Monday 18 December 2017

Mantas and Mirihi: Mindfulness and luxury in the middle of nowhere

Maldives Travel Guide

Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Water villa at Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Mirihi Island, Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
A whale shark near Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz

Sarah Siese

From manta ray encounters to heavenly spa treatments, Sarah Siese discovers a resort where simplicity is the essence of luxury.

From the window, I spy a wishbone-shaped island with a small cluster of wooden stilted villas at its apex. The excitement is tangible.

This is neither your everyday view nor your common or garden plane. It’s a novel 15-seater DHC-6 Twin Otter sea plane, and we’re circuiting the island resort of Mirihi (pictured above), in the Maldives’ South Ari Atoll, for a bird’s-eye view of the inky splodges of turquoise that promise a week of colour therapy. After that, we skim down onto the water to land right by the island’s pontoon.

As soon as my feet touch the floury white sand, I’m asked to remove my shoes and informed that I won’t need them until I leave. Mirihi subscribes to the no shoes no news ethos, which suits me just fine. The island triggers none of the existential angst of bigger, flashier resorts. Its simplicity is its luxury.

Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz

With just 38 villas, distractions and other guests are kept to a minimum, emphasising the sheer spectacle of the surroundings and the fact that our home for the week is a tiny patch of sand in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere. No TV equals no Brexit, no Trump, no...  Far more important is the local news that a hawksbill turtle has just laid her eggs on the beach, ready to hatch in around 45 days. No pool means you’re ‘forced’ to cool off in the sea (a balmy 26°C) and commune with nature.

Read more: Magical Maldives: Everything you need know before your trip to paradise

Hungry to slow down, I rush to book in a dive. I note the paradox and gauge the racing pace of my mind. When we hit the water, however, the transformation is immediate. I go from full mind to mindful the second of descent, leaving a trickle of busy thought bubbles pirouetting to the surface.

Manta Ray in the Maldives. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Manta Ray in the Maldives. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

The diving at Mirihi and the South Ari Atoll, just 30 minutes by seaplane from Malé Airport, is considered among the best in the Maldives. The resort itself is tiny, stretching barely 350m in length, but there are more than 40 dive sites nearby and a house reef wreck that, on one night dive, I find lit up by clouds of bioluminescent plankton at 10pm.

In these amazing waters, I realise that I’m most able to live in the moment when I’m diving. It allows an effortless, childlike state of being — an hour or so of precious time when you are completely and utterly involved with your surroundings. Combined with the meditative soundscape of the intake and outtake of breaths, it fast-tracks my mindfulness and relaxation.

Water villa at Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Water villa at Mirihi Island, The Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz

Changing hues of blue are lit up as a shoal of silvery mackerel darts past. A hawksbill turtle and puffer fish munch away on a cluster of yellow fans below. Floating above them, I can hear the coralline crunch of each mouthful. They’re totally unperturbed by my presence. White-tipped reef sharks cruise by, resembling bath-time toys rather than anything to fear — in fact, despite the abundance of sharks in the Maldives, there hasn’t been a recorded attack here in 32 years.

We continue dropping further into the blue, now an inky navy. Hassan, our dive master, signals for us to wait. Another group of divers hurries past at motorway speed, but we remain patient. For a few moments, there is not much to look at, so he amuses us by dropping a golf ball for a triggerfish who seems to enjoy some underwater football; it picks up the small ball in its mouth then drops it and pushes it along the reef. Then, amid the sub-aquatic giggles, Hassan points. Right above my head is a mother of a manta ray.

She glides over, almost touching my arm. I slow my breath, before expelling a burst of bubbles onto her belly. It seems she likes it, as she comes around again. Repeatedly. Soon, another manta joins, unfurling her iconic cephalic fins to scoop up plankton. Within minutes, there are five of these majestic kites of the sea swimming around us, ruffling their four-metre wingspans just centimetres from my face. I want to yell and scream with joy; every fibre of my being is tingling with excitement and privilege.

It’s a feeling that lasts the whole week. Whatever about sumptuous suites and private infinity pools, this encounter with nature is real luxury. Real living. Mother Nature’s underwater fashion show far supersedes, and possibly ridicules, the conveyor belt of gimmicky gizmos designed to amuse and delight holidaymakers — all over the world. On another outing we snorkel with a whale shark. And nature is enjoyed on land, too — a ‘Heaven on Earth’ treatment given by Lia in Mirihi’s Duniye Spa certainly lives up to its name.

Mirihi Island, Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz
Mirihi Island, Maldives. Photo: Marielle Ruiz

As the days stretch out, so do the evenings. I begin to notice more: in the Maldives, for example, the moon grows from the bottom axis upwards three degrees north of the equator — unlike our European moon, which waxes and wanes from side to side. Mirihi’s matriarchal owner, Swiss-born Amy Steirli (who lives here for half the year), recognises that less is more and eschews passing trends and fads to keep her island almost virginal.

Don’t get me wrong, this island is as luxurious as they come. It just avoids the distractions that pollute time and intends to stay this way.

How to do it...

Small is definitely beautiful in the case of Mirihi, an island just 350 metres long and 50 metres wide, with 38 bedrooms (serviced by 160 staff).

It's stripped-back luxury here, with no motorised watersports, no TV (bar one in the bar) and limited Wi-Fi. Nightly rates start from $600/€560 per villa on a B&B basis, based on two people sharing. See mirihi.com for more details.

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