When I think of the Maldives I think of it as a once in a lifetime experience, somewhere Honeymooners go, a destination of your dreams or somewhere a swimwear model does a photoshoot. Now after a two week holiday there I can tell you all of the above are true, but there’s so much more to this place than sun, sea and sand.
The Maldives is celebrating its 50th Birthday this year and the Maldivian Tourist Board are pulling out all the stops to impress visiting tourists, but they don’t have to try hard given how stunning this beautiful little country is. Crystal clear turquoise sea brimming with fish to such a point that they jump out of the water to say ‘hello’, powdery white beaches that feel like soft sugar under foot, and reflect the glorious sunshine all year round - is there anything not to like about the Maldives? The price puts many people off visiting these stunning Atolls in the Indian Ocean but there are options for the rich and the not-so-rich readers out there.
The Maldives experience starts at the Seaplane Airport, where many visitors take their first seaplane to their chosen island resort - this is the more frequently chosen route to your resort, given a speedboat can take between one and five hours depending on how far away the resort is from Male mainland. You’ll feel like James Bond as you fly across the Atolls, as you witness the ‘fifty shades of blue’ that the Maldivians like to joke about.
My first stop off was Anantara Kihavah, a stunning resort in the Baa Atoll island where the Island staff greeted us with a traditional Maldivian drum welcome and a handmade garland, apparently they do this for each guests arrival to give a personal touch. Then I was escorted to my room by my own personal butler who would be at my beck and call should I need anything i was assured. I never put it to the test you’ll be glad to hear – in a stunning location like this all you really need is a bikini and sun cream.
And there was a gorgeous lady waiting in my room for me to give me a Foot Bath after my long flight......can you tell how happy i was to see her? This is a perfect example of the service Anantara resorts offer their guests; they literally think of everything!
There is a choice of accommodation styles at the resort ranging from a Beach Pool Villa to an Overwater Villa, each with their own private pool, of course. I chose an Overwater Pool Villa for my stay and was treated to my own hammock overlying the lagoon where I could watch the fish swim underneath me whilst I sunbathed. All Villas are spacious with walk-in wardrobes, bathrooms larger than most Dublin apartments, and lovely little touches like beach bags, yoga mats and flip-flops at your disposal free of charge. The singer John Legend famously chose an Overwater Pool Villa here at Kihavah as the perfect setting to propose to his now wife model Chrissy Teigen – yes, its that kind of resort. The kind of place you’re likely to bump into the latest Silicon Valley Billionaire trying a ‘digital detox’, though you’ll be happy to hear the WIFI works perfectly well if detoxing isn’t your cup of tea.
That night we dined on Lobster Pappardelle with Saffron Crème and Poppy Seed Sauce. In fact, I tried to eat as much lobster as I could at almost every meal after finding out it was freshly caught that morning just off the island reef. Food is something they do very well here at Kihavah, hosting four main restaurants Sea, Fire, Salt and Sky. The most infamous of these is Sea, an underwater restaurant allowing you to watch the colourful reef fish swim by whilst you tuck into delicious gourmet seafood dishes accompanied by choice international wines from what has to be the most comprehensive wine cellar in the Maldives. Kihavah also runs its own Maldivian Cooking Course ‘Spice Spoons’ where the Resort Head Chef will teach you how to cook local cuisine like a traditional Tuna Curry or desserts like Vermicelli Pudding. Almost all Maldivian food seems to contain either coconut or tuna and they are obsessed with curries, all major plus points in my eyes.
Its also impossible to get bored here with a wealth of activities to choose from should you get bored with topping up your tan, from an Outdoor Cinema to Deep Sea Fishing there’s always something to do. I tried Sea Bobbing for the first time, made famous by Sean Connerys Bond in ‘thunderbolt’ and I highly recommend it giving you the opportunity to explore the stunning reefs and fish just feet away from the shore where you’ll see everything from Sea Turtles to Black Tipped Sharks. If energetic activity isn’t your thing, Kihavah resort also has one of the best spas on site of any in the Maldives, with overwater massage rooms with glass floors, allowing me to watch sea-life swim by whilst enjoying one the best massages I’ve had to date.
Kihavahs Underwater Restaurant - 'Sea'
After two days at Kihavah it was time to visit her sister resorts of Anantara Dhigu, Veli and Naladhu islands and the other jewel in its crown Per Aquum Niyama. These islands share one lagoon in the South Male Atoll, each island offers its own distinct personality and suite range to suit a visitors needs.
