Why is Maldives featured in most travel bucket-lists?

Some places are akin to a melody. You hear the tune once, and can’t get them out of your head. The beautiful island paradise of Maldives happens to be one such melody. Its exotic travel tune touches a chord within you, creating a persistent desire that can only be satiated upon experiencing it, in all of its glory.

Buoyed by endless photos of white sandy beaches, crystal clear azure waters and Maldivian hospitality like no other; not to mention real-life accounts of some very near and dear friends who literally swear by this place – we decided to take the plunge and put together a once-in-a-lifetime trip to wow our senses.

BUT FIRST, WHAT IS THE MALDIVES?

Exceptional is the only word to describe the Maldives – a combination of perfect geography, climate, culture and environment giving rise to over 1,000 picturesque coral islands that sit in the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Here they are grouped into 26 atolls, together housing close to 410,000 inhabitants, along with some of the world’s best luxurious holiday resorts – making this equatorial country an ultra-luxury sophisticated travel destination.

WHEN TO GO?

With year round temperatures, oscillating between 26C and 30C there is plenty sunshine for everyone; for almost the entire year. Though having said that, best to avoid the months of November and early December, when rain is sporadic, generally lasting for few minutes. However, the best time to visit is during the months of January, February and March. The high season stretches from November to May, subsequently handing the baton to the low season where the weather is less predictable, but rarely bad enough to disturb a holiday.

HOW TO GET THERE?

This took months in the planning, keeping in mind we didn’t want to pay through our teeth, yet enjoy perfect weather. In the end, we settled for visiting this gorgeous country in May; the tail end of the high season, when room and flight rates begin to reduce.

There are a few direct flight options from Dubai, but as is the norm we jumped on an Emirates flight, enjoyed the business class services that we are accustomed to and in no time found ourselves at Male International Airport (flight time of just 4 hours). Pity an A380 doesn’t fly to this particular destination, but nonetheless the crew on that particular flight had smiles all around and were friendly. Perfect way to start a holiday, I would say.

TRANSFERS

Having touched down at the airport at 740am, we were lucky not to face long immigration queues. Visa on arrival was efficiently quick, and in no time we collected our luggage and exited customs. Just outside, a very friendly representative of Anantara Naladhu Resort was waiting for us. He ushered us into the airport’s (land-side) air-conditioned waiting lounge, served us welcome drinks, and believe it or not completed resort check-in formalities right there. The idea being, the resort wanted holidaymakers to enjoy every minute of their stay devoid of any check-in/check-out paperwork.

Soon after, we were led to the harbour where our private cruiser yacht was moored – it was a magnificent sight. Whilst other resorts crammed holidaymakers into multi-seater ferries or speed boats, the choice of bespoke transport offered by Naladhu made quite the style statement.

Our captain advised us that the journey to the resort would take approximately 30mins, and promised a scenic ride nonetheless. After another round of ice-cold towels, fresh juices and light snacks we carefully ventured out to the top deck to soak in our first proper glimpse of Maldives, and if I am completely honest – my heart skipped a beat. For before me, was an endless expanse of turquoise waters, clear skies and the temperature was just right.

Note: Depending on the resort booked, transfers can be arranged either by boat, sea-plane or a combination of both. The traditional Maldivian dhonis (boats) have been replaced by speed boats for resorts in close proximity to the international airport, whilst seaplanes ferry guests to the more distant ones. In-addition, if the resorts are located farther away, fixed wheel planes are available to carry guests to the five regional airports, from where it’s another speedboat ride to their resort.

Tip: Whilst finalizing your stay, make a note of how far the resort is from Male International Airport, and the mode of transportation required to reach the resort. Not to mention the time, as well as costs. Sea-planes cost a fortune. It also helps, if you book the journey months in advance to lock in any early-bird fares, or arrange for complimentary speedboat transfers directly from the resort (look out for special deals).

WHY NALADHU MALDIVES RESORT?

