Marvellous Maldives: one perfect paradise, two out of this world options
14th Apr 2023
Take picture postcard perfect, now imagine something even better. Add a hefty splurge of luxury, coupled with the soft lapping of the Indian Ocean’s warm waters… The Maldives is all this and more.
Want a villa on stilts over the turquoise lagoon? Check. Or maybe you prefer your own beach house? All yours. In The Maldives, every resort is on its own individual island, so you’re guaranteed a full-on world-of-your-own paradise experience.
Perhaps best known as one of the ultimate wedding and honeymoon destinations, The Maldives is certainly choc-a-bloc with romantic spots, but many of the resorts have been re-inventing to include a range of activities, from family fun to clubby cool. Then there are spots specialising in top-notch water sports, epic spas and culinary experiences to conjure with. But with more than 130 Maldivian resorts currently in operation, how do you choose? Ever intrepid, we took the plunge and sampled two of the best.
Despite already being absolutely gorgeous, Anantara Veli has been recently refurbished, giving the Over Water Villas and Beach Houses a Hamptons vibe that works remarkably well. Why not just go to the Hamptons? Because you don’t get tropical waters, coral reefs and the calm serenity from being on a beautifully remote silver-sanded jewel of a spot when you’re Stateside, obviously.
Five stars and dripping in gorgeousness, Veli also stands out for having a sister resort, Dhigu just next door. In practice, this means you can explore more, puttering between the two on a little boat; or borrow a kayak to go to Gulhifushi, their very own picnic island, complete with a tiki bar. Dhigu welcomes families, while Veli itself is adults only, so it really is serene.
Wander along sandy paths to breakfast by the ocean at Cumin, where tropical fruits are the ideal start to the island day, although you can also opt for all manner of creative pastries, and delicious things with fish, such as the crab omelette, which soon becomes a favourite. Later, you can choose between the bars and restaurants on both islands, which include Maldivian, Japanese, Thai and Indian-inflected dishes, as well as seafood and steaks. On one memorable evening, the team sets up dinner on the beach and we eat delicately spiced dishes by flaring torchlight under exotically foreign stars.
We visit the chef’s garden, where herbs grow in lush abundance, and everywhere are signs that people have spent considerable time dreaming up more layers of loveliness. Swing seats are parked in judicious spots. A hammock is pitched to a pair of wooden supports out in the ocean. Swim there for instant Instagram. A question I was asked before going to The Maldives was: won’t you get bored? I did wonder, as I am usually the type to pack activities into my trips. But I wasn’t. You may be on a tiny island, but you certainly won’t be short of things to do. Here are just a few to get you started – that’s if you can tear yourself away from your villa of course.
Anantara Veli highlights
- Start the day with yoga at the waterside Pavilion. Or go later for Sound Healing with Tibetan Singing Bowls.
- Snorkel on the reef: snorkels and flippers are available free of charge, and the reef off Picnic Island has been re-seeded with corals, which are in the early phases of growing and are doing well. See brightly coloured fish, and maybe even a baby reef shark and a turtle or two.
- Swim with nurse sharks and stingrays: our short boat ride was accompanied by dolphins and flying fish, and the experience of snorkelling alongside all these beautiful creatures was unforgettable.
- Take a surf lesson: the lagoon waters are calm enough to get you off to a great start.
- Spa it up with a range of treatments, including local massage techniques, acupuncture or a traditional Hammam treatment.
- Sunset cruise: take a boat to sip champagne and nibble canapés as the sun goes down.
- Cinema under the stars: pick your favourite movie, and settle down to watch on the outdoor screen by the sea, accompanied by champagne and popcorn – what a combo!
Pro tip: pack your swimsuit in your hand luggage. There is nothing more gratifying than plunging straight in to the turquoise waters before your bags have even been delivered.
Wellness at Veli
Want to come back restored as well as relaxed? Anantara Veli offers individually tailored Wellness Programmes, which can focus on your chosen areas, such as detox, weight loss, mindfulness and wellbeing. Programmes range from three to ten days, and a sample three-day detox and weight management retreat from $1,267 per night includes:
- 3-night stay at overwater Wellness Villa
- Five senses enhancement room features
- All-inclusive wellness minibar.
- 1x Wellness Cooking Class
- 1x Wellness Assessment
- 1x Epigenetic Test with Nutritionist consultation
- 3x Personal Training/ Boxing session
- 1x Medi-Spa Treatment, choice of Colon Hydrotherapy or VelaShape Anticellulite
- 1x 60-minutes Ayurvedic Treatment
- 1x 60-mins Customized Detox Massage
- Wellness Giftbox
Staying at Veli
Stay at Anantara Veli from $750 per room per night in an Over Water Villa, which includes a deck and direct lagoon access, half board, including standard restaurant dining. You also get a $60 credit per person towards speciality dining at selected restaurants. From there, you can upgrade to Villas with plunge pools, infinity pools, and beach villas with private pools.
