As I got into the lift, my breakfast-show rival Johnny Vaughan asked me why I was looking so smug. "I'm off to the Maldives tonight," I replied. "You'll hate it," he said, "Paradise Syndrome..."
Now I've read a lot of guff about Paradise Syndrome, mainly from rich, successful celebrities who claim to suffer from depression induced by having everything they want. The term, I believe, was coined by Dave Stewart, who, after a lifetime of amassing vast quantities of cash with Annie Lennox and achieving everything he desired artistically, stated publicly that it made him miserable. You remember him, the bloke who made the All Saints movie Honest – a film that made a lot of other people miserable too.
At this point, it's important to say that I think I have been to "paradise" before. I was 19 and arrived on Haad Rin beach on Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand, in 1989 to find 300 hippies from the Home Counties stuffing their faces with weapons-grade LSD. They didn't seem that depressed. Admittedly, one chap had convinced himself he was one of the Four Tops, but depressed? Was this Paradise Syndrome?
The Maldives is just a series of dots on the world map: 1,200 islands, 90 of which are occupied by resorts. From above it looks like a just-dropped wine glass that has shattered into hundreds of pieces. They scarcely make it above sea level: the highest point of land in the archipelago is just over two metres. In fact, if there was anywhere that was going to encourage me to take up road cycling, this was going to be it.
As we arrived at Malé International airport, a giant storm was lashing the islands; our 30-minute boat transfer to the resort ended up taking more than two hours. I haven't been that sick since Neil Hopkins put Copydex glue in my Shippam's crab-paste sandwiches in 1979. The Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed, said this year that he plans to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade by moving to wind power. He'll be able to power most of southern India as well if these storms are anything to go by. To experience Paradise Syndrome, I assume you first have to encounter Paradise: 120 minutes of nausea in a wind-whipped boat doesn't quite cut it for me.
Things, however, were about to change. Reethi Rah means "Beautiful Island" in Dhivehi, and I'm happy to report that nothing has been lost in translation. It looks like the location used in the film Castaway, but without Tom Hanks with a silly beard and a football for a friend. It is also one of the largest islands in the Maldives, with nearly four miles of breathtaking coastline.
It needs to be big in order to contain what are, quite frankly, the largest villas I have ever seen. And if you can't be bothered to walk 15 yards across your own section of beach to the cobalt-blue Indian Ocean, many of the beach villas have their own pools as well. Other facilities on the island include a water-sports centre, a gym and an Espa Spa (which my wife informed me was the best she'd ever been to – and believe me, she'd know).
Why anyone would want to fly halfway around the world to spend a fortnight on a running machine is beyond me, but it's there should you want it. There's also a kids' club which, I'm not embarrassed to say, I enjoyed playing in almost as much as my son did. Who needs to go scuba diving with manta rays when you can spend the afternoon face-painting on a pirate ship or swimming under a giant frog waterfall?
Avid shoppers will also be pleased to know that Missoni, Dior and Stella McCartney are among the labels in the boutique. Good news for wives, a disaster for husbands still trying to come to terms with a punishing exchange rate. The blame for all this lies at the feet of Bev Malik, the fashion buyer for One&Only, who hand-picks ready-to-wear items from fashion shows around the world. I bet you didn't know Christian Louboutin did espadrilles. Well, he does, and they are a darn sight more expensive than the pair George Michael wore.
Fortunately, I didn't have to walk far in them. Reethi Rah has plenty of golf buggies and bikes to ferry you from one beach to another. And, if you like, to dinner. The Japanese restaurant Tapasake looks out over the Indian Ocean. It's a stunning setting and the food isn't bad, either. I tried Japanese-style tapas to start, including chicken yakitori and a wonderful magret duck breast in miso sauce, followed by sukiyaki of wagyu beef. The beautifully marbled beef was of the Kobe persuasion – clearly reared on a diet of beer, massaged daily and shown DVDs of Fiona Bruce on holiday in her swimmers. It was a spectacular experience. I was relaxed, well fed, and my family were having the time of their lives. This Paradise Syndrome business was really getting me down.
