The trouble with the Maldives… and you never thought you’d hear a sentence that began ‘the trouble with the Maldives’, right? But, the trouble with the Maldives is it can all feel a little… how do we put this politely? Artificial? Yes, the hotels may be delicious, the landscaping heavenly, the setting – obviously – amazing but it may not necessarily feel that authentic. Like a real place.
Some hotels, knowing this, will take you on an excursion to a neighbouring island to see where the real people live, the real people who work in your hotel and produce the food that you’re going to be eating but, apart from feeling a bit intrusive – ‘Ooh look at all these picturesque working people!’ – it kind of underlines the artificiality of where you’re staying. First world problems and then some.
But one place in the Maldives that does actually feel like a place, albeit a tropical paradise kind of place, is Amilla, a five-star luxury resort where the tropical forest is (reaches out and touches) a real tropical jungle… in fact, 70% of the island is still jungle. Original jungle not shipped in Dubai-style. The people who work there live on another side of the island (there are 23 and a half hectares to play with) and a lot of the food is grown or reared just down that sandy lane. You can go and have a look if you like. And the fact that it’s one of the few remaining Maldivian-owned resorts must mean something to you.
That doesn’t mean you’re doing a do-goody deed by choosing Amilla. With less than 70 villas scattered over that island and out over the water, you’ve bought yourself breathing space whether it’s in a lavish beach bungalow (bungalow makes it sound smaller than it is) with its own pool, in case you can’t be arsed to walk the 15 seconds to the beach, or in a villa way up in the trees looking out to sea. And the fact that it’s a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve means you’ve secured access to manta rays and an extensive house reef for your snorkelling pleasure. You can even bag a Glamping pod, a see-through bubble tent out there where the beach meets the jungle and sleep in the thick of it all (though creeping through a jungle for a wee can be daunting…)
So, you’re settled in, feeling pretty good about yourself, have booked up a bubble tent, now you just have to decide where to eat, seeing as they have a ‘dine around’ programme, which means you can choose your vibe, whether it’s the cute little beach café with tons of vegan options (our particular favourite) and just sand for floor or Koi, where you can enjoy Japanese cuisine on the over-water deck, while a performer does some sort of gymnastics thing. But only after you’ve had cocktails at the Sunset Bar out on the jetty: they have an over-water set-up that is sophisticated but authentic (there’s that word again!) and catches the sun like you wouldn’t believe. Hell, there’s even a sand-floored ‘nightclub’ should the moment get the better of you.
Other food stops include Italian at Barolo, Indian at East, Joe’s Pizza, an oudoor situation, Fresh right by the pool for when you just can’t be bothered to move… or have a floating breakfast in your own pool. Why not? There is actually another place – seems a bit east London in a slightly edgy sort of way – that we can’t remember the name of (don’t worry: they’ll send a golf cart to, well, cart you), out by the bit where they make their own kombucha.
And yes you come to the Maldives to flop but there’s plenty to do if you get antsy. The spa, for instance. Beach volleyball. Snorkelling… especially if you take the ten-minute boat to Hanifaru Bay, where you’ll see mantas and whale sharks (totally safe, totally huuuuge). Or charter yourself a sailing boat. It is the Maldives after all.
Amilla may not be the latest word in jet-set luxury – don’t worry, there’s already plenty of that in the Maldives – but it does have a flavour of realness that you don’t often find. And that is precious. I mean, you’ve not come half way around the world for Marbella, have you? As for the bubble tent out where the jungle meets the beach, we actually bottled it (too real!) Don’t worry, someone else ripped our arms off to take our place.