Today, it’s easy to forget that, until the 1990s, the Maldives attracted mainly backpackers and serious divers. The idea that this string of around 1,200 islands and atolls could be reimagined as super luxury resorts is really a recent phenomenon.
Among the sweep of names making up for lost time – these three, each as alluring and intoxicating as the other, are our pick of the ones with the most valid claim to the ‘Paradise On Earth’ mantle.
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
Best for: lovers of exotic sea life
Is there a secret recipe, when it comes to creating an unforgettable island resort? If so, it starts with one of the most pristine ecosystems in the Maldives – to wit, Baa Atoll, which is a certified UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Add to that a startlingly beautiful collection of shimmery coral, teeming with hypnotic waves of multi-hued parrotfish, squads of clownfish, sea turtles, and hoards of Spinner Dolphins darting through crystalline water, in shifting shades of Tiffany-blue. It’s a scene straight out of Finding Nemo: except this is no CGI-conceit.
Next, drift out with the current in a traditional Dhoni boat for another never-ending parade of the resort’s marine life. Guests lucky enough to be in residence between May and November are in for an unforgettable treat – this period marks the annual migration season for the giant manta rays through the protected waters of Hanifaru Bay, the world’s largest manta feeding destination.
It’s a spectacle best observed with the resort’s resident marine biologist, a veritable font of information. At full moon, over a hundred of these gentle creatures – the wingspan of the adults reaching several metres – majestically undulate through the still waters like ancient sub-aquatic barges, casually feeding on plankton and crustaceans.
If your luck holds up, you might even glimpse, gliding along in their parents’ wake, rarely seen baby mantas – as serene and contented as the Anantara Kihavah guests swimming alongside them.
From around £1,400 per night for a one-bedroom beach pool villa, BOOK NOW
The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands
Best for: lovers of architectural modernism
The Ritz-Carlton has long been known for creating extraordinary resorts in extraordinary destinations, but with its 100-villa property on Fari Islands, it has outdone itself.
For starters, the quality and imagination of the architecture in a class of its own. In one of his last projects the late, great Australian architect Kerry Hill skilfully stitched together a tapestry of minimalist interiors etched in stone and timber and indigenous art, views of sky and sea the colour of crushed sapphires, and acres of rich vegetation teeming with a menagerie of sea turtles, crabs and birds.
Sustainability ripples through the entire resort like the soft ocean breezes for which the Maldives are famous: examples being reusable water bottles, bamboo-based amenities, an organic garden, solar panels, its ambitious coral planting programme and a rigorous zero-waste approach in the seven restaurants and bars.
In a setting as pristine as this, it’s fitting that the resort has teamed up with the famed oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment programme which lures guests – both adults and children – on an immersive journey through the atoll’s extraordinary flora and fauna.
If it’s not already clear, the word ‘extraordinary’ prefixes most things at this property.
From around £1,500 per night for an Ocean Pool villa, BOOK NOW
Patina Maldives, Fari Islands
Best For: those in search of nourishment for body, mind and soul
Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson spent years planning their escape from their respective shipwrecked islands. Chances are, though, they probably would have happily stayed marooned on the Patina Maldives.
As dining experiences go, the resort’s culinary offerings are as otherworldly as its sleekly jewelled setting designed by the famed Brazilian architect, Marcio Kogan. Anchored by an admirable commitment to low carbon footprint, there is a menu for literally every possible mood.
The gastronomic centrepiece is Fari Marina Village, a sophisticated playground of cuisines that skirts from Lebanese and North Indian flavours served up in a dining room inspired by a Bedouin tent, meats grilled over an open-fire in a hacienda so reminiscent of rugged Patagonian fare, and icy Negronis at the handsome Fari Beach Club, to an actual gelato truck dishing out exquisite home-made ice-creams and sorbets, and a sun-dappled dining space whose minimalist menu fuses modern Japanese and Nordic techniques and ingredients.
Without exception, every culinary moment is staged in a setting anchored by the beach, each venue looking out towards an island tableau of swaying palm trees, sugar-white sand, and the gentle lap of Indian Ocean always just within easy reach.
Escape? You already have.
From £1,785 per night on a B&B basis for a one-bedroom Beach Pool Villa, BOOK NOW
See below for more photos of each resort
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas