Christine Amour- Levar
STRADDLING the equator, southwest of Sri Lanka, and rising up from the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean are more than a thousand breathtaking islands and unspoiled coral reefs that make up the Maldives.
I had always dreamt of vacationing there one day, having heard so much about its legendary beauty, whiter-than-white powder sand and luminous cyan-blue waters. When my husband surprised me with a romantic trip recently, I was thrilled beyond belief.
Of Maldives’ 1,200 islands, only 200 are inhabited by locals and nearly 100 have been developed as tourist resorts. The remaining islands are uninhabited. There are altogether 26 geographical atolls and most of the resorts can be found in North Malé, South Malé, Ari, Felidhu, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls.
We chose to stay at the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru resort on the remote Baa Atoll, partly because of its romantic setting, but also because the atoll is a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve with a rich coral reef.
The phenomenal natural beauty of the Maldives, an island nation of just 376,888 citizens, lures both honeymooners and hedonists to its shores, bringing in more than one million visitors annually.
For those who love viewing marine life, the Maldives has much on offer. Its waters teem with many varieties including butterfly fish, tuna, sea turtles, moray eels to sharks and giant manta rays.
We hopped on a scenic 40-minute seaplane flight from the Maldivian capital of Malé to admire the atolls, scattered like ivory pearls in the deep blue waters below. We disembarked on a floating platform, and were then whisked off to the hotel via speedboat.
We stepped onto the white sandy beach and walked up a wide palm-lined avenue to the main reception, feeling like VIP guests at a tropical palace. The resort’s over 100 villas were well spaced out in an arc around the island.
While we sipped on our welcome drinks of fresh coconut water served in the shell, the staff explained that the resort was built entirely using locally sourced materials such as recycled coral cladding and traditional hay bales.
We had booked a water villa, just because we had never experienced anything like that. After being transported there by electric cart, we stepped into our room to discover a spectacular full ocean-facing view, which literally took our breath away.
The villa also had a wonderful outdoor deck with its own private fresh water infinity pool with steps that led directly into the sea. The room itself was stunning and from the luxurious bathroom, you could see the fish swimming below you.
Over the next few days, we indulged in la dolce far niente (sweetness of doing nothing) on the terrace. We also enjoyed the richness and variety of the Maldivian marine life, from dazzling coral walls, magnificent caves and schools of brightly coloured tropical fish, to a colony of dolphins swimming alongside our boat, during one of our sunset excursions.
While travelling around the island on bicycles, we discovered little private coves where we took refreshing swims and a gazillion pictures. The lush tropical greenery around the resort gave us a Robinson Crusoe-like feeling, albeit more luxurious.
The holiday felt like a dream. We had escaped to paradise and it was hard to leave. Without a doubt, its unrivalled luxury, stunning white-sandy beaches and amazing underwater world make the Maldives an obvious choice for a romantic holiday of a lifetime.
We flew on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Malé, the capital. From there, we took a short seaplane ride to the resort.
■ The Maldives enjoys tropical climate with plenty of sunshine. Temperatures range around 30 deg C throughout the year.
However, rainfall increases considerably during the AprilOctober south-west monsoon, particularly from June to August.
■ As the Maldives is a Muslim country, you can’t get alcohol anywhere in the country, except on the resort islands, which have a special exemption.
■ Everything, with the exception of fish and coconuts, has to be imported, usually by plane from Dubai and then brought to the resort by boat from Malé, so it’s expensive. As such, the cost of meals and drinks in resorts is high.
■ Note that exporting sand, seashells or coral is forbidden.
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