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THE MALDIVES: A TRANQUIL ISLAND PARADISE

From swimming with whale sharks to yoga on the beach and sunset dolphin cruises… Unforgettable experiences, top cuisine and blissful serenity heal body, mind and soul at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Words: Victoria Purcell

I was recently asked what the top travel destinations for 2016 were, and other than the obvious ones like Rio (for an Olympic-sized carnival) and Cuba (the Americans are flocking in droves, so go before the authentic experience has gone), my default answer is now, and will possibly forever be, the Maldives.

An emerging destination it certainly is not, the Maldives have been wooing honeymooners and families alike for decades, but the islands are so devastatingly beautiful and tranquil, it’s impossible not to fall head over heels in love. And since Maldivian resorts are long-established, they know how to keep guests coming back. And what does the savvy traveller want? Experiences.

What does the savvy traveller want? Experiences

I went snorkelling with a whale shark – a truly astonishing experience that was somehow both exhilarating and serene. Once you’ve maneuvered yourself into position alongside the majestic creature, its peaceful acceptance of you for company and the tranquillity of the ocean makes for a day you’ll never forget.

Swim with a whale shark

Upgrade your snorkelling experience to swimming with a whale shark

On the same day I went paddle boarding for the first time, driving the paddle through crystal blue waters, trying to channel the spirit of Cameron Diaz as the odd unruly ripple threatened to throw me off. Then there was the sunset dolphin cruise, where we spotted a pack leaping out of the water in almost perfect synchronicity.

All of this and more is part of Conrad’s new 1/3/5 initiative, a curated list of one, three or five-hour-long experiences in culture, art, food and adventure to make your holiday unforgettable. Your first experience is your arrival. The Maldives is one of the most complex and vibrant atoll structures on the planet. An atoll is a groups of islands, and there are 26 in the Maldives, totalling 1,192 islands.

The Maldives is one of the most complex and vibrant atoll structures on the planet

Flying over them is awe-inspiring, as each island is surrounded by white beaches and crystal clear shores fading to deeper, darker blues, and the odd coral reef creates odd, horse-shoe shapes in the sea. I highly recommend a window seat.

Flying over the Maldives' many atolls is an experience in itself

Flying over the Maldives’ many atolls is an experience in itself

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After recuperating from your long flight in the cool, contemporary Conrad Lounge, you are ushered onto a dinky seaplane for a 30-minute flight to Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, during which you can lap up more of those amazing views. At the resort, you are greeted with cold towels and the scent of essential oils as friendly staff take your luggage and walk you across the faux-rickety wooden walkway – you’re surrounded by nothing but sea and sky – to check in.

The resort spans two islands, Rangalifinolhu and Rangali, which are joined by that enchanting walkway (you can also scoot between the two by golf buggy or little wooden boat called a dhoni). We stayed for two nights on Rangalifinolhu island in a beach villa, hidden among lush vegetation, before transferring to a water villa on Rangali. It’s tough to pick a favourite (the resort won Leading Hotel in the Indian Ocean region at the World Travel Awards and featured on Condé Nast Traveller 2013 Gold List of The World’s 10 Best Beach Hotels for good reason).

At times you feel like the only soul on earth, and it’s wonderful

I loved the contemporary architecture of the beach villa with floor-to-ceiling windows and bi-folding doors that open up the bathroom entirely to the elements (the alfresco shower is quite a novelty). From the sumptuous bedroom suite, slide open the terrace door, pitter-patter barefoot through the vegetation and you’re on the beach, just feet from the water.

Where the beach villas are hidden among the greenery, the water villas are designed for sweeping, unspoiled views of the ocean. They are essentially wooden huts on stilts, designed to blend into their surrounds, but within lurk luxury bathrooms and designer sofas. At times, on your private terrace, you feel like the only soul on earth, and it’s wonderful.

Wellness is an important part of the island experience. The spa has a resident naturopath and glass-bottomed treatment rooms so you can watch the fishies while enjoying a back massage. You can also enjoy a sunset yoga class in a beachside pavilion, or book a personal training session at the gym. Lounging by one of the resort’s two infinity pools is also important for your wellbeing, I believe.

Lounging by one of the resort’s two infinity pools is also important for your wellbeing, I believe

Conrad is also the only resort in the Maldives with 12 restaurants and bars. There’s the world’s first all-glass underwater restaurant, Ithaa, bio-dynamic cuisine at Mandhoo, built on stilts over the sea so you can watch manta rays swim beneath you, exquisite tasting menus served up at Vilu, which flies in Michelin-starred guest chefs and Ufaa by Jereme Leung, a contemporary Chinese restaurant with a karaoke room. But my favourite was Koko Grill, where you can eat at the counter, listening to waves lapping at the beach as the chef creates a Japanese feast of sushi and steak.

The Maldives is such a special place, where the hospitality is warm and genuine. You can see the guests who return year after year with their families, greeting members of staff like old friends. It’s no surprise that they return – leaving this island almost broke my heart.

Trip notes

Prices at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island start from USD 1,050 (approx £746) per room per night room in a deluxe beach villa (room only, subject to availability). See conradmaldives.com. Fly with British Airways from London Gatwick.

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