Luminous blue waters engulf a vast collection of islands, each one boasting with unadulterated coastal perfection that lures sea wanderers into its sugar-white shores. The postcard-perfect backdrop is where man and nature coexist: majestic marine wonders and swanky beach villas spread on the atolls, indulging the contemporary mermaids in an extraordinary holiday. While many itineraries already exist across its islands, newer and refreshed destinations hold much promise to the modern wanderer. Below are ten of the most recent luxury resorts in the Maldives, each bearing a unique flavour and all the goodness the country has to offer.
Indian Ocean’s prized possession has always belonged to everyone’s bucket list long before it became an Instagram hashtag. The dreams about it are true: a genuine island getaway without a drought of extravagance, where thickets of palm trees sway at the humid breeze, dancing in the cadence of laidback reggae music accompanied by the fervent lapping of the waves. Far-flung alcoves and contemporary beach houses float atop the sapphire-coloured waters, each calling out for a pleasurable dip. Marine marvels thrive underneath the surface, peeping shyly for company. Coral reefs glisten under the sea-deep sun with their spectrum of colours. Even a quiet stroll on its powdery sand is already pure leisure.
The Garland Islands, home to a thousand and two hundred keys, are cradled by the hands of an eternal summer and a cheerful temperament. Sun-kissed locals exhibit the same warmth as they greet with a merry, “Asalam Alekum” with affectionate smiles. Blue becomes the prominent colour of the horizon. Every angle, picture-perfect. Every scenery, sublime. There is no right or wrong answer to enjoying Maldives, but the best way to bask in the country’s best gifts depends on where to stay.
When seen from above, the island of Male brims with a coagulation of buildings topped with bright colours and occasionally, a scattering of verdant trees that adds a vibrant tone amidst the cyan pools that surrounded its edges. Maldives’ bustling capital, a quirky hive that offers in itself many wondrous landmarks, becomes a temporary pitstop to the many luxury retreats isolated from the crowd. Speedboat and seaplanes are the only reasonable means to access the remote water villas scattered among the garland islands, each of them bearing beyond extravagant facilities to suit its VIP crowd.
True to its name, LUX* North Male Atoll is lodged at the very top of Male, right inside the heart of Olhuhali. The yacht-inspired architecture breaks out from the usual thatch-roofed mould constantly seen in many of Maldives properties, emulating the spirit of Miami by the ocean. Its sea-strung villas are handsomely painted in pure white, each armed with its private pool and sun deck, while its interiors are imbibed with all sorts of comforts. Undeniably chic, the resort allures with its in-house sauna, an overwater spa, and six glass-encased villas that allow restful viewing of marine life. Water sports, of course, are at the core of its facilities, but for the laidback, the LUX* offers creative classes to enjoy, such as cooking, photography, and art.
Coastal opulence is the heart of Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, a collection of beach villas that drape the GaafulAlifu Atoll. Suites echo the same blue, wood and white palette, each one embellished with posh furniture and large square windows that allow generous views of the turquoise waters. At sunrise, feast on the all-day meals at Thari, but sunsets are best enjoyed at Yapa, an overwater bar that serves drinks native to South America. Butlers become close companions to extended diving trips, furnishing every request small or great.
Sunsets sandwiched in the sky and sea, the latter reflecting deliriously bright colours before it completely dims out into the starry night. The fairy-tale atmosphere of Maldives has long been sought after by the lovers and romanticists, the poets and the artists, those who find delight at nature’s varying hues. Honeymooners find their way here – many, leaving their heart on the powdery sand, with goals of returning to the same whimsical feeling where their heart skipped a beat at the sight of their first love.
Romance is Joali, a multi-million-dollar resort constructed by more than 900 craftsmen into a whimsical masterpiece set in the island of Muravhandoo. The woodwork and the sensual interiors are exquisitely paired with contemporary art from famous names – Porky Hefer, FeleksanOnar, and SeckinPirim, among the few – making this location a true feast in the eyes and heart.
