The Maldives: Escape from 'the real world'

There's no better place if you are stressed, exhausted and desperate for somewhere to relax

The cleaner, or rather her text message, pushed me over the edge, on to the internet and over to the Maldives. She kindly wished me all the best for my birthday, but then expressed the hope that I would "turn over a new leaf" in the year ahead. That was it: the final nudge that I needed to escape from real life for a time, recharge my dwindling energy and reassess my priorities. And where better to do it than the Maldives?

Well, quite a number of places, according to a friend in the travel business. He was keen to recommend destinations suitable for a "highly sociable high-achiever", as he flatteringly described me. The archipelago that drizzles down to the south-west of India was definitely not among them. When I confessed my choice, he unkindly described the journey to come as "lolling on a sandbank in the middle of the Indian Ocean".

As it turned out, two weeks on a sandbank – in my case the island of Kuredu in the Lhaviyani Atoll, 80 miles north of the capital Male – gives you plenty of time to think about where you have been and where you are going, figuratively speaking. By making the "where you are right now" so exquisitely pleasurable, the Maldives is the place where you can start to make sense of life. I chose the Sangu water villas at the Kuredu Resort, on the north-west side of the island. These beautiful wood structures rest on stilts in the water, complete with veranda, sun deck and steps straight down to the lagoon. Nothing like real life, then.

Real life is where I like to be challenged. Each decade I throw myself off a cliff – from student to teacher in China at 20, changing from journalist to lawyer at 30; then, at 40, moving from secure, well-paid position to a new business owner. It takes it out of you, and for me the cracks were clearly showing (at least as far as my cleaner was concerned).

Tourism has been developed carefully in the Maldives: aside from Male, visitors are allowed to stay only on "uninhabited" islands that have been developed into resorts. And on these islands day-to-day life for visitors is as challenge-free as it gets.

The islands are visually soothing, characterised by fine white sand, luscious vegetation and water of simply breathtaking shades of blue. For most of the day they are bathed in brilliant sunlight, save for sunrise and sunset when soft, pretty shades of pink and blue fill the sky. At night, freed from competition with light from land, the moon and stars shine brightly. Jump into the sea and you see yet more natural beauty in the form of corals and fish of every colour of the rainbow. Nature rules.

The temptation to build high-rises has been sensibly resisted. Buildings are allowed to cover only one-fifth of a resort island's area, cannot be higher than the vegetation and must be made from traditional materials – wood and thatch – that blend beautifully into the environment. Small armies of women clean the islands daily, sweeping dead leaves and stones from the paths. No litter, no advertising, no design faux pas. Nothing is ugly, nothing jars.

Strangely, everyone employed in what we are obliged these days to call " customer-facing" roles is male. Contact with the men who work on the resort islands is as soothing as the landscape, and visitors lift their game to respond in kind, dropping the brusqueness and impatience they might display in their home cities. The net result is that exchanges between Maldivians and their guests seem in general to be mutually respectful exchanges: pure harmony. The fact that the ratio of staff to guests on many islands (such as Kuredu) is almost one to one certainly helps in the delivery of what can only be described as impeccable service.

On top of all this, I also revel in a break from all the things that are the downside of living in a big city: the time and effort it takes to get around, the haemorrhaging of cash on a daily basis, the pushing and shoving that comes with too many people in the same place. Kuredu is one of the largest islands, yet it takes about an hour to walk around its shore, barefoot and in comfort. There is no traffic or timetables.

Hardly any visitors to the Maldives carry cash: people either take an all-inclusive deal – paying for everything up front – or sign for things and settle up at the end of their holiday. All-inclusive gets my vote. At work I have to justify every decision I take by carrying out a cost/benefit analysis (sad, but true). And although we may not realise it, this is what most of us do in our personal lives, mostly subconsciously, every day. Is the price of this cup of coffee or cocktail worth the joy it will bring me? Could I spend my money better on something else? All-inclusive is a break from this; no cash also means a break from trussing yourself up in the sort of "hidden" money pouches that wouldn't look out of place at an S&M party.

And as for crime, how many people make their holidays miserable by worrying about being ripped off or mugged or hurt? Again, the Maldives gives you a break from this. You can relax at dinner here without having to worry about getting home safely – all you have to do is walk back to your room along a moonlit beach. I once left two rings, including a solitaire diamond, on the sink in the bathroom by the swimming pool. Someone found them and handed them in to reception.

So what happens to a person in a challenge-free environment? Do you turn into an uninteresting marshmallow? When you're not bent out of shape by external pressures, you are restored to your natural state. This may, of course, be good or bad, depending on where your capacity for happiness is set. I am lucky, I guess. For me, when stresses and the exhaustion they cause are washed away, happiness floods in. I take pleasure in the simple things. I delight in listening to music, reading, floating in the water, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, talking to my partner, savouring the delicious food and drink on offer, sleeping on the veranda. Doing all the things I don't do enough of at home – or don't enjoy enough because they are squeezed into mean little time slots. I relish sessions at the spa, where world-class masseuses offered a globe's worth of treatments: ayurvedic, Balinese, Swedish or oriental massage, bringing about a depth of relaxation close to the delicious state you can achieve in hypnotherapy.

As I start to feel rested and stronger, I choose to take on some physical challenges that feel easily manageable, such as long swims, yoga, snorkelling and diving. What's more, solutions to problems back in the real world surreptitiously begin to present themselves to me. At the end of two weeks, I feel wonderfully nourished: calm and blissful. And two weeks after returning home I still feel insulated from life's challenges. A sign in Kuredu's spa reads: "Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower. But is already present, in open relaxation and letting go."

The question now is how to achieve that Maldives feeling at home. Somehow, it seems a hugely enticing prospect to invest another couple of weeks and a couple of thousand pounds the next time I need to escape from real life. The Maldives provides escape like nowhere else on earth.

Traveller's guide

GETTING THERE

The only direct flights to the Maldives are on Sri Lankan Airlines (020-8538 2001; www.srilankan.aero) from Heathrow to the capital, Male. Visitors tend to use either charter flights from the UK (from Gatwick with Monarch or from Manchester with Thomson) or scheduled services with Sri Lankan Airlines or Emirates. The main islands are well connected by flights on Air Maldives from Male.

Kuoni (01306 747 002; www.kuoni.co.uk) offers eight-night packages to the Kuredu Island Resort from £1,115 per person. The price includes return Monarch flights, all-inclusive accommodation and transfers.

If you have no pre-booked accommodation, immigration officials may require you to book some on arrival at the airport before they will formally allow you in to the country. The least expensive options are likely to be in Male.

To reduce the environmental impact, you can buy an "offset" from Equiclimate (0845 456 0170; www.ebico.co.uk) or Pure (020-7382 7815; www.puretrust.org.uk).

More information www.visitmaldives.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup