The fantasy island where fish swim above when the meal’s underway – Hurawalhi Maldives Resort

I must confess. I had never been that keen to go to the Maldives until I visited the fabulous, amazing new Hurawalhi Maldives Resort last month.

Yes you heard me.   And you may wonder- who in their right mind wouldn’t want to go to these jaw-dropping paradise islands? Err … that would be moi. And I had my own reasons.

Photo credit: surfchannel.com

I know all the photos I’d ever seen of the Maldives, with bikini clad, super tanned people striding on tiny strips of blinding white, sun-bleached sand are meant to be sexy and enticing, but these images always made me shudder and want to run for cover. It all looks like the perfect recipe for very bad sunburn, freckles, premature ageing, wrinkles, moles, melanoma, sarcoma, and all kinds of skin cancer.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Umbrellas everywhere and yet I’m trying to hide under my hands. Photo by Luke Yeung

Yeah, yeah, I know not everyone has this gloomy perspective about desert islands, but I’m a wellness and lifestyle writer so these skin-related topics tend to inhabit the upper levels of my awareness. I mean, the models in those photos never wear a hat, and their bare bums are protected only by bikini strings. There isn’t even a coconut tree or an umbrella in sight.  Have those people never heard of UV rays?

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
The stunning 5.8 underwater restaurant at Hurawalhi Maldives

Well, recently the chance came up to visit the new luxury resort Hurawalhi Maldives and it was the photo of the resort’s incredible 5.8 Undersea Restaurant that made me snap to attention. The world’s largest all-glass underwater restaurant, the description said. It looked spectacular, cool, magical! And I’m pretty sure the risk of sunburn underwater is nil. I had to see this place!  Hurawalhi here I come!

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net

Hurawalhi Resort is located in Lhaviyani Atoll,  40 minutes’ seaplane ride from Male airport, and we were lucky that our direct flight from Bangkok arrived midday so we could get directly onto a connecting seaplane that took us to Hurawalhi’s sister resort island, and from there onto a short boat ride to Hurawalhi.  Since the seaplanes operate only in daylight for safety reasons, people arriving on later flights have to stay overnight in Male and then take a morning seaplane flight. Such a journey to get there. But so, soooo worth it once you arrive.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Seaplanes lined up at Male airport. Photo by Luke Yeung

I was fascinated by how busy the tiny airport was, and how fleets of seaplanes act like taxis to shuttle people to the various islands. In addition there’s also a domestic airline network that transports people among the 26 natural atolls that comprise the Maldives.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Atolls underfoot in the Maldives. Photo by Luke Yeung

I was excited to experience the seaplane ride past the tiny islands with their self-contained resorts and coral reefs that dotted the sea scape, and amazed at the remoteness of some of the island resorts.

“The Maldives looks like someone grabbed a handful of sand and threw it across the sea,” the cheerful resort rep had told us at the airport.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Get into island mode: a natural sand floor greets you in the Hurawalhi reception lobby.

We disembarked on Hurawalhi Island to be greeted by the resort managers wearing breezy linen shorts and crisp white shirts, and right away I noticed that one of the managers wore no shoes and padded around barefoot. We decided that we’d do the same and get right into the barefoot luxe mode. After all, we are Barefoot Luxe!

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
A water jug to wash your feet is ready at the entrance of each villa. Photo by Luke Yeung

We didn’t put shoes on again until we stepped into the boat to go home. It was liberating to wander between indoors and outdoors without having to take our shoes on and off at every threshold. The sand was as soft as a carpet everywhere on the small island.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net

The guest accommodations consist of spacious, luxurious overwater villas and beach villas, all with the same layout, consisting of a large bedroom/living room, big bathroom, and spacious terrace with outdoor living/dining area opening directly onto the water or beach.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Unobstructed views at the sunset champagne bar.
Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
I love these stools made like giant corks!

The overwater villas fan out from a long pier, with a special destination at the end of the pier – the sunset champagne bar, situated to offer perfect, dreamy views of romantic seaside sunsets.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net

We stayed in the beach villas, which featured private hedged backyards that opened directly onto the beach and the sea.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
The villas offer plenty of snacks. I love the elegant (glass, not plastic) water bottle with the beautiful Hurawalhi logo.

