In the inventory of travel luxury, the resorts jostling for position in the Maldivian chapter would probably vary only by tiny degrees of exclusivity. After all, perfect sands, clear waters and stilted bungalows are (almost) standard here, and most such barefoot retreats are to be found on tiny atolls just a short boat ride or sea plane ride from the capital and international jumping-off point, Male.
But look again at the map of this dreamy 1,190-island archipelago. And look again at the whereabouts of Hadahaa Island. This tiny speck in the Indian Ocean forms part of the Huvadhoo Atoll, one of the largest and deepest atolls in the world, and lies some 400km south of Male – a gigantic distance in Maldivian terms.
These relatively isolated islands, many of them uninhabited, remained undeveloped until a couple of years ago. Then the authorities began to grant leases, allowing hotel operators to occupy a restricted number of them; one of the first to open was Alila Villas Hadahaa.
As soon as Alila Villas' modern, over-water bungalows come into view, you realise you're in for something a bit more refined than thatched roofs and tropical prints. It's this innovative design (by Singapore-based SCDA Architects) that gives Alila a unique point of difference from most other Maldivian resorts – a paean to restrained tropical chic for the Wallpaper-reading generation.
The government is aiming to make the Maldives carbon neutral within the next 10 years, so SCDA has had to be serious about the resort's impact on the environment. It adheres to rigorous "Green Globe" building standards set out for a more environmentally conscious approach to construction, and incorporates systems such as rainwater harvesting and solar panels. What's more, much of the island has been left gloriously wild and untamed.
There are strong motifs reflecting the hotel's location, too. The sand-floored reception is encased in an oversized play on an upturned dhoni, a traditional Maldivian fishing boat. The rest of the public spaces cluster around open-air pavilions, the focal point of which is a swimming pool with views far out to sea. There are two restaurants – Relish and Battuta's – the former plucks its inspiration from around the globe, while the latter venerates local cuisine, which is influenced by Indian and Sri Lankan cooking.
Guests are encouraged to tap further into the local culture with the opportunity to dine with a Maldivian family or enjoy day trips to neighbouring islands to get a sense of everyday life far removed from spas and petal-scattered beds. Having said that, there are – as you'd expect – plenty of opportunities for pampering, in the form of the tranquil Mandara spa and daily yoga classes on the pavilion.
The tranquillity of the shore contrasts with the chaotic array of tropical fish that teem in the waters beyond. The closest reefs, an easy plunge from Alila's two jetties, offer an immediate introduction to this colourful world. Experienced divers are in for a particular treat, as much of the surrounding area was hitherto only accessible to divers on live-aboard boats.
Hadahaa is reached via Kaadedhdhoo airport, an hour's flight from Male. After landing, you're whisked to a launch for the one-hour or so transfer to the other side of the atoll.
There are 50 villas, 36 of which are on the island (some with plunge pools) with a further 14 striking "aqua villas" poised over the water on stilts. Our villa – an angular affair built from tropical wood with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides – was a short stroll from a stretch of beach that was virtually our own for the duration. Inside, it's all understated castaway chic, with creamy terrazzo floors, stylish dark wood furniture, soaring ceilings and tongue-and-groove tropical wood panelling. Fabrics are in cream and white, with accents of equatorial sunset orange. Bathrooms built from terrazzo and slate feature indoor and outdoor showers, and an outdoor bath.
Each villa is assigned an assistant, who often hails from a nearby island. Ours, called Mohammed, was the personification of the friendly efficiency which runs throughout the hotel.
Alila Villas Hadahaa, Gaafu Alifu (North Huvadhoo) Atoll, Republic of Maldives (00 960 682 8888; alilahotels.com ).
Doubles start at $945 (£630) per night, room only.Reuse content