Maldives – Blurring the lines between imagination and reality
When daydreamers think of paradise, they think of the Maldives. It’s even better than what your imagination could concoct in an overoptimistic reverie: the planes soar over picturesque atolls and land smoothly on the clear sea, the pilots are beaming and shoeless, the beaches are blissful and private. Dolphins fly into the air as you eat your breakfast, sharks swim beside your balcony and a rich, unfamiliar, dazzling marine world is just a snorkel away.
It’s one of the most luxurious places on earth to escape to, and it would be hard to be disappointed with the warm Indian ocean, unrivalled service and elegant hotels that epitomise the Maldives experience. But with the variety of incredible resorts on offer, each offering the same pristine photos of white sands, clear skies and glistening seas, how do you know which one to choose? Chelsea Monthly picks four of the best…
For romantic, laid-back luxury, Maafushivaru, in the South Ari Atoll, is an idyllic and relaxed delight. You’ll kick off your shoes immediately and forget all about them for the duration of your stay: holidays here are all about strolling barefoot in the sand, gazing at baby sharks, turtles and brightly-coloured fish from the comfort of your room, and snoozing, indolent on your secluded terrace. While there are several excursions – including snorkelling trips to spot whale sharks and manta rays – to be enjoyed, if you’re feeling lazy, you’ll be perfectly contented staying on the tiny island, soaking in the sun and enjoying the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Although the island is so small you can walk around it in minutes, it never feels overcrowded, with private beach or water villas ensuring you get your own space.
Most meals are eaten in the open-air dining room, with the plentiful all-inclusive buffet-style meals encompassing dishes from around the globe, but for a more private experience, you can head to the tiny, picturesque 135° East for sophisticated Japanese dining and teppanyaki-fuelled entertainment in an intimate setting. For a truly private experience, a night on Maafushivaru’s neighbouring baby island, Lonubo Island, is a feature not many Maldives resorts can offer. You’ll be dropped off on a dhoni to explore your very own deserted island for the evening, giving you and your partner a sense of solitude you’d never be able to feel in a normal hotel. If there ever was a time to pretend you were Robinson Crusoe, Tom Hanks in Castaway or one of the cast of Lost, this is it – but without any of the trials, tribulations and fearsome island creatures to endure, only time to bask in your beachside jacuzzi, sunbathe in true silence and watch the sun come down over the magnificent ocean.
Best of all, unlike those heroic figures stranded on a beautiful island for so many years, you don’t need to hunt for your own dinner – staff from the hotel come across to your island to cook you up a veritable feast under the stars. With bougainvillea draped artfully across the table, shimmering lanterns dotted around the sand and the giant moon hanging above the sea, it doesn’t get much more romantic than this.
Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort
Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort is a slice of paradise that’s changing the Maldives status quo. In the peaceful Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the recently-opened Outrigger is one of only seven resorts, meaning there’s a tranquility you won’t find in beautiful but busier parts of the Maldives. Because the area is so unspoilt, with far less tourists, there’s a sense of peace and quiet without the hiss of speedboats or roaring of sea planes above. It’s also the richest atoll in terms of fish, with snorkelling and scuba diving trips providing the sorts of jaw-dropping scenes better than brochures could promise.
While there are regular trips to nearby islands to spot marine life, there’s really no need to leave the resort, with diving jaunts around Outrigger’s own reef resplendent with overwhelming, colourful schools of fish, adorable baby sharks and large, friendly turtles.
Beyond the sea, there’s plenty to enjoy on land too: the relaxed, easygoing vibe of the island is combined with gorgeous aesthetic qualities. Villas are huge and stylishly designed with dark wood interiors, spacious bathrooms and private pools, while the vegetation is lush, the beaches pristine and the views unrivalled.
Perhaps the resort’s greatest asset – other than the blissful views, long stretches of beach and Instagram-perfect decor, of course – is the friendliness of the staff. The moment you step off the luxury yacht that whisks you to the island, beaming hosts present you with a freshly-picked coconut to drink – and they don’t stop smiling for the duration of your stay.
From remembering our dietary requirements and whipping up a vegetarian feast off-menu one evening to patiently waiting for us to keep up at a 7am sunrise yoga class, the staff couldn’t do enough to make our stay special, with mealtimes in particular memorable for all the right reasons.
When it comes to the food at the resort, try to bring clothes with elasticated waistbands: you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time eating. At Blue Salt, the island’s main restaurant, you can enjoy regional dishes at breakfast as well as European favourites such as waffles and French toast, while two different menus for lunch and dinner offer everything from pizza and fresh salads to tuna curries and dumplings.
For two special dining experiences, the Nala Rah Teppan and sushi bar promises an entertaining evening feast. On the teppanyaki side of the restaurant, knives are thrown around, fires blaze and eggs are cast into the air as guests clap and cheer, while at the other side, sushi chef Rudita prepares platters of exquisite sushi, so lovingly and artfully laid out the meal almost seems too pretty to eat.
There’s a misconception about the Maldives, with people fearing there’ll be nothing to do. But there’s plenty: kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding on the azure lagoon, Maldivian cooking classes to pep up your culinary routine when you get home, and long, luxurious afternoons at the spa, where you can bathe in the hydrotherapy pool and enjoy a pampering, romantic couple’s massage before basking in the sunset on its private balcony.
However, of course, if you just want to flop in the sand and ignore the world with your nose in a book, that’s encouraged too. This is the Maldives, after all…
For luxury experiences that are unique in the Maldives, head to Amilla Fushi and Finolhu, in the Baa Atoll. Dreamed up by The Small Maldives Island Co, both resorts have thrown out the Maldives rule book and dared to be different.
