Seas for all Seasons
Sarah Irlam heads to the Maldives for some winter sunshine and plenty of adventure
It’s wet, cold and windy in the UK in December. I’m aware that this is stating the obvious, however like so many, I long for some winter sun to get me through these months until spring pokes out its sprightly head. So this year instead of powering through, I find myself at Gatwick Airport, about to board a 10-hour non-stop BA flight to Malé, in the Maldives.
Everyone needs to go to the Maldives once in their lifetime. Nowhere else does the desert-island idyll quite so well. Whether it’s the crystal-clear turquoise seas, the blindingly white sandy beaches or the palm trees swaying the in the gentle breeze, it really is the place to fly and flop. Made up of around 1,190 individual islands peppered across the Indian Ocean, it sits just below India and Sri Lanka, and has a year-round tropical climate.
My exact destination? Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa. Having been greeted at the airport by our driver and also villa host, Asad, it’s just a 10-minute speedboat to the five-star hotel. And given the last mode of transport, I feel quite the female equivalent of James Bond already. Impressively, check in is completed on board the boat, meaning that I don’t have any of the hassle of waiting at reception. I’m also given a cold towel, which is well-received with the mercury averaging 26 degrees. The plummeting temperatures in the UK already seem a distant memory away.
The resort is nestled among lush greenery, palm trees and a lagoon, and is every bit the ultimate island retreat I had envisaged. I sip on a refreshing coconut cocktail as I soak up my surroundings, and then the luxury continues as I’m driven to my villa by golf buggy, happily counting all of the novel transportation needed to reach my end destination. I have a pinch-me moment when I see where I’ll be calling my home-from-home for the next four nights: the accommodation is spacious and furnished in a tropical Maldivian style, and there’s a nice personal touch, with ‘Welcome to the Maldives’ written in flowers on the bed; not to mention the fact that I have my very own private pool. Upon my explorations, I also spot fresh fruit and mini desserts on the table but decide not to ruin my appetite.
It’s certainly a good job I don’t, as at lunchtime I’m treated to a very special meal. Taken to the beach by buggy – it’s now my favourite way to travel – I’m wowed when I see that a picnic-style table has been put out in the sea for me. Served with a glass of Champagne on arrival, I dip my toes in the water and savour the meal which includes a starter of grilled halloumi with prawns and watermelon salad, followed by a passion fruit sorbet with apple caviar as a palate cleanser. The main course of tiger prawns, tuna steak and fish fillet is an extraordinary amount even without the accompanying grilled vegetables and sumptuous baked potato with saffron cream sauce and garlic butter, but I manage to happily scoff everything nonetheless. Despite all this indulgence, I’m still able to find room for a mango cheesecake dessert with fruits and vanilla ice cream.
Having eaten enough to sink a fleet, I decide it’s best to remain on dry land for the rest of the day, and later it’s with no sense of irony whatsoever that I find myself watching sharks being fed just off the beach. That evening, although still full from lunch, I enjoy a buffet dinner in the Feast restaurant, followed by drinks and cocktails in the Anchorage Bar while listening to a live band – a perfect way to end a first day in paradise.
The next morning I’m up bright and early for breakfast, eager as anything for a 9am snorkelling lesson. I learn the ropes and one hour later I’m continuing the theme of glamorous transport on board another speedboat to one of Maldives’ sandbanks – these are are islands with nothing on them but sand, and are a Maldives must-see. I put my lesson into practice and watch as colourful fish surround me. The staff meanwhile set up sunbeds with towels and umbrellas, and once I’m out of the water, I enjoy a glass of Champagne accompanied by some canapés. Continuing the tour, I hop back on board the boat and later snorkel with large stingrays and more rainbow-coloured fish that would give the cast of Finding Nemo a run for their money.
I return to the hotel, already with the next activity for the day lined up. This time it’s a cookery demonstration, where I’m shown how to make local favourites such as fresh tuna salad, chicken curry, chapati, rice and banana fritters; the class is fun and engaging, and also acts as lunch. Having digested my homemade meal and not being one to do things by halves, I make the most of another excursion – this time on a dolphin cruise. I watch as dolphins swim alongside the boat and am struck by the thought of just how truly breathtaking it is to be so close to nature. I get back just in time to see the sun set at the hotel, and in the evening I enjoy a barbecue buffet dinner which has been laid out on the candlelit beach, all the while listening to authentic Maldivian drummers. To finish, I have cocktails back at what is quickly becoming my new favourite bar while listening to a DJ.
As the sun rises on my third day of my sojourn, I wake up and enjoy a breakfast of champions by the sea, with an array of pastries, fresh fruit and sweet treats to tempt me. I opt for French toast with cinnamon and maple syrup, followed by eggs Benedict, all washed down with fresh juice and coffee. After refueling from my action-packed day before, I decide to make the most of the setting and settle into a slower pace of holidaymaking, whiling the morning away playing boules on the beach, followed by table tennis, and finally, paddle boarding in the sea. Enjoying my surroundings, I stay by the sands and dine at the Kakuni Hut beach bar, where I order up a Tex-Mex dream of a lunch consisting of nachos, quesadilla and mini burgers.
As the day blissfully drifts by, I watch how coconuts are collected from the trees – it’s incredible how the locals tie fabric around the tree and climb right up to the top. I’m given one direct from source and I savour its refreshing taste. By late afternoon I head to the hotel’s Shine Spa – it’s not often one can experience a private spa island, on an island. Pre-treatment, I sip fresh mint tea in the relaxation room before heading to one of the spa pavilions where I indulge in a relaxing full body massage. Feeling invigorated yet soothed, I finish the day with cocktails and canapés on the seafront, with dinner at the Baan Thai restaurant. This eatery is especially worthy of a mention as it has such a variety of dishes, all made from imported ingredients from Thailand. Afterwards, I find myself once again in my regular haunt, the Anchorage Bar, where I indulge in cocktails and shisha while listening to a live solo singer.
With a new day dawning, I try and atone for my excesses of the previous evening with a spot of yoga on the beach. Doing so provides me with one of those once-in-a-lifetime feelings, as well as a sense of virtuous achievement which helps me to justify another bout of intense relaxing, making the most of the blissful weather by the pool. The activity is only broken up by mealtimes, with lunch at the T-For Tea House, although its outdoor dining option means that I can still bask in the Maldivian sun regardless. The rest of the day is spent continuing to laze around, followed in the evening by sampling a mock-up wedding breakfast on the beach where I enjoy chicken satay with papaya salad, followed by an incredible spread of salmon steak, local lobster, calamari and grilled vegetables, along with the now-obligatory baked potato with saffron cream. The crème brûlée with fruits and ice cream tops off a meal which is the perfect end to my island getaway.
And as I head off the following day, although my head starts turning back to the freezing joys of my homeland, I know that the memory of my short escape to paradise will keep me warm long enough until spring finally arrives.
Nightly rates at Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa start from $400/£315 per night based on two people sharing a Deluxe Garden View King Room on a B&B basis, marriott.co.uk
Water sports are available through Extreme Maldives at Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, extrememaldives.com