25 reasons why the Maldives is a must for 2021

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From seabed suites and surf simulators to coral restoration and vegan cookery classes, Lee Cobaj reveals a world of innovation that will make your Indian Ocean escape great

Soneva Fushi wasn’t the first private island resort to open in the Maldives – that honour goes to Kurumba, launched in 1972 – but when it welcomed guests to the Baa Atoll 25 years ago, everything changed. 

Soneva was considered the first true luxury resort in the archipelago – the first to have pool villas, a wine cellar, an outdoor cinema, an observatory and (more recently) water slides. Another pioneering asset was its superb Six Senses spa, which launched what would become one of the world’s most respected wellbeing brands. Soneva has also pioneered sustainability all the way. What better time than the resort’s 25th anniversary to suggest 25 irresistible reasons to visit the Maldives next year? 

1. What could be more delightful than walking straight into the crystal-clear, bath-warm Indian Ocean? How about whooshing into the turquoise lagoon on a slide instead? Soneva Fushi’s new water retreats are the biggest one and two-bedroom water villas in the world and, in addition to a slide, each has its own patch of glass flooring, a hot tub, a retractable roof and a huge private swimming pool. soneva.com    

One of the overwater villas at Soneva Fushi

One of the overwater villas at Soneva Fushi

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WWW.SANDROBRUECKLMEIER.COM/SANDRO BRUECKLMEIER

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2. Six Senses spas – which you will find at Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani and Six Senses Laamu hotels – have created a blissful new treatment to help guests rebalance after the trials of Covid-19. The 30-minute Body Balance ritual begins with sage burning and chakra cleansing followed by a dreamy guided meditation as your head is massaged. sixsenses.com

3. While almost every Maldivian resort has a tip-top spa, there hasn’t been a resort fully dedicated to wellness until now. Kagi Spa Island will throw down the coconut fibre welcome mat in January. The Zen-like island – all curving pavilions, bleached woods and creamy white villas – will offer “wellness sabbaticals” with a focus on calm. As well as the usual scrubs, massages and facials, there is a host of alternative therapies available, from reiki to wave meditation and lifestyle coaching. Also included are daily complimentary yoga classes and sound baths incorporating gongs, singing bowls, crystals, koshi chimes and ocean drums. kagimaldives.com

Kagi Spa Island

Kagi Spa Island is set to arrive in January

4. During the pandemic, a number of resorts have taken the opportunity not only to refurbish their rooms and public spaces, but to shower some TLC on their house reefs, too. The Sheraton Maldives Full Moon has teamed up with Reefscapers to teach guests how to rescue corals from damaged reefs and replant them in safe waters. Joali’s coral reef conservation programme lets guests propagate baby corals and transplant them on to nursery trees in their house reef. sheraton.com; joali.com  

5. Located in the far south, just north of the equator, Six Senses Laamu is the only resort in the Maldives to offer blackwater diving. The spooky-sounding adventure is different from a normal night dive as it involves divers drifting in currents in the open ocean. Strings of LED lights are then tied to buoys which attract a menagerie of alien-like creatures, including tiny baby reef fish and invertebrates such as pygmy squid, bioluminescent bristle worms, and comb jellies which pulse and glow in all the colours of the rainbow. sixsenses.com

Six Senses Laamu

Six Senses Laamu requires a bit of extra effort to reach, but you won’t regret it once you are there

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6. When the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi opened in the serene Shaviyani Atoll in 2018 it planted an other-worldly underwater art gallery inside its house reef, the first of its kind in the Maldives. Since then, its sunken sculptures, which are made from non-toxic materials and promote coral and marine life regeneration, have flourished. Swim inside the gallery’s silvery walls now and you will find a kaleidoscope of hard corals, sponges, shellfish and schooling fish inhabiting this extraordinary aqua-city. fairmont.com    

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7. Leafy hideaway Gili Lankanfushi ranks among the Maldives’ most eco-conscious luxury resorts, with buildings made from sustainable woods, organic toiletries in refillable earthenware containers, and its own desalination plant. Now, they have introduced a “Powered by Plants” programme, with new plant-based menus, sweet vegan treats, eco-friendly bedding and reef-safe sunscreen. The programme also includes a vegan cooking class and private vinyasa flow yoga class. gili-lankanfushi.com

Gili Lankanfushi ranks among the Maldives’ most eco-conscious luxury resorts

Gili Lankanfushi ranks among the Maldives’ most eco-conscious luxury resorts

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8. Sharks have been around since before the dinosaurs, but their numbers are in alarming decline as a result of overfishing for their fins as well as degradation of the ocean environment. At the Banyan Tree Marine Conservation Centre at Angsana Velavaru, biologists are monitoring local populations using non-intrusive underwater bait cameras to help identify shark species and important habitats. Don’t worry about getting in the water; many types of shark found in the Maldives don’t have any teeth. angsana.com   

9. The Maldives isn’t all about snorkelling in glassy-calm Tiffany-blue waters – adrenalin junkies can find plenty of high-energy kite and wave surfing, too. Aim for the North Malé Atoll, which is scattered with a mix of easy-to-learn left and right breaks. Further south, the Thaa and Laamu Atolls have an abundance of medium-sized waves and speedy barrels better suited to intermediates. Or, you could always surf an eternal wave at Cheval Blanc Randheli, which has just installed the first surf simulator in the Maldives. chevalblanc.com   

10. The new six-bedroom Royal Residence at Raffles Meradhoo, set in the remote, insanely beautiful Gaafu Alifu Atoll, might just be the most glamorous island escape out there. Surrounded by a smudge of clotted cream-coloured beach, it has interiors that echo its Singapore sibling – jaunty stripes, monsoon blinds, swirling fans – as well as a 40m swimming pool, roof terrace and cigar room. Your very own Jeeves is also included. raffles.com   

Raffles Meradhoo

Raffles Meradhoo is an elegant tropical reimagining of the original colonial-era Raffles Singapore

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©2018 John W. McDermott/John W. McDermott

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11. Why work from home when you can work from the beach? At Vakkaru, in the Unesco-protected Baa Atoll, high-flying executives can sign up for a 21-day “Work Well” package, from £13,959. More than just a desk and internet connection, the programme comes with a dedicated “Vacay PA”, access to a sea-view boardroom, deliveries of brain-boosting food and drinks, motivational fitness classes and de-stressing spa treatments. vakkarumaldives.com

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12. Como Cocoa Island has followed in the steps of its celebrity guests, with a nifty nip-and-tuck. The familiar whitewashed wood, coral rock walls and kajan roofs remain, while interiors have been updated with sleek furniture and chic shades of Hamptons blue. With the emphasis on nature and slow living, the Como Shambhala spa now makes up a third of the resort. There is also a new Pilates studio, plus hydrotherapy circuit classes and free daily yoga and meditation sessions. comohotels.com

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13. Fashionable, fun, and not one to be outdone, Lux South Ari Atoll has just emerged from a top-to-toe overhaul. Now, its 193 pavilions and villas sport a Miami-ish palette of crisp whites, pops of sea foam green and coral pink. There is also a new beach club – Beach Rouge – wellness pavilion and Chinese tea house in the spa. luxresorts.com  

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14. It’s almost impossible not to bump into a wide-eyed sea turtle at The Residence at Dhigurah, located in the marine-life-rich Gaafu Alifu Atoll, but getting a decent photograph is harder. This makes it well worth signing up for the resort’s underwater digital photography course, led by a Padi-certified instructor who will show you not only how to take pictures, but how to do it in a creative way. cenizaro.com 

The Residence at Dhigurah

The Residence at Dhigurah is a rustic all-inclusive, with a sublime setting, roomy villas, fun facilities and charming staff

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15. The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the brightest and most beautiful astronomical events that can be viewed from Earth, an hours-long cascade of twinkling meteors streaking across the sky near the constellation of Perseus. In 2021, the glittering event will fall in August (peaking around Aug 11-13) and there is nowhere better to view it than from Anantara Kihavah’s overwater observatory. Afterwards, you can retire to one of Kihavah’s revamped villas. anantara.com

