Scattered across the Indian Ocean like beach-fringed flotsam, the 200 or so uninhabited islands of the Maldives are a byword of holiday bliss. Made up of a series of ancient coral reefs that remained when the prehistoric volcanoes they’d grown up around sank back down into the sea, the Maldives today are synonymous with pampering and romance on an almost preposterously indulgent scale. Spa treatments in your overwater thatched bungalow? Coffee tables with glass tops letting you gaze down on corals and fish below your bedroom? Private island resorts ringed by cobalt lagoons and bone-white beaches? It’s what the Maldives are all about.
In fact, the Maldives have been so keen to provide visitors with this kind of barefoot island idyll – while simultaneously protecting the traditions and cultural life of its own people – that it has actually confined its resorts to otherwise uninhabited islands, with mostly just one outrageously lovely thatched resort per island. Even if you felt you ought to have a look at the local village, you couldn’t. Stripped of any obligation to see the sights, a holiday here has always been a wonderfully simple exercise in just being. Beach or pool? Pina colada or lime daiquiri? This was your typical holiday dilemma in the Maldives.But all that’s beginning to change. Yes, you can still maroon yourself in palm-fringed paradise for the entirety of your stay, maybe stroll around the bone-white circumference of your island escape, take a dip in the lagoon, swim out to the reef for a snorkel, or learn to dive in one of the best places on the scuba planet – and for the vast majority, that’s exactly why you fly 11 hours across five time zones. But these days if you fancy some distraction away from the beach, you can also take boat trips to local villages on nearby islands, while the capital Male is increasingly geared up for visitors. Here, 17th century Hukuru Miskiiy, the oldest mosque in the country, has coral-stone walls and fine lacquer interior, and is wonderfully evocative of the island’s past as a busy stepping stone along the ancient spice route. Along with a fabulous fish market, Male also has colourful shops selling local artworks and curios, as well as an increasing number of excellent, lively cafes and restaurants. Our favourites? Perhaps the Royal Garden Cafe, housed in a rare surviving example of a ganduvaru (noble’s house), or maybe Saffron Cafe & Kitchen, serving fantastic nasi gorengs and fish curries for less than £2 per head.Ultimately however, if you do peel yourself from the sunlounger or prise yourself off the beach, then it’s probably going to be for some snorkelling or diving. Relatively isolated, and riven by channels plunging to depths of over 3,000m that allow plankton-rich waters to concentrate within the Maldives’ sheltered atolls, the waters here support an almost unfeasible abundance of marine life. Corals and turtles, manta rays and whale sharks, they’re here in breathtaking, lurid numbers, and while El Nino was responsible for some major coral bleaching on shallow reefs back in 1998, the fabulous colours are already blushing and bursting across the reefs again. Surveys even suggest the Maldives’ marine life has actually increased in numbers over the last few decades.With so many extraordinary dive sites to choose from, the choice can be slightly overwhelming. Fushifaru Thila and almost any dive site on the Ari Atoll are famous for their manta rays and whale sharks, sweetlips and turtles; Maa Kandu and Kuda Kandu have some of the most exquisite corals anywhere on the underwater planet; the astonishing Hammerhead Point at Rasdhoo Madivaru does exactly what it says on the tin; and Kudarah Tila’s coral heads are a frenzy of teeming schools of rainbow-coloured fish. But wherever you stay in the Maldives, the underwater world is extraordinary, and whichever resort you choose from our portfolio of 18, you’re going to have a thoroughly professional, international dive school where you can learn to dive, or go out on daily dives with professional guides.Above water, the hotels we’ve chosen also offer a huge amount to do away from the beach, including dolphin-watching cruises and deep-sea fishing, sunset cruises on traditional dhonis, or for the ultimate in Robinson Crusoe romance, you can be cast away onto your own uninhabited island for the day or for dinner – just you, your picnic hamper, the hugest of deep blue skies, and your own private lagoon and bone-white beach. Back on its feet after the 2004 tsunami, there is a buoyant, forward-looking feel to the Maldives these days, with every few months bringing a new hotel opening, from top-end boutique over-water lagoon resorts, to eco-friendly, back-to-nature lodges, with local communities rapidly embracing an interest in their villages and lifestyle. Exciting times in paradise-on-sea.Our suggestions for luxury holidays to the MaldivesWe include a 7 night stay, private transfers and return flights with British Airways, Emirates or Sri Lankan Airways. Our ‘from’prices include flights in world-traveller/economy but we can quote very advantageous supplements for upgrades to World-Traveller Plus and for Club World/Business Class.Here we have highlighted just three of our range of hotels in the Maldives which offer a variety of accommodation styles and atmospheres. It can be really hard to choose between the hotels in the Maldives but do ask for our help and advice.Constance HalaveliCircling the island, the resort’s 20 beach villas are particularly spacious, each cocooned in its own tropical garden. Equally luxurious, perched right over the lagoon alongside a jetty are the water villas. Beautifully designed, with floor-to-ceiling windows and private sun-decks, the water villas bring you spectacularly close to the ocean. Close to three of the best dive sites in the Maldives. An idyllic sanctuary for all.The Sun Siyam Iru FushiHilton Maldives Iru Fushi is a stunning island hideaway. Drawing on traditional Maldivian design, the resort’s buildings are open-sided, allowing spectacular views of the island’s cobalt lagoon, while sea-breezes sift in off the Indian Ocean, bringing with them hints of frangipani and bougainvillea from the lush, tropical gardens. The resort provides a host of exciting watersports and activities including a PADI dive centre which offers 30 superb dive sites within an hour of the island.Taj ExoticaSurrounded by the clear blue waters of one of the largest lagoons in the Maldives, the Taj Exotica is an exclusive island resort just eight kilometres and a fifteen-minute luxury speedboat ride from Malé. Developed in such a way that preserves the natural beauty of the island and lagoon, the resort provides luxurious accommodation both on land and over water. The high-quality and stylish accommodation is complemented by a range of leisure activities. The PADI Delphis dive and water sports centre offers exciting diving opportunities for beginners and experienced divers alike as well as a great range of watersports. The resort offers an outstanding array of dining, including in your villa, or outdoors, enjoying the spectacular beauty of this island paradise.
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