It’s not difficult to locate a luxury resort in the Maldives. Almost 30% of the nation’s GDP derives from tourism, as visitors flock to discover the famous natural beauty and low-pace island lifestyle, and most of the biggest names in the highest tier of the industry (Four Seasons, Six Senses, et al) have a presence there.
One brand has taken the commitment to relaxation and rejuvenation a step farther than the rest and launched the first property dedicated fully to luxury wellness, with an entire island dedicated to holistic treatment for body and mind. Welcome to JOALI Being.
At this point in proceedings, dear reader, I feel a little background on myself is important. I was born in the 1980s on a housing scheme in the South Side of Glasgow; a decidedly working-class place where practices such as sound therapy were not exactly commonplace
I tell you this now to illustrate the cynicism with which I still find myself approaching such matters – when researching ahead of this trip, the voice in my head (in its strong Glaswegian brogue) pouring scorn on what was on offer was not little, it was loud.
On arrival at JOALI Being, everything changed: within about an hour of passing through the Gate of Zero – the name given to the undulating structure on the welcome jetty at which the private seaplane from Malé International Airport drop guests – I was barefoot, extolling the virtues of being “connected to the earth”; by the middle of day two I was preparing for another traditional therapy session, convinced I would never leave.
Why stay here?
Let’s begin with that private seaplane ride, as that’s where the luxury really kicks off. The JOALI team are on hand to greet guests on arrival at the main airport, before whisking them off to a sumptuous branded lounge in the adjacent seaplane terminal.
A short 45-minute flight will see you touch down at the Gate of Zero, where a welcoming committee will take care of your luggage and provide refreshments. The committee is led by your personal Jadugar – ‘skilled magician’ in the local language, acting as your butler for the duration of your stay – who will explain the workings of the island and drive you to your villa.
Every room in this resort is a villa, with most being over the Indian Ocean and the largest coming with private gardens and beach access on the main island. All have private pools, and the over-water options all have steps leading directly into the ocean for some incredible snorkelling opportunities.
Dolphins, sea turtles, reef sharks, and an almost inconceivable number of brightly-coloured fish were among the neighbours who popped by during my time there. If diving and water sports are your thing there is a marine centre on the island who can organise trips and activities beyond simply snorkelling off your patio, but the main focus of the resort are their wellness programmes.
The ethos of JOALI Being is to focus on four pillars of wellbeing: Mind, Microbiome, Skin and Energy. Programmes, treatments, even meals are all guided by attention to these pillars, and guests are guided through an assessment upon arrival to determine where their individual focus should lie. Using this guidance a personal timetable can be drawn up which allows each guest to maximise the benefits of the expertise available on the island.
Facilities are top of the range. To look after the body, the fitness centre is the biggest in the Maldives – not just in resorts, in the whole country – and makes use of cutting-edge technology to aid training and recovery. After weight sessions each morning I headed into a cryotherapy chamber to boost recovery: three minutes in a small room chilled to -87 Celsius. It’s like an ice bath on steroids, but it feels great. The hydrotherapy hall, KAASHI, provides saunas and steams, as well as Japanese Watsu therapy. The latter is the practice of aided stretches while floating in a pool of water, with the subject being gently guided to and fro by a therapist. It is a surreal experience, unlike anything I had ever encountered before, and was central to the alleviation of my initial scepticism about the kind of thing on offer at JOALI Being.
After water therapy comes sound therapy at Seda, a purpose-built hut filled with percussion instruments and with a wooden bed with strings on the underside at the centre – something akin to lying on a giant acoustic guitar. Lie down, close your eyes, and let the vibrations created by the sound therapist take you away: it really is extraordinarily relaxing.
How’s the food?
Every menu at the various restaurants in the resort comes with full nutritional information (calories AND macros) to help you choose the most healthy option, as well as a pictorial guide to which of the four pillars the meal best supports, allowing you to dine according to your assessment recommendations.
The cuisine is far from being bland “health” food, though – emphasis is placed on fresh and natural ingredients, locally sourced where possible, and packed with flavour. Line-caught tuna and reef fish of the day are among the highlights on any menu. Main restaurant Flow serves breakfast each morning with beach views, and dinner every evening from one of three kitchens – meat, pescatarian and vegan.
Poolside restaurant Mojo is an incredibly relaxed lunch spot, complete with dedicated tea lounge. Special occasions can be marked in the breathtaking Ocean Sala – a jetty at the top of the island stretching far out into the ocean and serving delicious fresh-grilled meat and fish. This is the smallest and most spectacular area to dine, so fills up quickly, but your Jadugar will be able to work their magic and book you a table. It’s well worth getting your name down quickly for a spot.
If you prefer privacy, or are simply too relaxed to go anywhere by the time evening comes, in-villa dining is easily arranged, again by your Jadugar. Pop them a WhatsApp with a time and an order and everything will be brought directly to your patio to enjoy as the sun goes down.
What are the rooms like?
In a word, epic. As mentioned, all are villas, and even the smallest is likely to be larger than your London flat. All are decorated in soothing, natural colours to aid your relaxation; every single one has its infinity pool outside and the larger villas on the main island have complete privacy thanks to gates, fences and vegetation.
Living space is ample, views are magnificent, and the range of different pillows available simply mind-boggling. One thing to note is the minibar – all rooms are booze-free as standard, but this can be adjusted on request. JOALI Being is not a dry island, but abstinence is encouraged to fit the detox and wellness themes. Of course, if you would like some fine wine or a delicious cocktail to help you unwind, the options are there.
My time at JOALI Being was truly eye-opening. The most impressive aspect of the whole experience was the sensation of just how immersed in the culture every member of the team was – nothing seemed performative for the guests, everyone truly believed in the mission statement, and the kindness displayed by each and every one of them felt truly genuine.
Their warmth and happiness was infectious, and played a massive role in the conversion of this grumpy Scottish cynic into a student of spiritual wellness. If I ever get the chance to return, there’s a good chance it’ll be on a one-way ticket.
Rooms available from USD$3,300 (approx. £2,800). joali.com