Maldives Travel Guide: An island for everyone

10 Overall

The overriding question I received when I got back from the Maldives was; “Was it really worth it”? The dreamy, palm-tree oasis of the Maldives is often perceived as just a mirage, a filtered faraway location that bears no relation to actual reality. Which of course made me all the more fascinated to see whether the idyllic pictures of white soft sands and crystal-clear waters could possibly be that beautiful in real life. I mean, there are plenty of destinations that deliver on those two fronts so why is it when our clients make it to their Maldivian getaway, they then pledge to go year-on-year following their return?

Well, first up, it is much easier to get to than I thought. We were flying from Amsterdam so we flew via Abu Dhabi and made the best of the 4+ hour layover by paying a small fee to get into the Etihad lounge which made the journey feel super easy and seamless (any flight connection is much improved by having a whisky and chocolate mousse in the middle of the night whilst waiting for the next flight). From the UK however, you can fly direct to Male with British Airways in just over ten hours, making it a super-efficient long-haul destination when travelling with young children or larger families. We’ve even had clients fly out for the weekend. What with the lack of time difference, it becomes an option for a super luxurious weekend away!

The seaplane arrival into Joali Being

On arrival, if your resort is a flight away from Male, you’ll be seamlessly whisked to the relevant lounge whilst your luggage and seaplane tickets are efficiently taken care of by the incredibly friendly staff (our seaplane transfer was approx. 40 minutes’ but a lot of resorts are much closer to Male, being a short boat ride away). Our first stop was Joali Being meaning we had the one of the most relaxing arrivals even though we had arrived at the most ungodly hour in the morning, being led to the beautiful Joali lounge (which looks after both Joali and Joali Being guests) and being fed delicious coffee and croissant. I think it’s this level of luxury and detail (for me, finding good coffee is a never-ending quest) that relaxes you into thinking this is going to be 7* service from here on in. Which of course, it was. From the moment we landed, we felt like we were very much already on holiday, rather than us feeling like the wait for the seaplane was a nuisance.

We had signed up to a 3-night stay at Joali Being where rest, relaxation and recuperation are the name of the game. The focus here is balancing mind, body and spirit, in fact it’s the first and only dedicated ultra-luxury wellbeing immersive retreat in the Maldives. Arriving to a ‘Four Pillars’ massage to centre us and avoid any possible jetlag, you are welcomed into this resort with open arms, ready to re-focus all your energy on yourself. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it. Our villa was outstandingly beautiful (huge infinity pool, sundeck, draped bed, standalone bathtub, outdoor shower) and you are encouraged to wear the simple beige ‘uniform’ to avoid having to think of anything so pointless as, “What should I wear”. I was reluctant on this aspect at the beginning but settled happily into throwing on the ready-made outfit every day and pottering about the place like I was in my pyjamas. It was rather freeing!

Our room at Joali Being

If you have come here for the food, you will not be disappointed. It was easily some of the best food I have ever experienced and even though all their restaurants are under the same roof (meaning you eat dinner in the same location each night), each mealtime was different and unique to the one before. The meals are totally balanced, display fat and calorie content and are made with no refined sugar. I am less interested in knowing the calories of a meal, but our appetite completely changed here within a meal or two and that was what I found amazing. It is incredible how full you feel after what seems like a small meal. If the meal is well-balanced with the right nutrients that your body requires, then bread rolls become a thing of the past and wine at dinner becomes unnecessary. They do serve alcohol here, but it’s served somewhat reluctantly and the tea sommelier will prefer to push a tea tasting on you than a shot of tequila (in fact, we did a chai tea tasting and it was a great way to spend an hour on a rainy afternoon).

Breakfast at Joali Being

We had several treatments in the spa but the one that stood out was the Watsu floating treatment. Designed to remind your body of being back in the womb, it is fantastic for anxiety problems and insomnia. You are balanced on floats and manipulated around a saltwater pool, moving your body in ways to provide comfort and stretch where necessary. I am more trusting than I realised and fell asleep whilst afloat on the therapist (i.e., a total stranger) but it was truly one of the best treatments I have ever experienced. There is also a German sauna, Hammam, salt therapy room, sound therapy room, cryotherapy, Pilates and the largest gym in the Maldives. Joali Being is where you go to reset and recover. If you are looking for a mind and body overhaul in the spa of dreams, head here. Even if it is just for two or three days, it will totally rebalance you and it’s the perfect first stop before the rest of your holiday as it will make you rethink the way you eat and drink for evermore.

The Watsu Therapy Pool at Joali Being

We then headed to Joali for the night which was more than enough time to see why this resort is so popular and take in the majestic beauty of such a place. It is a short boat ride from Joali Being (a similar direct seaplane from Male) so combines well with JB to do both. Opened in late 2018, Joali is the first art immersive resort in the Maldives with a focus on eclectic art pieces scattered throughout the island. The villas are incredible on all fronts; in size, glamour and amenities, our infinity pool and huge sundeck was the largest we saw on our trip. It delivers more on atmosphere here as the cocktails were flowing in the bar and the resort suits young families as well as couples so there was more of a diversity in terms of other guests.

