From underwater dining and Instagram butlers, to more eco-friendly and wellness focused getaways, as Stuart Forster discovers, the Maldives is the very definition of luxury
Imagine an overwater villa with a wooden boardwalk jutting from a palm-fringed tropical island into calm, clear ocean water. There’s every chance the picture in your mind’s eye is of accommodation at a luxury resort in the Maldives.
It’s almost 50 years since the Kurumba Maldives, the first of the country’s island resorts, initially welcomed visitors in October 1972. Over the intervening decades the one-island-one-resort policy has proven so successful that more than 150 have opened.
Dispersed across the Maldives’ 26 atolls, the island resorts have become synonymous with tropical luxury. Even those falling within the affordable luxury bracket present guests with multiple dining options, spa facilities and attentive service.
Across the board, service aims to impress. Proportionately high staff to guest ratios help make stays as close to perfect as is possible. Guests can expect touches such as personalised greetings accompanied by refreshments upon arrival.
Towards the lower end of the country’s broad price spectrum for resort accommodation, the Bandos Maldives offers world-class scuba experiences from its onsite dive centre, one of 56 in the country accredited by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). The island in the North Malé Atoll features its own coral reef, accessible by both divers and snorkellers, providing habitat to an array of marine life – including olive ridley turtles and blacktip reef sharks.
Thanks to long average hours of sunshine throughout the year, beaches of soft white sand and coconut palms leaning photogenically over the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are naturally blessed with a climate and setting that puts people at ease. The tropical scenery lends itself to holiday snaps that induce envy when viewed on social media in cooler climes. Guests can learn how to make the most of picturesque locations, natural light and flattering yoga poses through the help of Instagram butlers.
The butlers were first employed at the Conrad Maldives on Rangali Island. The resort in the Alifu Dhaali Atoll also claims the world’s first underwater accommodation, a villa called the Muraka which presents opportunities to view colourful reef fish from a bedroom with transparent walls beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. The chic bi-level villa features floor-to-ceiling windows, a private pool deck plus two other bedrooms. Guests can expect a private chef and a 24-hour butler service. Experience packages can be added to tailor stays, enabling guests to enjoy activities such as standup paddleboarding and fishing excursions.
The world’s first undersea restaurant is also at the Conrad Maldives. Ithaa features an arching glass ceiling enabling diners to view marine life while eating exquisitely presented fusion food served with appropriately paired wine. Deeper and larger, the restaurant 5.8 – whose numeric name represents its depth in metres – is at the Hurawalhi Maldives in the Lhaviyani Atoll. With views onto a coral reef, the restaurant can seat up to 10 couples at a time, serving five-course lunches and seven-course dinners – including vegan and seafood-free options.
Foodies can enjoy cuisines from around the planet in Maldivian resorts. Dishes by globally renowned chefs are designed to tempt gourmets to reserve tables. Dave Pynt, the chef at Singapore’s Michelin-starred Burnt Ends, created the menu for The Ledge at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi in the North Malé Atoll.
Acclaimed chef Theodor Falser was recently appointed as Italian food consultant at Bellinis at the Joali Maldives on Muravandhoo Island in the Raa Atoll. The Joali’s new alfresco Tu’hu restaurant serves Levantine-style dishes and is one of five restaurants at the immersive art resort, whose Manta Ray Treehouse provides elevated views of the shoreline.
Geared towards travellers seeking high-end experiences, the recently opened Ozen Reserve Bolifushi in the South Malé Atoll can accommodate up to eight guests aboard its superyacht. Soaking in the hot tub on the yacht’s upper deck is an alternative to the Indian Ocean’s pleasantly warm water. Incongruously, skating while enjoying sea views is a possibility on the resort’s synthetic ice rink.
The Kagi Maldives Spa Island resort opened in the North Malé Atoll last November. Featuring an overwater spa complex named Baani, meaning ‘the ocean swell’ in the Maldives’ Dhivehi language, the expansive wellness menu offers personalised holistic and restorative treatments.
The Raffles Maldives Meradhoo at the Gaafu Alifu Atoll also offers treatments at an overwater spa. Guests are welcomed to the resort with a glass of Champagne. They subsequently have opportunities to sip Singapore Slings at The Firepit, an interpretation of the Raffles Hotel’s famous Long Bar, while stargazing.
Eco-conscious travellers may be tempted by the sustainable credentials of the Six Senses Lamuu on the Lamuu Atoll. Thatched villas and low-key luxury make the resort an idyllic place to unwind during yoga and mediation sessions in the open-sided studio.
Like sunshine, luxury is abundant in the island resorts of the Maldives and travellers can take their pick of where to enjoy it.