I was recently lucky enough to travel on a once in a lifetime trip to the Maldives, and boy did Belinda Carlisle get it right when she said that Heaven is a place on Earth!!! I was part of a small group of ten, travelling with one of our preferred suppliers Pure Luxury. Offering 5* luxury holiday across the world, Pure Luxury focus on creating bespoke holidays using only the finest hotels and airlines. My tickets arrived through the post a few days before my trip and caused major excitement as I started googling the 4 stunning properties we were going to be staying in: one of the original resorts- Baros, the lively Ozen by Atmosphere, new kid on the block Vakkaru and the ultimate celebrity hideaway Soneva Fushi.
We arrived at Heathrow and checked in for our flight with Qatar Airways before being led to the complimentary airport lounge which is included on every Pure Luxury holiday. If you have never experienced an airport lounge before, then you need to book one on your next holiday! Offering a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of the departure lounge, most airport lounges offer a wide selection of drinks (both alcoholic and soft), snacks and newspapers. We tucked into a beautiful selection of curries, Indian snacks, salads and desserts along with that all important first glass of wine which says “I’m on holiday” before heading to our check-in desk.
We received a major surprise at check-in – we had been upgraded to Business Class!! I had heard all about the Business Class cabin on Qatar from my colleague Suzy who had flown with them the previous year, so I was thrilled that I would get the opportunity to experience it myself: and what an experience it was!
We were warmly welcomed onboard and shown to our seat which was one of the airlines award winning QSuites. These incredible suites feel like you’ve stepped into your living room rather than an aircraft – comfy reclining chairs which lie flat when it’s time for bed, a massive touch screen tv showing all the latest tv shows and movies, a comfy pillow and luxurious throw. If travelling as a couple, pick a rear facing seat so you can have your seats made up as a double bed, and if travelling as a family of four or on business then pull the separating screens down and you have your own private office / lounge. I have been lucky enough to fly Business Class on other airlines but given the choice I would choose Qatar again every time- the crew were amazing, the food was incredible and drinks and snacks free flowing for the entire flight. If you are ever thinking about upgrading your flight but can’t decide if the cost is worth it…I promise you, you will never fly in economy again!!
After a 20-minute speedboat ride, we arrived at our first resort- the small but perfectly formed island of Baros. Baros was one of the original resorts to be built around 44 years ago. Being the most photographed resort in the Maldives, the island is best recognised by the skyline of its Lighthouse Restaurant. In 2015, the owner decided to pull down the entire resort and rebuild it from scratch to ensure it continued to offer its client the levels of service and luxury expected. Baros is a member of the ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’ and is consistently voted one of the best hotels in the world on Trip Advisor. You can easily walk around the island in around 10 minutes, so this is not one for the activity seekers among you, but if you are looking for holiday offering a real “get away from it all” feel, or are looking for a shorter stay after a busy stay in Dubai, then this hotel is ideal. The rooms are simply but traditionally furnished, and have the most stunning outdoor bathrooms. The view from my veranda was postcard perfect; bright green shrubs, sunloungers sinking into white sand with the pristine blue of the Indian Ocean in the background.
The hotel offers a gym & spa, a marine centre providing a selection of water sport/diving options and choice of three restaurants, all offering a la carte dining with spectacular sunset views of the ocean. In the afternoon, we went snorkelling on the house reef with one of the resident marine biologists who explained to us about all the different types of fish and the ecology of the area. We ate in the Lighthouse Restaurant in the evening and the food was simply stunning – a seven course degustation menu – a beautiful selection of tasty treats including cognac flamed lobster bisque, yellow fin tuna with herbs, crispy skin duck breast and rosehip and hibiscus parfait all beautifully washed down with a bottle or two of crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Thankfully, this was kindly paid for by the hotel as at a cost of $195 per person, it was certainly not a cheap meal out!