Villas are grounded to their Maldivian roots. Thatched roofs and lofty ceilings are robed in easy-on-the-eye motifs, along with the posh interiors from the Turkish firm Autoban. From outside, the resort stretches into a brocade of beach villas looped together by long wooden bridges. A long walk, or a more convenient ride on a dhoni, leads back to the main island which houses the rest of its facilities: a dive centre, outdoor studio and a cluster of dining spots. Dinners are served by the beach where clusters of festoon bulbs light the place, making evenings more romantic at the dazzling vista of the frothy waves.
The swoony magnificence of Kudadoo sets lovers into a spiral of breath-taking nature-grounded intimacy. The meditative Eden is tucked in an island within Lhaviyani Atoll, accessed by a 40-minute seaplane ride. Designed by Yuju Yamazaki, the resort is a pure visual stunner. Fifteen bungalows are perched on a large wooden plate, all raised above the waters by pillars of stilts. Surrounded by pristine waters and enclosed in a stunning backdrop, one can only fall in love at the beauty of nature. Despite its architectural allure, Kudadoo gives back to the environment. 900 solar panels sit atop the huts, allowing the entire adult-only venue to run completely on solar energy. Lavishly ornate and sustainably constructed, the Kudadoo indulges with its many facilities, including a golf course, a wine-stocked bar, its very own nightclub and a healing Himalayan salt chamber.
One of Maldives’ prime locations is the garden embroidered GaafuAlifu Atoll, home to The Residence Maldives at Dhigurah, a swanky contemporary Maldivian resort spread across two kilometres of fine white sand and aquamarine waters. Here, villas are perched in quiet isolation where couples can engage in romantic castaway opportunities, not one of Robinson Crusoe, but an indulgent spa experience or the sighting of baby black-tipped sharks, amicably swimming under the luminous blue surface. Saying “I do” is best underwater, where ceremonies are made beneath the waves and into the solemnity of the sea.
A long stretch of bridge connects the resort to its sister resort, The Residence Maldives at Falhumaafushi, where bike rides by the sea breeze becomes a perfect way to stroll. This bridge allows access to facilities across both islands. Guests can enjoy dining at Li Bai which offers contemporary Cantonese cuisine and delight in sunset cocktails at Long Island.
Beyond the Beach
Maldives is the earth’s deepest kiss on the waters, the lowest in elevation among the world. Its proximity to the ocean opened experiences that could not be found anywhere else. Whale spotters wander off into the southern atolls, snorkellers dip headway underneath to see marine biodiversity unique to the region. Charming dolphins adorably swims through the surface, while scuba divers can admire the spectrum of reefs. For the adventurers keen to uncover Maldives’ purest beauty, beyond the beach and into the ocean’s navel is the best way to go.
Spanning across three islands, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is a celebration of what the atolls are for: idyllic villas, places for pampering, a spread of dining venues and a myriad of water activities that connect one to the heart of the ocean. The resort’s own PADI dive centre offers guided diving, windsurfing, sailing, and fishing. Kids, on the other hand, are kept busy at their own water-inspired venue – the Waldorf Astoria Young Discovery Park. Hunger is quelled through the 11 restaurants that challenge the palette to uncover new tastes, from Middle Eastern cuisines to popular Asian gastronomic favourites. Terra, a fresh treetop dining concept, is quirkily separated by nests and presents a breath-taking view of the ocean at various angles.
Another dreamy escape is The Nautilus Maldives, perched at the northeast side of the Baa Atoll and surrounded by a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. From Male, the seaplane lands after 30 minutes of flight, during which one can admire the gorgeous mosaics of shallow lagoons and deep blue waters from underneath. Down the banks, the white sand retreat welcomes with its palm-fringed, thatched pavilion. Enthusiastic adventurers will find their bespoke adventures at the aid of their butler, who would eagerly recommend various activities as one prefers, from island hopping, deep-sea fishing, or cruising with the dolphins.
