Best Of Maldives
Almost 1200 islands, one more beautiful than the other. No other place comes as close to the ultimate vacation as the island nation of the Maldives, located southwest of India in the Indian Ocean. However, visitors have a luxury problem: the agony of choice.
30 December 2021
White beaches, turquoise blue lagoons, slender palm trees and wooden bungalows seemingly floating above the sea - an almost perfect holiday destination, exotic, tropical, postcard-perfect. It's a wonder the 19 atolls remained undiscovered for so long. As recently as the 1970s, the island nation was an almost untouched archipelago. The locals lived from fishing, boat building and agriculture, there were hardly any flight connections and virtually no tourist infrastructure. It is said that the Italian Giorgio Corbin was the first tour operator to discover the islands in 1971. He was looking for untouched nature and beautiful diving areas and came to Malé, the capital of the Maldives, rather by chance via Sri Lanka. He liked what he saw and already one year later he brought the first visitors to the islands. They stayed in simple huts, sunbathed on secluded beaches, snorkeled in the sea and photographed the fascinating underwater world. Their reports on the newly discovered paradise did not go unnoticed: more and more people wanted to see it.
Palm frond covered huts without doors
In 1972, the first "resort" in the Maldives was built on the previously uninhabited island of Vihamanaafushi - a few palm-frond-roofed cottages without doors, fans or fresh water. The accommodation was simple and affordable with prices under $20 per day. Gradually, other small hotels opened, attracting mainly divers, because the Maldives, with its spectacular coral gardens, magnificent reefs, diveable shipwrecks and almost everyday encounters with whale sharks, sea turtles and manta rays, had quickly become the longing destination of underwater fans.
Island Life De Luxe
And today? In the past five years alone, around 50 hotels have opened, each on its own island or on a mini-archipelago, most in the luxury category. Large jets from all over the world land at the expanded airport; they bring tourists and everything they need on vacation: French champagne, Wagyu beef from Japan, swimwear from Italy - in the kitchens, bars and boutiques of the resorts, one can find anything the pampered heart desires. But what's most impressive is the always beautiful weather, the stylish accommodations, the very fine cuisine, the friendly service and the casual barefoot feeling. Once you've lived in your own detached cottage, you wouldn't want to go back to a hotel box. The romance of a guest villa with beds made of woven bamboo cane, open-air shower and a magnificent view of the sea is unbeatable. At night, all you can hear is the gentle surf; during the day, birdsong and the voice of the butler bringing fresh flowers or breakfast. On request, he would also set a white table in the sand and serve grilled lobster and iced Chardonnay at sunset - the principle of "anything anytime" is everyday life in many resorts.
Regulars and newcomers
Still many divers are among the visitors, but now they have to dig a little deeper into their pockets to finance their holiday. But they find perfect conditions: first-class equipped PADI dive centers, liveaboard ships, accompanied wreck diving, moonlight dives and much more. In addition to the divers, the honeymooners and the tranquility-seeking luxury travellers, families with children, young couples and city dwellers who don't mind a little entertainment and like-minded company now also come. It is for them that the brand new Fari Islands project was invented, a pioneering joint concept of three five-star hotels - "Ritz-Carlton", "Patina" and "Capella" - which share three neighbouring islands in the North Malé Atoll and jointly operate a marina with beach club, restaurants and boutiques. Guests are offered the opportunity to use the facilities of the neighbouring hotels as well, multiplying the choice of possible activities. However, those responsible in the Maldives have understood that their destination must not only grow in the luxury sector. Therefore, not far from the capital Malé, the island group "Crossroads" was inaugurated, which sees itself as a lifestyle hub with "Hard Rock Hotel", various shops and restaurants. The project is intended to strengthen "normal" tourism: not so expensive and for a young audience that wants to have fun.
Nature conservation as a top priority
But beware: the booming tourism also harbours risks. Where there was once a pristine reef, there are now overwater bungalows, underwater restaurants and diving stations. Fortunately, hotel operators are aware that holidaymakers primarily want to experience the natural beauty of the Maldives. Therefore, they are working hard to preserve the ecosystem: Sometimes a conservation program for endangered sea turtles is launched, sometimes a waste recycling program is launched or a hotel's own sustainability manager is hired. After all, the tropical paradise that the first visitors fell in love with 50 years ago is to be preserved as well as possible under all circumstances.
An icon reinvents itself
Those who know Waldorf Astoria from New York, Rome or Berlin know that the group stands for lavish luxury. The resort on the Maldives, which opened in 2020, is no exception: on the mini-archipelago, they have opted for villas in modern tropical chic - 119 of them are spread over three contiguous islands, including a private island for guests who want absolute privacy with their own staff. Each of the beach, reef and overwater villas stands on white sand or adjoins a sundeck; each has its own pool, ocean views and a hammock for lounging. Prices per night for two people from €2220.