NIYAMA PRIVATE ISLANDS
Linked by a little bridge, the two islands of Niyama make up one of the larger resorts in The Maldives, although you never get a sense of crowds. Instead, the pair of islands, dubbed Chill and Play are blissfully peaceful, lushly tropical and incredibly beautiful. In fact, the accommodation is so well designed, you could probably (and may well be) right next door to someone incredibly famous, and without necessarily knowing it.
Everything has been thought of: from the bicycles outside your beach villa, each inscribed with your name, to your Thakuru (think of a host/concierge/butler rolled into one) who is on hand to pick you up in a buggy any time you like.
Where to start with the beach villas? Imagine a large and extremely comfortable bed, looking out over a deck, beyond which lies a plunge pool, and then the perfect white sands of the beach. And as if that wasn’t enough, there is a vast outdoor bathroom, with a choice of open air and undercover showers, reflecting pools and a bath too. Back inside is the largest mini bar I’ve ever seen, a popcorn maker and a tempting dish of exotic fruits.
We arrive in time for a relaxing massage in the ocean-view treatment rooms, where one of my travel companions is astonished at the range of leading-edge treatments, and as she’s an expert, I take her word for it. As I’m not looking for a blood plasma facial, my therapist suggests I sniff different oils. I opt for one that turns out to be energising, which is handy because the next stop is the Surf Shack, located at the tip of the Play end of the island. Once a week they host Ribs and Reggae with live music, a barbeque and all the rum cocktails you could dream of, or refreshing caipirinhas if that’s how the mood picks you up as the sun goes down.
Of the two resorts, Niyama is probably more vibey, and Veli a touch more romantic, but we’re really splitting hairs here, as both are something very special. On Niyama, I experience a moment of island envy – my villa is on Chill, but does that mean I’m missing out on Playtime? Not at all, the different vibes on each are subtle enough to be easily missed, and there’s plenty to do on both – plus you have your trusty bicycle to get you there. So where do you start?
Niyama Private Island highlights
- Morning yoga at Flow is an option, or just jump straight into the sea. Or lie in bed with the doors open imagining how lovely it would be to do something before realising nothing is quite as lovely as where you are at this exact moment.
- Snorkel the reef: take a boat ride and be guided around a large coral reef by Niyama’s resident expert, who points out sea turtles along the way. Unmissable. We stop for a picnic lunch of lobster on a tiny uninhabited island on the way back and I feel that if I did bucket lists, mine would now be fully ticked.
- Surf: Niyama is home to Vodi, it’s very own wave. Known to surf aficionados as “a powerful and sometimes hollow left-hander”, it’s a short paddle out. Or hop in a speedboat to Kasabu “a rippable and hollow right hander” – so now you know.
- Jetski: go full on James Bond with a jetski tour of the lagoon. Pop on a sunblock top and let rip. Absolutely exhilarating.
- Dine in the trees: Nest offers contemporary takes on Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian dishes, in a rambling array of treehouse platforms: magical, and delicious.
- Or underwater: Subsix is an underwater restaurant, reached by speedboat, where fish flit by as you nibble on (sorry) fish! Time it right and you might make the weekly underwater Glow Party too.
Pro tip: early bird or night owl? Maldivian resort villas are oriented to the sunrise or sunset. Sunset villas tend to come at a premium.
Staying at Niyama
Nightly rates at Niyama Private Island Maldives start from $1,040 in a Beach Pool Villa, for two people on a half-board basis. Feeling lavish? Villas range up to Over Water villas with pools, to epic spreads such as the Three Bedroom Beach Pool Pavilion, which sleeps nine, and comes complete with two swimming pools, outdoor showers, private treatment room, cocktail bar, sunken conversation pit, and catering kitchen. From approximately $4,000 per night.
There are no direct flights to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. British Airways will bring you via London with a London – Malé flight time of approximately 11 hours. Alternatively, fly via Doha with Qatar Airways, or take Etihad, Turkish or Emirates with a stop approximately halfway en route. At Malé, you’ll be met and whisked by speedboat south to Anantara Veli (approximately 35 minutes), or seaplane north to Niyama (approximately 45 minutes). Connections at Malé are smooth and seamless and you’ll be well looked after from the minute you’re met to the moment you’re dropped back off at the airport.
What to bring, when to go and what to expect
Being in the Maldives can feel a little like living in Instagram, although being camera ready at all times is definitely not obligatory. Expect temperatures between 25 °C and 32°C, so pack light and wafty. You won’t find any roads on the islands and paths are sandy, so high heels definitely don’t work. High season is December to April, which means that May to November is less expensive though you may get the occasional sudden downpour. Rain is warm, however, and it doesn’t stop you from soaking up the spa treatments, at which these resorts excel. Veli and Niyama provide snorkelling gear free of charge, plus bug spray in the rooms, which you probably won’t need as the sea breezes work wonders. One thing to note is that The Maldives is an Islamic country, so while guests can drink alcohol and it is served freely, you are prohibited from bringing any in with you. Topless sunbathing is also a no-no.