REVIEW - MAAFUSHIVARU MALDIVES RESORT
We Celebrate Maldives Tourism's Golden Jubilee at the Five Star Island Resort.
Maldives tourism hits the big 5-0 this year, so we pack our most deluxe party hats and head to the intimate, five-star Maafushivaru Maldives to see how this previously uninhabitable fishing-archipelago-turned-tropical-paradise has enchanted the world for half a century.
Maafushivaru island resort is just over 350 metres long and can be walked in 10 minutes, across powdery, sugar sand and wooden jetties so hot, they are studded with giant vases of cold sea water and ladles to splash in front of your feet.
Everything is sand-floored, from the bars to the restaurants, so you can barrel about like an extravagant Robinson Crusoe.
We played it cool when the manager led us down our private jetty to the stunning, Water Villa on stilts, which was to be our home for the week - but squealed like adolescent pigs when he left.
The ceilings were built for Jack and his Beanstalk. And we left the blinds up, to gaze out from our Four Poster each morning at the luminous, turquoise ocean. Our private sundeck had steps down to the warm, emerald lagoon and marshmallow-soft loungers and sunbeds awaiting us at the top.
There's a psychological theory called the Reminiscence Effect, which explains why time seems to fly faster the older you get. Your first, emotionally charged experiences - first kiss; first ice cream - are recorded in slow, vivid detail and the next time you encounter them, they pass in a more routine blur.
But I experienced one of these with slow, childlike delight at Maafushivaru. As we trotted along a jetty to dinner one night, the general manager pointed at the sea froth beneath us, glowing with what looked like bright, blue fairy lights, deposited on the sand in a neon line of glowing cobalt.
Plankton is such a drab name for something so beautiful. The freshwater organisms drift about the ocean, but a chemical reaction takes place when they’re disturbed, causing them to glow phosphorescently. I insisted upon walking back via the Dinoflagellates plankton every night, to see our footsteps glowing in blue on the sand and singing 'Billie Jean,' while electric lights shone from our heels.
My mind was clearly ripe for the blowing, because this happened a second time on one of our many, extraordinary sea safaris, snorkelling with sting, eagle, manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles with their babies. This time we were off to hang with the biggest fish there is - the Whale Shark, which can grow up to 12 meters and weigh more than 21 metric tonnes.
After a pleasant boat saunter between islands, the guide cut the motor and ordered us to jump into the sea - he'd found a whale shark. Cue tourists frantically ramming snorkels over heads and waddling like demented ducks in flippers towards the ocean. Once I'd caught by breath, I thrust my head beneath the waves and was alarmed and thrilled to see an enormous whale shark, seemingly occupying the entire sea bed beneath me and decorated with a checkerboard of vibrant, yellow spots and stripes.
My husband swam in front of us and, as the bubbles settled, looked back and saw the gargantuan creature swimming through the dark, blue mist towards him. He lifted his sad, little Kodak to get a picture and discovered he'd wasted the last shot on an accidental flipper pic.
Another underwater marvel took place during a sea turtle safari, when I was greeted with a kaleidoscopic wall of Clown Fish, filling the ocean as far as I could see. Inexplicably, the wallpaper of Nemos was broken in a perfect line by another, thick army of never-ending Oriental Sweetlips, straight out of Austin Powers' fish tank.
The snorkelling and diving experiences at the resort and its surrounding islands are unforgettable, and made eating fish at the resort’s Umi restaurant feel problematic and delicious. The restaurant was a perfect marriage of theatre and excellent food - a contemporary Teppanyaki and Sushi restaurant on its own sunset pavilion over the lagoon, with a chef who uses dark arts, smoke and mirrors to turn your food into butterflies and flowers as he prepares it in front of you, juggles and flicks eggs into your mouths and triumphantly emerges from the grill flames with a never-ending succession of imaginative dishes.
The boutique resort might be small, but its dining offerings are mighty. And they offer Half Board, Half Board Plus and Dine Around All Inclusive options.
Possibly my favourite meal was at Moodhu Grill, on a secluded jetty above the ocean, which was illuminated by flickering torches and a giant, full moon.
My napkin had been folded into a dress and accessorised with hibiscus flowers and my husband's was folded to resemble a shirt. We were treated to a dazzling, five-course menu, which included beef tenderloin cooked in a secret sauce - which no amount of drinks could help us prise from the chef - as well as a whole-baked Snapper fish in a life-changingly delicious, Thai concoction.
The restaurant’s goal is to celebrate South Asia’s culture, innovation and authenticity and it absolutely succeeds.
Other cuisine offerings include Cielo - meaning Sky - which sits above the Water Bar serving relaxed Italian fare - pasta, pizza, salads - with Indian ocean vistas. The Cuisine Gallery is your buffet spot. And Las Tapas offers relaxed, poolside Mediterranean fodder.
Maafishuvaru is understandably proud of its heritage. We met the village chief, or Katheeb, in charge of the islands, who let me have a puff on the hookah pipe at their Maldivian Night, where locals taught us skills including coir rope and curry paste making, constructing toys from palm leaves and then followed this with a troupe of drummers and traditional dancers and singers, known as 'boduberu' in Dhivehi.
Although, my entertainment highlight was seeing my husband attempting to squeeze into pants, made for a five-year-old girl from 10 Denier tights, for our couple's massage at the thatched spa on the beach. He was cringing too violently to fully appreciate the dreamy, Oceane Spa, which has a stunning glass-sided infinity pool above the ocean.
This is largely, a grown-up paradise. Although children are welcomed - Duplex Pool Villas can accommodate two adults with two sprogs and kids’ menus are available at Cielo and Water Bar.
After seven days here, it is no mystery why the Maldives is one of the world’s most desirable destinations - 1.3 million visitors came last year, despite the pandemic. And looking around at the unparalleled luxury, it's astonishing to think that 50 years ago, there were no telephones, banks and no main airport in The Maldives.
And when a tiny seaplane landed and whisked us away over the glowing atoll rings beneath us, we were so grateful the Maldives decided to share their beautiful secret with the rest of the world, 50 years ago.