Amilla Fushi is as exclusive and luxurious as it gets. The name means “My Island Home” and every effort has been made to create a luxe home away from home vibe: there are no traditional thatched roof Maldivian bungalows or villas here, but flat-roofed, sophisticated and spacious houses and residences that will leave you wishing you could trade in your actual home for a life in this elegant, quiet land.
With even the entry level houses having enormous, open plan bathrooms, private pools, a stairway to the sea and gargantuan outdoor showers, this resort is all about space: it’s the perfect spot for families and couples looking for the ultimate in privacy. It’s the small details – like free daily laundry, movies on demand, iPads in your room and your own personal butler, or khateeb, on call – that puts Amilla Fushi head and shoulders ahead of many other Maldivian resorts, with guests feeling truly pampered from the moment they arrive till the sad moment they have to leave.
The resort has broken away from the traditional Maldives stereotype of honeymooning couples, and instead lures groups of friends and families who long for privacy, tranquility and high levels of service.
For larger groups of guests, the Amilla Beach Villa Residences are super-luxe, comfortable and stylish – and favoured by the likes of Kate Winslet and Kate Moss. With the largest residence boasting eight bedrooms, and even the smallest, with four bedrooms, offering enormous living spaces, a gigantic pool right by the beach and your very own staff, the homes are palatial and spacious, but somehow manage to be cosy too, so that whether you’re with your kids or a group of colleagues, you’ll settle right in.
The enormous, Miami-style six-bedroom Amilla Villa Estate is perhaps the most beautiful property on the island of Amilla, with an enormous pool, sleek, trendy interior design, tasteful bedrooms each with their own individual quirks, and its very own rooftop terrace for sunset cocktails. When you dream of the perfect place to whisk all your friends and family away to for a week of celebrating a special occasion, this is it.
Best of all, if you can’t bear the thought of ever leaving the residences and returning to reality, they are now being offered for sale as property investments, so “Your Island Home” really can become your home in every sense of the phrase.
For a stark contrast to Amilla that’s just as memorable, take a trip to Finolhu, which is just as groundbreaking in the Maldives for very different reasons.
With direct access either to the beach, ocean or lagoon – and your own private balcony with magical views – there would be no need to ever leave the chic villas, designed with Australian, Moorish and Asian influence in mind, but there’s plenty to do outside the confines of your own little Finolhu haven.
The buzzing, quirky, newly-opened resort attracts those who want something more than the honeymoon-perfect image of the Maldives so often painted by cheesy travel brochures: lively couples, groups of friends, active families. This resort is pumping, fun and unique, with live music, DJs, stilt walkers, flame throwers, acrobats and mermaids adding something new to the beautiful landscape. The Baa Baa Beach Club, at the heart of the resort, is alive day and night with the sound of James Brown and the Beach Boys, the clink of glasses as cocktails are prepared at the Beach Club Bar, and the splash of giant inflatable swans in the enormous pool.
The resort boasts the longest sand bank in the Maldives – a whopping 1.8 kilometres – which is also the dreamy route to the Fish & Crab Shack, where after a leisurely stroll along the white sands, you can pick up tasty seafood for lunch and enjoy it in the most picturesque of settings. The resort’s retro theme is certainly different, and a breath of fresh air: many villas have vintage phones which only call for champagne, record players so you can blast classic Aretha Franklin tunes while lounging on oversized chairs above the lagoon, and a short stroll around the resort reveals a quaint Milk Bar where you can pick up everything from brightly-coloured liquorice to garish water guns.
The theme is continued into the spa, where each massage room, or “Diva”, is named after an icon of the 60s, 70s or 80s, such as Janis Joplin, Barbra Streisand or Dolly Parton; music fans will adore dozing to the sound of their favourite female legends during an indulgent massage.The best part of being in the Maldives is being forced to relax. There’s no feelings of guilt that you should be waking up early and sightseeing, and there’s plenty of relaxing to do here: collapse on a hammock by the shimmering lagoon, stroll to any of the island’s many restaurants for a bite to eat, or spy on a turtle just a splash away from your villa. But the great thing about Finolhu is that when you’re done relaxing, there’s always a party to be found.
Thinking of visiting the Maldives? Here is what we recommend;
Kuoni (01306 747008 or www.kuoni.co.uk) offers 7 nights on full board basis at Maafushivaru, Maldives in a beach villa, including flights with SriLankan Airlines from Heathrow and group transfers in resort. Lead-in prices for May 2017 are from £2,323 per person, based on two sharing. To book please quote: IO0625
Angelfish Travel (www.angelfish.travel or 01580 712690) offer 7 nights at Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort, staying at a Beach Pool Villa on a B&B basis from £2,649 per person, including return economy flights with Emirates from Gatwick, domestic flight and speedboat transfers and all service charges and taxes.
Abercrombie & Kent (01242 547 708 or abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers 7 nights at Amilla Fushi from £3,395pp based on two adults sharing an Ocean Reef House on a Half Board basis. Including international flights, seaplane transfers and a 50 minute spa experience per person.
Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.co.uk or 0344 557 3859) offers seven nights in a Lagoon Villa at Finolhu, Maldives from £2,997 per person, including scheduled Qatar Airways flights from London Heathrow, ‘Full Board Plus’ accommodation and seaplane transfers, as well as US€1000 resort credit per room per stay.