Friday, August 17, 2007

Maldives: Welcome to waterworld

This is a nation of some 1200 tiny atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean, where the tourist can experience utter beauty, luxury and charm. Susie Boswell gives it a try.

Our seaplane skims along, smooth and low over pure, sparkling, translucent blue ocean stretching to the horizon.

Below, the stunning aquamarine expanse is broken only by a sprinkling of small islands separated as if by some supreme architect at discreet distances, each in its own private space.

Each, too, is circled by white beaches slipping into clear, gentle shallows; the centres are lush with exotic greenery and palms. Thatched roofs peek through to the brilliant sky and sleek jetties reach out their arms like daddy-longlegs, hosting a string of over-water timber bungalows looking out over placid lagoons and waves beyond, breaking on coral reefs.

Water is the leitmotif of the Maldives, more so than anywhere else on Earth, except perhaps the Arctic. As ice is to the polar seas, so this nation is comprised of nothing but some 1200 tiny atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean to Australia's north-north-west.

Even the international airport and the Maldives capital of Male are each located on adjacent small islands. In fact, close to 100 per cent of this country's territory is actually under water: the thousands of individual, small, land masses rise no higher anywhere than a metre or two above sea level.

It's a delightful entree - to emerge from an international flight to immediately board your speedboat or seaplane at the airport's water's edge, ferried fast to your holiday island.

Water sports are, naturally, the highlight. Magnificent corals and tropical fish lie at your feet as you wade into the welcoming wetness just steps from your bungalow or villa. Then there's surfing, windsurfing, sailing, parasailing, snorkelling, diving, game fishing and so on. The ocean, of course, is the Maldivians' larder and a seafood feast the hallmark of every table.

But the Maldives has taken its watery trademark to inventive levels. At one resort, I descended by staircase to the ocean floor to dine in a massive submarine wine cellar, its walls lined with 6000 premium bottles.

At another I was soothed by a herbal facial and a pedicure in a submerged aquarium: I was the "goldfish in the bowl" as curious schools of sharks and tropical fish cruised by the picture-glass walls around me.

Most over-water rooms feature glass coffee tables, or open wells, for viewing and feeding the fish, attracted in the evening by spotlights fixed to piers below.

At one resort I followed a staircase from my room directly into a clear, lime-green lagoon. As I frolicked about, my eyes at the waterline, I could watch the foam sprays off a nearby reef. No one could tell I'd forgotten my costume: the villa's timber modesty-screen rose up on piers around me.

Then there are the bathrooms: typically, a deep white tub will be set just inside an immense glass wall overlooking the sea. Or your shower is a waterfall in a spacious outdoor cubicle, perhaps made of glass bricks but open to the sunshine or starry sky and the sound of waves nearby. At any rate, the room will somehow seem to have no boundary between you and nature - a cheeky, sensual feeling of freedom and indulgence.

Dining, too, is waterside and "no shoes" is generally de rigueur as you slip your soles through a raked and manicured sand-floor to your table, or the bar. Or, if the floors are made of white Indian marble, there's happily cause for another watery feature: at every doorway a large crock of water and coconut shell ladle invite washing the feet of sand before entry.

Sometimes there's a moat between the sand pathway and the restaurant, a Maldivian contrivance to fill a void with floating flowers, and fish. And, of course, there's dining a deux on a secluded beach, beach barbecues, intimate cafes set in sandy clearings, or a Robinson Crusoe moonlight picnic on a deserted isle.

Food in the Maldives is a standout, every meal an event. The cuisine suits the New Zealand palate and has a clean freshness. Presentation is unerringly faultless, with multiple choices and limitless supply.

Impeccable care and attention flows through to your room: flowers placed on beds, scented sachets between the sheets, French-perfumed toiletries in bathrooms.

The butler, or thakuru, is a feature of the Maldives. At all high-end resorts your personal butler introduces himself at the jetty, chilled hand towels, canapes and champagne in hand. You're conveyed by golf buggy to your bungalow or villa and the butler offers his mobile number to summon him at will.

A rain shower passes by? The butler collects you and delivers you to lunch. Forgotten your sunscreen? It's fetched promptly. Whatever your wish, the butler does it.

And who was by my side till check-in on my departure for Male? My butler.

*Sally Boswell was a guest of World Resorts of Distinction, Huvafen Fushi and Singapore Airlines.

- Detours, HoS


No comments: