The Maldives is synonymous with luxury travel, but with so many first-class offerings, travellers can be left feeling all at sea. Luxury London takes on the enviable task of investigating, to present the best hotels, resorts and places to stay in the Asian archipelago
Our first stop is Baros, which sits just a hop, skip and a jump away from Malé airport. You can trust me when I say that there’s nothing like a 25-minute cruise in a speedboat across crystal-clear azure waters to clear out the cobwebs after a ten-hour flight; island after island of picture-perfect palm tree-lined shores, separated by the most beautiful blue waters you will find anywhere on Earth.
Baros is one of the founding fathers of luxury tourism here, being one of the country’s first five-star resorts to open back in 1973, and we quickly learn from conversations with our fellow guests that it has a devoted clientele who return year on year. And once we catch a glimpse of our overwater villa, we can see why: it’s a slice of heaven on stilts.
Inside, there is a focus on the use of natural materials that blend with the surrounding environment including natural stones and coconut thatch, meaning that the wonder of the outdoors never seems far away, which is completely spoiling after days of going from bed to Tube to desk with scarce doses of fresh air. Both bath and bed afford views of your decking and the ocean, and the thrill of waking up to that view never gets old. Plus, with our own private pool and direct access to the sea, the temptation is there to never leave the room.
But you must, for treasures await. Mostly in the form of the hotel’s spectacular house reef, which is abundant with marine life including turtles, blacktip reef sharks, vibrant purple and turquoise parrotfish, and mighty titan triggerfish. Make the most of this and book in a snorkelling trip with the resident marine biologist, who knows the reef like the back of her hand and will be able to highlight all the best spots.
Perhaps because it is such an old-timer, Baros cultivates a personal, family atmosphere, with staff who will know your name and room number by heart. It isn’t family friendly, however, and won’t accommodate children younger than eight. This means that the adults get all the fun, with an endless stream of ridiculously romantic experiences on offer: one particular highlight was a three-course breakfast on the Piano Deck, perched out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
And for dinner, do not miss The Lighthouse restaurant, which offers fine dining – and the best tuna steak I’ve ever had.
Rates start from $675 (approx. £464) per night in a Deluxe Villa on a B&B basis, baros.com
Milaidhoo Island, Maldives
Next up is Milaidhoo – Baros’ flashier, more extravagant sibling. A venture by the same owner, the hotel is being pitched as ‘more luxurious’ than its counterpart; a contrast that is apparent right down to the toiletries on offer in the rooms – Milaidhoo showcases glitzy Italian brand Acqua di Parma, while Baros offers the more rustic L’Occitane.
The suites are vast and exquisitely designed. Again the focus is on bringing the outdoors in – the general manager proudly informs us that both the water and beach suites open 180 degrees of the way round – and the contemporary design has been richly inspired by the Sultan, with vibrant shades of turquoise and fuchsia found throughout. The private pool is larger than that found in the water villas at Baros, and finishing design touches are more in evidence, such as the propeller-shaped alarm clock and the swinging seat that prevails over our deck.
There are thoughtful additions: a bottle of Champagne greeted us upon arrival and villa hosts are contactable via a mobile phone, meaning you can order lunch from the comfort of your sunbed.
The overwater spa, again, is the height of luxury; our couple’s suite opened up onto decking with a standalone bathtub and unobstructed ocean views, making it the most heavenly place imaginable to relax after a 90-minute spa treatment.
When you start to feel restless and hungry for activity, opt for a private yoga lesson in the pavilion, or visit the marine centre for snorkelling or diving. The experience here offers something different, with a chance for guests to plant their own coral tray using small fragments of coral, so you can play your part in helping to sustain and rebuild the reef. The trays are labelled and guests are given bi-yearly updates on its progress.
Dining offerings are unique too; the signature restaurant – due to open this month – is set in a building resembling one of the Sultan’s boats and will be the only restaurant in a five-star hotel dedicated to serving Maldivian cuisine. Exclusive and intimate, the restaurant will have an open kitchen and just eight tables.
And you are not restricted to dining just in the restaurants. We enjoy a memorable evening feasting on a meat and seafood BBQ on the private beach of a villa; a meal that concluded with the best dessert of the trip – a beautifully made screw pine panna cotta.
Rates start from $1,625 (approx. £1,308) per night in a Water Pool Villa on a half-board basis, based on two sharing, milaidhoo.com
Six Senses Laamu, Maldives
Last stop: Six Senses Laamu, which promotes a sense of barefoot luxury in its purest form – upon stepping onto the boat we are invited to take off our shoes and confine them to a canvas bag for the duration of our stay. This ethos continues throughout, with a relaxed and informal atmosphere; what we call a ‘luxe backpacker’ vibe.
The hotel has the largest overwater complex of anywhere in the Maldives and as such you will find yourself gazing into those azure waters over breakfast, lunch and dinner. The latter can be enjoyed at one of the hotel’s three restaurants – Japanese eatery Zen, Longitude and The Leaf restaurant, which offers a change of scene. Situated in the vegetable garden, the restaurant showcases the finest fresh produce grown on the island plus fish and seafood from the local seas.
We were lucky enough to be staying in a beach villa, with our own pool and our own patch of private beach – rooms here pack serious wow factor. The décor evokes a sense of barefoot adventure in the style of Robinson Crusoe – with sinks crafted from leather suitcases and a stunning al fresco bathroom, meaning that you are indoors to sleep and to sleep only.
There is much to explore and do at Six Senses Laamu, from the swimming pool and poolside Sip Sip bar – which has a chilled, Ibiza beach club feel – the wine cellar where you can enjoy wine tastings with cheese and chocolate, and the outdoor cinema, which does screenings every other night, complete with drinks and popcorn. All of this sits alongside the usual snorkelling and diving. Six Senses is family friendly, with a kids’ club and special kids’ movie nights. On top of this, there is an ice cream parlour open daily with more than 40 different types of ice-cream. Needless to say, this is definitely not just for children.
And if your holiday is designed more around purging than gorging, try the wellness screening, where a doctor will measure everything from your metabolic rate to your body’s pH levels, and devise a programme to follow during the course of your stay.
There is a real environmental and sustainability focus here, with the notable absence of plastic in the rooms – all water is in glass bottles – and restricted use of golf buggies. Instead, each guest is given the use of a bicycle during their stay, which has a plaque on it bearing their initials – a really nice personal touch.
These sorts of details are where the Six Senses really excels; prior to our arrival we were invited to specify the scent we would like sprayed on our pillows nightly, and our GEM (villa host) was on hand to help with anything from booking spa treatments to waking us up at 3am in order to catch turtles hatching.
It’s these once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make the Maldives so special, and with any luck, and a little more awareness, it will still be here for generations to enjoy in decades’ time.
Rates start from $800 (approx. £643) per night in a Lagoon Water Villa, sixsenses.com