“Positioned on top of a vast underwater mountain range and encircled by a lagoon of crystal-clear waters, The Maldives is in a league of its own in terms of geographical location and natural beauty.”
The Maldives is one of those destinations that people across the world dream of. With its stunning scenery, crystal-clear waters, seemingly never-ending selection of white-sand beaches and abundance of marine life, it truly is a taste of paradise here on earth. Each island is different but all share the themes of beauty, luxury and a warm welcome.
The Republic of Maldives
The Maldives is an ancient island nation located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 750km from mainland Asia. Consisting of 1,192 islands and stretching 871km across the equator, this archipelagic country is formed by 26 natural atolls, making it one of the primary world destinations for experiencing ocean life. Positioned on top of a vast underwater mountain range and encircled by a lagoon of crystal-clear waters, The Maldives is in a league of its own in terms of geographical location and natural beauty. With a recorded history dating back over 2,500 years, The Maldives houses a diverse population, range of cultures and traditions, due to its location and the resulting influx of people from other countries over the centuries. The official Maldivian language is Dhivehi, with English securing second place for most popular language spoken. This month, thanks to The Republic of Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism, the FACT magazine team were invited to spend six days in this heavenly destination. Booked into no less than three of the finest hotels the islands have to offer, we were thoroughly spoilt throughout our utopian experience.
Our Arrival After a four-and-a-half-hour flight from Qatar, we touched down at Velana International Airport located on Male. A quick and comfortable car ride to the harbour, compliments of the Ministry, and we soon found ourselves on a speedboat, out on crystalline waters, weaving our way amongst the picturesque islands, along the 9km route to our first destination.
The Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa
Even from a distance, the island of Furanafushi offers breath-taking beauty with its swaying palms and turquoise waters. As we disembarked from the boat, we were welcomed by pristine white sandy beaches, lush green vegetation and attentive staff from The Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa.
Layout & Accommodation This five-star Sheraton resort consists of 176 newly renovated rooms and suites. The layout features a variety of accommodation options including elegant deluxe rooms, charming cottages, indulgent water bungalows and villas, along with an expansive two-bedroom water suite. As we toured the facilities, we noticed how each accommodation has been meticulously designed to blend into the island landscape, with amazing views and plenty of privacy for all visitors.
Our first resort experience was at the award-winning Shine Spa, located on its own small island nearby. Equipped with six luxurious treatment villas, a VIP treatment suite, a his and hers hydrotherapy pool and a steam room, we couldn’t have felt more relaxed and refreshed after partaking in several of the available holistic treatments.
Divine Dining Over our two-day stay, we got to indulge at several high-end restaurants located on the island. These upscale eateries included Feast, Salt, Sand Coast, Baan Thai and House, all of which proved to be exceptional. Combined, they offer a wide range of delicious cuisines including seafood, Asian fusions, Thai food and Chinese dishes, many of which were served either buffet style or à la carte. Both Kakuni Hut and Anchorage Bar offered even more laid-back atmospheres, proving to be ideal spaces to unwind with a cold beverage, taking in the sunset. Additionally, The Sheraton offers several unique dining experiences. Romantic in-pool sunrise breakfasts, dining cruises on your own private floating island and picnics at one of the island’s secluded spots, reveal how the hotel goes out of its way to create memorable moments for its guests. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the iconic Sandbank Privé, a dining experience that really blew us away. Consisting of a tailored five-course menu, created by our own personal chef, this one-of-a-kind meal is served on a sandbank in the ocean. This scrumptious lunch was followed by an unforgettable private dolphin cruise with bubbly and canapés. Witnessing these intelligent and gentle creatures in the wild was a thrilling experience as we watched them effortlessly cruise alongside the boat.
Activities Furanafushi is situated in the North Male Atoll, home to more than 40 world-class diving points and multiple snorkelling locations. Perhaps the most fulfilling activity we undertook over our two days on the island was joining the ‘Adopt a Coral’ programme. This coral-fragment plantation activity promotes the growth and regeneration of reef habitats. Led by experts, guests are offered a hands-on experience in which coral fragments are secured to frames that are then placed in specific underwater locations. It’s hoped that the coral from these frames will eventually grow onto the natural reef substrate and thus improve the coral cover to the benefit of local marine life. With plenty of other diving locations on offer, along with guided snorkelling tours, water sports, island adventures and countless spots to relax on the pristine beaches, we were never without options and thoroughly enjoyed every moment we spent on Furanafushi. Before we knew it, we were back on the speedboat heading for Male. There, a seaplane awaited us, ready to depart for another spectacular island adventure.
With no airport hassles and a smooth water take-off, the 113km seaplane journey proved to be a comfortable one, taking just 15 minutes to complete. As we approached Miriandhoo from the air, we were able to appreciate the resort’s remarkable layout.
Layout & Accommodation The Ocean Villas are beautifully positioned along the necklace of a double jetty, shaped like a giant fish. With units on both the eastern and western sides of the jetty, the space has been well utilised, providing both sunrise and sunset facing options, all of which enjoy a panoramic view of the crystal-clear ocean. Numerous beach villas, some with pools, some without, are scattered on both the south and north beaches of the island. Family villas and a luxury suite are also on offer. All villas are separated by lush green vegetation, ensuring maximum privacy and insulation from any neighbouring noises. It was explained to us that the structures’ designs were inspired by natural elements and have been built in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner. Touching down, we were warmly welcomed by members of The Westin staff, receiving refreshments and kind words the moment our feet touched the wooden jetty.