Ozen by Atmosphere was the next stop on our travels and was the perfect island to highlight the variety of resorts available in the Maldives. Opened in 2016 and labelled as the ‘first luxury all-inclusive’ resort in the Maldives, the island offers a lively atmosphere, an incredible all-inclusive plan and contemporary décor. If you want white glove service, starched table linen and traditional decor then look elsewhere…but if you are a couple or family looking for friendly staff, plenty to do and a la carte dining with a more relaxed feel, then this is the resort for you. After a welcoming glass of champagne, much needed after a bumpy speedboat ride, we were shown to our Earth Villas where the décor took my breath away: a king size 4 poster bed complete with clouds of frothy mosquito nets, and splashes of bright colours from the multitude of scattered cushions & the mural of swimming fish behind the bed. The minibar is complete with wine, champagne, lager and soft drinks, packets of crisps, nuts and chocolate bars galore…all included and restocked twice a day. The bathroom and dressing room area was like something from TOWIE with the obligatory outside shower and a beautifully deep bathtub.
After a sushi lunch at The Palms buffet restaurant, we were taken on a tour of the island and shown the highlights, including the hotel’s own gin bar, the underwater restaurant M62, the spa centre and wedding pavilion. The biggest surprise for me was learning just how inclusive the all-inclusive package is. Not only do you receive champagne breakfasts, a choice of three restaurants and premium branded drinks, you also get complimentary rental of all non-motorized water sports equipment, one adventure excursion, a sunset fishing trip, unlimited snorkelling excursions, two complimentary spa treatments and a fine dining experience at M62. We had a great time at the weekly sarong night watching the very talented bar staff throwing cocktail makers and bottles in the air and even setting fire to the bar, before heading to The Palm restaurant where alongside the usual buffet and food station offerings, they also had a line-up of street food vendors cooking fresh to order (fyi, the salt and pepper squid was amazing!!).
Another day, another change of hotel and this time we were heading back to Male to catch our first seaplane transfer of the week to the recently opened Vakkaru. After arriving at the main terminal, we checked our cases in at the dedicated sea plane desk, transferred round to the seaplane terminal and were shown into the hotel’s own dedicated lounge for refreshments whilst waiting. The lounge gave us our first taster of what to expect from the hotel, as it was decorated in the same style as the main island – a real mix of the far east with the more modern geometric prints. Something to think about when packing your case for a sea plane transfer is that there are firm weight restrictions in place, so regardless of the airline allowance from the UK, your case cannot be heavier than 20kgs to be allowed on that seaplane. After a quick 25-minute flight, we were greeted on the jetty by what appeared to be half of the hotel staff and shown to the reception area.
Our home for the next two nights, Vakkaru, is one of the newest resorts to have opened in the Maldives and has only been in operation for a little under a year. The resort is privately owned, and every inch has been chosen and designed by the owner and his wife. Set in the exclusive Baa Atoll and within a UNESCO biosphere reserve, the island and surrounding reefs is stunning. The hotel oozes luxury but has a great feeling of relaxation, perfect for families or honeymoon couples really looking for that something special. Our beach villas were both beautiful and huge and decorated in the now familiar design we had already seen in the seaplane lounge. The huge king size bed was surrounded by seating areas, the bathroom complete with the biggest bath I have ever seen, and a lovely decking area leading out to the pristine blue of the sky and ocean. The hotel knows how to keep everyone happy by providing a chilled bottle of Verve-Clicquot and fresh fruit on arrival, as well as an iPad to control everything in the room from the blinds, air conditioning and sound system.
This resort offers a wide range of facilities so no matter whether you’re looking to really relax or be a little more energetic, the choice is yours. Each room has its own bikes allowing you to explore the island at your own pace. There is a choice of four restaurants including the Vakkaru reserve serving up wine tasting menus with the islands sommelier and a selection of tapas and charcuterie. There’s also a wide selection of water sports and diving, fabulous areas for babies, kids and teens and even a garden where they grow produce for the restaurant. The hotel offers a selection of trips out including line fishing, dolphin cruises and diving trips. I was the only female to take part on the fishing trip and having never been fishing before, I was a little unsure on what to expect, but I really enjoyed it! We went out to deeper water so we had spectacular views of the sun going down behind the island and the crew who took us out were really knowledgeable – unfortunately, it didn’t help me to catch any fish, but the experience was great.