As mentioned earlier, Maldives figured in our bucket list of places to visit for as long as we could remember – one that we had to visit at least once in our lifetime. Suffice to say, we didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, and after months of saving – our budget allowed us to experience the place like rockstars. We singled out Naladhu, not only because it was an ultra-luxury resort, but also because it was ‘the’ perfect hideaway. Featuring only 20 bespoke villas and ensuring utmost privacy, you get the sense that you are the only guests on this island paradise. Besides, a few close buddies couldn’t stop gushing about this particular resort – in one word, it was magical. Just like us, they were seasoned travellers and I held their recommendation in high regard. So hook, line, and sinker we locked in Naladhu for our stay.

Tip: When booking ultra-luxury resorts, keep a close watch on various hotel booking engines for early bird offers. Being a DISCOVERY loyalty member, I get email alerts advising me of special offers every now and then. One that stood out, was an ‘Advance Purchase Offer with Breakfast’ available with a 25% discount. Needless to say, I logged into gha.com, keyed in my membership number and completed the transaction. Whilst at it, also redeemed my membership awards for 2 Black level bespoke local experiences (more about this later in the article).

DID WE MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE?

After a scenic 30mins journey, our cruiser was within sights of the Naladhu Reports piers. Lo’behold a welcome entourage was waiting for us – complete with Maldivian bodu-beru drummers, alongside the resort manager, Julianne and a photographer to capture memories. A gong was sounded to notify all of our presence. Quite frankly, we felt like royalty. Amidst the welcoming party, was Hassan – our house master (butler service). Have to admit, with an effervescent smile and friendly disposition we took a liking to him almost immediately. He was to take care of all our needs during the entire course of our stay. So far, so good – make that, splendid.

OCEAN SUNRISE VILLA WITH POOL

A short 5min-walk from the piers, we found ourselves in a luxurious enclave. Our ocean facing villa was huge; possibly the biggest room type we have stayed in all our years of travelling.

Encompassing hardwood furnishing, coupled with cool tones and elegant décor it had all creature comforts that I could imagine. It was a symphony of style indeed.

Opening the balcony doors, I was greeted with an unobstructed view of the Indian Ocean. It helped that there was a palatial sized swing lounge bed to catch up on reading, or to simply soak in the sunrise/sunsets.

I generally don’t get surprised often, but something made me leap for joy. Keeping aside the private steam room, and the open air bathing pavilion with a waterfall shower (shades by bougainvillea and frangipani) what grabbed my attention was the 35sqm infinity edge-pool. It was magnificent.

Did I mention, the villa also came with a private dining sala, complete with giant candles for that romantic ambiance? Marvellous.

Just when you think it can’t get any better, Hassan takes us to our private cabana on the beach – yes, earmarked for only us, during our entire stay. Set within a hidden pathway, overlooking the beach, the cabana is equipped with a fan, plush cushions, towels and stocked with drinking water to keep you hydrated.

SOAK IN THE ROMANCE WITH AN INTIMATE SUNSET DINING AFFAIR

We had planned a long list of activities, in and around the island. After settling ourselves in, we walked hand-in-hand across the resorts white sandy beach, and you get the sense that whoever designed the layout of this resort, wanted couples or holidaymakers to fall in love not only with the property, but also with themselves. You can’t help but be overcome with mushy-mushy feelings.

Suffice to say, first on our agenda was to soak in some romance. We chose to redeem our DISCOVERY Black level award for an intimate sunset dinner.  Hassan, our house master presented us with a few exclusive private dining options around the island – but we left it up to him to delightfully surprise us.

On the dot 5pm, Hassan knocked on our villa door to chaperone us to the designated dining spot. To say that it was magical would be an understatement; for our pathway to the hidden dining spot was lined with lanterns. Set amidst palm trees, and away from prying eyes was a table set elegantly overlooking the ocean. Corals and sea-shells of varying sizes, alongside giant diyas (oil lamps) adorned a handcrafted boundary along the peripheral of our table seating arrangement.

A Chef was at hand to cater to our every need, but he was quite happy barbecuing seafood in the vicinity – after all, we had opted for the Maldivian Signature Naladhu Ocean barbeque platter – a 3 course meal, whilst watching the sunset.

