The hidden treasures of the Maldives
Maldives | December 14, 2017
Island hop your way around paradise
Don’t stay in one place, urges George Clode as he hops his way around three Maldivian islands
Gazing down through the window of the seaplane – which is noisy, sticky and exhilarating – I spy a collection of Maldivian islands and reefs looking like giant stepping stones spread out across the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean.
The tiny plane is being tossed about by shifting ocean winds and low cloud when the co-pilot turns to us, grinning, and flashes his open palms twice to indicate that we have 20-minutes until landing.
The roar of the engine, the heat, the sun streaming in through the windows and the vast carpet of blue beneath us – it’s all quite overwhelming. I turn to my girlfriend to see if she’s as astonished by the whole thing as I am. She’s fast asleep.
Many people head to the Maldives with the intention of staying in one place (and usually it’s a padded sunlounger with a glass of crisp, pale rosé in hand); after all, this place is renowned as a haven for visitors seeking relaxation and tranquillity. But with so many islands in such close proximity of one another, it would be a shame not to take a hop, skip and a jump and go island-hopping.
Lux South Ari Atoll
Our Maldivian odyssey was six days long – just enough time to cram in visits to three island resorts. Our first stop was Lux South Ari Atoll in the west of the almost rectangular archipelago. A line of smiling, waving staff greeted us on the jetty as we arrived, loaded us onto a buggy and escorted us to our beach villa.
These secluded properties offer a slice of luxury beach living. Tucked away among screw pines and coconut trees, each villa has its own little stretch of sand leading out to the sea. Large screens in front of the bed open to reveal stunning views of the expansive ocean and neighbouring islands. The perfect way to start your day in this special part of the world.
Lux certainly won’t disappoint affluent travellers. As well as transporting you to higher plains of rest and relaxation, it’s the unexpected personal touches that will make you feel as if you’ve pitched up on a magical island. You may be ambling towards Lagoon Bar – a beachfront spot serving up delicious seafood to the sound of reggae fusion tunes – and spy a bottle by the side of the path with a message offering you a free spa treatment or bottle of wine. Or you could have just finished a morning yoga session when, on the way back to your villa, an ice cream cart pops up out of nowhere to give you gelato made on the island. You could even stumble upon a bowl of fresh coconut shavings on your way to the Tree of Wishes – a signature across all Lux properties.
Inspired by Japan’s ancient Tanabata festival, wishing trees and Brazilian Bonfim wish ribbons, the Tree of Wishes is where guests go to make a wish as they place a ribbon around a branch with their initials written on. At the end of the year, one ribbon is picked and its owner wins a free holiday.
Hidden treasures are everywhere at Lux, and if this all sounds a bit like a fairytale, that’s because it is. At the centre of it all lies Lux Café, a tranquil hub where groups meet to go snorkelling, paddle boarding, diving with whale sharks or kite-surfing. It’s also a great spot to sample some home-roasted coffee or try your hand at latte art – a skill that still eludes me despite patient tuition. While the experts were sculpting foamy 3D teddy bears, I struggled with a love heart.
As night falls, head to Umami for sensational sushi and live music before catching a buggy to Beach Rouge, where DJs play ambient music and waiters bring round cocktails until bedtime. Simply heavenly, it was tricky leaving our magical paradise.
FInolhu Baa Atoll
But leave we did. And after a 30-minute seaplane journey we arrived at Finolhu Baa Atoll, where once again we received a warm and enthusiastic welcome – the kind you’d expect only a famous face to receive.
Part of the Small Maldives Island Co, Finolhu is an uber-cool island, with pastel signs pointing to Sunset Boulevard and Route 66, smooth funk music playing and spa rooms in the Cove Club named after famous divas. Everything has a 1970s LA vibe to it, from the outdoor gym by Palm Beach to the giant inflatables in the pool.
The recently opened super-trendy 1 Oak Beach Club (sister to the ones in Las Vegas and New York) acts as the nucleus for night-time activities, with regular themed parties, DJ nights and entertainment. With the champagne flowing and the sun setting, guests can enjoy fire-dancing performances, live bands and remarkable aerial silk acts.
Of the resort’s first-class eateries, one in particular stands out: the Fish and Crab Shack. The restaurant can be found at the end of a 15-minute walk along a beautiful sandspit – or, for those hell-bent on exerting as little energy as possible, it is a short Dhoni ride across the lagoon.
The local seafood is exquisite, the service is friendly and helpful and the surroundings are breathtaking. We opted to walk to the shack, which appears on the horizon like an oasis. Go for a long lunch and be sure to order the soft-shell crab tacos – you will not be disappointed.
For dinner, head to Kanusan for Asian cuisine, theatrical cooking techniques from the visible kitchen, and views spreading out across the ocean. The atmosphere is one of pure calm, and when they start bringing out the truffle and wagyu beef, fresh tuna tartare and the steamed snapper, prepare for paradise.
A quick stop at 1 Oak for a nightcap and to catch the last of the entertainment and it’s back to our Lagoon Villa to soak up the sounds of the sea on our private sundeck. The ocean-access villas combine classic luxury design with a modern, trendy twist. The juxtaposition really works – on entering, you’ll find yourself switching on a crystal chandelier and turning up the music on retro Marshall speakers.
The final destination on our three-resort hop was Amilla Fushi, also in Baa Atoll, and sister property to Finolhu. Amilla is the sort of destination I imagine royalty choosing when they fancy a Maldivian jaunt.
Guests at each villa are allocated a katheeb – essentially a butler – who is on call 24/7. They remain behind the scenes, making sure you want for nothing during your stay. Call them from the mobile phone you’re given on arrival to help arrange meals, excursions, activities for kids and spa treatments (an absolute must). The property really is staggeringly beautiful. Lush forest and silky white sand surround the island, and a network of raised piers leads you to the Ocean Reef Houses, which each have private pools and direct ocean access. Our katheeb kindly brought us some snorkel equipment, and we spent a happy hour or so exploring the varied ocean life in our ‘back garden’.
Inside, the design of these gorgeous open-plan houses is minimal and immaculate, with shelves lined with Aesop products and a monsoon shower I could have stayed in for a week.
Our katheeb was kept busy. He arranged for us to have a tennis lesson with a professional coach; a personal training session at the gym; a photoshoot with the hugely talented and interesting photographer Munko Ali, at Shutterfish photography studios; all our meals; and a cheese and wine pairing with expert sommelier (and all-round wonderful person) Beatrice.
For a showstopper of an evening, book a table at Amilla’s signature restaurant Feeling Koi, an overwater establishment serving Japanese cuisine with Latin influences. Get yourself to the beach for pre-dinner cocktails and ready yourself for some spectacular views at sunset.
Amilla Fushi translates to ‘my island home’, and its ethos is very much geared towards making high-end clients feel comfortable and looked after without any sense of pretentiousness. In this, it is incredibly successful. I only wish my actual real-life home even slightly resembled my island home.
Our island-hopping adventure exploring three very different resorts had come to an end. Having discovered the diversity and wide variety of offerings in the Maldives, I would certainly go island-hopping again, were I ever fortunate enough to return.
Prices for a Beach Villa at LUX* South Ari Atoll start from $840 in low season on a bed and breakfast basis.
Beach Villa accommodation at Finolhu starts from $850 per night including breakfast, excluding tax and service.
Ocean Reef Houses at Amilla Fushi start from $1,050 per night including breakfast, excluding tax and service.