Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the Maldives offers sun, sea, sand and seclusion. Basically, it’s paradise in a (coco)nut shell. When visiting the selection of the Maldives’ 1,200-plus remote islands, you’ll enjoy vistas so breathtaking that there’s no need for Photoshop (in fact, there’s no need for shops of any kind). It’s absolutely as far from fast-paced City life as is physically possible.
A tragic victim of our planet’s ever-changing environment, the vast majority of the Maldives will likely be submerged in water by the turn of the next century (the highest point is just a few feet above sea level). We’re one of the last generations to have the opportunity to visit, and there is no finer place on earth to experience unadulterated natural tranquillity.
Underneath the sunloungers, spas, restaurants and villas is an ecosystem teeming with sea life. Fish, turtles, stingrays, sharks (of the PG-13 variety) swimming above a rich tapestry of coral means that snorkelling, scuba diving and one or two lessons in marine biology are always on the menu.
When travelling to the Maldives, it would be a shame to restrict yourself to just one resort. Instead, mix it up. We visited three islands all with unique characters, restaurants and activities. Although different in their own ways, all three shared the same serenity that has come to give the Maldives its reputation for relaxing yet awe-inspiring escapes.
After landing in Malé, it is just a short, scenic seaplane journey until you step foot on the island occupied by Anantara Kihavah. Once there you are greeted by a team of staff, one of whom is emphatically playing a boduberu (a Maldivian drum). This is just one example of the personalised touches that run throughout the unrivalled Maldivian hospitality.
The island itself is just a 30-minute casual stroll in circumference. In fact, you can see one end from the other. Its ‘main road’, as they refer to it, is rather different from the traffic-clogged, roadwork-laden ones we know back here in London. The majority of staff live on site and travel around by foot (or golf buggy, if in a real hurry) and the island also houses guest villas, several restaurants, a spa and even a library. Most of the time, though, you will feel like the only ones there – well, you and the tiny little hermit crabs scurrying along the powder-soft white sandy beach.
The spa facilities boast a diverse repertoire of treatments, which you can enjoy while gazing at an ocean view that’s built into the spa’s floor, and listening to the sounds of the sea. If simply being on the island doesn’t relax you completely, then a 60-minute signature massage certainly will.
There are also Maldivian cooking classes on offer, which are educational and fascinating. The demonstrations showcase not only the ingredients and cooking methods of traditional local dishes, but the history behind them too.
A real highlight of Anantara Kihavah is its underwater restaurant (with 6,500 wines on tap) called, somewhat succinctly, Sea. Built onto the side of reclaimed and re-nurtured coral, the intoxicating dining room allows you to enjoy your food while being surrounded by the peaceful beauty of ocean. Thanks to the constantly changing backdrop, the experience is different every time you visit.
Best for: Ultimate peace and quiet with only the sound of the ocean for company.
Prices: Nightly rates at Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas staying in a Beach Pool Villa start from £737, on a B&B basis.
For more information, see kihavah-maldives.anantara.com
Per Aquum’s Niyama island destination is a different kettle of tropical fish entirely.
With a family-friendly atmosphere, this particular paradise has only been open for a few years (with a new second island that launched just over a year ago). It was the largest resort that we visited, but everything here is relative: it’s still just a 45-minute walk from one end to the other. Most guests use bikes to get around. (They say you never forget? Try riding on sand.)
There’s a kids’ club which provides daily doses of fun for young children as well as an activity centre for teenagers, and for adults there’s a pool-side bar, deli, an internet café and daily morning yoga. There’s also a zumba instructor who really loves his job. A lot. And there are regular ocean excursions where you can swim and seek out turtles, sharks and countless other underwater creatures from the cast of Finding Dory.
There is a beautiful treetop restaurant (Nest), an Asian/African fusion restaurant (Tribal) and there’s also a wonderful beachside restaurant, Blu, where we ate a ‘catch of the day’ that was so fresh it arrived practically flapping. Blu also periodically offers unique guest experiences: while we were at Niyama, we were lucky enough to sample the delights of London’s Chin Chin Lab’s nitro ice cream – the chef-creators from Chalk Farm had flown out especially for the occasion, along with a couple of huge tanks of liquid nitrogen.
Maldivian sunsets are a thing of beauty. It’s difficult to do them justice with words or even images. A personal highlight of the entire trip was the sunset cruise. My wife and I spent the evening on a dhoni (a traditional Maldivian boat) with a personal crew of three, and sailed out into the middle of the ocean to spend the evening watching the sunset, uninterrupted, in all its glory. En route, a family of dolphins appeared in the water beside us and proceeded to perform a series of jumps in the air alongside the boat. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that they had been paid to appear beside us on cue.
Best for: A family-friendly island with plenty of activities available for all ages.
Prices: Nightly rates in a Beach Studio at Per Aquum Niyama start from £633, B&B.
For more information, see minorhotels.com
The last island we visited was – sorry for the cliché – a dream come true. In fact, the Maldivian words huvafen fushi literally translate to ‘dream island’. At more than 12 years old, the island’s stellar reputation was exceeded only by experiencing it firsthand.
Huvafen Fushi has its own house reef, and on-site marine biologist Verina will guide you around and show you the resident sharks who nonchalantly sleep below the seafood restaurant. After a few swims, I became used to the sharks’ presence – and even managed to muster the Go Pro-kitted confidence to get some excellent shots. My wife, on the other hand, was not quite as trusting – she preferred to view them from a distance.
The marine biology tour also provides information about the conservation efforts that are underway on the reef. Stingrays have been coming to the resort’s ‘stingray beach’ for decades to be hand-fed tuna before embarking on their daily hunting routine.
One of the many great places to eat at Huvafen Fushi is a restaurant called Raw, where every ingredient in all meals is – you guessed it – raw. There isn’t an oven in sight, which is no bad thing given that the weather was consistently in the mid-30s during our stay. The signature dish, a raw pizza, uses a hydrated base and was delicious enough to make even a Neapolitan think twice.
The island happened to be marking WWF’s Earth Hour during our stay, and as part of the celebrations we were able to experience a delicious beach barbeque with a wide selection of fish, meat and handmade desserts accompanied by local live music. Something tells me they don’t need much excuse to wheel out the Weber here, though.
From the ocean-view villas (with an ocean view actually built into the floor) to the underwater spa, Huvafen Fushi uses the waters as its inspiration.
Best for: The stunning reef, uncompromised quality and stingrays.
Prices: Nightly rates at Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi start from £690 based on two people sharing a Beach Bungalow with plunge pool.
For more information, see minorhotels.com