We were really spoiled that night at dinner, sampling some of Japan’s finest food and by the General Manger Nick whose hospitality knew no bounds. I decided to cycle to breakfast the next day hoping to clear the haze of the night before, and promptly hit the rain which was to set in for most of the day. We had planned to go out on a snorkelling safari, but as the weather was so poor Nick arranged for us all to use the spa facilities and have a 45-minute top to toe massage. The spa was a real indulgence with over water treatment rooms and infinity hot & cold jacuzzi pools. The hotel really cares about creating special moments for its clients and offer extras such as trips over to the neighbouring islands, sandbank picnics and even honeymoon couples massages where you are taught to massage each other properly. After two amazing days at this property I was more than a little gutted to be leaving, but in the words of Arnie, ‘I will be back’.
I was really excited about visiting our last resort of Soneva Fushi, as Suzy had raved about it after her stay there last year. It certainly didn’t disappoint!! The sister resorts of Soneva Fushi and Soneva Javi are again owned by a husband and wife team who gave their names to the resort. Eva and Sonu Shivdasani built Soneva Fushi, as well as their home, on the deserted island of Kunfunadhoo in the Maldives in 1995, and since then the ‘no news, no shoes’ philosophy of the island has gained a celebrity following, including Hollywood actor Luke Wilson and Manchester Utd star Chris Smalling. The resort takes its inspiration from Robinson Crusoe so has a real feeling of being on a private castaway island. There’s accommodation to suit everyone as the villas range from one to nine bedrooms. Our 3-bedroom villa was utterly stunning with an outdoor bathroom the same size as my back garden at home, but we felt like poor relations when arriving at the other group’s 4 bedroom villa which looked like something you would see at the celebrity houses stage on the X Factor!!! Each accommodation comes complete with bikes for getting around the island, or if cycling isn’t your thing then you have direct access to your own personal ‘Man Friday’ who will come and collect you on a golf buggy. He (or she) is your own personal butler so can assist with dinner reservations, unpacking your cases or even running you a bubble bath.
On first impressions, this hotel is probably the least ‘fancy’ that we stayed in over the whole five nights. It has the obvious facilities that you would expect in a hotel of this standard such as a choice of restaurants, a gym and spa centre but honestly, this isn’t the reason guests come to this hotel. The reason they come here is because this hotel does nothing by half. The resort has its own cinema, observatory, veg & herb garden, chocolate shop and ice-cream parlour, charcuterie hut and slide into the sea which it’s most known for (just a quick warning, don’t try it in rough seas). In order to design the kids’ den, the hotel management got together with a group of guest’s kids and asked them what they wanted. The area now has its own Lego room, dressing up area, sleeping quarter, cinema room, arts & crafts area and swimming pool – complete with a slide! To cut down on the environmental impact tourism has in the area, the hotel has its own recycling centre where it takes the waste from neighbouring islands and uses it to create its own custom glass, which you not only see all over the resort but can watch it being blown and then buy a piece to bring home with you. At certain times of the year the hotel offers guest speakers, and these vary from Michelin starred chefs to astronomers. I can honestly say I have never been to hotel like it, nor probably am I likely to again.
I spent so much time trying to decide why so many photos of the Maldives pop up on my Facebook newsfeed with the status ‘Wish I was here…’ and having now been and experienced it myself, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s not all about the blue seas, white sands and swaying palms. It’s not even about the Instagram pictures of the countless over water bungalows tagged #oneday #honeymoon #wishiwasthere. People travel to the Maldives to hide. They want to escape the everyday pressures of their job, the ongoing doom and gloom over Brexit and the news that Dani and Jack from Love Island have gone their separate ways. It’s about spending time with the person or people that you love most and not having the usual distractions getting in your way. All I can say is go, and check it out. You won’t be sorry.