Why Maldivian paradise could finally be within budget - Scotland on Sunday Travel
For well over half a century, the Maldives has been synonymous with a number of things: the bluest of seas, the softest of shores, the heavenliest of honeymoons – and the steepest of price tags, with the average nightly room rate coming in at around 2K.
As one of the world’s most exclusive destinations, it has long lured those with extra-deep pockets, but the arrival of a new direct flight from the UK could be about to open it up to a whole new set of travellers.
This is big news for a destination that boasts some of the most expensive places to stay in the world (a night at the Conrad’s underwater villa will set you back up to £39,000). But there’s renewed hope that Virgin Atlantic’s brand-new service from London Heathrow will bring much-needed competition to the route previously monopolised by British Airways – and with competition in the skies comes lower fares.
The signs are already looking good, with Sir Richard Branson’s airline announcing that the 10-hour service to capital Male will increase from three times a week to daily next winter, starting in October. Paradise, it seems, has never been so popular.
Sprinkled across the Indian Ocean like little sandy jewels to the south-west of Sri Lanka, the Maldives consists of 1,192 low-lying tropical islands in sapphire seascapes that barely seem possible. For first-timers, here’s a helpful introduction…
With more than 150 resorts competing to raise the hospitality stakes, choosing where to stay in the Maldives can be a daunting and overwhelming task. Given more properties are popping up on the horizon, the decision has never been tougher. At the top end of the price bracket, the much-loved Soneva resorts will welcome its third Maldivian outpost in March with Soneva Secret, a collection of 14 residences – including the country’s first floating villa – breathing new life into the otherwise undeveloped and remote Haa Dhaalu atoll (rooms from £2,478 per night full board). The perfect place for a true five-star castaway experience if you have the cash – otherwise great for dreaming.
Elsewhere, a 35-minute seaplane from Male, is the new Six Senses Kanuhura (rooms from £757 per night full board), already winning praise for its barefoot luxury (guests remove their shoes upon arrival), wellness programme (don’t miss the alchemy bar) and its 91 thatched villas.
Luxury for less
Those looking for paradise on a budget, without sacrificing any of the dreamy delights that make the Maldives so intoxicating, should opt for Sun Siyam Iru Fushi. Founded by a local businessman in 1990 and still family-run today, there are 221 rooms, with guests having the difficult choice between a beach hideaway (marble floors, private pools and outdoor bathrooms) or the classic overwater villa, also with their own private pools plus glass panels offering a glimpse of the aquatic wonderland beneath. In the unlikely event you grow tired of swimming in your villa then head to the chic adults-only infinity pool, black-tiled and palm-fringed, which juts out towards the beach.
Dine out in style at the 14 restaurants offering everything from Japanese to French cuisine and unwind at the sprawling spa, with over a dozen Balinese-style treatment huts centred around gardens and flowing streams. The best bit? It’s possible to bag a room for less than £300 per night in low season.
A thrilling seven-minute speedboat ride from Iru Fushi is its sister property, the all-inclusive Siyam World, where the focus is firmly fixed on family fun (rooms from £585 per night full board). With 472 rooms spread across 54 lush acres, it’s one of the biggest resorts in the Maldives, where cute little buses ferry guests between the floating waterpark, impressive kids club, 10 restaurants, seven bars and well-stocked wine cellar housing more than 200 bottles from around the world.
Perhaps most surprising is the opportunity to saddle up. Siyam World is the only property in the Maldives to have its own horse stables, meaning guests can enjoy a ride along the beach on one of the rare Marwari breeds originally from Rajasthan in India. Kids big and small will enjoy the array of watersports on offer too, from paddleboarding and jet-skiing to the chance to feel like James Bond during a spot of flyboarding, while the slides in each of the overwater villas provide hours of fun.
Under the sea
It won’t come as a huge shock to know that the ocean is at the heart of everything in the Maldives. As a country where the highest point is a mere few metres above sea level, it’s inevitably on the frontline of climate change. As such, great importance is placed upon sustainability and education at Siyam World, which offers an interactive coral replanting programme led by the resident marine biologist designed to help regenerate local reefs.
Home to spinner dolphins, sea turtles and schools of technicolour fish, Maldivian waters are among the richest and most diverse in the world, making the region a haven for snorkellers and divers alike. Whale sharks – the gentle giants of the ocean growing to lengths of up to 12-metres – can be found year-round while getting up close with the resident manta rays ranks amongst the most ethereal of experiences it’s possible to have.
Despite popular belief, there’s more to the Maldives than infinity pools and sunset cocktails. A nation of great history and heritage, there’s culture to discover for those intrepid enough to seek it. The obvious place to start is Male, the country’s capital and home to the majority of the 520,000 population. A densely populated island of high-rises, ancient banyan trees and beautiful mosques, it offers an eye-opening glimpse into what real life in paradise is really like.
But for a truly authentic taste of local life, nothing comes close to one of the many island villages. One such place is Kudafari, a 20-minute boat ride from Siyam World and a whole world away from the gloss and glitz of the resort. Life is slow and simple, filled with impassioned games of football on sandy pitches and the nose-tingling aroma of homecooked curries drifting from kitchens.
How to plan your trip
Virgin Atlantic Holidays (virginholidays.com; 0344 557 3859) offers a seven-night holiday with four nights at Sun Siyam Iru Fushi (B&B) basis and three nights at Siyam World (all-inclusive) from £3,449 per person, including flights and seaplane transfers.