Our villa at Joali

To be honest, it was difficult to fairly compare Joali following the sheer bliss of Joali Being. I can see why Joali would be fantastic on all fronts (and we have had many a happy guest there) but the food at Joali Being was some of the best food I’ve ever experienced so I don’t think it is really comparable with anywhere else. I did love the privacy and exclusivity of the island villas at Joali however which are particularly popular with clients from the Middle East. The space and artisanal in-room amenities of the Joali villas pit them as some of the most luxurious villas in all the Maldives.

Flying back to Male, we then took the easy 20-minute boat trip to Gili Lankanfushi, a short hop away from the mainland. Great for when flying straight into Male and wanting a resort with easy access. Gili Lankanfushi is one of the most established resorts in the Maldives and it is easy to see why. Nearly the whole complex is built completely over water so there isn’t any accommodation on the beach, only some of the restaurants and the main pool, but everything else is set out to sea. This makes it feel extra special. We were staying in one of the oh-so-adventurous Crusoe Residences, located a boat ride away from shore, with views far out to sea and not another guest in sight.

Our lift back to our Crusoe Residence at Gili Lankanfushi

The accommodation here is far more rustic in feel than say, Joali Being, but I loved the wood throughout, the semi-open bathroom and glass-panels in the floor so we could see the fish (and sharks!) swim by whilst studying our in-room marine guide. We even had a puffer fish make an appearance! Because we were there at a temperamental time of year weather-wise, we called our Man Friday for the boat to come and pick us up from the mainland when required rather than use our own boat to ferry us back and forth, but I can imagine this is great fun in the sunnier months.

Our Crusoe Residence at Gili Lankanfushi

There is no kids club here but they do have educational activities if you wanted to bring small children. To be honest, this option is better for couples. We didn’t really see any children when we were there although the Family villas are great for families with slightly older children, but I wouldn’t bring a toddler here myself. There is an amazing Japanese restaurant with sushi bar and the overwater spa delivered one of the best massages of my life with a view of the sea life swimming past us down below. The main restaurant often has live music performances meaning a jovial atmosphere and there’s a fabulous lower cut-out deck in the middle that lends itself perfectly for after-dinner cocktails. An ideal choice for honeymooners and couples looking for some romance.

The overwater spa at Gili Lankanfushi

We then took what should have been a 45-minute speedboat transfer from Male to Patina, a brand-spanking new architectural masterpiece in the Fari Islands, which had opened in May 2021. However, faced with some unbelievable waves and pelting rain, the boat slowly rocked its way to the resort leaving green faces all-round. I should point out how unusual this was. We were travelling in late May and unfortunately for us, the monsoon season had rolled its way in earlier than expected. We did have some fabulous weather but it’s amazing how much it changes from atoll to atoll, and we faced a few ‘washout’ days over our 10-day trip. Sadly, one of these was our travel day to Patina!

Upon our arrival though, everything was forgiven. This zero-waste, eco-conscious masterpiece is the brainchild of world-famous Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan and his studio MK27 and boy, is it something.  The sleek wooden pavilions dotted amongst the jungle landscape are designed to blend in with their surroundings and the same sentiment is carried into their interiors. Our jungle pool villa was my favourite room on our trip; I loved the unusually dark bespoke linen on the bed that made a welcome change from the endless sparkling white duvet sets you see everywhere else, our outdoor garden boasted not just a pool but also a huge slate bathtub for al fresco bathing and the use of mixed textures and design material in the room made it feel like it perfectly blended inside and outside.

Our Jungle Pool Villa at Patina Maldives
Our outdoor bathtub

I was also delighted to see my favourite sustainable British brand Haeckels featured in our bathrooms with this partnership continuing into their (incredible) spa. With a focus on ‘flow’, even the chillout room that has been left open to the elements is one of the most peaceful spaces I’ve ever seen. They also offer watsu here or you can lose yourself in their sensory deprivation pods. Had we had longer here, I would have spent my time lying by the insanely beautiful main pool looking out to sea or wafting around in the spa. Or enjoying the generous ‘Happy Hour’ every evening at the Portico with the complimentary wine, beer and canapes.

The chillout room at the Spa at Patina
Patina Maldives

Their Tuk Tuk offers all-day ice-cream and a separate family pool, so it’s no wonder Patina is also so popular with families. We saw a multitude of young children whose parents all looked thoroughly relaxed and there was a lovely atmosphere in the restaurants whether you had kids or not. And the kid’s club is incredible. Think 3D printing (from recycled ocean plastic of course), video games and cooking classes. I’m not sure I would have left this space if I was a kid!

Me and Hugo in the Maldives at Gili Lankanfushi

As you can probably imagine, following this trip I’m a bit of a Maldives convert. Yes, it’s not cheap and I certainly wouldn’t recommend booking without an All-Inclusive package as otherwise additional costs such as alcohol and meals are simply astronomical. I also appreciate this is a strange time to be promoting such an expensive location when people have far more important things to worry about at home. But the marine life and crystal-clear waters make it otherworldly, making the Maldives one for the bucket list. It may be out of reach for now but, with over 160 hotels to choose from here, there will be something to suit a lot of different budgets.

Please do get in touch today to talk about your Maldivian getaway.

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