Want to whisk your Valentine off on the trip of a lifetime? Fly to the Maldives
There,” shouted my husband, excitedly. “Can you see them?”
In the dazzling sunshine, I shaded my eyes with my hand and squinted out over the gently rippling water towards the horizon. It was hard to tell where the sea finished and the startlingly clear blue sky began.
“Come on, let’s swim out,” he said, snorkelling gear in hand.
Moments later we had descended the steps from the deck of our over-water bungalow and plunged into the bath-warm Indian Ocean, arms and flippers thrashing.
We heard them before we saw them. Just shy of the drop-off point where the turquoise lagoon met the dark, deep ocean beyond we made out their faint but persistent click click click.
And as we tore off our snorkel masks, we were just in time to see a pod of at least 15 dolphins breaking the surface 100 yards in front of us. One of them even leapt right up into the air.
It was an unforgettable experience, but then our entire trip to the Maldives was full of magical moments.
A destination that regularly tops people’s bucket lists, this swathe of tiny coral islands (1,192 to be precise, grouped into 26 coral atolls) is the stuff of holiday dreams with its pristine beaches, year-round sunshine and diverse and spectacular marine life.
We were staying on Maadhoo Island in the South Malé Atoll, which, until recently, was little more than a tiny sliver of sand and tangled jungle. Now, after an impressive two-year, multi-million pound building project, it has been given the five-star treatment and is home to OZEN by Atmosphere, a contemporary, chic Maldivian hideaway and the most luxurious of the Atmosphere Hotels and Resorts properties. The firm also owns sister resorts Atmosphere Kanifushi and OBLU.
Paradise, of course, isn’t easy to reach. We travelled for 10 hours on two international flights before boarding a speedboat for the final 35-minute transfer to Maadhoo from the capital, Malé. But our tiredness was soon forgotten as we stepped on to the resort jetty and took in the spectacular palm-fringed beach in front of us. It was a wonderful sight, made even better by the cold towels, champagne and foot massages we received in reception before being whisked off in a golf buggy to our villa.
Our home for the week was a private Wind Villa over the lagoon – one of 90 stand-alone villas on the island. The other Earth properties are on the beach. Awaiting us there was another bottle of champagne, which we opened while listening to our personal butler talking us through the highlights of the room and resort.
‘The coral islands are the stuff of holiday dreams, with pristine beaches and year-round sunshine’
The villa was palatial. Glass floor panels in the huge bedroom allowed us to spot the colourful fish and stingrays gliding below, and we had a separate dressing room, a bathroom with a freestanding ellipse-shaped tub and a waterfall shower, all with uninterrupted views out onto the shimmering water. On our private deck we also found an eight-metre long infinity lap pool.
Luxury is what OZEN by Atmosphere is all about, thanks largely to its unique all-inclusive Indulgence Plan.
Unlike other all-inclusive breaks, with their same-y buffets and cheap house wines, at OZEN you can enjoy à la carte dining every evening and unlimited premium champagnes, wines and spirits, while activities such as snorkelling and sunset cruises are all thrown in.
Open-water diving and treatments at the Elena Spa are also part of the plan, depending on the number of nights you stay, and I enjoyed a Swedish massage one morning in a beautiful over-water thatched hut.
In the meantime, my husband headed out for an open-water dive where he was thrilled to swim with whitetip reef sharks and manta rays. Even if you aren’t a diver, you can spot a range of sealife just by snorkelling, so it’s worth signing up for one of the twice-daily excursions to local reefs.
Head out on a dolphin adventure trip
The exercise was much needed given the amount of tempting food on offer at the resort’s five restaurants. Our favourite lunchtime spot was RAW where platters of sushi were served up like works of art, and we loved the South Asian fare at The Traditions IndoCeylon and far eastern dishes at The Traditions Peking in the evening.
Guests also get one fine-dining experience at the resort’s underwater restaurant M6m. Bounded by coral reefs, you descend six metres down a spiral staircase to find huge glass windows that give an extraordinary outlook on the underwater world. Sipping Taittinger champagne as we watched boxfish and angelfish dart past us, we knew it would be a night we would never forget on this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Way to go
Hayes and Jarvis (hayesandjarvis.co.uk, 01293 762415) offers seven nights at OZEN by Atmosphere from £3,095pp, based on two adults sharing an Earth Villa for seven nights on the Atmosphere Indulgence Plan, including return economy class flights from London Heathrow and speedboat transfers.
Ten things you must do in the Maldives
1 Enjoy the Maldives’ magical marine life on a snorkelling trip.
2 Dine at M6m, OZEN by Atmosphere’s breathtaking underwater restaurant, six metres below sea level.
3 Relax on your sunbed with a cocktail in hand. You are in paradise, after all.
4 Head out on a dolphin adventure trip or, if you’re lucky, spot a pod from the balcony of your own water villa.
5 Take out a canoe or pedalo for a slow and lazy trip around the bay.
6 For the ultimate romantic experience, take a trip to a remote sandbank for a picnic lunch.
7 As one of the world’s best places to dive, sign up for a PADI Open Water Diver course at the OZEN by Atmosphere Dive School.
8 Sip champagne on a sunset cruise.
9 Discover more about the culture of the Maldives with an excursion to local islands Guraidhoo and Maafushi.
10 Head to the Elena Spa for a relaxing treatment. We highly recommend the Swedish massage.