From private pools to night swims and lobster on the beach, Jillian Bolger escapes the real world at Jumeirah Dhevanafushi.
With two torch straps wrapped around my wrists, and flippers tucked under my arm, I tentatively wade into the warm waters.
The sun is sinking low into the horizon, enflaming the sky with fiery stripes, but I’m not hanging around for the spectacle. Fellow holidaymakers may be lingering by their pools, watching the fabled Maldivian sunset, but I have a date with the deep, and am heading into the Indian Ocean on my first night snorkel.
Three of us join our guide, an experienced freediver, who leads us through a channel in the coral out over the house reef. It’s shallow at first, and brilliantly clear, but darkness descends as the sun slinks away. The shadows sneak up on me and, turning on my main torch, I follow my group out to the reef’s edge. The waters seem very different by night.
The mood changes beneath the inky waves, but the sea life is as busy as ever. Colourful creatures dash past in patrols — parrotfish and wrasse, phosphorescent plankton, lone hawksbill turtles — while the pale-by-day coral glows neon under our UV lights, emitting startling colours.
At the reef’s edge the coral drops away to a deep abyss. It’s a heart-stopping moment, even before I spot a nursing shark skulking below us. Returning to shore, exhilarated, we find an eagle ray burrowing into the sand, lying in wait for its supper.
We’re ready for supper too, and tonight it’s lobster on the beach. Our seating comprises a deep seat and table dug into the sand, facing the inky ocean. Sipping on champagne, the waves providing a gentle soundtrack to our candlelit feast, we look skywards at the diamond-studded cloak. Just 30 miles north of the equator, the constellations are unfamiliar: with zero clouds and no light pollution, it’s clear we’re sitting on the edge of heaven.
It’s true we’ve travelled thousands of miles to get here, and while we could have checked into an island resort within minutes of landing in the Maldives, we chose to bypass dozens of resorts close to Malé, the capital, and take an additional flight 400 kilometres south. A 55-minute domestic flight and 20-minute speed boat ride takes us to the remote luxury retreat of Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, two private islands in the southern reaches of the Maldives. As close to off-grid as you could ever wish, there’s neither flight paths, nor shipping lanes, nor neighbouring lights to ruin the illusion. You want a desert island experience? You’ve come to the right place.
Not usually a fan of beach holidays, there’s something different about the Maldives that keeps drawing me back. Here you buy into the whole sense of escapism and surrender to complete relaxation. There are no nightclubs, no historic architecture, no shopping (aside from a souvenir shop), no day trips to the capital, which is too far away. What you will find is a commodity rarer than platinum: a world free from noise, traffic, chaos and distraction.
On heart-shaped Meradhoo, the bigger of the two distinctive ‘islands’ (the smaller one is essentially an elliptical boardwalk linking sensational Ocean Pearl water bungalows and one edgy Asian restaurant), loved-up honeymooners will find it easy to avoid other holidaymakers, should they wish. Despite being navigable in a 15-minute stroll, each of the large villas has its own private pool, dining area and living room all serviced by a dedicated 24-hour butler.
Fancy private dining in your villa, cocktails by your own pool or a petal-filled bath for two? Just ask. (The baths are so big you could host a pool party in them; the beds so large they could sleep a whole family.)
With your own secluded beach beyond the villa, you can slip off for a snorkel whenever you wish. Swimming under the stars is an option, although there’s nothing nicer than a dip in your own pool before bed. A rain shower in your garden is the perfect way to start the day, perhaps to the chorus of a friendly fruit bat or looking out at a lone heron chilling on the shore.
While a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean may seem a hard sell to the action-lover in your life, there’s little chance of boredom here. The pristine waters seduce with the promise of snorkelling, diving and swimming, but you can undertake any manner of water sports, from catamaran sailing to deep-sea fishing, wake boarding to kite surfing. Table tennis, a well-stocked library, gym and sublime over-water spa provide plenty of options for escaping the sun, and there are three restaurants and a bar to keep dining interesting.
Coconut, fish and rice form the foundations of Maldivian cuisine, reflecting the important trade route it once sat on in the Indian Ocean. While coconut and fish are abundant, rice has to be imported. Johara, on the water bungalow island, serves up sublime Asian cuisine, including knock-out sushi, while the resort’s executive chef, an Italian, ensures great pizzas and Mediterranean-style cuisine is on offer too. Elsewhere, there’s a stylish, Maldivian-themed night at Mumayaz restaurant, where, once a week, you may just find yourselves up and dancing to the traditional Bodu Beru drummers after you’ve eaten your fill of grilled fish, curries and exotic salads.
It’s not your average holiday night out, but then again, there’s nothing average about this extraordinary sanctuary in the sea.
Fly to Malé via Dubai with Emirates (emirates.com) or via Abu Dhabi with Etihad (etihad.com), with fares from around €750 return.
A further 55-minute flight with Maldivian Airlines from Male to Kaadedhdhoo airport is required (maldivian.aero, approx. €391 return) followed by a complimentary 15-minute speedboat transfer to your resort.
Jumeirah (jumeirah.com) has a private lounge in Malé airport, where you can wait and enjoy refreshments between flights.
A Beach Revive Villa with private pool at Jumeirah Dhevanafushi costs from €1,089 per night. From Ireland, packages can be booked through Elegant Resorts (elegantresorts.ie).