The Maldives: My blue heaven
Tropical islands have always been a source of fascination to me, regularly featuring in my chosen reading material from childhood.
From Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to Lucy Irvine’s Castaway, the paradise island trope has long held me in its thrall, and, latterly, fantasy became reality when I ticked a lust-have off the bucket list: the Shangri-La of paradise islands — the Maldives.
This Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,190 coral islands — 27 atolls — is, without doubt, the apogee of island destinations. Powder-white sands, turquoise waters, stupendous sunsets: it ticks those boxes, and then some. A trip to the Maldives is, make no mistake, living the dream.
And if one is living the dream, well, naturally, one must travel in style. Turkish Airlines — which has been consistently named Best Airline in Europe since 2011 — flew me business class, to Male, capital of the Maldives, via Istanbul (where I enjoyed the to-die-for business class lounge: beds, massages, showers, endless food and drink, a baby grand to tinkle...).
It’s not often one gets to turn left on entering an aircraft, but that change in direction brings with it high expectations, and Turkish Airlines’s business class delivers in spades. From the loo’s Molton Brown toiletries (and cute little plant!); to the complimentary slippers and toilet bag containing in-flight essentials and pampering goodies, this was luxury with a capital L.
My seat, which adjusted to lie flat, was vast and supremely comfortable; while the flatscreen TV had a huge choice of movies (337, to be exact), TV shows, and music. I snuggled in, welcome drink in hand, and salivated over the moreish menu: marinated olives; stuffed aubergine; aged cheeses; passion fruit and mango mousse… unsurprisingly, the airline has won Best Business Class Onboard Catering, with its economy class achieving second prize, at the Skytrax Airline Awards, the aviation industry Oscars. There’s an onboard chef, so it is perhaps not surprising that the food is so good.
Sated, I savoured a romcom along with a (Riedel) glass or two of Champers, then slept for much of the rest of the journey — delightfully, the staff make up your bed, adding to your now-flat seat a duvet and a padded cover that serves as a comfy mattress. I awoke refreshed to spot, out the window, countless turquoise specks set like jewels into the azure sea below. Paradise ahoy!
On landing, the next adventure awaited: a Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane, to ferry us to our island base. I had been tipped off to try and nab a seat at the front of the flying boat’s cabin, to get a prime view of the cockpit action. Nab one I did, and watched, enthralled, as the two pilots, both barefoot, completed their cross check and opened up the throttle until the propellers whirred too fast to discern the spinning blades. All of a sudden, there we were, skimming along the sea’s surface; then, just like magic, airborne, with the greenish-blue coral islands glowing in the cerulean waters beneath.
Our seaplane brought us to a speedboat, which sped us on the last leg of our journey to Kuramathi, a teardrop-shaped island, set in Rasdhoo Atoll, a tiny cluster of delights. Kuramathi’s interior is thick with lush vegetation, which comprises many healing plants and medicinal trees, including neem, a natural insecticide (beleaguered parents, take note; it’s lethal to head lice); banyan, the sap of which is helpful in treating leprosy; and the fragrant screwpine, the leaves of which are used to flavour curries. This abundant growth is fringed by the most divine-looking beaches imaginable, lapped by warm waters of astonishing clarity and colour. Kuramathi’s tip culminates in a sandbank, where one can sit and watch sand, sea and sky fuse in a kaleidoscope of hues so vivid that their beauty is overwhelming.
A pinch-yourself moment, of which there are plenty on Kuramathi, and my accommodation for the duration gave rise to another: home was a pool villa overlooking the ocean, complete with a walk-in wardrobe, a Nespresso machine, a fully-stocked wine fridge, an outdoor rainfall shower, a giant bath, a huge infinity pool, and gigantic bed positioned to face the pool, sea and horizon beyond. And, a touch of home — Kuramathi’s toiletries are by Sligo’s Voya (the island’s spa also offers signature Voya treatments).
Kuramathi is small but perfectly formed — it’s 1.8km long, and 300m across at its widest part — but the eating and drinking options are legion. On arrival, I was assigned Farivalhu, one of three buffet restaurants, as my base for breakfast, and, as I was on the Select All-Inclusive package, I could dine at any of the nine a la carte restaurants dotted around the island. (Uniquely for the Maldives, Kuramathi, which is a cashless resort, offers two types of all-inclusive package, Basic and Select). Anything purchased on the Maldives is subject to 10pc service tax and 12pc goods and services tax, so choosing all-inclusive is a no-brainer, as the more that’s included in your package, the more money you’re saving, plus there’s no added stress of keeping tabs on your bill.
As is the way in the Maldives, the entire island is the resort, so generally once on your island, it’s your home for the duration. However, Kuramathi has a sister island, reachable by speedboat, called Kandolhu, which is even tinier and more exclusive, and perfect if you fancy a two-resort break. There are a mere 30 villas on Kandolhu, all of which are A-list amazing, but I was particularly taken by the Ocean Pool Villas, of which there are seven. They are over water, and not only do they each have a vast infinity pool and steps down into the balmy turquoise ocean, they also boast a bath of dreams: off the bedroom, in a glass-walled cube, with stupendous views, and sliding doors that open on to the private deck and the ocean. Stunning.
