Finally, lockdown is lifting and we can start planning a much-needed break – even if most countries are still off limits. But there is one destination that will be worth the wait: and not just for the palm-fringed beaches, turquoise sea and freedom to kick off your shoes.
The Maldives, with its one-resort-per-island policy and butler-serviced villas, is the ideal location for a socially distanced holiday – so much so that many in the high-net-worth community who usually jet in for a dose of winter sun have been extending their stay for months on end, seeing out the pandemic in the epitome of barefoot luxury. And nowhere does this make more sense than at The Nautilus, the super exclusive hideaway in the Baa Atoll, where every part of the experience is tailored to the visitor.
With just 26 spacious beach and ocean villas dotted around the island – each with a generously sized pool and positioned so as not to be overlooked – it feels more like a private retreat than a resort, and the intimate setting means you relax instantly. But what really sets it apart from the competition is its core concept of unscripted experiences. Here, menus are merely suggestions and there are no fixed schedules, meaning you are free to enjoy yourself as and when you please, asking the chef to whip up what you fancy and dining anytime, anywhere, or unwinding with a spa treatment when you feel like it. Given how rare it is to find a hotel spa that stays open beyond dinnertime, let alone at any hour, I was thrilled to be able to repair to The Nautilus’ Solasta Spa long after sunset.
Set on stilts over the water, the part glass-floor treatment rooms are cocoons of serenity, with the spectacle of the underwater world unfolding below. Who couldn’t delight in seeing squid, an octopus and spotted eagle rays swim by in the lit-up lagoon while being pampered into soporific bliss.
The Immunity Boost is a treatment perfectly pitched for the current climate in which preventative well-being is top of the agenda. After decompressing in the eucalyptus-infused steam room guests are scrubbed from top to toe and wrapped in mineral-rich mud courtesy of the Hungarian beauty brand Omorovicza – heavenly, and much needed after having to do without any kind of spa therapy for the past year.
Undoubtedly, navigating the pandemic has caused us all stress and anxiety, and The Nautilus has wisely designed its wellness offering not just around body treatments but also holistic practices to quiet the mind and soothe the soul. The newly launched Full Moon Crystal Singing Bowl Meditation ritual is described as a sound bath that will “realign and balance the chakras and help set intentions for the next lunar cycle”. Performed at the overwater yoga shala, it combines guided pranayama (breathing) and meditation techniques with the ethereal sounds emanating from a harmonic set of quartz crystal bowls. While I tried it during daylight hours rather than at night, I certainly found it restful – unlike the aerial yoga it can be combined with which, when I attempted an upside-down pose, turned out to be trickier than my teacher had made it look.
The most profound experience for me, however, was another form of sound therapy – the kind with Tibetan singing bowls. Sessions take place in guests’ villas, and are carried out by Swan Dewi, a resident yoga teacher and reiki master from Bali whose technique is completely intuitive. “How long I spend on each area of the body, and whether I focus more on the physical, mental or emotional aspect depends on your needs,” she explained.
Having set up a massage table in the lounge and smudged your room with sage, Dewi will invite you to lie down and close your eyes while she tunes into the healing energy transmitted during the touchless therapy. She will then gently introduce the sounds of the singing bowls, softly tapping them over and around you. Handmade from a blend of gold, silver, mercury and zinc, each one emits a unique sound – some clear like a bell; others deeper and gong-like. I felt their vibrations ripple through my body, and a range of fleeting emotions – suppressed sadness and worry dissipating into lightness and peace.
Equilibrium restored, I watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean. There will always be storms to weather, but a little self-care goes a long way towards regaining our inner calm.
Rates start at around £2,081 per night in an ocean house with private pool on B&B, excluding tax and service.