With a wave of family-focused hotels opening in the Maldives and the introduction of all-inclusive options, paradise is closer than you think holidaymakers can dip their toe in the Indian Ocean and soak up all the usual four-star trappings of an exclusive island resort with a luxurious seven-night stay.
And that is exactly what the young couple we met on our first night at the Kuramathi resort had been doing for the past three years. Loyal return guests, they had been logging on to the Kuramathi’s website to follow the upgrade of the resort’s water villas.
Fringed by lush vegetation and a snaking white sandbank, the resort was relaunched at the endof 2009 and now boasts 50 water villas each with private Jacuzzi, a large split-level sun deck and panoramic view over the lagoon’s crystal blue waters.
Waking up to this fairytale vista, it’s not difficult to live out the barefoot dream of a sarong lifestyle for a week. After a 10-hour flight from London and 20-minute seaplane transfer across turquoise ring-shaped reefs, not even my designer sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat could shade me from the beauty of this tropical island.
Strolling through the ancient Banyan trees and lush vegetation, it’s hard to believe there are 290 guest villas in all, some in total isolation and just a few steps from the white sandy beach.
Tranquil, with a total chill factor (if you want it) of sand, sea and surf, a dive centre, excursions, gym, spa with 16 treatment rooms, kids’ club, nine restaurants and six bars (including a Havana cigar bar), the resort offers a romantic holiday with loads of choice.
Every morning before breakfast, my partner and I climbed down the villa’s stilts and snorkelled straight from our sundeck into the sea, to be welcomed by glittering parrot and trigger fish.
Romancing the coral works up a healthy appetite and we were spoilt for choice. The breakfast buffet boasts an American-style spread of hot and cold dishes, breads, fresh fruit, cereals and exotic juices with chefs on hand to make any style of eggs.
With so much choice its hard to make your mind, but with the discovery of rib-eye steak and Madagascar jumbo prawns on the evening menu, I managed to rein in those early morning cravings and concentrate instead on looking beach chic by the infinity pool.
Alas, with a string of models on location for a German swimwear shoot, all eyes were on the leggy blondes trying not to let their make-up run in the 30-degree midday sun rather than my new Liza Bruce bikini.
The huge infinity pool takes centre stage at the bottom tip of the 1.8km island, and the resort has a golf cart service to ferry guests around if you don’t fancy the walk. Personally, I think it’s far more intimate to take your partner’s hand and discover some of Kuramathi’s secrets – like the bird sanctuary nestled behind coconut palms.
Blissful days were spent lounging on our sun-drenched private deck. The only daily boardroom decision was where to go for our first pina colada.
The Palm Pizzeria & Gelateria became our local hang-out. We befriended the barman who was generous with his rum measures and we enjoyed long, lazy lunches over Mediterranean salads, stone-baked pizzas and Italian ice-cream.
In the evening, guests can enjoy a romantic candle-lit meal in the Island Barbecue (our favourite), where tables are close to the infinity pool and popular – so you must book. This is where we gorged on scallops, char-grilled yellow fin tuna and wonderful steak. Definitely a five-star dining experience, we were spirited away to gourmet heaven every time we ate there.
Larger groups and families were drawn to the main restaurants with themed buffets and cooking stations, where the chefs cook fish or beef in front of you.
There’s an authentic Indian (Tandoor Mahal), a Thai restaurant (Siam Garden) and our lunchtime pizza place which plays live music in the evening. There was also a fantastic band who flew in a couple of nights a week to play at the Sand Bar, and boy, did we have fun on the dance floor!
Being helpless romantics, we treated ourselves to a “serenade dinner” one night. For a table for two at the end of the Serenade Jetty, the chef prepares a magnificent four-course meal with lobster, served by your own private waiter.
Hibiscus petals spelling out ‘Happy Holiday’ cover the pristine table cloth and we sipped champagne under the stars. I think it’s worth the added extra on the bill.
As are the spa treatments. The Maldivians pride themselves on their star spas and gave me my most memorable spa experience to date.
We had a “dream for two” in an open-air pavilion at the end of the jetty. Lying side by side, with white muslin billowing and nothing but the sound of the ocean, two therapists worked their magic with a “heavenly wonder scrub”, sensual massage with essential oils and a “luxury foot ritual”. Sublime.
Active, sporty types can head to the diving centre for some underwater adventure and choose from scuba diving, windsurfing, catamaran sailing, kayaking, water skiing or test their paddling skills with a two-hour snorkelling safari.
One of the resort’s highlights is the daily stingray feeding at 6.30pm, when guests descend on Laguna Bar for a prize view. A member of the diving team, protected by a wet suit, throws a bucket of fresh fish into the sea as hordes of stingray zoom in for a bite. It makes a fantastic photo opportunity.
Just like the exotic creations our daily maid service fashioned on our petal-strewn bed. Towels were formed in the shape of a lobster, elephant, stingray and a swan, which made us smile. Each one was photographed and saved to memory.
My advice for friends new to the Maldives is: Breakfast like a pauper, lunch like a prince and dine like a king if you go to Kuramathi. The Maldives are definitely a must visitdestination for any traveller.