We kicked started the proceedings with some delicious crispy prawn tempuras served with chilli mayo – absolutely yum! Then came the star of the show – a seafood grilled platter consisting of squids, seasoned jumbo tiger prawns, scallops, juicy king scampi, marinated blue swimmer crabs, and garlic butter drizzled spiny tail lobsters. A feast fit for royalty indeed – served with rice, mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. A special mention goes out to the giant white mallard grilled fish – served whole, the flesh was moist, tender with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

To round up the intimate affair, for desserts we tucked into a beautiful rendition of crème brûlée and coconut ice-cream – perfect way to end the evening on a high note. I mean, to watch the sky turn all manners of orange, yellow and pink whilst alternating that with loving gazes at your significant other and tucking into morsels of delight – I couldn’t have wished for a better way to end our first evening at Naladhu.

Many thanks to Hassan, our house master for overseeing every fine detail. It’s the little details that elevate a great experience, into a stellar one.

Tip: Higher the number of nights you spend in DISCOVERY loyalty affiliated hotels and resorts, the more awards you get to redeem against bespoke local experiences such as the one I’ve experienced. Read more about the DISCOVERY loyalty membership programme here.

TRY YOUR HAND AT OCEAN KAYAKING

Being at Naladhu, you can’t help but notice 2 other Anantara sister properties in close proximity to our island. Anantara Veli, which is exclusively only for couples (no children allowed) is connected to Naladhu by virtue of a long bridge. Anantara Dhigu is a short speed boat ride away, and is family friendly. Hassan tells us that that residents of Naladhu are free to visit the other 2 Anantara sister properties at will, and dine in at their restaurants or indulge in water activities. The same cannot be said for residents of those 2 properties. In other words, Naladhu is off-limits for holidaymakers at Dhigu and Veli, thus establishing Naladhu as an exclusive bespoke private enclave, where privacy of guests is of utmost importance.

So armed with this knowledge, and after filling our bellies with some delectable breakfast we requested Hassan to arrange for a speedboat to take us to neighbouring Anantara Dhigu.

Whilst there, we leisurely made our way to the water-sports centre and at no additional cost, signed up for an ocean kayak session (good for 2 hours). Calm turquoise waters and clear skies allowed me to paddle my way to a glorious tan. Truth be told, it made for quite a picturesque scene.

During the process, I did try to swim my way to the sea swing, but alas I was too tired. I did promise myself I would come back to it at a later time, and I did. Read below to know more.

SPEND MANY A LEISURE MOMENT AT NALADHU

Quite frankly speaking, the whole idea of visiting Naladhu was to ensure that our holiday was self-contained; that we didn’t have to bother ourselves jumping from one island to another. After all, you do pay a bit of a premium to ensure everything comes to you at Naladhu, as opposed to venturing out.

Case in point, the private pool – with an efficient room service to boot, I for one spent endless hours simply relaxing in the pool or gazing out at the Indian Ocean.

When I felt like it, I walked about to the central lobby of the hotel, and tried out the expansive pool – just for variety. Even though all 20 villas were booked during our stay, we didn’t bump into anyone else. Just further solidifying the stance, as to how private this resort really is.

They say, reading a good book and hopefully completely it is one of life’s simple pleasures. Even though I have a well stocked library at home, I find it a bit of a chore to go through chapters due to my hectic lifestyle. But that wasn’t the case at Naladhu. Be it relaxing in a hammock, or in my private beach cabana or in the confines of my swinging day bed – I managed to read half a book; and that’s quite an achievement. Food for the soul, like they say.

DAY TRIP TO GULIFUSHI ISLAND

It’s true what they say about the Maldives; the ocean is where it really comes to life. Rich in marine life, vibrant colour and breath taking views – snorkelling, is one way to experience the underwater riches. With this in mind, I had Hassan arrange a day trip to nearby Gulifushi island for 2 reasons – one, I wanted to immerse myself in some underwater aquatic life, and two was to knock off another item from my check list – try my hand at a sea swing.

Even though the sea hammock at Anantara Dhigu was a bit too deep for me to swim to (courtesy high tide), lucky enough the sea swing at Gulifushi was within reach. I did what I do best; I swam to my hearts delight. Reached the sea swing and my ever supportive hubby was kind enough to capture the memory.

SUNSET CRUISE IN A TRADITONAL DHONI OR SURPRISE SURPRISE?

