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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We stayed in the beach villas, which featured private hedged backyards that opened directly onto the beach and the sea.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 I didn’t mind, because city girl here was starting to feel a bit sea sick and was kind of relieved to set food on solid ground again. The experience of sailing around the atoll among the islands and snorkeling around the reefs was fabulous enough in itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you been to the Maldives? How was your experience there?