- Ideal for gourmets and people who want a Robinson Crusoe island de luxe.
- Highlight: Eleven different restaurants, including The Ledge, created by Singaporean Michelin-star chef and barbecue specialist Dave Pynt, and Glow, featuring fresh farm-to-table cuisine.
- Insider tip: The resort includes two villas, accessible only by boat, with floor-to-ceiling windows and unobstructed views of the night sky.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, waldorfastoria3.hilton.com.
Ithaafushi Island, South Malé Atoll, Malé, Maldives
T: +960 4000 300
©Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
Young design and jungle flair
The 144-villa resort, which only opened in September 2021, is one of the more zeitgeist-oriented destinations that appeal to a young audience and score points with a fresh, playful, modern look. Unexpected shapes - much of the design is round and organic - are surprising, as are the vertical gardens, bamboo structures and cheerfully striped cushions on the beach-wood loungers. Double room from € 425,-.
- Ideal for families who want to teach their children about the environment through play. There are nature trails, mini-sea conservation and sustainable art lessons.
- Highlight: The private island Bodu Finolhu belonging to the resort with untouched tropical forests and deserted beaches.
- Insider tip: The sunset is best enjoyed with a cocktail at the "Riviera" pool bar.
Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa, marriott.com.
Thilamaafushi Island, Lhaviyani Atoll, Maldives
T: +960 4008 888
©Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa
Fabulous all-inclusive resort
Since the end of October 2021, "Siyam World" has been boasting numerous superlatives: epicureans can look forward to no less than 14 bars and restaurants and embark on a culinary journey around the world - naturally included in the all-inclusive package. A highlight is the palace of the Beach House Collection. Villa from € 520,-.
- Ideal for families and wellness enthusiasts who love all-round service and are looking for that little bit extra.
- Highlight: The "Siyam Water World", the largest floating water park in the Maldives with water slides, trampolines, courses and numerous activities for young and old.
- Insider tip: The "Barrique" restaurant offers fine dining in the resort's wine cellar - with the finest drops from around the world.
Siyam World*****, sunsiyam.com
Noonu Atoll, Maldives
T: +960 332 5977
©Siyam World Maldives
Splendid isolation with urban social life
Most Maldives holidaymakers want peace and privacy in an exotic setting - but there are also people who need a lot of life around them. The Fari Islands project fulfils this wish: "Patina" guests live in one of the 90 villas of different sizes, which are located on the beach or on stilts above the lagoon. From there, they can walk to the center of the atoll. In the marina with its marina, beach club, restaurants and boutiques, you can stroll a bit, shop a bit, people watch a bit and then retreat to your private realm and enjoy its nature-loving as well as design-oriented style. Double room per night from € 2153.
- Ideal for the enterprising and zeitgeist traveler.
- Highlight: The Wellbeing concept, which focuses on balance, nutrition, sleep and optimal training programs.
- Insider tip: Design fans can look forward to furniture by Vitra and Gervasoni, art lovers to a pavilion by James Turrell, music fans to a music studio.
Patina Maldives, patinahotels.com/maldives
North Malé Atoll, Maldives, T: +960 400 0555
The Ritz-Carlton Maldives
Design icon in an island paradise
Since summer 2021, "The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands" has expanded the portfolio of the luxury hotel group. It is idyllically located in the North Malé Atoll and counts 100 luxury villas, which impress with minimalist design and a butler service that leaves no wish of the guests unfulfilled. The seven restaurants and bars cover a wide range of excellent cuisine and drinks. Fresh Italian espresso in the morning is on the menu here, as is fine rosé and Lebanese street food. The spa stands out with its ring-shaped facility in the heart of the Water Villas and with excellent treatments. Villas from approx. € 1870,- per night.
- Ideal for design lovers and families. In the "Ritz Kids" the little ones romp around and playfully learn about the culture and environment of the Maldives.
- Highlight: The Spa, inspired by the power of the earth and following the energies of Yin and Yang.
- Insider tip: The Japanese restaurant "Iwau", where fresh sushi and sashimi are served at the Chef's Table; accompanied by sake, whisky and tea.
The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands*****, ritzcarlton.com
Fari Islands, North Malé Atoll, Maldives
T: +960 400 0999
Velaa Private Island
An almost private holiday paradise
It's no coincidence that this particularly exclusive island resort is owned by an entrepreneur: Jiri Smejc has been to the Maldives a few dozen times with his wife Radka, seen everything and combined the best of the best in his own holiday paradise. "Velaa", opened in 2014, offers guests what is important to the hosts: unrestricted privacy, 47 villas beautifully blended into nature, hand-picked service staff who lovingly take care of you and excellent cuisine. On Velaa there is a golf course, a wine tower with 6000 bottles, a spa with individualized treatments and a private boat fleet including a luxury yacht. Double room per night around € 7000,-.
