Killer sunsets and Technicolor, barefoot luxury
When our boat arrived to drag us away from paradise, it took great restraint not to sob onto a crab and cling to a palm tree, while a resort worker politely tugged at my ankles.
We had stepped off that same boat, seven days prior - along with an army of newlyweds - and kicked off our shoes to pad onto the fluffy, white sand at Kuramathi Maldives Resort, one of five, stunning islands in the tiny Rasdhoo Atoll archipelago. We were not reacquainted with footwear until our departure, when we truly understood the definition of barefoot luxury.
Between winding paths of tropical flowers, coconut, palm and banyan trees and parked a smug, bikini-mince away from the beach was our very own, Deluxe Beachside Villa with front and rear decks complete with cushioned-loungers; outside day beds worthy of Joan Collins, a private Jacuzzi and outdoor rainfall shower. There was a semi-open bathroom and dreamy, king-sized four poster bed onto which the terminally-happy staff deposited resourceful towel origami, from swans strewn with hibiscus petals to flannel hearts.
The laguna and sunsets views from the villa pulled out every stop they could find - it’s beside the equator, after all. And if you’re not greased with after-sun, watching the culprit dip beneath the horizon, are you really on holiday? The best spot to watch the sunset - probably anywhere on earth - was a short totter along the 1.8km island, which tapers into an endless sandbank to enjoy unfettered views of the sherbet-coloured sun plunging into the turquoise, Indian Ocean.
Hooked on watching the sun bugger off, we also booked two sunset cruises - included in the Select All Inclusive - to toast its showy departure with champagne, lying on the top of a Dhoni boat as dolphins leapt from the water around us in a scene straight from a Windows screensaver.
The wildlife on the island is the stuff of slackened jaws. At 6:30pm each day, a black cloud of enormous Stingrays jet to the shore outside the Laguna Bar with eerie punctuality, to be fed from a giant bucket by a guy in wellies. They excitedly pump with air, thrashing the water into an angry froth with their wings and loudly hissing, slobbering and rasping for morsels.
I also enjoyed the jarring sight of huge fruit bat colonies and black Kaalhu ravens, removed from their gothic, Halloween setting and placed incongruously amid the blistering sunshine and coconut trees. Cheeky hermit crabs totter around your feet in ridiculous, ill-fitting shells; Geckos silently judge as you order another Disney-coloured cocktail and enormous, Grey Herons gingerly tiptoe around smooching newlyweds in the infinity pool.
Kuramathi is the largest resort in the Maldives and offers a wide choice of dining options, with 12 restaurants to choose from – nine of which are à la carte. They include Indian, Thai, Seafood, Grill, Asian Fusion, Japanese Teppanyaki, Fine Dining and Mediterranean. It is (unsurprisingly) not cheap and since you probably won’t be leaving the island, it’s definitely worth going for the all-inclusive - there are Basic or Select All options.
One memorable meal came at an ungodly hour before a snorkelling excursion, when we were invited to sample a traditional Maldivian breakfast at the Island Coffee Shop. My cutlery wilted in dismay when we were presented with a fish curry - or Mas Riha - rice, naan and grated smoked fish. But it turns out this trumps a fry-up. This warm and tangy curry is cooled with coconut milk and celebrates tuna and coconut, two staples of Maldivian cuisine.
Another highlight was the Steak Diane at the beachside Island Barbeque, which is lit by flickering torches. The soft meat was dramatically flambéed beside our table in a heavenly Cognac, garlic, mustard and cream sauce.
We also recommend the fresh, Mediterranean fodder at the Palm restaurant, which included a heroic amount of excellent beef carpaccio followed by Scallop Tagliatelle in lemon juice and white wine with island-grown herbs and vegetables. It was rude not to round this off with their homemade ice cream, made from the floral-flavoured, prickly Screw Pine fruit, grown on their palm-like trees.
There are also seven bars dotted around the island. The Fung, Dhoni, Laguna, Pool, Sand and Havana Club Wine and Cigar bars all have an opulent, old-colonial feel with dark wood, chocolate seating, moody lighting and large ceiling fans.
When we weren’t meticulously working our way though the bars and restaurants, we could be found waddling to the freshwater pool - studded with waterfalls and Jacuzzis - or our favourite spot; the cool, long Infinity Pool on the beach, handily close to the Fung Bar, which is strewn with juicy bean bags in the evening, to enjoy nighttime movies on the beach or local bands having a bash at Bon Jovi and occasionally mistranslating lyrics with brilliant, "Living on a Pear" results.
The crystal waters and abundance of fish species - 2,000 to be precise, including eels, sharks, rays, whales, dolphins, jellyfish, lobsters and probably the odd mermaid - made snorkelling pleasingly effortless and much more relaxing than our experience, awkwardly cracking each other’s cheekbones with oars in a glass-bottomed kayak from the chipperly-named, Aqua Sports and FUN Centre.
Kuramathi is built for relaxation, but if that isn’t your bag, they have a host of facilities from tennis and football courts, an Eco Centre, nature walks and stunning, 13-room spa. And although it is mostly wall-to-wall couples with shiny, new rings, they welcome children with the Bageecha Kids Club and the large outdoor area with splash park, tree house, children’s swimming pool, sand pit and play areas.
But be warned: Life, post-Maldives feels like the colour dial has been permanently turned down to the drab hues of a 1980s educational BBC Two programme about socks.