A new opening in the Maldives is redefining the meaning of barefoot luxury…
Behind me I can hear Bogart waxing lyrical about Bergman, while above the sky is peppered with millions of stars. The brightest – Sirius – winks proudly in the black Maldivian sky. My feet, meanwhile, are in water, which is gently illuminated by multi-coloured LED lights. It’s supper-time in the Maldives’ southern Gaafu Dhaalu atoll, and tonight it’s being served on a candle-lit table – yes, in a swimming pool.
While this part of the world is normally the escape route for enamoured honeymooners, new opening Amari Havodda is doing things a little differently. The hotel’s ethos is to widen the appeal of the Maldives to not only those in love with each other but to those in love with life, too. The sea-plane from Male, therefore, has it’s fair-share of doe-eyed couples on board, but there’s also groups of friends and parents with excitable kiddies. It’s a thrilling way to arrive no matter what camp you are in.
As a result of the blend of guests, evenings are a triumph of well thought-out activities. Beach cinema screenings cater to all with nightly classic and family-friendly movies – such as Bogie in Casablanca – and there’s a wide range of so-called Destination Dining experiences – such as the in-pool meals, private beach BBQs and in-room dining. For couples, eating a deux, these can be curated to be quietly romantic, while for families, dinner has never been so fun.
The allure of the Maldives is, of course, its setting. Idyllic palm-fringed beaches and the twinkling aquamarine ocean gets the heart racing every time you look up from your sun lounger and the accommodation here puts this dazzling location firmly in the spotlight. Couples are whisked off to one of the luxury, overwater villas, while families with younger children are safest in one of the elegant, beach residences – both are available with private pools. Villas are dotted around the private island – which only takes about 15 minutes to saunter across – and you can choose yours according to your body clock – early risers can opt for sunrise views, while night owls can be inspired by the pizzazz of the sunsets.
All are expansive in size with standout outdoor bathrooms where you can soak in your tub under the moonlight or shower with the heat of the morning sun on your face. Décor gives a nod to traditional Maldivian arts and crafts – think naïve, primary-hued paintings of fish – so the all-white palette is lifted with pops of colour. Lamps made out of driftwood, wall-art crafted from fuchsia grasses and stone handles on wardrobes give a textural quality to an otherwise contemporary and pared-back design.
Your oversized bed, meanwhile, is placed to take full advantage of the view – oh, and what a view it is. Beach villas gaze out on to their own private piece of paradise, while if you are in an overwater villa – you’ll wake up to the brightest sea you’ll ever see. Fall out of bed, put on your swimming costume and pad out on to your private deck. Bypass the hammock and circular bed (that’s for afternoon snoozes) and it’s down your stairs and into the ocean. Mornings have never felt so good.
Breakfast and lunches are served in the Amaya Food Gallery, which features live cooking stations. Pancakes and fresh fruit, omelettes and smoothies were my go-to for breakfast. While for lunch, the choice is vast – from Asian street food (seafood pad thai and fish curry) to classic Maldivian cuisine (the tuna mashuni and roshi, a local bread, was a highlight).
You can’t come here and not swim with the fishes. The island is surrounded by a reef teaming with marine life – so there’s no excuse. Snorkelling is a must – and you’ll paddle along with barracuda, sail fish, eagle rays and turtles. There’s also glass-bottom kayaking, diving, jet-skiing, paddle-boarding and sailing on offer. At 5pm, dolphin-lovers (that’s all of us then) can wander along to the security guard’s perch at the end of the jetty for daily sightings of pods passing by.
If you need a zen moment, head to the Breeze Spa. Pretty blue-and white mosaic tiles give it an opulent feel. You are led to a private hideaway along pathways carved out of the island’s jungle interior, your arms brushing exotic blooms along the way. It beautifully kick-starts the sensory experience. Treatments are focused around how you feel with products infused with local ingredients, such as coconut, lime, ginger and mango. Massages by specialised Thai therapists are knock-out so expect to slither back to your room in a blissful, oiled-up, hazy state.
For evenings, make sure you book one of the sunset cruises on a traditional Dhoni boat – the bubbles are in your glass as well as in the water – and it’s an idyllic way to see the showboating of the sun going down. Landlubbers, on the other hand, can join in the early evening football and cricket matches, if you feel energetic enough.
For a change of scenery, head to the north of the island where you’ll find the exceptional Ember Robatayaki restaurant. As well as sushi-making classes available in the day, this evening-only joint serves authentic Japanese ‘fireside-cooking’. Sashimi, tempura and yakitori are melt-in-the-mouth delicious while the Ebi no Teriyaki, featuring the biggest grilled prawns I’ve ever seen, was a true standout dish.
Staff here will know you by name by the end of your first day and, more to the point, you’ll want to know theirs. For this is the magic of this little spot in the tropics – everything seems personalised to you – from your private piece of beach to the one-on-one yoga sessions that you can book. It may take 17 hours to reach this little island, but it’s worth it to take you out of your world and into one where the feel-good-factor is second nature. Kick off your shoes, and awaken the senses.
Amari Havodda Maldives is offering a Duo Villa Experience Package from $554 per night (approximately £380). The price is for a minimum four-night stay with accommodation in a Beach Villa and the last two nights of your stay in an Overwater Villa. For more information visit: www.amari.com/havodda-maldives
Qatar Airways flies from London Heathrow to Male via their state-of-the-art hub, Hamad International Airport with fares from £788 return. For further information and to book visit: www.qatarairways.com or call 0330 024 0125.
This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of Surrey Life Magazine