Ah the Maldives. Cue daydreams of walking hand in hand along a pristine white sand beach with your loved one, the honeymoon of your imagination.
This is no daydream, this is the reality.
For many the Maldives in an unattainable dream, a far-flung destination that exists only in your dreams, whereas for the residents of the Middle East, it’s a casual weekend break. Just 4 hours away by direct flight from the UAE, the Maldives is a popular destination for not only its sheer beauty but its accessibility. Over recent years this cluster of islands hidden off the shores of southwest India has become somewhat commercialized with every big hotel chain under the sun having taken up residence on a small, unassuming island close to Male, the capital and largest city in the Maldives. Although still unquestionably beautiful, not many of these resorts give you a true sense of what the Maldives is all about, for views are interrupted by passing ships and being able to wave to fellow holidaymakers on the island opposite yours isn’t really remaining true to your dream of romantic isolation.
Wanting to discover the true beauty of this astonishing part of the world, it’s necessary to go a little deeper and by that we mean right into the depths of the atolls, a vast, barren place that feels as if you might fall off the edge of the earth any second. The COMO Group, known for their luxury hotels and resorts worldwide, saw this need and intervened. COMO possess a deep respect for authenticity which reflects in the properties in their current portfolio, believing in travel experiences coupled with personalized service in elegant properties that are each individually curated to reflect their location.
Maalifushi by COMO is the very first luxury resort in the Maldives to open in the pristine Thaa Atoll in the archipelago’s southwest. The Thaa Atoll, an astonishingly beautiful ring-shaped reef, is one of the largest in the world, comprising more than 60 islands over 500 square miles, many of which are uninhabited. It’s about as far as you can go into the Maldives and can only be reached by a 60-minute sea plane journey which is without a doubt the most breathtaking sight you will ever see in your life. Flying high in a tiny propeller plane soaring over an expanse of inky blue occasionally dotted with a ring of the brightest blue imaginable, a tiny coral reef surrounds what appears to be a lump of sand, all alone in the vastness of the Indian Ocean. It gives you a sense of perspective of the sheer size of the world and suddenly you feel quite small and insignificant indeed. It’s about as humbling as it’s possible to be when you’re flying to one of the world’s most luxurious hotels with accommodation reaching $10,000 per night. This property is for those looking to truly get away from it all, because you are, you’re all but stranded in the midst of an oil painting and for those with busy lives, that notion is totally and utterly blissful. It’s the ultimate get-away-from-it-all destination.
Firstly, let us be clear. Maalifushi by COMO, although the epitome of romantic locations is not just for newlyweds for we were surprised to learn that the Maldives and this area in particular is not only known for its excellent diving opportunities but also for surfing. As we splash-landed into the very choppy seas caused largely by the temperamental tropical climate, we could see why. However, this all adds to the adventure.
As a first time Maldives traveller, nothing can quite prepare you for the moment you step off the plane and onto the wooden decking of the pathway. I doubt I’d be alone in saying that tears were silently shed. The beauty of it all is incomprehensible. Maalifushi by COMO is all about casual elegance. From the offset its understated style is really quite refreshing, in stark contrast with the glitzy hotels we’re becoming accustomed to in the Middle East. A notable nod to the exceptional service here is that the manager himself is standing waiting to greet each and every new guest that arrives, a warm handshake that welcomes you to his home and, what a home it is!
Maalifushi by COMO encapsulates the spirit of the Indian Ocean and the barefoot chic of any COMO private island resort. It’s undoubtedly luxurious with the extravagance being in the stripped back details of its design. The resort is the first in the Maldives from the Japanese interior designer Koichiro Ikebuchi. Accommodation includes 33 overwater villas and suites, and 32 garden villas, suites and rooms, all built of yellow balau with Kajan thatched roofs, referencing indigenous architecture while remaining elegantly pared back to reflect the island’s calming setting. For over-water living which is what the Maldives has become best known for, the generously sized overwater suites and villas, either sunrise or sunset facing are reached by a wooden walkway standing above the shallow lagoon, each and every one hidden in its own little section of paradise for utmost privacy. Each one also possess its own private terrace for slipping into the sea and come with a plunge pool, sundeck and outdoor shower. Even when it rains in the Maldives you’ll want to be outside, such is the beauty, it’s impossible not to want to miss a minute of the ever-changing vista before you, the views consistently spectacular with empty Indian Ocean horizons.
Staying in one of 13 large over water villas, a total of 1292 sq.ft each, these lavish accommodations located on their own jetty to the west of Maalifushi Island, the interiors a combination of crisp white furnishing and light wood structure, are everything you would expect and then some. The space has been designed so that wherever you are inside you are also outside. The floor to ceiling windows and doors in both the bedroom, living area and bathroom allow the natural light to stream through creating a fresh, airy space that manages to seamlessly blend the natural beauty of the waterscape outside with the cozy rooms inside. Waking up to the sound of the water gently lapping at the stilts of your villa or suite is the most soothing of sounds and then to open your eyes and be greeted by the brightest colour palette of greens and brilliant turquoise blues, well it’s as if you’re still dreaming. This resort may be all about minimalistic luxury but that isn’t to say that the mod-cons have been compromised. Each villa has a Nespresso machine, 55″ LED satellite tv, DVD player and WiFi internet access although I’m sure getting online is the last thing you’ll be thinking about here. They say that the ultimate luxury is time and silence, well I think Maalifushi by COMO has managed exactly that.
