“There’s not much I can say that you might not already know, but that shouldn’t be a reason to stop you getting into the Maldivian groove and discovering it for yourself”. Emily Baker discovers the Maldives…
It’s difficult to write about the Maldives without descending into cliches – it is every bit as beautiful as you imagined, the ocean suites with their glass floor hatches are equal parts luxurious and mesmerising, and of course the combination of sand, sea and all-inclusivity really are a winner – so, I’ll try and limit myself to only using the word crystalline a handful of times, but what can I tell you that you don’t already know?
I think I could start with the journey – though travelling is my bread and butter, long haul can test even the most excited of voyagers. There are a few different routes to the mainland of Male, with BA offering direct flights. For those looking to fly in the lap of luxury (and if you’re heading to the Maldives, who isn’t) then Qatar is the best choice – with a short layover in the ultra-plush Doha airport, it’s enough to make the journey an event, rather than a task.
Whilst I was prepared for the drama of the seaplane arrival, there is something other-worldly about seeing this string of atolls from the air for the first time. The inky-blue sea stretches out like a vast blanket, punctuated by bursts of green, framed by the turquoise necklace of each island’s reef. Even whilst feeling weary from the long flight, I pressed myself to the window like a child, completely mesmerised by the views below along the 40 minute hop. If you’re looking for that international-traveller ‘I’ve made it’ feeling, then arriving by seaplane has to tick all the boxes.
The welcome on arrival at the spectacular Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Resort was the first taste of the group’s trademark hospitality – a gleaming small army in white uniforms and glowing smiles awaited, festooning us with flower garlands and introducing each guest to their own dedicated villa butler – they are your go-to whilst on the resort, for everything from booking restaurant tables to helping you hitch a ride on one of the golf buggies that transport guests around the 52 acre resort.
There are a handful of different accommodation options for guests – either stays on those quintessential oceanic villas, decked with their steps straight into the water, or a series of beach villas, either with direct access to the beach or with oceanic views and their own private infinity pools. Whilst some of the fixtures and fittings are looking a little tired in places, the sheer delight of the location more than makes up for any shortcomings inside, as does the wealth of activities, both in the water and out, available from your doorstep.
This brings me on to my other assumption – one I think many travellers make – that the Maldives is a destination for loved-up couples to fly and flop in luxury. And whilst there’s definitely scope for that, I wasn’t overcome by a raft of couples acting amorously by the pool, but instead greeted by a huge breadth of guest profiles – there were, of course, couples, but also groups of friends on a girly getaway and families – taking advantage of the total safety of the island to let little ones run around freely. Though, unlike other family-friendly resorts, the children are seen but not heard – there’s space for everyone, so adults can still find their escape. Kids and adults alike can partake in aquatic adventures, with guided reef swimming, paragliding, and options to learn to dive in the resorts PADI and DDI Diamond certified diving school.
If the term barefoot luxury is banded about too much, it’s very much found its true definition here – this is a place of relaxation, aided by that extra oomph that only an all-inclusive stay can offer. In all there are 15 venues for drinking and dining – offering a mixture of worldwide cuisines. Where the food really shines is in the bevy of freshly grilled reef fish and Maldivian curries – there are fine dining options available, but it was the Bamboo restaurant with its tables in the sand and menus of fresh salads and Pan-Asian cuisine which really hit the right notes in the afternoon heat.
Knowing as they do that tourism in these areas have hugely adverse effects on the local environment, Sun Siyam as a group continually look for ways to reduce their footprint. Being an archipelagic state, the Maldives does rely on a significant array of food imports, but the group has its own farm island which grows a variety of produce, limiting the carbon impact. Guests to the resort can visit too, for a unique farm to plate experience.
I suppose the other big question for everyone tentatively dipping their toes back into international travel, is, is it safe? The major advantage of the Maldives is the sheer space between the islands, meaning that they can isolate cases as and when they occur. How this landscape will change as more vaccines are rolled out across the globe is still unknown, but it’s clear that each resort is doing their part. As it currently stands, to change resorts you are still required to take a PCR test – whilst some might consider this an unnecessary expense, I think it’s a sensible and safe practice to make sure you can enjoy your stay fully.
Now, if there is a spa to be found in a resort, you will generally find me ensconced inside it. Within a humble-looking bungalow off one of the jungle tracks, lies Iru Fushi’s – a world-leading spa by French brand Thalgo – don’t be fooled by initial appearances though – knock on the heavy black-lacquered doors and you’ll be whisked into an exotic oasis, where pebble-lined paths snake through bubbling koi ponds. Massages here are on the expensive side, but hey, you’re in the Maldives – lean in to the luxury and enjoy your slice of paradise, it really is worth it.
I suppose the thing that really sets the tone for any trip, and indeed the make or break, are the staff within the resort, and Sun Siyam really do have a spectacularly good team. Throughout the stay, nothing was too much trouble. Want a pinch-me romantic dinner on your own stretch of beach, surrounded by the twinkle of candles? You’ve got it. In our little quintet of ladies holidaying together, we mentioned we would like to have a meditation session on the beach – what we got was a heart shape hand-dug into the sand, punctuated with tea lights and frangipani flowers, with yoga mats rolled out and a selection of oils from the spa to aid relaxation. This beautiful scene was all the work of our dedicated butlers and could not have been more special. This attention to detail extends everywhere – even my own very British sensibilities about having a butler were eased, as the service they offered was completely unobtrusive and very intuitive.
There’s not much I can say that you might not already know, but that shouldn’t be a reason to stop you getting into the Maldivian groove and discovering it for yourself – flawless hospitality, great food, a wealth of activities and the unrelenting joy of the location, I think Sun Siyam could make even the most cynical resort-snob fall under its spell.
Travelling admist COVID Restrictions means you must be fully aware of conditions for travel prior to your journey – you must follow the restrictions for both your destination country and your transit country. Should you need to test on return to the UK, we recommend Eurofins for both the Test to Fly and Test to Release service – they are reliable and competitively priced. They have postal kits available from £44.90, and special VIP concierge services for £150 where a test will be couriered to you, collected and tested on the same day to ensure quick results. Find out more at www.eurofins.co.uk/pcr-testing-kits
HOW TO BOOK
Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Maldives – 5*
7 nights from £1779 pp – Includes return economy flights on Qatar Airways from London to Male, seven nights in a Deluxe Beach Villa, on a B&B basis, including domestic flight transfers. Saving over £1140 per couple! Prices are per person based on two adults sharing valid for travel on selected departure dates from October 21-December 21 – rates not guaranteed so call for details | www.southalltravel.co.uk
Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Maldives – 5*
7 nights from £3879 pp – Includes return business class on Qatar Airways flights from London, to Male Deluxe Beach Villa, B&B basis, including domestic flight transfers. Includes a booking discount – saving over £2540 per couple. Prices are per person based on two adults sharing valid for travel on selected departure dates from October 21-December 21 – rates not guaranteed so call for details. To book call on 0208 843 4444