Islands in the sun, Running in Heels
Nowhere is it more important to pick your hotel with careful consideration than in the Maldives. Firstly, once on your island resort, you are pretty much trapped – there’s no nipping down to the shops, ditching your half board package for the local eateries or sneaking into a nicer looking hotel pool. Secondly, there are lots to chose from – 109 of the over 1,000 islands that make up this other-worldly state are given over exclusively to resorts, each carving out their own niche. Whether staying for a week or a few days, as lovers, for a girls’ holiday or with extended family, here’s two luxury Maldives resorts that won’t disappoint…
SONEVA FUSHI: BAREFOOT LUXURY
If I were to conjure up my dream retreat from the real world, the island of Soneva Fushi wouldn’t be far off. Where normal life demands you to speed up, be seen and shout out, Soneva quite simply asks you to switch off and reconnect with your nearest and dearest. And it’s not in an overbearing yoga retreat kind of way, but in a quiet and sophisticated way that leaves you wondering why any luxury resort would do things differently. If holidays are about luxuriating in a more simple existence filled with childlike excitement, then this place has hit the nail on the head.
Under the passionate vision of Sonu and wife Eva (hence the name), Soneva Fushi has been a leading exemplar of ‘intelligent’ luxury for almost 20 years. Being one of the most sustainable resorts in the Maldives means there’s no need to fear for your conscience here, although incredibly this has no bearing on the level of service on offer. The larger than average island, which takes 45 minutes to circumnavigate by foot, is bursting with nature. Lush jungle is surrounded by white sandy beaches and a reef-filled turquoise lagoon, home to some of the finest marine life you will ever lay eyes. Meanwhile hidden ‘treats’ throughout the island ensure that every taste and need is catered for – there’s a chocolate room, sorbet parlour and wine cave to name but a few.
Balinese-style villas and structures are dotted throughout the island, linked by sandy paths that weave under Banyan trees, past scuttling lizards and nesting water hens. Getting around is an adventure in itself with pretty Dutch bicycles on tap wherever guests need them. With so much soft sand underfoot, shoes soon become obsolete. In all 55 villas, the outside is cleverly woven in with huge open air bathrooms, sofa filled terraces and surrounding views of jungle and sea. Interiors are so subtle and harmonious that it takes a while to take in how beautiful they are – bold orange cushions splash colour across a sea of neutral tones, cedar wood and natural fibres. Whether a group of friends, family or a couple, there are accommodation options to suit all needs and you needn’t know that there’s anyone else on the island at all. Villas are discreetly tucked inland with their own patch of beach, some with pools, before winding down to the sea. As proudly proclaimed by the General Manager, Soneva Fushi is the place not to be seen.
Beyond the villas the magic continues. Our ‘Mr Friday’ (resort butlers are on call 24/7), Maroof, ensured that our time was as full or as empty as we wished. An action-packed day involved snorkelling alongside turtles and sharks with resident marine biologist on an offshore reef, discovering the deep and our inner zen during a mind expanding free diving course, cheering 30 odd dolphins somersaulting around our sunset cruise, spying Jupiter’s four moons from the island observatory and brushing up on some classics at the outdoor cinema. To recover from sensory overload, the next day was spent drifting between pool, the sea and beautiful Six Senses Spa in a semi-comatose state of relaxation. A quiet night in was disturbed only by a small bunny who came to say hi the moment the Champagne was popped, and the rustling of the sea breeze in palm trees overhead.
To call the food on offer at Soneva’s main restaurant, Mihiree Mithaa, a buffet is more than an understatement. Ingredients as fresh and plentiful as you could imagine, it’s easy to forget you’re on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Each day we seemed to discover a new ‘section’ – pastries, salads, cheeses, meats, ice creams, juices – providing incentive for renewed greed. If you can possibly exhaust Mihiree Mithaa there are several other dining spots. We opted for Sri Lankan curry at Nine, sushi at By the Beach, burgers and cocktails at Bar(a)Bara and an organic feast high in the treetops at Fresh in the Garden. Everything on offer was some of the best we have ever tasted, served up with smiles and obvious pride.
Verdict? This is the holiday of a lifetime and top of the crop when it comes to barefoot luxury. Unlike other Maldivian resorts, you could easily soak up a week or more here. Although it couldn’t be any more romantic, Soneva Fushi is also perfect for families, big and small, since kids have their own club, and villas are spaced out enough to maintain discretion.
ANGSANA IHURU: OTHERWORDLY ESCAPISM
A perfectly-formed little paradise island, Angsana Ihuru in the North Male Atoll, is only 20 minutes by speedboat from Male airport. Part of Banyan Tree’s younger brand, Angsana, the island offers a fun, laidback vibe. There’s no pretentious edge here and relaxation is paramount.
45 thatched ‘villas’ line the beach, set back enough to each have their own patch of sand, shaded by palm trees, leading down to the sea. Large bedrooms have small semi-separated living areas and pretty outdoor bathrooms, some with jet pools. Interiors are reminiscent of SE Asia with bright colours and dark woods. In contrast to the grandeur of Soneva, the simplicity of these huts is part of their charm.
The restaurant and bar on Ihuru surround the island’s only jetty, where sharks come to feed in the evening and crabs vie for beach space below. The sea breeze over the bar is a welcome break from the tropical heat and the cocktail list extensive enough to stay beyond sunset. Although there is only one restaurant, offering breakfast and lunch buffets and fixed menus in the evening, there are a variety of ‘dining experiences’ on offer. Our on-the-beach seafood BBQ – a feast of reef fish, lobster and prawns served up by candlelit – was as romantic as it gets with Eagle Rays flapping at the water’s edge and shooting stars gracing the sky overhead. Room service also meant we could enjoy fresh tuna salads, pad thai and fruit platters in our own garden for lunch.
The island itself is tiny – a 10 minute stroll around the white sands will bring you back to where you started. However, what it lacks in land, Angsana Ihuru makes up for underwater. With a sturdy marine conservation policy in place, Angsana Ihuru has one of the best house reefs in The Maldives. There are not many places in the world where you can swim alongside a turtle, reef sharks, eagle rays, octopus and much much more, all just a few yards from your hotel room. Snorkelling equipment is free to borrow, staff are full of information about reef inhabitants and for the more adventurous, the island has a PADI gold palm marine centre and a wreck to explore 17m below. Watersports are also on offer and provide great opportunities for gazing longingly back at your tropical paradise island.
If cabin-fever is a concern one of the best things about Ihuru is the ferry service throughout the day to sister island Banyan Tree Vabbinhuru. Getting on the water is what it’s all about in this island state and sampling the bars, restaurants and beaches of the slightly more upmarket Banyan Tree resort makes a nice change. Take the boat over one afternoon to catch the daily sting ray and turtle feeding followed by sundowners on the beach. If reef conservation is of interest Vabbinhuru has hosts The Maldives’ only Marine Lab and guest education is high on the agenda.
Verdict? Being so close to Male, small in size and with an accessible house reef makes this the perfect place for a shorter stay or quick hop over from Sri Lanka. Angsana Ihuru and neighbouring Banyan Tree Vabbinhuru offer Maldivian hospitality and relaxation in bitesize form.
For more information on Soneva Fushi, see the resort’s website, while further information can be found on Angsana Ihuru online here. We travelled to The Maldives with Emirates, via Dubai. During peak season (Nov-Mar) direct flights from London are available and take 10 hours. The Maldives are just over one hour from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Transfers from Male to Soneva Fushi are by seaplane and to Angsana are by speedboat.