This year is the 50th anniversary of independence, the first resort opened in 1972 and now there are over 100. Rupert Parker picks four of the best.
The Maldives comprises 99% sea and just 1% of land so its 106 resorts are widely spread out. Forget about island hopping, as the distances are huge, and most of the time the transport connects through the airport so you always have to pass “Go”. It’s therefore important to choose your resort wisely. The group nearest the airport are only about 30 minutes speedboat ride away, so they’re easily accessible, particularly important after a long international flight. The downside is that they they’re not as isolated as those further away so you may not get the tranquillity you desire. Going further afield means longer boat rides, domestic flights, or best of all, short seaplane hops. All offer sumptuous accommodation, either on land or above the water, and a variety of watersports including reef snorkelling and of course the obligatory spa treatment.
Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa
A speedboat with free Wi-Fi will whisk you to Kuda Huraa in less than 30 minutes. This is medium sized resort with 96 bungalows, and there’s a choice between those on stilts over the water or those on land with beach access and private plunge pool. The spa occupies its own tiny island and you have to take a tiny boat to get there. There are four restaurants serving anything from Indian to Italian as well as excellent seafood.
The benefit of a larger resort is that a wide range of activities are offered including parasailing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, wakeskating, waterskiing and kneeboarding. They’ll even give you surf lessons, as there’s a reef nearby where they hold an annual competition. Every evening you can take a sunset cruise watching Spinner dolphins or fish for your dinner. They have a turtle conservancy here and you can go out with their resident marine biologist and swim with the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.
Of course there’s snorkelling galore and you get your own personal mask and fins to explore the reefs round the island. I liked their introduction to Scuba where you get a briefing with an instructor before donning the gear and learning to dive in the shallows. From there you go out in a boat and dive to a depth of over 11 metres. It’s exhilarating and makes you want to experience the real thing and we did come into contact with a rather angry Moray Eel.
- Rates at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa start at £868 per night including breakfast.
This is also only around 30 minutes from the airport and is slightly larger with 129 bungalows, again on both on water and land. Lush vegetation envelops the accommodation so it doesn’t feel too crowded. The water bungalow I stay in has a large outside deck area with its own infinity plunge pool and the floor to ceiling folding glass doors mean you always have views of the blue Indian Ocean.
There are five different restaurant experiences and executive chef Carlos Exprua is keen to expand the dining offer. He’s introduced a range of world tapas dishes in the outside Chill Bar, which you can snack on all day, and there’s the Japanese inspired Teppanyaki restaurant. A special treat is private beach dining at sunset where they’ll cut a table for you out of the sand and serve you a private satay barbecue.
The Spa is also perched over the water, so you enjoy a range of treatments, listening to the gentle sound of the waves, and they also offer yoga sessions. As well as snorkelling and diving, there’s a whole range of watersports including my favourite, kayaking in transparent glass bottom kayaks.
- Rates for a Deluxe Villa at Velassaru Maldives start at £347, including breakfast.
Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Getting here involves taking a scheduled domestic one hour flight to Kooddoo Island, then a 30 minute speedboat transfer, but that’s the price you pay for seclusion. There are only 50 villas here, the park villas hidden by the jungle vegetation so you really do feel you’re in the wild. Even the water villas have been carefully built on the existing coral reef and it’s the only resort in the Maldives certified for both design and construction by environmental organisation EarthCheck.
The snorkelling on the house reef is particularly good as much of the coral is intact, and I bump into a one metre reef tip shark breezing by. Amy Sing Wong, the resident marine biologist, gives me a primer on coral formation then takes me on a boat trip to the edge of the atoll, at 90m one of the deepest in the Maldives. Marine life is stunning here and I clock up eagle rays, turtles and a couple of sharks, as well as many large fish. There’s an opportunity to explore a couple of deserted coral islands and we even put into an inhabited island, stroll around the town and enjoy some fresh coconut water.
Of course there’s a gloriously long infinity pool, if the sea or your own private plunge pool isn’t enough. I also enjoy an intense deep tissue massage in the Vidhun Spa, light and airy with high thatched ceilings. There are only two restaurants here, the Dining Room, by the pool and the more upscale Island Grill, with its open kitchen. Local fish is definitely on the menu and I particularly enjoy Maldivian fish soup and spiced fillets of reef fish.
- Rates at start at £381 including breakfast.
For me this is the ultimate. You take a small Twin Otter seaplane from the water by the airport and, after 20 minutes, touch down by a rudimentary mooring in the middle of the sea. You step out and a speedboat suddenly appears over the horizon to whisk you away to this boutique retreat.
It only has 30 villas and, since it opened in Feb 2014, everything is almost brand new with the highest quality interiors – German furniture, Swiss bathroom fittings, even your own wine chiller. And if you’re on their Ultimate Inclusions package you get to sample as many of these wines as you like, as well as a range of spirits. It also has the highest ratio of restaurants to villas, with Japanese, international, meat and seafood grills and Mediterranean waiting to tempt you.
There’s a family feel to the place as its run by a young couple Marc and Laura who make you feel very welcome. The house reef is spectacular and you even see baby sharks swimming in the shallows on the beach. You’ve a choice between a Jacuzzi villa, whose private pool opens directly onto the beach, or an ocean pool villa, suspended over the sea, connected to the land by its own private walkway. And don’t forget their Varu Spa which can compete with the best.
- Rates at Kandolhu Island start at £460 including breakfast.
Choosing a resort is difficult and really depends on how and where you want to spend your holiday. Obviously the bigger ones offer a greater range of watersports but all provide sunset cruises, snorkel excursions and fishing. Food is important so you might want to make your decision on that basis but, ultimately, what makes the difference is the standard of service. I can say in all four of the resorts I tried, it was impossible to fault.
The other factor that may influence your decision is accessibility, particularly if you’re not too steady on your legs. Fortunately there’s a law in the Maldives which specifies that no building should be higher than a coconut tree so that means no stairs or lifts, with everything at ground level in the resorts. Domestic flights are equipped to deal with wheelchair users, but unfortunately the seaplane services are not, so you might want to avoid those as the stairs are rather narrow. The good news is that the boats they use for transfers are much larger than your average speedboat and they have a crew of three of four who can help you get on and off.
Emirates flies to Male via Dubai from six UK airports including London, Manchester and Glasgow. Return economy flights from London Gatwick Airport start from £768 per person.
Visit Maldives has more information on the country.