For a truly unforgettable stay, the Maalifushi villa, alongside the two COMO villas are easily among the most spectacular in the entire Maldives; oversized, two-bedroom, light-filled bungalows, which sit on their own right at the end of the jetty allowing for the utmost peace and privacy. They of course, features a huge private pool and sundeck and at just over double the size of the water villa, the sheer scale of this property makes it an ideal space for sharing couples or a family. The focal part being the glass-bottomed sunken seating area in the hallway of the villa that allows you to gaze in wonder at the spectacular marine life swimming right underneath your feet.
Of course, you don’t have to just opt for an over water property for Maalifushi has an array of both Garden and Beach villas which are situated amidst the lush tropical jungle of the island, some even beachfront, all equally spacious featuring the same natural décor and unique wood furnishings making for a truly comfortable stay that offers an alternative to the traditional Maldives stay.
On the theme of luxury, COMO by Maalifushi understands that understated luxury is a combination of many things. This desert island resort features a COMO Shambhala Retreat for holistic wellness incorporating world-class yoga facilities for those that prefer their holiday with a little more substance. World renowned COMO Shambhala advocates holistic wellness that combines both modern science and ancient healing. This retreat, as I found out first hand is not just another pretty spa in a picturesque location and Maalifushi by COMO is not just another Maldives’ spa retreat. It is quite simply the embodiment of a philosophy for healthy living that COMO Shambhala has successfully refined at its award-winning retreats all over the world. With eight over water, ocean facing treatment rooms you can relax in utmost sophistication either inside or outside shaded from the sun, for a truly natural take on spa therapy. Even the yoga-pavilion is open air, enveloped by the blue horizon and gentle sea breeze, sun rise yoga here is something really quite special indeed, if you can prize yourself out of the enveloping king-sized bed. The COMO Shambhala treatments on offer are designed for emotional rebalance using holistic techniques. Getting quite used to the laidback way of life here, I opted to indulge in a traditional COMO Shambhala massage using signature blended oils to calm my frequently busy mind and rejuvenate my tired limbs. This delightful 90-min treatment is great for anyone looking to improve their general wellbeing and to give you a sensed of hushed tranquility that is so often absent in everyday life. Of course, should you prefer to remain a little more active during your stay there is a fully equipped cardio and weights gym as well as the above mentioned yoga classes.
We’ve all heard that the Maldives are rated amongst the top ten diving destinations in the world so a trip to Maalifushi would be wasted without taking to the water. My partner and I are not experienced divers but there are organized excursions here as well as opportunities to see all manner of marine life in the shallower lagoon area that surrounds the water villas and suites. Despite changing weather, excellent visibility makes the the Thaa Atoll a poignant spot for divers with seasonal sightings of hammerhead sharks and Manta Rays in these subtropical Indian Ocean waters. Swim amongst a vivid array of fish, bright in their colour and harmlessly inquisitive in their presence. From Angel Fish to Parrot Fish, diving or just snorkeling in their waters makes for a technicolor delight. A particular highlight of my stay here was swimming alongside a rather friendly sea turtle that casually swam past my villa without a care in the world in the undisturbed water.
When you’re this remote it’s easy to assume that the standard of gastronomy might not be up to the same standard as international city hotels, however, you would be very wrong in that assumption. COMO possesses a principle of integrating fine cuisine into each and every guest experience, setting it apart from other resorts in the Maldives once again. The approach here at Maalifushi is relaxed with menus inspired by the ocean setting itself. There is enough choice throughout the three restaurants and the outstanding in-room dining that even for stays of 14 nights you wouldn’t feel as if you’ve eaten the same thing more than once. ‘Tai’ is the signature restaurant here, a Japanese seafood eatery with a menu that wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Emirates itself. The sunken sushi bar is the focal point and diners can sit at yakiniku tables on the terrace by the ocean. A highlight of dining here, other than the fabulously fresh seafood and amazing views, is getting a sneaky glimpse of the resident Manta Ray that often dines himself underneath this over-water restaurant. If it’s good enough for the locals…
One simply cannot visit the Maldives without enjoying a private dining experience. The many uninhabited islands on Maalifushi’s doorstep make for an idyllic location for a romantic dinner a deux. Served by your very own private butler you can dine in absolute isolation with only yourselves and the setting sun for company, perfect for any special occasion. For a ‘Romantic Castaway Picnic’ the Maalifushi crew whisk you off to your own private beach where you can enjoy a gourmet picnic with the person of your dreams as you swim, sunbathe or sleep in the most striking of surroundings.
Wherever you choose to dine at ‘Madi’, the all-day beachside restaurant or in the privacy of your villa, COMO Shambhala menus are also available. COMO Shamhala cuisine as I came to discover, is a unique nutritional concept that incorporates wholesome organic ingredients that are rich in the vitamins and minerals that our bodies so need. All food from this menu is either steamed, grilled or raw for maximum health benefits. I was really quite surprised at the quality of flavour from dishes that are designed to be as healthy as possible, proving that an indulgent holiday doesn’t have to mean an expanding waist-line.
I fear there are an endless possibility of positive things to say about Maalifushi by COMO, for the boundless beauty of its location and richness of its philosophy make for a truly unique experience that’s bespoke to each and every traveller. Nothing is too much trouble for the attentive management and staff here, every detail of the guest experience has been thought out and fine-tuned to perfection, its luxury at its best offering authoritative access to this truly astonishing part of the world.