Contrasting its Maldivian exterior, Nautilus Maldives’ rooms are decorated with a coastal mid-century appeal; a stretch of plush couches, vibrant-hued wooden furniture and wide-open doors that congenially invite the tropical sun in. Overwater villas have a bonus; the floors are made of glass, instantly giving one a peek into the coral reefs and small fishes thriving under the stilts.
Sparkling white beaches gather around Fairmont Sirru Fen Fushi, an hour seaplane flight from the capital Male. The long journey includes jaw-dropping sights of the Shaviyani Atoll from above, where the horizon dazzles with fresh new reefs and luminous blue waters that glimmer under the sun. The resort itself is a swirling vista of ocean villas, connected at the tip of its small island. Contemporary Maldives is the theme of each room, robed with plush crochet rugs, macramé and glass chandeliers. Extending over a kilometre long, Fairmont Maldives occupies enough grounds to get lost in, and to enjoy various activities, including the Willow Stream Spa, photography studios, and a 200-metre long swimming pool. The biggest attraction, however, is the waters itself. Underneath the bright cyan surface are schools of orange clownfish, red tigerfish, and an occasional spotting of green turtles. The family-friendly resort also comes with its own kids’ club and teenage lounge, because age matters in every kind of fun.
Taste of the New Wave
With its many upscale resorts, one would think Maldives would settle down. But there is no stopping on experiencing extravagance; after all, with a thousand and two hundred islands, there is always space for luxury.
The 250-acre long Fasmendhoo lends a sense of whimsy to Emerald Maldives which occupies the private island with thatched-roofed pavilions, towering palm gardens and a stretch of stilted bungalows that drape the turquoise beach. Set to open in August, the modern island resort is packed with four upscale restaurants quenching a variety of palettes, from the South American-inspired Amazònico, the live cooking teppanyaki showcase at Le Asiatic, and international al fresco beach dining, Aqua. Traditional Thai and Indonesian massage specialists preside over its exclusive spa, offering traditional treatments for a holistically revitalising holiday. And, not forgetting the children, the resort has installed a large outdoor playground, The Dolphin Club, to cater to the little ones’ jungle-and-seaside dreams.
Atop a seaplane, Raa Atoll glimmers with speckles of light on its jewelled blue lagoons while heading to the Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort. Sleek Maldivian huts are laced together by a slithering wooden bridge, looking as if it was perfectly hewn on the water. Blessed with a bounty of manta rays swimming within the proximity, the resort, set to open on 1st September, is more than an indulgent island escape, but a chance to open the ocean’s sacred chest and peek into its many wonders with home to manta sanctuary right in the Resort’s own lagoon. A trip into Hanifaru Bay becomes an opportunity to swim with grey sharks and stingrays. One can even adopt their own manta.
With a grounded sense of escapism, Intercontinental Maldives sets itself apart with its exclusive Fish Market, offering the day’s fresh catch from its charming pier. Along its sandy paths is a Lighthouse, a dinner-only dining menu serving Mediterranean cuisines while enjoying drinks at the highest peak on the island with 360-ocean vistas.
Above the surface, Maldives is a breath-taking wonder, enthralling with man-made architecture that seamlessly marries into the sapphire waters and glittery white sand. But more than an Instagram-able destination or an essential luxury joint, there are many more sides to Indian Ocean’s best gift – most of them, beyond its visual appeal. Underneath its surface is an untouched paradise that thrives with breathing gems, a peek into the liquid curtain where many of the earth’s majestic creatures thrive. Waiting by the shore is an affectionate community of sun-kissed locals, courteously responding to every beck and call, eager to please and thrilled to satisfy. Maldives, thus, is best embraced for its entirety: the character, the culture, the humid air, the glorious beach. It is an indulgent discovery that fills the heart and heals the soul, a euphoria to be savoured.
Top image: Repose under the hammock at Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi. ◼
© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.