable array of art, wellness, sport, culinary and artistic opportunities available for guests, many of whom take them with them beyond their time on the island. There’s also a James Turrell installation, which Antonio describes as ‘the beacon of our island’, which focusses on light and space – both of which are on abundant display at Patina.

The people who stay here are also the types who like to stay abreast of what’s going on. That’s why Antonio and his ‘team-mates’ – they’re not colleagues or subordinates – produce a newsletter every month that goes out to guests past and present. In it, they outline the inevitable goings on at the hotel; they also provide an update on Patina’s social impact, which proves to be yet another branch of this fascinating place.

“It’s plain to see that Patina is here to stay, not just as a holiday destination, but as a place that creates real change”

Antonio outlines how they actively push to bring local talent into hospitality with internships, contributions to education and family support, as well as an intake of Maldivian students every six months. The result is a workforce that’s half Maldivian, many of whom live on an island a short boat ride from the hotel known as the Fari Campus. Often at luxury hotels, it’s a sad truth that employees live behind closed doors; this is not the case with the Fari Campus, a self-sufficient community with shops, restaurants, sports facilities, beach barbecues, space and privacy in abundance and the opportunity to embed friendships – both with Patina colleagues and others from the neighbouring Ritz Carlton. With 170 staff employed simply to run the Fari Campus, it’s clear that Patina are putting their money where their mouth is. It’s working, too, with way lower staff turnover numbers and a workforce who are happy to work and live where they do.

Just to the north of Patina, there’s another island, a small fishing community of local Maldivians who call the sea their home – and office. The hotel is helping here, too, providing school equipment, engineering, public spaces upgrades, vital logistics and unglamorous but essential services like waste disposal.

It’s yet another example of the depth and the breadth of the work that Antonio and his team are doing in this small part of the Indian Ocean. They may only be 3 years old, and this may only be the sole Cappella resort in the region (watch this space, there are plans for another), but it’s plain to see that Patina is here to stay, not just as a holiday destination, but as a place that creates real change. Like we said at the beginning, this is much more than a holiday.

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