The Maldives, a honeymooners’ haven, are a utopian enigma, a symbol of paradise, no matter what race, creed or class its visitors are. There are few places on earth that conjure up the sentiments of peaceful relaxation, pristine beauty and complete exclusivity. Perhaps the Seychelles or a few Pacific islands could draw comparisons but the archipelago of the Maldives, just south of Sri Lanka, are a unique prospect due to the variety and size of the islands on offer. The exotic appeal is clear, and the visible liberation from urban life is the cornerstone of this unique holiday experience.
Two Luxury Channel contributors chose the Maldives as their dream honeymoon destination and the resorts of Soneva Gili and Baros Maldives certainly delivered.
Reviewed by Antonia and James Peck
Arriving on Soneva So-Fast, the charmingly named resort speedboat, was an enjoyable taste of things to come and by far the most relaxing transfer we have ever experienced. Guests disembark onto a wooden hut suspended above aquamarine water with a long wooden jetty stretching out from the island, providing the only access to and from the resort. Clearly relaxation is inevitable here.
Having been introduced to our dedicated ‘Mr. Friday’ (our island PA for the next two weeks), we were steered confidently through the island paths to a second wooden jetty, revealing a row of water villas. About mid-way along was our villa, which oozed luxurious desert island chic. The living room was open air with a double height vaulted ceiling that looked out over the still, calm, reef. Comfy yellow sofas and giant chess and backgammon boards lent a relaxed charm to the interior. However, the real talking point has to be the ocean view, which unfolds in front of you, with stairs leading down to your own private decked platform with daybeds, sun loungers, and cargo net hammocks. Then there was our bathroom with stairs leading down to a private swimming area and a bridge across to a circular glass-bricked shower. The ingenuity of design is astounding, with every detail crafted to complement its surroundings. The bedroom had a sumptuous double bed, an incredible 180-degree sea view and a giant television for those stormy nights. Combine this with an iPod and surround sound music system (in every room), a rooftop dining area and complimentary bicycles and your heart will soon start beating to a new and relaxed rhythm. Whatever we wanted, we only had to ask and it arrived with a ribbon and a note asking if we needed anything else.
Circumnavigating the island will not take you long but its fun to navigate through the thick vegetation and whizz around on the white villa bikes. The first island amenity you will discover is the infinity pool, surrounded by palm trees and creamy beach views. Here, the staff treat you like royalty with freshly-prepared smoothies, sorbets or hot chocolates to taste. The main restaurant is also here, with its natural thatched roof and exceptional cellar (filled with wines, cheese and chocolate) but most alluring is the hotel’s water bar, set 50 metres onto the reef from the shore, which gave spectacular sunset views and provided the perfect setting for wonderful romantic meals. They have an excellent cocktail menu here and a bartender keen to wow you with his creative skills!
On the other side of the island, next to our jetty, were the Japanese/Peruvian restaurant and the Spa. Our first evening there we tried the Sake Degustation menu which was a wonderful way to learn about the history and flavours of Japanese culture through its national drink, with a range and breadth of different taster courses in between. The Spa was set out into the reef, the reason which became clear when we enjoyed a Six Senses Spa Journey – every treatment room has a porthole in the floor, directly underneath where you place your head on the massage table, so you can watch the multitude of reef fish swim back and forth as you’re kneaded, prodded and pampered to the point of nirvana.
For activities, we were almost spoilt for choice. There was a tennis court in the middle of the island, a table tennis table (albeit in a terrible position under a thatch hut in the jungle – mosquitoes aplenty!), diving and snorkeling excursions, sailing, swimming, cycling, kayaking, star-gazing and if you were lucky enough (or brave enough) there was always an invite to play football, cricket or volleyball with the staff on their all-weather pitch in their compound. We tried our hands at everything. We spread our days around these activities; swimming in the morning, kayaking after lunch, snorkeling in the afternoon with a healthy dose of reading / sun-bathing in-between. Planning the day was so easy that the most difficult decisions were generally about whether we should kayak before or after lunch, have lunch at the bar or in the villa, or deciding if we should swim in the pool or the sea….total bliss. One of the more extraordinary activities was the snorkeling, as this could be as easy as stepping off the jetty at your villa with your very own mask and flippers, or taking a boat on an excursion to another island. Both were fulfilling but it was the excursion that stuck in the memory; here we swam with turtles and manta rays for the first time, an experience we’ll never forget.