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16. Guests of Velaa Private Island can stay looking their very best at the resort’s sparkly new spa. As well as having overwater saunas and a ridiculously decadent snow room, the Velaa Spa now offers a bespoke range of wellness programmes, as well as chardonnay body scrubs, HIFU facials, G5 contouring and cryofit wraps. Very Velaa. velaaprivateisland.com

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17. The sunken wine cellar at the St Regis Vommuli might be one of the world’s most remote, but that hasn’t stopped its wine list from sweeping a plethora of awards. Buried treasures include the oldest wine in the Maldives, a 1775 madeira – yours for a mere £32,200. marriott.com  

St Regis Vommuli

St Regis Vommuli offers a daringly designed environment in a deliciously secluded location

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18. Not content with offering its guests fine dining and champagne on tap, never-ending spa treatments, and unlimited free use of Bond-worthy collection of aqua toys – jet skis, seabobs, jet blade boots – Kudadoo has added Bella, a Princess 55 luxury yacht to its numerous attractions. kudadoo.com

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19. As commercial flights have disappeared from the radar during the Covid-19 pandemic, private jet travel has never been more in demand. Tapping into the high-end trend, The Nautilus Maldives has partnered up with Dominvs Aviation to launch the ultimate social distancing break from £26,900 per person. That eye-popping price tag includes return flights on a leather-lined Bombardier 6000 long-haul jet, six nights in a beautifully designed beach or pool villa, massages, private yoga and a guided snorkelling tour. thenautilusmaldvies.com  

The Nautilus Maldives

The Nautilus comprises 26 beachside and overwater houses scattered across a private island in the north-east corner of the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

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20. Best known as a business brand, Radisson opened its first Indian Ocean hotel – Radisson Blu Maldives – mid-pandemic in August. Set in the still sparsely populated Alifu Dhaalu Atoll, it has 128 beachfront and overwater villas (all family-friendly), a kids’ club, an overwater spa and a glass-walled wedding chamber. radissonhotels.com 

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21. Sweeping across a crescent-shaped island in the sublime Shaviyani Atoll, the JW Marriott finally opened on Nov 1. Its 60 oversized beach and overwater villas come with Imax-like views of the impossibly blue Laccadive Sea, one of the richest areas of marine biodiversity in the world. There are three restaurants and a treehouse rum bar, too. marriott.com

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22. The submerged, glass-walled master bedroom at The Muraka at the Conrad Rangali, which costs from £37,929 a night, is now open to families, who can go underwater “camping” with tents set up on the ocean floor and real life Nemos for company. conradmaldives.com 

Conrad Rangali

Conrad Rangali is home to the Maldives’ first undersea restaurant and a James Bond-style stand-alone residence with a master suite under the Indian Ocean

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23. Among the 122 beach and overwater villas at the Pullman Maamutaa, there are two underwater suites, each with a wall of glass facing into the ocean. Compared with the Muraka, a night here is a snip at £4,945. pullmanmaldivesmaamutaa.com

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24. Adding to its five existing Maldivian hotels, all-inclusive operator Ozen Hotels and Resorts has launched a more exclusive luxury addition – the Ozen Reserve Bolifushi, in the South Malé Atoll. Previously, the island belonged to the Jumeirah Vittaveli, which has kindly left behind its ice-skating rink (yes, really). ozenreserve-bolifushi.com

Ozen Reserve Bolifushi

Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is the latest luxury addition to the all-inclusive group

25. Despite the pandemic, there is still a cluster of exciting new hotels to come in 2021. A 30-minute speedboat ride from the airport, The Chedi Kudavillingili will have 99 temple-like villas, all clean lines, rough stone and tropical woods. In the North Malé Atoll, a 50-minute jaunt across the sea from the airport, the Fari Islands will house three ultra-luxurious resorts – Ritz-Carlton, Capella, and hip new brand Patina – as well as a lively marina with boutiques and cafes. ghmhotels.com; ritzcarlton.com; capellahotels.com; patinahotels.com 

How to do it

Turquoise Holidays (01494 678400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights at Soneva Fushi from £4,850pp B&B, staying in a villa suite with pool and including flights, seaplane transfers, 28 per cent off plus a 10 per cent early booking discount (if more than 180 days before departure) – saving £3,400 per couple, based on Sept 2021 dates. Overseas holidays from the UK are currently not allowed.