With its blissful setting, the Maldives is made for romance. But, it’s also a destination that offers more than enough heart-warming moments for solo travellers, too.
On the plane, everyone is in a couple and I’m pretty sure that most of them are holding hands, as they stare moon-eyed at each other. If emojis were real, the air above each seat would be bursting with revolving pink hearts. Except over mine, where there would be one solitary rolling eyes emoji.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I am en route to the number one honeymoon destination in the world – the Maldives. Here, the pure white sands and impossible azure seas promise the ultimate in romance to the 1.3 million visitors (many of whom have just got hitched) who touch down each year.
Known for its series of private island resorts boasting a plethora of amorous attractions, such as beds with sunset views, candle-lit beach dinners under a moon-lit sky and spa treatments àdeux – it’s perhaps a little odd that I’m travelling to the Maldives to experience a holiday for one.
But here I am, checking into Mirihi Island Resort, found in the South Ari Atoll, a 20-minute sea-plane ride from Malé. Its new Solo Traveller holiday means that it is casting its net wider to catch more than just loved-up travellers as its guests. Offering the chance for lone travellers to soak up its untouched natural beauty and zen-like atmosphere, it makes for the perfect way to reset your mojo and clear your mind.
The hotel’s easy-going tone is clear the minute you touch down and are told to kick off your shoes, never to be worn again until you leave. Literally a bare-foot resort, all the floors segue seamlessly into the beach, so wherever you go, you’ll feel the sand between your toes. It’s totally liberating.
While other Maldivian resorts may have beach butlers, underwater restaurants and even slides to take you into the ocean, the focus here is more authentic than artificial. Mohamed Shareef, general manager, who has been at the resort since it opened 18 years ago, has a lot to do with just how laid-back everything is. “It’s all about balance,” he says. “If you want to doze on the beach and do nothing, then you won’t be pestered. But if you’re after the thrill factor, then we can offer that, too. We’re not as glitzy as some places, but what we do offer is personalised service. Many of our guests return each year and we have got to know them well.” He gestures towards the turquoise waters: “You don’t need gimmicks when you are surrounded by natural beauty like this – you can’t fail to be impressed by it.”
He’s not exaggerating: the island has one of the richest house reefs in the area, teeming with rainbow-hued fish, green turtles and baby reef sharks – many of which can often be spotted even in shallow waters. As well as snorkelling the reef with the in-house experts, there are also longer trips to take advantage of. The Whale Shark Safari is a highlight, and takes you onboard a 55ft pine-wood yachtto the edge of the atoll, so you can swim alongside the daunting, yet harmless, pods of whale sharks and manta-rays. The Sunset Dolphin Cruise, meanwhile, brings with it a local musician playing acoustic traditional tunes to serenade the pods of dolphins that flip and somersault alongside the boat – a sure way to melt your heart.
If you stay in resort, then days start with a yoga session in the pavilion, the lapping ocean nearby providing the ultimate holistic soundtrack. Then it’s to breakfast in the relaxed al fresco Dhonveli Restaurant. While the resort has its fair share of couples as guests, there’s also a surprising variety of people checked in – groups of friends, singletons, extended families – so you never feel conspicuous padding around alone or eating at a table for one.
At just 350m long and 50m, the island is tiny, but you’ll also never feel like you are going stir crazy. Days can be spent lounging on your own stretch of beach, while a trip to the Duniye Spa will offer the chance to de-stress, with traditional-style treatments using products made from tropical ingredients. There’s also meditation classes at sundown to really channel your inner calm.
Each of the 37 villas – six of which are on the beach – offer their own form of sanctuary. Pared-back interiors are inspired by the ocean – so there are pops of exotic colours, natural features and locally-made artworks. Be warned: there are no TVs in the rooms and limited WiFi in the public spaces – but at least you’ll have the chance to catch up on all those books that have been gathering dust at home.
For foodies, the culinary offering will impress. There’s Maldivian cookery classes to be had with head chef Felix Bamert. You’ll soon master the taste of the islands by conjuring up Red Lentil Curry, Pol Roti Coconut Bread and Banana Fritters. By night, Dhonveli Restaurant bursts with Maldivian flavours – from Tuna Curry Don Riha to Tempered Jackfruit with Mustard; Spiced Baked Fish to Banana Curry – the country’s cuisine is a blend of complex Indian and Sri Lankan flavours, layered with an abundance of unusual spices and ingredients – such as gotukola, drumstick leaves and banana flower. With dishes such as Lobster and Papaya Salad, Baramundi with Vermouth Sauce and Grilled Banana Marshmallow Skewers with Sour Cream Ice, the over-sea restaurant Muraka offers more of a fine-dining twist to local dishes and is an inspiring place to dine – especially with a Chilli and Passion Fruit Daiquiri in hand – as the sun goes down.
Talking of which, once night falls, there’s still plenty to keep you amused: from the beach cinema to rum and chocolate tastings. On clear nights, the resort sets up a high-strength telescope to gaze at the stellar show above you. As well as skies laden with celestial bodies, the rings of Saturn and Moons of Jupiter can also be seen. It’s guaranteed to leave you starry-eyed.
Nightly rates at Mirihi Island start from $600 (£479*) per villa, on a B&B basis, based on two people sharing. Prices are subject to 10% service charge and 12% GST. For more information or to make a reservation visit www.mirihi.com
*Price in pound sterling accurate according to today’s exchange rate.
*This article was also published in City AM Newspaper on 29 July 2019