We didn’t need to make it to the sunset champagne bar since we found that a welcome gift bucket of champagne waited in each guest villa. We took our champagne onto the beach to enjoy sunset drinks sitting on the sand.

The Maldives is a Muslim nation with strict laws banning alcohol. I’d already heard from my friends that all visitors bringing any bottles of booze with them will have their bottles confiscated at the airport on arrival (though I was told the bottles will be returned upon departure, upon request).

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
A welcome gift bottle of champagne awaits in each villa. Photo by Luke Yeung
We found this giant swing in the middle of the water.

Alcohol is only allowed at the resorts and at Hurawalhi the supply is not just generous but bottomless. Each villa is stocked with a wine refrigerator containing six bottles of wine, plus a well-stocked bar, and one of the resort’s all-inclusive packages includes complimentary 4 bottles of in-villa wine which is restocked daily!

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Pool by day / Pool by night. Photos by Luke Yeung

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net

Before arriving in the Maldives, I’d had this bizaare notion that I’d be in my room trying to hide from the scorching sun, but (thankfully) it was nothing like that. There was so much to do that we were on the move all the time.   Since I had a beach villa, there was plenty of shade from the abundant bushes and trees that forested the island. During the daytime, I spent a lot of time in the Duniye Spa, which merits a separate article, here.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
So much beauty underwater. I swam in the middle of this school of silvery fish.

The resort provides snorkeling equipment, delivered to your villa, so you can walk straight into the sea and snorkel around the island at any time.

I saw more people in the pool than in the sea.   I preferred to swim in the amazing crystal clear seawater, which was as gentle and shallow as a bathtub. I wondered why other people would choose to swim in a confined, chlorinated pool when they could have the whole gorgeous natural open sea right here at their feet.   There is so much beauty under the water!  Never mind. I suppose if the other guests stay in the pool that leaves more  untouched open sea for moi to spread myself around in!

I didn’t ignore the pool though. My favourite time at the pool was after dinner, when darkness fell and the pool came alive with sparkling underwater lights while the water was infused with a mesmerizing dance of changing colours.  It was fabulous! I don’t know how long I lay there hypnotized, the first night I saw this.

Off we go to look for the manta rays. Photo by Luke Yeung

One day we spent a morning on a snorkeling trip to swim with the manta rays. The waters around Hurawalhi have been identified as a prime area for manta rays.  Hurawalhi has its own Marine Biology Center and partners with the UK-based charity The Manta Trust to conserve and monitor these magnificent sea creatures. Our manta ray trip was led by the resort’s resident marine biologist Kirsten, and diving instructor Hannah, who were both fun and enthusiastic guides throughout the trip.

The boat ride out to the manta ray site is a fabulous way to absorb the full beauty of this amazing place, taking us across Lhaviyani Atoll past other fantasy island resorts and pristine white sand banks.

Out on the boat, we were saturated in all shades of blue, from deep lapis to luminescent turquoise to pale cerulean, with occasional strips of white where sand banks punctured the seascape. It was utterly gorgeous. The water is so clear and shallow that I could see the ocean floor as our boat glided across the surface.

We didn’t find manta rays, but we caught lots of sun rays. I love my long-sleeve swimsuit by Lisa King London, boat and crew by Hurawalhi Maldives, open water and sunshine by Mother Nature. Photo by Luke Yeung

Kirsten gave us a briefing on manta rays and the types of fish we would see while snorkeling. We visited three snorkeling sites and saw plenty of fish and sea creatures, and swam in the middle of a school of exuberant bright yellow and black striped sergeant major fish. With dive instructor Hannah’s help, I also saw an octopus.  Octopi are masters of disguise and this one pretended to be a coral, but I could see its eyes looking back at me, which reminded me that this beautiful atoll is these creatures’ home and we humans are only clumsy visitors here.

