You’ve see the postcard perfect images, you’ve lusted after the overwater villas and you’re desperate to tick off your bucket-list experience of diving in nature’s underwater jungle.
But don’t assume the Maldives (pronounced Mal-deeves never Mal-dives) — perhaps the most beautiful small islands on Earth — are just for honeymooners.
Escape bust five myths of the Maldives courtesy of Amilla Fushi, a private-island resort of the Baa Atoll.
MYTH 1. MALDIVES ARE FOR HONEYMOONERS
With its sandy white beaches and turquoise waters, the Maldives are a real-life desert-island fantasy. Each resort sits on its very own island — which you are whisked to by speedboat or seaplane and it’s as close as you get to newlywed heaven.
But the Maldives, led by Amilla Fushi and its sister resort of Finolhu, has successfully shed its honeymoon reputation. Amilla has everything a modern-day castaway might need wrapped up in five-star luxury.
From outdoor rain showers through to a spa with its own tea house, an 8000-plus wine cellar and rooms with an outdoor jetty where you can dive straight into Pixar’s Finding Nemo … Amilla Fushi is a luxurious “island home” to couples, families … and friends.
There is a variety of accommodation at Amilla Fushi, ranging from the Lagoon House and Ocean Reef Houses — which provide a private oasis with views across the Indian Ocean — through to the two-bedroom tree houses set 12 metres above the ground.
And then there are the supersized villas of up to eight bedrooms that are all about blowing apart the honeymoon myth while focusing on privacy, pampering and staying put. You don’t have to be in love to visit the Maldives … but you will fall in love.
MYTH 2: ALL ATOLLS ARE CREATED EQUAL
The Maldives are made up of 26 coral atolls in a necklace reaching down to the equator. Within those atolls are roughly 1190 islands — of these 200 are inhabited and there are about 80 islands with resorts, and their own personalities.
Amilla Fushi is awash with the heart and creative energy of CEO Mark Hehir, who worked as a chef for a number of years around the world, before his energy and vision saw him move out of the kitchen into a GM role.
But it is his personal touch that sets Amilla apart. While Amilla is a high-end resort, it’s feel is barefoot luxury. Life jackets hang beside bathroom robes, shoes — and deadlines — are redundant, and every. Amilla even has its own time zone.
It is two hours ahead of Male, the capital — not just one hour like other resorts. Mark explains: “There are more than 100 resorts in the Maldives, our mission is to be different. We want the resort to be less hotel-like and have a residential vibe. We want our guests to have an emotional connection.”
But like the island’s shifting sands, Mark won’t let Amilla — which opened in 2014, stand still.
To this end he has a mystic forest planned for opening later this month with sculptures to rival those of Nevada’s Burning Man festival.
MYTH 3: THE ONLY MANTRA IS THE MANTA
The Maldives are one of the best countries in the world for swimming with manta rays and the photogenic sights of Baa Atoll’s UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve will rouse you from sipping a mojito by Amilla’s pool.
Between June and October, plankton levels are at their peak attracting hundreds of this graceful creature. Manta rays have the largest brain to body weight ratio of any living fish — Marlon the resident “acting marine biologist on the island” tells me mantas have enough smarts to make the average dolphin jealous.
And although they can grow up to four metres in the Maldives, these ocean giants, with 300 useless little teeth, are completely harmless.
We are lucky on this trip, as the manta are unexpectedly hanging around the atoll’s cleaning stations at Dharavandhoo Corner. And even though we are told they are harmless, an effortless glide and backward flip from an adult female just a hands-with from my mask still causes me to hold my breath.
And then there is the glitter-ball dancefloor outside my Ocean Reef Villa. The overwater reef villas feature your own private sundeck and ladder into the deep blue — it’s the ultimate ensuite and perfect entree to a day in paradise.
Without warning and tightly packed into a protective ball, thousands of sardines engulf me in a stream of silver. It’s a strangely intimate experience.
The shoal runs for three or four minutes … and as you move to touch them, a vortex appears around your hand. The sheer size and grace of swimming with the mantas was humbling but this silver stream is all Matrix.
MYTH 4: BEST YOU PACK FOR LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
David Beckham, Kate Moss and Kate Winslet (who didn’t mind a spot of island tennis) have all stayed at Amilla — but so has Mr and Mrs Smith, the Jones’s — including that girl Jones — and so can you.
Amilla is sand between the toes, well-considered luxury. At Amilla, each guest is assigned a Katheeb, a personalised butler, to “help you make the most of your stay”.
But even as Ammaday shuttles us to lunch at the Bazaar (a hub of five restaurants) on our island golf buggy, our feet are sandy and our hair is salty — Amilla wears its exclusiveness lightly and confidently.
MYTH 5: THE MALDIVES ARE ALL ABOUT NOT DOING ANYTHING
Poolside lounges and powder-soft beaches beckon you are every turn but you can do as little or as much as tickles your holiday fancy.
Snorkelling, diving and full day excursions to Hanifaru Bay to spy on whale sharks and manta rays are all on offer, or if you want to obtain your diving certificate you can complete your Padi course.
But at Amilla there are also wine and cheese tasting sessions with Beatrice, tennis sets to be won from island pro Tony, turtle and dolphin safaris, jetski, paddle boarding and Hobie cat sailing for above water fun, and fishing trips — where whatever you catch can be cooked up in tasty fashion.
And just when you don’t think things can get any a better there are sandbank picnics at secret locations.
WHY AMILLA: Unlike other Maldivian resorts, the focus is not on romance but on getting together with friends or in family groups for great food and good times. To this end, there are several resort restaurants — each relaxed and unfussy.
50 SHADES OF BLUE: Amilla Fushi’s location in the Baa Atoll means it is a great spot for diving and snorkeling.
SLEEP EASY: Range of accommodation options but over water Ocean Reef Houses are huge and the views from your bed are unsurpassed.
HOT TIP: You can rent a GoPro and scuba mask, but it’s probably cheaper to bring your own. Stash a UV-resistant top in your suitcase.
DON’T MISS: Each guest is offered a free 50-minute spa treatment during the first 48 hours of their stay, and Javvu spa has an open-door policy; yoga lessons and sauna and steam-room sessions are free too. And on the menu is a massage just to combat jet lag — do it!
GETTING THERE: You’ll need to hop on a seaplane from international hub Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. It’s roughly a 30-minute flight to the resort, and flights run from 6am — 2pm, subject to weather conditions. Alternatively, book a connecting flight to Dharavandoo Domestic where you can get picked up by speedboat (a 10-minute ride). Guests must send their arrival information to the hotel five days ahead of arrival.
Speedboat transfers from Dharavandhoo Domestic Airport can be arranged direct with the hotel.
WORDS BY SELINA STEELE, ESCAPE MAGAZINE