As winter began to settle in over New York City, an urge came over me that I couldn’t shake. It was time to seek respite in the Maldives – replacing my winter blues with turquoise blues would be the perfect cure. I am and always will be a self-professed Maldives junkie.
Escape plan in place, I set off for the Maldives. Seven resorts in seven nights and a mission to discover what makes each one stand out as a truly extraordinary experience, worth every penny of the hefty price of paradise.
Day 1 – Kandolhu Island, North Ari Atoll
One glimpse of the tiny island of Kandolhu and its surrounding lagoon from my circling seaplane and I felt I had died and gone to heaven. Just a tiny speck of an island, the resort features only 30 villas and is a true Robinson Crusoe hideaway. My Ocean Pool Villa featured the additional wow-factor of an all-glass bathroom – the stunning turquoise views made exhibitionism seem perfectly acceptable. The resort boasts perhaps one of the finest house reefs in the Maldives – the snorkeling and diving is world class. As I swam around the island, I encountered several hawksbill turtles, a large nurse shark, a moray eel, a juvenile Napoleon Wrasse and thousands of colourful tropical reef fish. This little gem recently underwent a full make-over, and has emerged as an exquisite 5-star boutique property, run by a charming young couple who go out of their way to ensure that all guests are well looked after.
What I loved: The house reef, the intimate & warm service, 4 restaurants/1 bar for such a tiny resort, the Ultimate Inclusion Package (a great value all-inclusive option), the Ocean Pool Villa – a true wow.
Who’s it for?: Avid snorkelers/divers; couples looking for a total getaway; those looking for a “wow” overwater villa that won’t “break the bank”.
Day 2 – W Retreat & Spa, North Ari Atoll
Whatever, whenever. What’s new, what’s now. Met at the jetty by a whole host of friendly resort staff, and a mixologist ready to make me a mean cocktail, the arrival at W is definitely a WOW, as is the resort. Undergoing a dramatic “restyle”, my villa was a hyper-cool splash of red and glow-in-the-dark beads, with a swing hanging from the ceiling. They recently had Alec Monopoly as artist in residence – and his fresh works show up in a boutique and covering one of the resort speedboats. The house reef is easily accessible and vibrant – a major plus.
What I loved: My villa’s second-storey roof deck and lounge, the amazing house reef with its resident turtles, the unique amenities – like the cosmopolitan mixer set and the caviar & bellinis served in a gilded bird cage, and the free ice cream/drink stations that dot the island.
Who’s it for?: Fashionistas; pop-art lovers; hipsters; young honeymooners.
Day 3 – One & Only Reethi Rah, North Male Atoll
After a 40-minute luxury yacht ride from the airport it quickly became clear why Reethi Rah has been considered the top resort in the Maldives for many years. The island is exquisite in its perfection, from the flawless manicured landscaping (I think they have 80 gardeners on staff) and the powder white beaches to the seamless butler service. Its sheer size (it is the largest resort island in the Maldives) lends itself to space – space for the totally private retreats, space for the bowling lawn (yes, a field of grass in the Maldives), space for the full-scale football field (surely inspired by one of their most famous frequent guests), space for the rock climbing wall, the pottery studio, the beach club, the spa sanctuary, the gym for champions, the seven restaurants, the golf simulator room, and space for so much more. The resort is both see-and-be-seen luxury and exquisite, blissful privacy.
What I loved: What’s not to love about perfection?
Who’s it for?: The active and energetic; the well-heeled; families – the kids club and activities are plentiful; those seeking total privacy; celebrities/personalities.
Day 4 – Niyama by Per Aquum, Dhaalu Atoll
Totally relaxed luxury, punctuated by an exquisite turquoise lagoon and endless white beaches, Niyama has a great energy to it. The two-island (“chill” and “play”) resort, a 40-minute seaplane ride from the airport, styles itself as “nature’s playground” and lives up to its maxim. Whether I was biking around the resort or goofing around in the simulator game room, this was a place I could simply enjoy.
What I loved: Dining at Edge, reachable by boat from the island; Subsix – the underwater club; the beach and lagoon; the atmosphere & vibe; the simulator games room; the villa design and punctuations of colour – red and yellow.
Who’s it for?: Families – the new children’s club is amazing; honeymooners,; couples of all ages; groups of friends
Day 5 – Huvafen Fushi by Per Aquum, North Male Atoll
Huvafen Fushi means “waking dream” in the local language, Dhivehi, and waking up here is certainly a dream. With only 44 villas, Huvafen Fushi is an intimate island, chilled out and trendy at the same time. A foodie paradise, I indulged in an 8-course lobster and champagne dinner and an exquisite multi-course lunch at “Raw” – where the food is indeed raw, yet simply delicious. Luxuriating in the underwater spa, it was quite a treat to have a massage while watching hundreds of colourful fish swim amongst the corals. This was only topped by taking a lap around the island with the resident marine biologist – Huvafen Fushi’s house reef is excellent, and I saw nurse sharks, reef sharks, two hawksbill turtles, a lion fish and plenty of clown fish swimming amongst purple anemone.
What I loved: The food, the underwater spa, my thakaru (butler), the small/intimate size of the island, the chilled-out atmosphere
Who’s it for?: Honeymoon couples; couples of all ages; the trendy; divers/snorkelers; celebrities/models
Day 6 – Baros Maldives, North Male Atoll
Classic Maldives, Baros is pure perfection – the service is warm yet subtle and the attention to detail is palpable. Only 70 villas dot this small island, providing a level of intimacy and privacy that has consistently kept award-winning Baros amongst the top resorts in the Maldives on Tripadvisor and other review sites. Featuring one of the best house reefs in the Maldives, snorkeling here is a dream – without fail you will swim with turtles, reef sharks, and thousands of fish amongst some of the most colourful corals in the country. Dining at the Lighthouse, the iconic tented restaurant over the water, is an event, and you have to simply love any resort that serves free-flow champagne for breakfast!
What I loved: The intimate service; the house reef; dining at The Lighthouse; the small touches and details.
Who’s it for?: Couples & honeymooners; divers/snorkelers; those looking for affordable luxury.
Day 7 – Cheval Blanc
As I arrived onboard Cheval Blanc’s exclusive seaplane, painted yellow & grey and decked out with luxurious leather seats, the royal family of an unnamed country was departing – all 30 of them. A few minutes later, as I was driven to my palatial Garden Water Villa, I passed a famous sports star walking on the path in board shorts emblazoned with pink flamingos. And as I departed, another family of royals was arriving. A virtual revolving door of the rich & famous and who’s whos, it could be said that I saved the best for last. I am still in awe over my villa, which could fit my entire New York apartment in its bathroom – and the details of its design and amenities. Louis Vuitton’s Maison in the Maldives is certainly one I will never forget.
What I loved: My cathedral-esque villa and its enormous 12-meter lap pool. The unforgettable sommelier team – who not only knew their wines, but made drinking them such an experience!
Who’s it for?: Royalty and celebrities; the well-heeled; lovers of all things Louis Vuitton; those seeking total privacy.