In the end we didn’t see any manta rays that day but honestly I didn’t care anymore because by that time I was throwing up over the side of the boat, and was kind of relieved to get back on solid ground again.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
I’m engulfed by choices and these are just the appetizers! The rest of the buffet and cooking stations stretched for miles behind me (it seemed).

Meals in Hurawalhi’s three restaurants are satisfying and interesting experiences to look forward to. Considering that all the produce and food have to be flown and shipped in from other countries, all the food is incredibly fresh and the buffets at the main restaurant, Canneli, were a delicious adventure in exploring the range of international cuisines on offer. I loved all the buffet meals here and breakfast was my favourite, with European, Asian and American selections.

Turquoise and blush tones set the perfect romantic mood for dinner at The Aquarium overwater restaurant.
Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Here comes a nice waiter with our lovely welcome drinks of wine spritzers with pomegranate seeds and mint.

The overwater Aquarium restaurant is a gorgeous place for sunset drinks and more sophisticated cuisine.

Here you can dine on the water and delight in seeing schools of tiny silvery fish fly out of the water while the bigger fish chase them. Chef Bjeorn, who likes to design his own plates, told us that all the best ingredients are flown in from Dubai and Singapore, beef from Australia, and Alaskan king crab from Alaska, and wine and cheese from Europe.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
The world’s largest all-glass underwater restaurant. Photo by Luke Yeung

Of course the highlight of our stay was dinner at 5.8 underwater restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner and where we were booked for dinner on our last night.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
A box of delicate amuse bouches to start the meal. Photo by Luke Yeung

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
An artistic dish of tuna that mimics the ocean floor. Photo by Luke Yeung
Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Chocolate three ways. Photo by Luke Yeung
Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
A fresh dessert of fruit and ice cream. Photo by Luke Yeung

Our dinner was scheduled at 6.15 p.m. while sunset was on the wane, so we could see the water change from day to night through the course of the meal. Night time and the restaurant’s lights brought the big fish like barracuda and tuna to swim around the dining room’s glass dome. With a 9-course dinner including truffles, wagyu beef, and foie gras among its lavish ingredients, plus the theatre of fish swirling all around us, the whole dining experience was a full-on 360-degree sensory experience.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
It’s raining stars on the beach at Hurawalhi! Sequin dress by Ginger Chiang Mai. Photo by Luke Yeung

What with all the snorkeling, spa-ing,  beach walking, sunset viewing, and dining in all three restaurants, there was so much to do that the time flew by.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
This is where we saw dolphins jump in the air just off shore from the breakfast terrace.

On our last morning, which sparkled brilliant and blue, we saw dolphins jumping  and twisting in the air only 200 meters in front of the breakfast terrace. These were the spinner dolphins that Kirsten had told us about on the manta ray trip the previous day. It was astonishing how pristine and abundant the marine life was everywhere around the resort, and so close to shore.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net

At departure time, the resort managers gathered on the pier to send off the guests with smiles and waves. As I waved farewell to them from our departing boat, I even felt a bit tearful to leave it all behind.

We glided across a sea so perfectly still, so perfectly calm, that water and sky seemed to merge into one. It looked like a dreamscape in a beautiful movie. But this wasn’t a crafted illusion; this was all real, unfiltered, raw natural beauty.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net

All of this makes Hurawalhi an incredibly romantic destination, which makes it a fabulous place for weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries, and couple’s getaways.

During my stay, I’d tried to absorb as much of all this spectacular beauty as I could into every pore of my small  body. And I think I did manage to take some of that happiness back with me; when I got back to my routine in Bangkok, I felt that I was still radiating in the luscious Maldivian afterglow.  I’ll definitely go back to the Maldives again and again.

Hurawalhi Resort Maldives, best romantic luxury resort Maldives, best luxury underwater restaurant, www.BarefootLuxe.net
Feeling radiant in sunset’s rosy glow at Hurawalhi Maldives. Tie-dye silk top by Frockk Bali, silk fisherman pants by Sexy Little Beach Thailand. Photo by Luke Yeung

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Have you been to the Maldives? How was your experience there?

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