Despite its diminutive nature, Kandolhu has no less than four a la carte restaurants, including Olive, which is set on a height to maximise the beautiful views. The chef, Mickael Farina, is French, but spent several years working for Kelly’s of Rosslare, and his cuisine is to die for. My meaty Maldivian job fish was divine, and came with equally sublime vanilla ratatouille and spring onion tempura.
All too often, the food in far-flung destinations fails to cut the mustard, but on Kuramathi and Kandolhu, it was a cut above. Luscious.
The rest of the day on Kandolhu was spent snorkelling with a guide; I’m not the strongest swimmer, but the going was easy and the sights unmissable. I spotted angelfish, sweetlips, unicorn fish, endless coral, a sea turtle (sadly, they are endangered), and last, but not least, a reef shark — whose food of choice is, thankfully, not human. A dream day.
Back on Kuramathi, it was time to do a bit of exploring. Despite being small, it still takes a bit of time to get around — although there is a handy buggy service, with frequent pick-up points dotted about the island. After a delicious lunch of pasta and pesto at the Palm (much of the resort’s herbs and greens come from its own hydroponic garden), I headed towards Fung Bar for a post-prandial cocktail, admiring, as I strolled, the swooping fruit bats and the whooping Asian koel, which inhabit the treetops. I must have looked like I was feeling the heat — the temperature generally hovers around 29 degrees — as Musa, who was felling coconuts, stopped me and offered to open one. I’d never tasted just-off-the-tree coconut water before; ambrosia doesn’t come close to describing its deliciousness. Musa, a Bangladeshi, chose another hairy drupe, and with expert aim, exposed the quivering white flesh within. A Bounty bar, Kuramathi style! Musa’s thoughtful act exemplified the behaviour of all the staff on the two islands, who I was subsequently told are chosen for their personality, not their knowledge (they receive expert training), and it shows. They are, to a person, unfailingly kind, smiling, interested, bubbling with enthusiasm, and ready to go to the nth degree for you.
The days passed in a haze of fabulousness: swim, snooze, potter, cocktail — Laguna Bar, with its adjacent infinity pool and dreamy beats was a favourite — eat. All the restaurants are top drawer, but Island Barbeque was a standout for me, and you can then decamp to Sand Bar — think beanbags on the beach — to while away the rest of the evening. Our final night was spent on a sunset cruise (included in Select and Basic All Inclusive Packages), with Champagne at the halfway point, and a 360 degree view of an incredible fiery sunset that left me speechless. Next day was my last, but I was living the dream, remember! So it was off to the spa for a peerless massage with Balinese, Mayan, a tiny creature with superhuman strength. Afterwards, as I lay swaddled in my fluffy robe, the glittering sand inches away — the relaxation room is outdoors and has its own beach — I spotted a pod of dolphins in the distance, surely leaping with joy because they knew they were in heaven. As was I.
And there was Champagne, flat-bed seats, hot showers, fluffy robes, noise-cancelling headphones and fancy food still to come. Living the dream — hey, that’s the way I roll…
TAKE TWO: Top attractions
Take to the water
Swim, snorkel, dive, windsurf, waterski, parasail, wakeboard - or do as I did, above, and kayak in a transparent vessel so you can admire the abundant sea life as you paddle; the Maldives is watersports heaven, and then some!
Sensational sea scents
It’s always special to encounter an Irish product abroad, so it was a real thrill to discover Voya products are used on Kuramathi and Kandolhu. The fab seaweed-based Sligo brand is used in both islands’ spas, and is in all the bathrooms.
For resort information, see kuramathi.com and kandolhu.com. Bookings: Topflight Holidays, tel: (01) 2401700, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or see topflight.ie or Travel Counsellors, see travelcounsellors.ie.
Kuramathi Island Resort: Beach Villas from €2,155pp; Over Water Villas from €2,895pp for 7 nights including flights, taxes and transfers on a Full-Board basis. Optional Basic All-Inclusive package, €59 per day; Dine Around Select package, €99 per day. Kandolhu Island: From €3,995pp, Jacuzzi Beach Villa, Ultimate Inclusions basis for 7 nights. Prices correct at time of print; based on travel in May/June 2018 including flights with Turkish Airlines and all taxes.
Round trip economy class starting price Dublin-Maldives from €748.59 only (incl taxes); return business class starting price for same route, €2,166.59 only (incl taxes), see turkishairlines.com, or call: (01) 5251849.
Baggage allowance: Economy class, 30kg + 8kg hand luggage; Business class 40kg + 16kg for hand luggage in total, with Turkish Airlines, whose tagline is ‘the airline that flies to more countries than any other airline’.
Sunday Indo Living