One hour away from Reethi Rah by dhoni (a sort of multi-purpose sailing boat) lies the tiny, exclusive island of Huvafen Fushi, which boasts crystal-clear water and sand like the Yardley talc your nan used to have. On arrival, our thakaru (or butler) whisked us off to our room: an "Ocean Pavilion" set above the water on stilts. It was reminiscent of Blofeld's lounge in You Only Live Twice. Multiple sun decks, a monster plasma television, iPod docks, a Jacuzzi, an infinity pool that comes into the living room, remote-control blinds, white Persian cat...
I told our thakaru it was one of the most extraordinary rooms I'd ever seen – partly because it was true, but also because I was slightly concerned that someone might push a button and dump us into the shark-infested waters beneath. It took at least half an hour to go through the operational procedure of the gadgets in the room. The only one I think mastered was the loo. But, while the Ocean Pavilions V Vare spectacular to look at, they are spectacularly hopeless for a family with a very young child. Every piece of fancy decking represented a hazard – and I didn't fancy the thought of my son crawling over the edge and ending up sleeping with the, well, you know... So, after a quick chat with the general manager (or "Q", as I had now begun to think of him), we were rehoused in the far more family-friendly Beach Pavilion, which was equally impressive, but more land-based.
You can't fault the ambition of Huvafen Fushi. It has an underwater spa where you can watch angel fish and turtles glide by as you have your massage. Designed by the British architect Richard Hywel Evans, it's like having a rub-down in Dr No's office. Here I was told that, if I wanted, the resident naturopath could provide a "haemaview live blood analysis and iridology". This sounded like the kind of thing Keith Richards does when he's not falling out of coconut trees, so I made my excuses and left.
Too much of doing nothing can make a man hungry. Luckily, Huvafen Fushi has plenty of places where you can solve that problem. There are four restaurants to choose from, called things such as Celsius and Raw. There's also a wine cellar called Vinum buried deep beneath the island. It's an astonishing place, heaving with more than 6,000 bottles from the likes of Latour, Haut-Brion and Le Pin. There's a cheeky 1999 Romanée-Conti in there which cost exactly half of what I paid for my first London flat. The restaurant called Salt was fantastic. My main course was a pan-seared barramundi on buttered celeriac, which was gorgeous, although I still have no idea what a barramundi is.
One criticism often levelled at the Maldives is that there's nothing to do. This is where, people like Johnny Vaughan will tell you, Paradise Syndrome is likely to take over. But the thing is, doing nothing is entirely the point. If you like climbing or hiking or goat-herding, the Maldives is not for you. If, however, like me you are bone idle, then the thought of spending an entire day doing nothing fills you with rare joy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
But maybe, just maybe... The following morning, I got up and attempted to turn on my coffee machine, but instead managed to get CNN on my 6,000ft plasma screen. I was forced, therefore, to have breakfast with Larry King, because the remote control only seemed to turn on the shower and the LED lights in the plunge pool. It made me just a tiny bit cross. Perhaps there is such a thing as Paradise Syndrome after all. But it has nothing to do with Dave Stewart. It just means I can't work my telly.
Travel essentials: The Maldives
British Airways is launching a new direct route to the Maldivian capital, Malé, from Gatwick on 25 October (0844 493 0787; ba.com).
Alternatively, Sri Lankan Airlines (020-8538 2000; srilankan.aero) flies from Heathrow to Malé. Qatar Airways (0870 770 4215; qatarairways.com) flies from Heathrow and Manchester via Doha. Jamie Theakston travelled with Seasons in Style (01244 202000; seasonsinstyle.com), which offers five nights' B&B in a Beach King Villa at One&Only Reethi Rah and five nights' B&B in a Beach Bungalow at Huvafen Fushi from £3,730 per person. The price includes flights with SriLankan Airlines and transfers.
One&Only Reethi Rah, North Malé Atoll, Maldives (00 960 664 8800; oneandonlyresorts.com).
Huvafen Fushi, North Malé Atoll, Maldives (00 960 664 4222; huvafenfushi.peraquum.com).
Maldives Tourism Board: 00 960 332 3228; visitmaldives.com
Paradise found: Where on Earth?
Raymond Blanc, chef
My paradise keeps changing. I love the magic of the Maldives, Africa, India, Thailand, Malaysia and South America. Swimming along the Great Barrier Reef seems to me the perfect escape. However, Hôtel Le Club de Cavalière on the French Riviera is unique. It's the only hotel right on the beach, and you can expect colourful hospitality from the managers, who have been there for years. It's not ostentatious, but extremely friendly, which I think is rare for somewhere of that calibre in the south of France.