Back on familiar grounds at the resort, and bursting with feel-good endorphins after an exhilarating snorkelling experience, we chose to spend the rest of the day at a leisurely pace. But not before, we requested Hassan to arrange for a one-of-a-kind private sunset cruise in a traditional Maldivian dhoni, complete with champagne whilst toasting the gorgeous sunset. He was more than happy to check availability, so that we could redeem yet another DISCOVERY loyalty award towards this experience. Minutes later, the resort manager Julianne personally visited us to thank us for wanting to check out the dhoni; but luck had it that it was under maintenance that particular day. But she promised us an alternative; one that would delight us. We trusted her whole-heartedly; after all these are the very people who were there to ensure that every minute spent at their property, left a pleasant smile on our faces. We agreed to be picked up by Hassan at 5pm once again.

What do you think happened around the agreed time? Well, for starts Hassan was there beaming ear to ear; and our curiosity got the better of us. My husband asked him if they miraculously managed to fix the traditional dhoni. Hassan replied in the negative, but as we made our way to the pier – we saw the familiar face of Julianne. With a twinkle in her eye she pointed us in the direction of a 60-foot Manhattan Sunseeker. This luxurious yacht was captained by Jaleel, who along with his two crewmates Hassan Ismail and Abdulla Rasheed were on call to offer us an experience like no other.

The cruise was meant to last 1.5 hours, but these gents went above the call of service and allowed us to not only soak in the beautiful sunset, but also gave me a quick lesson on how to manoeuvre the yacht. Sitting in the Captain’s chair was a surreal feeling. Jaleel shared many an interesting story of his travels around the island, whilst we tucked into some delectable canapés, and drank our share of champagne.

During our conversations, my husband inquired about glowing plankton found in a particular region of the Maldives. Noticing my bewildered eyes, and excitement – Jaleel did something unimaginable. He changed course and took us deeper into the waters, to showcase bioluminescent phytoplankton. I reckon I had tears in my eyes, for Jaleel showed a random act of kindness that put a huge smile on my face.

The entire cruise experience was meant to be 1.5 hours in duration, but because of exemplary service oriented attitude he went beyond the call of duty, and gave us memories that would last us for a very long time. Courtesy Jaleel’s kind gesture, the entire experience lasted a little over 3 hours – one for the memory lane books alright.

SO WHO REALLY IS HASSAN? THE MAVERICK WHO MADE IT HAPPEN BEHIND THE SCENES

One of many reasons why we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Naladhu was because we were in the safe hands of Hassan, our house master par extraordinaire. He treated us like an extension of his family; and through his calm demeanour and pleasant smile he found a place in our hearts. We will most certainly return to Naladhu (even if it means saving up for a few more months, before we can plan another trip); and when we do, we hope to see Hassan once again.

On the last day of our holiday, we decided to have a heart-to-heart chat with the man who made everything happen behind the scenes. And this is what we found out:

  • That he has been working for Naladhu for 12 long years. He is a married man, with 2 beautiful children (a daughter aged 12, and a son who just turned 3).
  • Even though he has been at Naladhu since its inception, and having witnessed change of resort managers every 2 years – the relationship between him and the resort manager, is constant. The constant here being, respect. Everyone is treated equally, with utmost respect. Everyone is treated like family. Everyone has a say. And from a holidaymaker’s perspective such as mine, this resonates strongly in the service that we’ve received. We’re made to feel as if we were part of Hassan’s family.
  • As a housemaster, one of the most unusual requests he has entertained is of a high profile celebrity guest (who shall go unnamed), wanting to have tea in a particular artisan flask. This flask had to be of the exact size requested by this guest, and most importantly the colour of the tea flask had to match the guest’s expectations. This flask is found only on the mainland, in Male. Suffice to say, Hassan made it happen and testament to this is the regular visits of this guest to Naladhu.
  • Last but not the least, when pressed on the topic of his ideal getaway (keeping aside the gorgeous paradise that is Maldives), he confessed that he would love to visit Thailand with his family.

VERDICT

So there you have it, in closing all I can say is I ventured out to the Maldives to tick it off from my travel bucket list; but in the process, not only have I fallen in love with the people, the food, the gorgeous scenery, the resort – but most importantly, I was able to connect with myself and my partner all over again. Random acts of kindness, service above and beyond the call of duty, and genuineness that cannot be faked all have come together to make this experience at Naladhu one that would forever remain with me. I for one can’t wait to get back here – I have found my piece of paradise.

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