We were treated to several special moments whilst we were guests at Soneva Gili. On the first night, we had a blind food tasting, which was definitely a highlight. We were blind folded by Mr. Friday at our villa, led to his golf buggy, driven to an unknown location, and led to a table where our blind tasting commenced! A disconcerting but intriguing beginning to our first meal on the island. We tried spoonfuls of three different starters, mains and desserts with several wines and champagnes. After each, we had to describe the ingredients and which we preferred. Our choices were then revealed and served to us with the blindfolds removed. So simple an idea, but without the use of sight, your senses are heightened and the taste, smell and feel of the meal changes completely. We would recommend this experience in a heartbeat – it helped that the food was exquisite – and we now plan to do our own ‘Soneva Gili blindfolded dinner parties’ back in London!
Other highlights included the Six Senses meal on the beach (a magical evening, surrounded by candles flickering softly in the sand), a picnic on One Palm Island (the remoteness of the location was blissful), dolphin watching (with canapés and champagne), and the weekly Asian buffet (so delicious we are still drooling at the thought of it). We were spoilt by the staff who were welcoming and friendly at every moment, as if they were all born into hospitality.
Our hearts had begun to beat to a different rhythm, such was the extent of our relaxation – we could’ve stayed at Soneva Gili forever but we didn’t want this spectacle to become normality. To be treated as such, for too long, would destroy its beauty and whilst it was painful to leave, we now can’t wait to go back. Soneva Gili fulfilled every expectation we had for our honeymoon, providing beautiful memories and a restored sense of calm to take back to frenetic London life.
Reviewed by Reena Bajwa
Nestled on a paradise island on the North Male Atoll (and a speedy 25 minute boat ride from Male airport) lies a breath-taking couples retreat that is literally heaven on Earth. It was all so easy and effortless for Baros Maldives to captivate our hearts and minds with its laid-back yet reassuringly luxurious philosophy. Independently owned by a Maldivian family, this award-winning utopia certainly packs a mighty punch.
Guests can choose from secluded water or beach villas, which all feature first-rate technology (think iPod docks, Bose sound systems and flat screen TVs) in a cosy, comfy and utterly dreamy setting. We stayed in a stunning and spacious beach villa kitted out with super king size four poster bed, a private plunge pool, decking area, outdoor tropical garden with shower and direct access to the soft, white sandy shore, with a sparkling view of the sea and sunrise.
Snorkeling and diving are two activities not to be missed in the Maldives. However, at Baros, there’s no need to set out on a boat trip to see a variety of sea life; the entire island is surrounded by a captivating house reef that thrives with tropical marine life in amongst a kaleidoscope of coral. Not to mention the fact that Baros’ diving centre is also proudly certified as the first resort EcoDive Centre in the Maldives.
Foodies will absolutely love it here too. The Lime Restaurant opens daily for breakfast and dinner and the Cayenne Grill serves delicious lunch, including Asian satay sizzlers. By far the crème de la crème of eateries here is the fine dining restaurant with panoramic views out to sea: The Lighthouse. We opted for the Lighthouse Degustation – a taster menu which includes lobster bisque freshly cooked in front of you at your table accompanied with the perfect wine pairing for each and every course.
A special treat awaits all honeymooners who visit with a complimentary candle-lit dinner for two on the beach under the night sky. We also set sail on a magical private Nooma sunset cruise on a traditional Maldivian wooden boat. As we slowly cruised around the island to soak up the mesmerising views at dusk, our cheery, charming butler presented us with gourmet canapés and a chilled glass of champagne.
Every single aspect of this incredible respite puts you into a relaxed, content and deliriously happy mood. The Baros Spa’s signature couples treatment further propelled us on to cloud nine, where we indulged in a tension-melting massage that combined three techniques: hot stone, Swedish and Thai.
Needless to say, we were spellbound by the unrivaled beauty of Baros for the entire duration of our stay – with its outstanding service, luxurious amenities and an enchanting atmosphere radiating with sheer romance, who wouldn’t be?