The Maldives: Island Luxury Redefined
Written by and photography by Line Rindebaek and Sebastian Posingis
Luxury travel in the Maldives has never been more exciting. The choices you have are staggering, with few other places in the world able to muster so many unique options for vacationing in a true tropical paradise setting.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of tourism in the Maldives. But these islands have come a long way since the 1970s, when a handful of resorts offered only a few basic beach huts with saltwater showers. What has not changed over the years is its stunning natural beauty. It is a must for divers but even if you never set foot in the water, these islands will captivate with their shimmering white sandy beaches fringed by palm trees set amidst a breathtaking rhapsody in blue.
Choosing which island to stay on has never been more exciting for the luxury aficionado. Every top-end resort offers incredible spas, infinity pools and restaurants with vintage wines and almost every conceivable cuisine, some prepared by world-renowned chefs – though Conrad Maldives and Anantara Kihavah have taken cutting-edge dining to new heights, or depths as it were, with their underwater restaurants. Private plunge pools, lavish spa-like bathrooms and of course, butler service are the norm.
The only choice now is the experience you want to have. Board a seaplane and fly west for the ‘alone on an island’ and early-explorer fantasy. The Banyan Tree Madivaru’s African-style luxury safari tents – only six, each with a pool, scattered round the whole island – fulfils every childhood dream. No other place in the Maldives makes it easier for you to believe that you are on a deserted island. Each tented villa, full to the brim with elegant furnishings as well as the usual mod cons, provides just the right combination of Out of Africa romance meets tropical island.
If tents are too rustic but you still want a castaway feel, book into the immense 30-m-long, sun-bleached, thatched villas rising out of the lagoon at Gili Lankanfushi. Each villa offers an abundance of quirky features, private nooks, and corners to relax in and take in the unbelievable views. This resort is a perfect marriage between Robinson Crusoe-style barefoot luxury and raw Maldivian beauty, so perfect it almost feels like a movie set.
For a touch of contemporary ambience and design that envelops you the moment you step out of your seaplane, try the ultra tropical-chic W Retreat & Spa. The island is stunning but this W does more than just give you another luxury island vacation. For example, it adds music, as DJs from New York pipe in tunes every 24 hours, which are discreetly present along the wooden jetties and in all common areas. This creates a wonderful soundtrack to your experience. There’s also the subterranean nightclub, a first for the Maldives, which would not feel out of place in Los Angeles.
Staying on land is not the only way to enjoy these islands. Insiders will say sailing is the only way to truly experience the Maldives. On board the Four Seasons Explorer is possibly the best way. This floating boutique hotel will take you to secluded beaches dotted with driftwood, pristine reefs and world-class dive sites, as well as to traditional villages on inhabited islands with local Maldivians happy to share their musical heritage. Waking up with a different view every morning can easily become a habit, which makes getting off this three-deck catamaran very difficult.
If you still can’t make up your mind, you can island-hop, by air or speedboat, between the hundred resort islands, or choose a luxury all-rounder like the Conrad Maldives. Spread across two islands with plenty of space to roam, more villa options than you can count, seven restaurants, and a separate ‘resort within the resort’ overwater spa retreat, it is an easy choice. The youngest of spa aficionados can even be pampered at the Conrad’s Ice Cream Spa.
In fact, though the Maldives is the quintessential romantic destination, families are by no means overlooked. Most top resorts take their younger travellers very seriously and offer exciting kids’ clubs with a world of activities: surf lessons, cooking with a chef or programmes teaching them about the local biodiversity.
Whichever resort you chose, once you return from your gourmet dinner and step out of your villa onto the beach, and look up at the stars with your toes in the ocean, you will know why this is luxury.
New in 2012
The refurbished and rebranded KIHAAD Maldives, on the lush island of Kihaadhuffaru in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, will open in November 2012. With its green core, long white beaches and spacious beach and water villas, it offers the perfect tropical sanctuary. t is located immediately across from Hanifaru Bay, famed for whale sharks and manta rays.
Niyama Maldiveshas raised the bar even further for cutting-edge design. Opened in May, Niyama offers guests a chance to boogie with the fishes in the world’s first underwater nightclub, Subsix. The club, 500 metres offshore, has floor-to-ceiling windows six metres below the Indian Ocean.
If you need a little leisurely exercise, the Shangri-La’s Villingili resort in Addu Atoll has added the country’s first nine-hole golf course.
For luxury wrapped in extraordinary design and architecture with a particularly green feel, visit the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa in the pristine Gaafu Alifu Atoll. The resort has just won the coveted 2012 Green GOOD DESIGN Award, which identifies the world’s most pioneering examples of sustainable design and commitment to preserving the environment.
By the numbers
The number of islands in the Maldives, of which only 200 are inhabited. Almost a third of the 350,000 Maldivians live in Malé, the capital island close to the main airport.
The colourful coral reefs in the Maldives are home to some 1,100 species of fish, 5 species of sea turtles, and 21 species of whales and dolphins.
The Maldives is the planet’s lowest country, sitting an average of only 1.5 m above sea level and making it vulnerable to the effects of global warming.