- Ideal for celebrities, politicians, business leaders and all others who would like to spend their holidays undetected and undisturbed.
- Highlight: The spectacular restaurant "Aragu", which floats on stilts and offers a 360-degree view of the Indian Ocean, and its chef Gaushan De Silva, who cooks purist, product-oriented and absolutely delicious.
- Insider tip: Velaa is home to the island republic's first Snow Room - treading snow barefoot is ideal for boosting your immune system.
Velaa Private Island, velaaprivateisland.com
Noonu Atoll, Maldives, T: +960 6565 000
Coco Bodu Hithi
Maldivian charm with the highest level of comfort
It is the unobtrusive luxury and the Maldivian charm that make the "Coco Bodu Hithi" so special. The villas score points with private pools, fantastic views and outdoor showers. Five restaurants and two bars provide culinary delights - the cuisine ranges from local to Mediterranean. Epicureans will enjoy the selection of fine international wines in the "Wine Loft", which they can enjoy not only at the weekly tasting. The island's award-winning spa is no less impressive, with eight treatment rooms, a varied spa menu and sunrise and sunset yoga. Villa from around €570 per night.
- Ideal for couples and pleasure seekers who appreciate relaxed luxury.
- Highlight: In the house reef, marine biologists replant broken corals with the help of guests, helping to preserve the reefs and wildlife.
- Insider tip: Not only the house reef of the island is worth a dive. The diving school goes to surrounding reefs, where you can observe manta rays, among other things.
Coco Bodu Hithi*****, cococollection.com
North Malé Atoll, Maldives, T: +960 664 1122
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
Elegant work of art in the middle of a green oasis
The "St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort" already impresses with its extraordinary design upon arrival. The architecture of the resort is inspired by the local culture and nature - the "Whale Bar", for example, is reminiscent of a whale shark. Yoga and meditation help guests find their inner center, while Ayurveda and acupuncture provide holistic relaxation. The "Decanter" offers not only selected wines and champagne, but also a five-course tasting menu. More casual dining is available at Crust & Craft, where you can create your own pizza and choose from a variety of sandwiches and snacks. Villa from around €1600 per night.
- Ideal for design lovers and discerning travellers.
- Highlight: The "John Jacob Astor Estate Villa" with three bedrooms, large infinity pool and sun terrace, show kitchen, panoramic ocean views and the legendary "St. Regis" butler service.
- Insider tip: Guests can charter the island's own "Norma Luxury Yacht," cruise nearby reefs and stay in one of three opulent cabins.
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort*****, marriott.com
Vommuli Island, Dhaalu Atoll, Maldives, T: +960 676 6333
What lasts long becomes really good
The "Baros" was one of the first resorts to welcome guests (mainly divers at the time) to the Maldives in 1973. The resort is known for its particularly beautiful house reef, which nestles almost in a ring around the island and can be reached from many suites with a few swims - encounters with reef sharks, turtles and other sea creatures are not to be ruled out. On land, 75 overwater and beach villas lure guests, their architecture blending perfectly with the tropical vegetation of the small island. Three restaurants and two bars fulfil almost every culinary wish, a spa and an overwater yoga deck are also available. Double room from € 864,-.
- Ideal for divers. The PADI Five Star Gold Palm Dive Center offers exceptional diving experiences.
- Highlight: The sponsorship initiative to protect and preserve the house reef. Guests can sponsor a piece of coral and regularly receive pictures of "their" coral.
- Insider tip: You can get married - or renew your vows - on the Piano Deck (which is shaped like a piano).
Baros Maldives, baros.com
PO Box 2015, Maldives, T: +960 6642 672
Incomparable luxury paired with boundless nonchalance
Soneva Fushi brought barefoot luxury to the Maldives more than 25 years ago: a strong environmental awareness and the realization that what is expensive does not have to be formal and stiff. It was the first resort to succeed in combining casual with luxury - today, its "no news, no shoes" principle is considered the epitome of Maldivian style. The resort offers lavish space, an unpretentious design, various dining locations, a diving centre and an open-air cinema. Last year, the "Fushi" opened its first villas on stilts - the eight new "Water Retreats" are among the largest overwater villas in the world. Double room per night from € 1314.
- Ideal for people who like to wear shorts and T-shirts around the clock without having to sacrifice excellent service and luxury.
- Insider tip: The blue water slides, which lead from the upper floor of the villas directly into the waves, offer a special pleasure.
- Highlight: International experts, some of them prominent (such as ex-tennis pro Jonas Björkman), are regularly invited to pass on their knowledge and skills to the guests.
Soneva Fushi, soneva.com
Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Maldives, T: +960 656 6666
Text: Marlies Daum
This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Winter 2021/22.