Spa Treatments During our stay, we got in some light exercise at the WestinWorkout Fitness studio, as well as delightful Ocean Spa treatments at the signature Heavenly Spa by Westin. There, we chose to indulge in the new Detox & Destress programme; a series of treatments aimed at relaxing and rebalancing guests. This left us not only feeling calm and revitalised, but ensured we slept deeply throughout the night.
Fine Dining With several premium restaurants within the deluxe Westin resort, we were spoilt for choice over our two glorious days on the island. These venues included The Island Kitchen, Hawker, Sunset Bar and, our personal favourite, The Pearl, where we sat down for a memorable meal. Buffet breakfasts, á la carte dining, Asian street food, tapas and Japanese-style seafood were all a part of our culinary experience on Miriandhoo Island, and we thoroughly enjoyed each and every dish we were served.
Activities As amazing as the island and its infrastructure are, it’s the activities that will remain foremost in our memories. The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort is located in the Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, an area that supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, accounting for 5% of the world’s reef area. We were treated to an unforgettable snorkelling extravaganza and witnessed several endangered species including green and hawkbill turtles, along with Napoleon wrasses and a Tawny Nurse Shark. The coral reefs on their own make the journey to Miriandhoo worthwhile and we spent hours appreciating the sea life that inhabit these expansive reefs. Another small but beautiful virgin coral island that belongs to the hotel is located 700m north of Miriandhoo. Left untouched, this visually striking location with its abundance of coconut palms is in pristine condition and is used for picnics, beach dinners, vow renewals, and general exploration. Our time at the luxurious Westin Maldives, Miriandhoo Resort was truly unforgettable. It would have been even harder to leave if we weren’t headed to Kuramathi Island for more fun, sun and pampering.
Leaving Miriandhoo Island, we were more than happy to have a second seaplane experience. Soon, we found ourselves back on Male, heading for yet another speedboat. The 59km ocean journey to Kuramathi Island took around 90 minutes, time we spent taking in the unending views and magnificent sunshine. Kuramathi Maldives is an eco-friendly island resort located in Rasdhoo Atoll, on one of only five islands in a tiny archipelago. The area is famous for its abundant and diverse marine life, including sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and large fish including tuna. Vibrant reefs are another huge attraction and the entire area is well-known as a supreme diving destination.
The Layout As we approached the jetty, we were greeted by the now familiar site of lush greenery, white hourglass-sand beaches and attentive hotel staff. One of the biggest resorts in the Maldives, the layout of this five-star retreat is spread out over the 1.8km long island. Twelve villa categories offer an array of options for guests, including both modest beach villas and charming water villas. All guest villas face secluded areas of long beaches or are poised over water, providing privacy for all occupants. Some of the villas include hot tubs or private pools. An outdoor tennis court is also available for guests.
Set amongst luscious vegetation with clear views of the ocean, this luxurious spa’s facilities include 13 treatment rooms, rain showers, a herbal essence steam bath, a Finnish sauna, and a Cool Dip Pool. After a soothing pre-treatment herbal tea, we enjoyed several treatments, including skin care and deep body massages. By the time we were done, we felt as if we were floating; our bodies having never felt better.
Delicious Dining Kuramathi Resort houses no less than nine à la carte restaurants, three international buffet restaurants and offers several private dining options. Over our two days on the island, we were fortunate enough to indulge in teppanyaki dining at Kobe, Mediterranean dishes at Palm, as well as sumptuous Asian specialities at Inguru. We were even lucky enough to be invited for fine dining at Duniye, the resort’s premium restaurant, where we partook of an array of world cuisines. Every dish we tasted was exceptional and we cannot sing the praises of these restaurants loudly enough. Seven bars are located across the resort, providing ideal spots to relax with friends or to take in the picturesque sunsets over the turquoise waters. Live music, a resident DJ and karaoke evenings all added to the festive atmosphere and we thoroughly enjoyed hopping from one venue to the next.
Activities As an ideal location for families, groups and couples, Kuramathi Maldives offers a wide variety of activities for all ages and levels of fitness. Our first experience was a leisurely walk through the island’s botanical gardens. Here we were introduced to several species of plants used for a wide range of purposes. We highly appreciated the beauty of these grounds, as well as the wealth of knowledge provided by our guide. Of course, we had to have an ocean experience whilst in Rasdhoo Atoll and we were not disappointed. We were taken to several snorkelling spots where we spent hours inspecting the colourful coral reefs and abundance of marine life. There are several diving options for established divers, including the popular excursion to Shark Point. There, skilled practitioners can dive with various types of sharks, rays, turtles and barracuda. For guests not yet qualified, the resort offers SSI and PADI diver qualification courses, run by experienced instructors. With so many recreational activities available for guests, including an array of water sports, boat rides, cruises, island hopping and even adventures in a semi-submarine, there is definitely something for everyone at Kuramathi Maldives. D
All too soon it was time to bid farewell to Kuramathi and the Maldives. Boarding a speedboat for Male one last time, a bittersweet sensation engulfed us. Although hugely grateful for our time amongst these spectacular islands, we experienced some sorrow at having to leave all this beauty behind. During the plane ride back to Qatar, we reminisced over our once-in-a-lifetime Maldivian experience. The friendly faces of the locals and hotel staff, the spectacular island views, the amazing marine life, the warm welcoming waters of the ocean, along with the sumptuous cuisine and breathtaking sunsets. The adventure of this magical location will forever hold a special place in our hearts and memories.