Spas, stars and the two Rs: what's new in the Maldives?

Only about 200 of its 1,196 islands are inhabited – which leaves room for more upmarket resorts, says Simmy Richman

The Maldives is not the place to go if you want to worry about facts and figures. Are there 1,196 islands? It depends on what's considered an island and who's doing the counting. Are these tiny slabs of natural perfection south-west of Sri Lanka really, as Darwin suggested, the result of little spurts from underwater volcanoes? Less beautiful theories suggest not, but you don't come to the Maldives to ponder the evolution of this ever-shifting, sparkling and temporal mass of coral atolls liberally specked with Robinson Crusoe islands.

Let's get facts and figures out of the way then. Of the however many islands, only about 200 are inhabited, and just less than half of these are the kind of places you think about when you think about the Maldives – exclusive and luxurious resort destinations. So popular has the Maldives become with honeymooners and holidaymakers that, last year, the government gave the go-ahead for another 35 resort islands to open for business over the next 25 years. As Japanese investment is pumped in to protect the environment, the Maldives tourist industry (motto: "the sunny side of life") finds itself reaching out beyond newlyweds in an effort to touch the magical 1,000,000 visitors a year mark. (It's currently about 700,000.)

But enough with the facts and figures. Because what most people do come to the Maldives for is to realise those secret dreams of the high-maintenance castaway; they come seeking that rustic, back-to-nature experience, complete with every luxury the 21st-century can offer. Here, with nothing but our rainforest showers, opulent open-air bathrooms and flatscreen TVs, we come to play out our barefoot-executive fantasies of spas, stars and the two Rs.

No problem. Except, that is, in how you might go about making all of this appeal to those crucial non-honeymooners. Well, for one, there are now two small but highly efficient fleets of air-taxi seaplanes to make hopping between islands reasonably straightforward. And with multi-location potential comes an array of skydivers, surfers and thrill-seekers from across the world. Naturally, as the reasons behind people coming here expand and vary, so do the resorts springing up to accommodate them.

Our first stop is a 35-minute speedboat hop from Malé International Airport (about £65 per person return) to Anantara, a relatively new resort consisting of two islands. The Anantara ethos is very much the "no news, no shoes" idea pioneered by Soneva Fushi in 1995. From £250 per night, you can have an understatedly luxurious beach cabin with fabulous outdoor/ indoor bathroom and secluded terrace with private beachfront. The resort offers picnics on private islands, dolphin safaris, a Padi 5 star diving centre, yoga classes and cooking lessons as well as being a base from which to arrange more adventurous activities.

A few days at Anantara and it's a short flight by seaplane to another of the Maldives' more recent additions: the Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru. If Anantara was all boutique-hotel good taste, Landaa Giraavaru is, as you would expect from the Four Seasons, a masterclass in exorbitantly tasteful excellence (from about £350 per cabin per night). Here, Mother Nature is discreetly picked up when she is untidy on land while a marine conservation centre invests in and protects the delicate eco-system all around. Food and cabins – there are some 50 "beach pavilions" and 38 "water bungalows" – are, needless to say, so faultless you'll want to cry when it's time to leave.

But leave we must, because the designerly decadent W brand has also opened in the Maldives recently, throwing clubbing, singles and civil partnerships into the Maldives mix. Once our guide has delicately stressed that this is not really a place for children, I take leave to sit in my private plunge pool and dry off on my round, white day bed as the ocean laps gently underneath. Yeah baby. I am the Austin Powers of the Indian Ocean. I am in pink-pound paradise (from £350 to £5,000 per night). In W world, the gym is called "Sweat"; a bar is named "Wet"; the bathmat says "Step" and rooms are "Retreats". If you're lucky, you might just escape within an inch of your lifestyle.

Meanwhile, the planners plan and the builders build the next wave of island-hotels. (Shangri-La's Villingili, the first luxury resort on the Addu Atoll in the southern Maldives, is next up later this year.) Villingili will be served by Gan airport, now cleared to land international flights, and will boast a "retail and entertainment village", a "water activity focal point" called "The Village" and tree-house villas. Unusually, the Shangri-La group is also using the fact that Villingili is surrounded by inhabited islands which visitors are can explore by bicycle as a selling point: as resorts become evermore Prisoner-like, lack of interaction with Maldivians becomes a common complaint.

Where all this leaves the Maldives, as complex and fragile a paradise as exists, is anyone's guess. It's a good thing, then, that the Maldives is not the place to go if you want to worry about facts and figures.

How to get there

Simmy Richman flew to Malé with Sri Lankan Airlines (020-8538 2000; srilankan.aero), which offers flights from £625. Voyana Holidays (020-8515 4600; voyana.com) has flights and seven nights' b&b for £1,165 per person at Anantara (00 960 664 4100; anantara.com). Trans Maldivian Airlines (tma.com.mv) can arrange inter-island flights from £60 per person. Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru (00 960 660 0888; fourseasons. com/maldives). W Retreat and Spa, Fesdu Island (00 960 666 2222; starwoodhotels.com).

Further information

Maldives Tourist Board (visitmaldives.com).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us