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There are several contenders for the most dazzling electric-blue water in the world, but it’s hard to imagine any destination topping the natural splendour of the Maldives. Spread out on small private islands among the 1,200 clustered in 22 atolls in this island nation, the resorts in the Maldives also promise total seclusion.
And what they offer goes beyond traditional luxury: They’re known for their international sophistication, gourmet dining and Haute decor in villas on the beach or, more likely, suspended over the water. The main draw, however, always goes back to that water lined with powdery white beaches and boasting a richly coloured undersea world for divers and snorkelers to observe.
Here are the best resorts in the Maldives:
It’s not typical to think of an almond croissant when you think about a resort in the Maldives but you do that here, wondering how this particularly delicious pastry can stay so delicious and crisp in the humid air. But the level of French cuisine (also Japanese/East Asian, local Maldivian and Italian coastal) is so elevated at the Cheval Blanc Randheli that even the items on the breakfast buffet are superlative. So is the design, which is contemporary with mostly all-white colour schemes accented with dark wood furnishings and pops of lemon yellow in cushions and vases within the thatched, spacious villas, made to feel even more so with cathedral ceilings.
Privacy isn’t an issue with any of the 45 well-spaced villas located on this island in the remote Noonu Atoll but for maximum privacy, guests opt for the two and a half-acre private island with a 10,764-square-foot, four-bedroom villa with its own staff, beach, spa treatment room and 82-foot-long pool.
One of the more eagerly awaited openings of 2019, this resort is also one of the most extensive in the region, spanning three islands with 11 dining options and 122 villas (all with private pools), plus a nine-bedroom compound on an 8-acre private island. It’s also in the South Male Atoll, meaning getting there requires only a half-hour yacht voyage, not the seaplane transfers necessary for most of the other resorts. Given the surroundings, there are numerous water sports facilities along with a spa and kids’ club.
Given the range of dining facilities, though, guests may spend most of their time eating. Among the choices: The Ledge by Dave Pynt, an Australian barbecue specialist that’s an offshoot of Singapore’s Burnt Ends; Tangled with hand-pulled noodles and dim sum; Terra, in which diners sit in the treetops in bamboo nests sampling dishes created from Haute ingredients such as wagyu beef and Alba’s white truffles; and Yasmeen, featuring Levant cuisine.
There are other resorts with more cutting-edge design (although the renovation of the over-water villas due to debut in October will bring an upgrade), but the 103-villa Four Seasons Landa Giraavu is the epitome of relaxed, barefoot luxury—you walk everywhere on sand or take a bicycle. This resort and its nearby private island Voavah also both have extraordinary settings—even by Maldivian standards. It’s located in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, an area of particularly rich sea life, which guests can observe by diving and snorkelling or in the resort’s three-person submarine. From June to October, guests register for Manta On Call to be whisked by speedboat to sites where mantas have been spotted to swim along with them.
Among the other activities, there is also an extensive kids’ program and centers to learn about coral regeneration and sea turtle protection. For those attuned to holistic healing, there is a detailed program with ayurvedic doctors in residence and treatments offered in the spa. Dining options range from contemporary Italian at Blu to the cuisine of Lebanon and Morocco at Al Barakat to Asian specialities at Café Landaa. Café Landaa also has an extensive breakfast buffet but a more private, quiet breakfast at Blu has another advantage: one of the most singular, stunning white beach and ethereally aqua water views. That would be enough to recommend it even without a well-executed menu.
With so many resorts opening in the various atolls, it can be hard to distinguish visually between them—but that’s not an issue with the St. Regis Maldives. The exuberant architecture, inspired apparently by local marine life, features an open-air bar shaped like a whale and the cluster of Iridium Spa treatment rooms on stilts that from overhead resembles a lobster.
The 77 villas are also glass-fronted and geometrically shaped with grey sides that wouldn’t look out of place on Cape Cod; prime among them is the John Jacob Astor Estate, a three-bedroom, 16,000-square-foot complex—the largest in the country. There are also six restaurants, including a pan-Asian restaurant, a pizza cafe, a five-course gastronomic restaurant and the tapas served at the Whale Bar, ample water sports facilities, the spa and the trademark St. Regis butlers.
As a member of Como Hotels and Resorts, renowned for its Shambhala Retreats’ wellness regimens, Maalifushi is a prime location for meditating, doing yoga, strengthening your core or dissolving into a Thai, Indonesian or Indian Head Massage accompanied by views of that beautiful water and rippling ocean breezes. The decor in the 65 villas is also serene, lean in design and composed of natural woods, stone and rattan with furnishings in beige and white. The cuisine in the three restaurants is along the same lines: healthy Shambhala spa dishes, Thai, Japanese, Indonesian and Mediterranean fare.
Villas don’t usually double as playgrounds but in 17 of the 26 villas at Soneva Jani—all but 2 built over the water—there’s a slide on the side for guests to careen into the water. And it’s definitely not meant just for kids. (Children are encouraged to come with their parents, though; there’s an adjoining sleeping area for them along with the master bedroom in every villa.) Water sports are naturally essential activities but the resort adds on additional ones including a professional telescope for mapping the stars and an outdoor cinema near the restaurant serving modern Japanese cuisine. Other dining options including a five-seat Chef’s Table featuring a mystery menu and restaurants serving classic Maldivian and Peruvian dishes.
As a member of the famous Italian hotel group, the overall tone of this resort on the island of Maagau in the Dhaalu Atoll is undeniably Italian, from the sleek villa furnishings by the design company Cassina to the sparkling wine Ferrari Trento served in the bar and classics of Italian cuisine served in the restaurant Gusto. (There is also a Japanese restaurant as well as an international one.) Even the dive instructor Alessia Pagani is Italian, but she’s also an expert in Maldivian sea life. The 96 villas—including the three-bedroom, 7,212-square-foot overwater Presidential Villa—have subtle colour schemes, with accents of sharp green and blue, and furniture that would fit right in a villa on the Amalfi Coast.
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