Long regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful vacation destinations, the Republic of Maldives has come into its own in recent years thanks to improved flight availability and a race to the top by an ever-increasing number of luxury resorts welcoming guests to these spectacular islands in the Indian Ocean.
There is certainly no shortage of destinations; Maldives has more than a thousand tropical and secluded islands to choose from. Most are uninhabited except for those leased by the many upscale resorts looking to make sea dreams come true.
Dubai-based hospitality group Jumeirah knows more than a little about luxury accommodations and the attendant services required to provide guests with the carefree vacations they traveled so far to find.
The roominess of Jumeirah’s house-sized villas, their private pools and gardens and not least of all the expert staff – whose sole goal is to make guests feel completely relaxed – are the foundation stones of the company’s hospitality ethos.
Whether you’re staying at Jumeirah Vittaveli or Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, the inherent feeling of space, serenity, service and style is omnipresent.
The larger of the two resorts, Jumeirah Vittaveli is nestled on Bolifushi Island in South Malé Atoll, a 25-minute ride by speedboat from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the country’s main gateway.
Jumeirah maintains its own airport lounge and transfer boats for guests, who are met after immigration formalities by welcoming staff; it’s also possible to charter a seaplane from the airport directly to the resort’s boat dock. Once on the island, guests are escorted to their villas for a private check-in process.
Just as the great mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, were referred to as “cottages” by their wealthy owners, so the villas on Vittaveli are called suites even though they are substantial freestanding structures.
The largest of these is the newly unveiled Royal Residence, a three-bedroom villa with its own private jetty for arrival and departure, ideal for those desiring complete discretion.
To explore the expanse of waters surrounding the island, Vittaveli’s yacht is available for private charter, an especially popular activity for sunset cruises to see dolphins frolicking in the water as the sky turns 50 shades of red.
Where exactly are these azure waters? The series of atolls that comprise the Republic of Maldives lie 370 miles south of India. They extend more than 500 miles in the Indian Ocean, but are less than 80 miles at their widest.
Of the country’s almost 35,000 square miles of water and islands, only a fraction rises (barely) above sea level to create the lush oases surrounded by turquoise, navy, sapphire and a dozen other hues of ocean blue.
The vast panorama of atolls and coral reefs from the air on a clear day is one of the world’s greatest natural sights. Atoll, by the way, is the only word in the English language derived from Dhivehi, the language of the Maldivian people.
The culinary aspect of the Vittaveli experience is of paramount importance, reflecting Jumeirah’s mandate for delicious dining in sublime surroundings.
The name of the resort’s main restaurant, Samsara, references the Hindu belief in reincarnation. It’s an appropriate label for a place where diners may feel as if they have died and gone to heaven before returning to Earth (i.e., home, with a renewed spirit).
Both buffet and à la carte menus at Samsara offer substantial selections of international and local dishes for enjoyment indoors or outside on the deck.
For a romantic and memorable toes-in-the-sand experience, Vittaveli’s Mu Beach Bar & Grill encourages guests to cast off their red-soled Louboutins in favor of crimson-splashed sunsets glowing over a coral atoll. And then there is Swarna. Even by lofty Maldives standards, Swarna is a dazzling dining experience both in its atmospheric setting and in the food served with an extraordinary elegance.
Opt for the Swarna Journey, an 18-course extravaganza of culinary excellence served on special plates and trays. The meal recreates the traditional royal dinner of India’s Mughal princes who enjoyed it with musical accompaniment, just as diners do here while savoring the fireworks of flavors in private, open-air pavilions.
Regardless of where guests choose to dine, Vittaveli’s evening festivities are usually preceded by apéritifs in Bar-EE, a dramatic circular bar set in its own gazebo at the edge of the sand.
If Vittaveli is not removed enough from the outside world, Jumeirah’s Dhevanafushi takes isolation to the extreme – just as it does comfort and service. Located 250 miles south of Malé in Gaafu Alifu?Atoll, Dhevanafushi is perched on Meradhoo, a fantasy island reminiscent of the 1980s TV series, complete with debonair host Firas Sharrouf.
The affable resident manager welcomes guests to this extraordinary outpost with a cosmopolitan flair that makes Ricardo Montalbán’s Mr. Roarke seem positively gauche by comparison.
Dhevanafushi can be reached via domestic flights from Malé to Kaadedhdhoo, followed by a boat transfer to Meradhoo. Seaplane transfers from Vittaveli and helicopter charters from the international airport are also available.
As at Vittaveli, the guest accommodations at Dhevanafushi are large and luxurious. The resort has the requisite overwater villas so much in demand in Maldives, set in their own water worlds and anchored directly to the ocean floor.
Dhevanafushi’s suites are called Ocean Pearls, and are clasped together by the dramatic Johara restaurant, from which the view back over to the island is spectacular.
Gaafu Alifu has become the hot destination in Maldives, not least because of its pristine coral reef offering sheltered observation of the colorful marine life on one side before dropping spectacularly into the deep blue ocean on the other.
Avid snorkelers and divers will be awed by the variety of sea life, which can be seen without even going into the water since some fish come right into the shallows. On the surface, jet skis and kayaks are available for guest use.
After all this aquatic exertion, a variety of spa treatments awaits in Talise Spa, where windows in the floor frame schools of Nemos and Dorys while expert therapists deliver soothing treatments infused with pure Maldivian coconut oil.
Despite its pelagic isolation, Jumeirah Dhevanafushi provides a superb array of enticing dining options at the restaurant Azara and at Mumayaz, its beachside venue.
At the outdoor Khibar pavilion, large cushions invite afternoon dozes following doses of snacks and drinks. On an island where privacy is highly valued, private dining in guest villas is easily arranged.
Despite its relative isolation, Maldives is reached with just one stop from several major U.S. airports. Turkish Airlines offers an excellent first and business class service across the Atlantic to Istanbul, with year- round onward connections to Maldives.
Via the Pacific, multi-award-winning Cathay Pacific flies non-stop from Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco to Hong Kong, with four services a week to Maldives. Visitors arriving by private jet can make use of VIP ground services provided by local airline Mega Maldives.
For more information, visit jumeirah.com, turkishairlines.com, cathaypacific.com and megamaldivesair.com.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF JUMEIRAH