I’d always wondered what Belinda Carlisle was singing about in Heaven is a Place on Earth. Now I know it must have been inspired by a trip to the Maldives. A sprawl of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean, they are a confection of golden sugar sand beaches, swaying palms and some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever meet. A whopping 109 of them are home to luxury hotels and I, oh lucky, lucky me, was about to get up close and personal with two of them.
Having one resort per island means you’ll never be short of peace and privacy; two things that have turned the place into a beachy nirvana for honeymooners. Wherever you go though, the entire country screams romance, relaxation and indulgence. We arrived at Male airport after a ten-hour flight, but all thoughts of weariness and sleep deprivation disappeared at the first sight of blazing sun and iridescent blue sea. A quick speedboat ride later and we were at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa. The idyllic resort looks like an overgrown beach hut stranded in the middle of the ocean, although this is one that is far from uninhabited. We were greeted by a welcome party of staff waving, clapping and playing bongos. A wooden walkway led to the reception; a cool, air-conditioned room with sofas looking out onto the sand, sun and sea.
My villa – yes, a whole one – had a sofa, a slightly redundant flatscreen telly, a double marble sink and standalone marble bathtub. There was an outdoor shower in a private yard while my king-sized bed looked out onto a plunge pool and gazebo surrounded by lush tropical greenery. Beyond was the silently stunning white sand beach. I felt like I had been picked up from London and dropped straight into the middle of a postcard.
But tempting though it was to stay and laze by my plunge pool, I had an appointment with resident marine biologist Sam, who runs the resort’s Turtle Conservation programme. Though beautiful, they’re not the smartest of reptiles, I learned. The endangered species struggle to fend for their own fins in the wild and, in the conservation pool, marine biologists tend to everything from eye infections to amputated limbs. More wildlife followed during a dolphin cruise, which along with providing an opportunity for top-deck sunbathing, gave us a glimpse of a pod who seemed only too happy to play around for us.
Dolphins and turtles were by no means the only entertainment on offer. We managed sunrise yoga on a wooden deck overlooking the sea, snorkelled alongside reef sharks and were taught how to surf by the resort’s blonde beach babe who was kind enough not to laugh (too) much at the spectacle of clumsy Brits attempting – with little success – to haul themselves upright.
A more successful pastime – and one that all of us proved to be good at – was eating. On torch-lit, outdoor tables under the stars at Baraabaru, I tucked into exquisite Indian food, much of it fresh seafood, Tandoori chicken, lobster biryani and vegetable curries. The next night at the Italian themed Reef Club, I opted for sea bass, fresh spaghetti, lobster and hefty helpings of Prosecco.
Two days went past in a flash and before I knew it, it was time to leave and visit the second of my two island destinations – this one, the Anantara Kihavah Villas. We sped back to the airport where a sea plane transported us to the island. The 30-minute flight took us over lagoons, pristine islands and sea that shimmered through every shade of blue imaginable, from bright turquoise to deep navy.
The villas that awaited us back on dry land each came with a butler – all of whom were only too happy to run your bath (situated outside in your private back garden) and pour your champagne. Inside, rose petals were strewn over my bed. Out front, a swimming pool, dining table and swinging loveseat, led through tropical plants and onto the beach. Marine biology and conservation are a big part of the offer at Anantara too and my trip began with a snorkelling trip led by marine biologist Joe, who reeled off reef knowledge as if it was his second language. We swam among Manta rays and even spotted a lobster creeping out from under a rock.
Although it wasn’t that one exactly, we did spot a lobster or two back at the hotel as well, albeit on the buffet at the Manzaru and Plates restaurants. The four main restaurants – Sea, Fire, Salt and Sky – were, by contrast, secluded in their own huts on the sea. One night we drank Bellinis under the stars at Sky bar followed by a feast of basil leaf spring rolls and red snapper at Salt, where 15 different types of salts from around the world are paired with each dish. Fire was sushi at its best, with the scallop sashimi and Californian rolls among the most deliciously memorable dishes on offer. We even took part in a cooking class at the restaurant, where we were taught to chop, stuff and roll our own sushi platter. Mine looked nothing like the beautifully-presented plates we dined on at Fire that evening, but the workshop was thoroughly enjoyable all the same. Most dramatic of all though, is Sea: an underwater cavern where we enjoyed a cheese and wine tasting surrounded by hundreds of different varieties of fish. Imagine an aquarium with carpeted floors, low blue lighting and dinner tables and you have Sea in a nutshell.
No holiday would be complete without a spa treatment. At the Four Seasons, I had a 90-minute deep tissue massage (£128) in a private ocean hut where, from my position on my front, I could see the fish swimming below. More elaborate is the Sodashi Samadara Ultimate Age-Defying Facial which uses rose quartz crystals and has to be pre-ordered two weeks in advance so the Australian flowers can be picked and shipped over. Over at Anantara, I had a wonderful Thai massage, which somehow sent me drifting off to sleep, despite some energetic moves on the part of my therapist.
I left the Maldives feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and utterly inspired. While a trip to the island nation doesn’t come cheap, it’s absolutely worth saving up for and a range of more affordable, mid-market resorts are soon to open. Though it sometime seems to be designed just for honeymooners, I travelled with a group of girls and it proved to be just as perfect for us, too. We curled up on beanbags with wine and nibbles in front of an outdoor cinema for our last night at Anantara, with the stars glowing above us. It would have been a romantic moment with a man but with friends, it was even better. Either way, one thing’s for sure: no future beach holiday will ever match the Maldives.
NEED TO KNOW…
Beach bungalows with pool at the Four Seasons start from £674 per night, including breakfast for two. See www.fourseasons.com for more information. Beach pool villas at Anantara Kihavah Villas start from £790 per night including breakfast for two. To book, visit www.kihavah-maldives.anantara.com. British Airways flies to the Maldives from London Gatwick three times a week. Return flights start from £676, including all taxes and charges, see www.ba.com for more. For further details on the Maldives, visit www.visitmaldives.com. Overnight accommodation in a double room at The Sofitel Hotel at London Gatwick costs from £119 including seven nights parking at APH Gatwick, or from £103 for accommodation only. See www.aph.com for more information and to book.