Per Aquum Niyama, is the ultimate in luxury with two islands, one called ‘Play’, the other ‘Chill’ – yes its that cool! ‘Play’ is the perfect base for families looking to explore the Maldives. It has something for everyone, from an Explorer Kids Club for the young one’s and over 9 restaurants for Mum and Dad to explore, so i recommend you opt for Half Board in order to make the most of visiting each restaurant. My favourite restaurant here was ‘Nest’ designed to look like a birds nest and serving beautiful Asian cuisine most of which is sourced from the islands own Organic garden. ‘Chill’ island is more suited to Honeymooners and Couples looking for a little along time, it boasts and underwater nightclub, and a cocktail bar overlooking the lagoon where romantic couples can fall in love all over again as they sip on an Old Fashioned whilst watching the sun set.
Per Aquum Niyama is constantly pushing the boundaries on delivering quality luxury holidays that leave you wanting more. In 2016, they’re running a series of PULSE events that will see exciting monthly events that will keep you coming back. We’re excited to hear that Camden Markets Chin Chin Labs will be creating bespoke ice-creams for guest in March 2016 – all ice creams will be made to order and will be created just for you using organic herbs grown on the islands own garden. Guests can also take part in ‘Nitro Workshops’ at BLU restaurants cookery school to make their very own creations. This is luxury, it doesn’t get more impressive than this!
April PULSE events to keep an eye on, Chef Akira is a visiting Per Aquum Niyama on April 25th and 26th to host a series of private dinners for guests. You'll be in good company as Chef Akira has cooked for the like of Eva Longoria, Taylor Swift and Pink among others, and will be cooking a selection of dishes using herbs and veggies selected from Niyama's own Organic garden. For more info about upcoming PULSE events on Niyama, visit www.minorhotels.com/en/peraquum/pulse
Anantara Veli, is Dhigu’s neighbouring Adults only island and offers an escape for couples and honeymooners whilst Anantara Naladhu offers the ultimate in luxury, with overwater beach villas boasting huge open-plan bathrooms with swim-up private pools, a personal sauna and a view to die for of course.
This coming December, Anantara Dhigu and Veli will be hosting an exclusive Balance fitness programme from Dec 5th to 12th, 2015. Leading yoga teachers from the U.K.’S ‘Yogasphere’ retreats, will guide guests through a personalised fitness programme during their stay. The package includes 7 nights’ accommodation on a B&B basis, 2 daily yoga sessions, daily pranayama and meditation sessions plus guidance on how to rejuvenate the mind and body in time to start 2016 afresh.
That's just me casually sailing our 50ft Sunseeker Yacht back to the harbour
My second week in the Maldives was spent at the newly refurbished Sun Aqua Vilu Reef resort, a lovely intimate resort nestled in the heart of the South Nilandhe Atoll, a thirty-five minute Seaplane ride from Male. Initially opened in 1998, it recently went through a complete modernisation and all villas now have a stunning interior, private pools and elegant décor throughout. I was lucky enough to be a special guest at the grand re-launch ceremony held on the picturesque beachfront surrounded by Coconut trees. We were treated to a sumptuous moonlight buffet on the beach whilst watching traditional Maldivian dancers perform.
The resort now boasts a range of accommodation types from Aqua Overwater Villas each boasting their own infinity pool to Deluxe Beach Villas one of which was my home away from home whilst on the island. My villa had a traditional outdoor bathroom allowing me to marvel at the lush palm trees and blue skys overhead whilst indulging in an evening bubble bath. This is luxury at its best. The beach is picture postcard perfect, I enjoyed watching Honeymooners trying to take the ultimate ‘jumping on the beach’ snap and watched eagle-rays (they’re flying stingrays to you and me) swim by only inches from the shore. Every corner you turn around there is an even more beautiful view, and another shade of blue sea that you didn’t know existed before.
Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
The difference that makes this resort so special is its owned by a local Maldivian, Ahmed Siyam Mohammed who himself started out as a waiter and now owns a number of luxury resorts under the Sun Aqua brand. This local touch makes all the difference, with the staff urging you to visit local islands to get a taste of the ‘real Maldives’. On my island visit we spoke to locals, visited the site of the four hundred year old Bayan tree and swung like Tarzan from its vines, and drank juice from freshly chopped coconuts to quench our thirst in the midday sun. A true Maldivian experience that would make the trip unforgettable. Better yet, on our return journey to the resort we were joined by over fifty dolphins swimming alongside our boat. This is a typical day in the Maldives according to our guides.
Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
The Maldives is a very special spot on earth and is too often ignored by people like me who think its just for Honeymooners, its so much more than that. There’s a wealth of culture, gourmet dining and much more than sunbathing to do here. And the Maldivian locals are some of the friendliest people I’ve come across on my travels, all proudly willing to tell you all about their country and their way of life. Don’t miss out on this life time experience, add it to your bucket list for 2016.
A special thanks to the Maldives Tourist Board and Minor Hotel Group for organising my stay.
I can’t wait to visit again soon!
HOW TO GET THERE:
Flights: Emirates fly to Male airport with connections in Dubai, flights start at approx.. €800