Greta Scacchi, actress
Kashmir, which I visited when I was filming Heat and Dust in 1982. We were filming in Gulmarg and in our last week we went to Srinagar. It was a dreamy place – it wasn't that the geography was completely unfamiliar, but the wooden houses reminded me of fairy-tale chalets. They had ornately decorated pitched gables, some of which were made of sandalwood, so there was an exotic scent.
The snow was thawing and crocuses of every colour were sprouting up. From the top of the mountains, you could see across to the Himalayas, which were pink. Coming down the mountain, there were the fluorescent-green rice paddies, and you would see people walking along the roadsides trampling irises under their feet – the flowers we consider as delicate and beautiful are practically weeds there.
When it was time to go home, there was an airline strike. So instead of waiting in Mumbai, Julie Christie, Christopher Cazenove, Julie's friend and I rented a houseboat. It was made of sandalwood in a sort of Tudor-Tibetan style and was moored by some low, leafless trees. The ground was carpeted by great big pansies. The other totally exotic thing was that there were kingfishers everywhere.
Annie Nightingale, DJ
Paradise has to include the people you're with, so mine needs an element of fantasy to get me there – please, scientists, hurry up and invent teleportation! Then, there would be no more carbon pollution through air travel. Once this is on the go, I would whisk my nearest and dearest to join me in Antarctica. To skim on a Russian icebreaker past those vast blue-white frozen cliffs has immense appeal to me. I missed the chance to see the last solar eclipse in Antarctica, so I would dial up a great storm there of whirling snowflakes and a show of flashing sheet lightning revealing backdrops of huge dazzling mountain-high snowdrifts, glaciers, and petrified waterfalls. The area around the South Pole is the last unspoilt area of natural beauty on our planet – and not for much longer, apparently. So I really wouldn't mind witnessing this natural icy paradise, while it's still there.
Annie Nightingale's show is on BBC Radio 1 every Friday morning from 2am to 4am
Alain de Botton, writer
While getting to a destination is typically the worst part of a good trip, I have always loved the travelling more than the arriving. Indeed, I have often preferred the airport bit to anything else that followed. I have even longed for my plane to be delayed – so that I might be forced to spend a bit more time at the airport.
I find airports the imaginative centres of contemporary culture. Were one charged with taking a Martian to visit a single place that neatly captures the gamut of themes running through our civilisation – from our faith in technology to our destruction of nature, from our interconnectedness to our romanticising of travel – then it would have to be to the departures and arrivals halls that one would head.
Nowhere is the airport's charm more concentrated than in the screens placed at intervals across the terminal which announce, in deliberately workman-like fonts, the itineraries of aircraft about to take to the skies. These screens imply a feeling of infinite and immediate possibility: they suggest the ease with which we might impulsively approach a ticket desk and, within a few hours, embark for a country where the call to prayer rings out over shuttered whitewashed houses, where we understand nothing of the language, and where no one knows our identities. The lack of detail about the destinations serves only to stir unfocused images of nostalgia and longing: Tel Aviv, Tripoli, St Petersburg, Miami, Muscat via Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Grand Cayman via Nassau... all of these entries enemies of despair, to which we can appeal at moments of claustrophobia and stagnation. There's really no point going further than the terminal.
Alain de Botton's latest book is A Week at the airport: A Heathrow Diary.
Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London
London has almost everything you might ever want to do, all in one place. Other cities I like, such as Amsterdam or San Francisco, are all liberal and tolerant. When I think about what I like in London, it's walking on Hampstead Heath or Kew Gardens. In San Francisco, I always visit the Arboretum. Some cities are stressful, not places you really want to be – but those that work, like these, are just fantastic.
It would be nice if London was a bit warmer, a bit sunnier, with that sort of Mediterranean climate. San Francisco can be rainy but you don't have to go too far down the coast to get some sunshine. I love nothing better than swimming on the Great Barrier Reef and looking down at all that's going on, but I get bored quickly. It would be nice if you could do that in the morning before you went off to work in a great world city.
Ken Livingstone broadcasts on the London radio station LBC 97.3 every Saturday from 10am to 1pmReuse content