Our tropical paradise checklist may have been a big ask: peace and quiet, abundant reef life (turtles top of the list), great seafood, barefoot dining on the beach, and a private über-luxe villa with its own pool and direct reef access. But then, we were celebrating our 18th anniversary (of the day we met), so we wanted to do it right. Milaidhoo, a new, small (50-villa) luxury resort in the stunning UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll in the Maldives, looked perfect.
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In many ways Milaidhoo has set a new benchmark for tropical chic and romance. The magic began on arrival in the Maldivian capital, Malé, with a transfer to Milaidhoo’s private departure lounge at the seaplane terminal, and then a thrilling flight over sapphire waters, turquoise reefs and snow-white atolls. We passed a couple of the bigger, flashier resort islands before descending to our smaller and much more exclusive destination.
Warm waves lapped languidly at the beach and with uncanny timing, a pair of dolphins came charging past, leaping from the water, their silver backs glistening in the sunlight. After a welcome glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne in the sand-floored alfresco lobby we were chaperoned through the hushed grounds to our private overwater pool villa: a 245sqm plot of paradise. A vast bed floated on a blonde-wood floor. Traditional Maldivian ‘shield’ artworks hung on the walls. Our butler parked our luggage in a walk-through dressing area that was bigger than some hotel rooms we’ve stayed in. It led to a lofty bathroom with a large bathtub looking out to the ocean and a glass-walled shower with views of the water below.
And that’s just the inside. Through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors lay a wide sundeck with a private 42sqm freshwater infinity pool, a Maldivian swing-bed (or ‘undhoali’), a poolside daybed, two loungers, and – possibly most luxurious of all for two fanatical snorkellers – our own private stairs to the ocean. That checklist was getting seriously ticked.
Within minutes we were squeezing into togs and slapping down those stairs in our fins. The fish life began the minute we flopped in: a family of tiny yellow tang and some trumpet fish made up a colourful welcome committee. We drifted down the atoll’s eastern reef. In a decade of tropical snorkelling we had never seen such abundance. Shoals of iridescent fusiliers cruised the drop-off wall, every stripe and hue of butterflyfish and triggerfish seemed to pass by, and mysterious unicornfish came close to check us out. Boxfish drifted past like overstuffed velvet pillows, and in the crevices, lionfish fanned their flamboyant red and orange fronds. Then, the ultimate prize: a Hawksbill turtle, munching the odd strand of seagrass in the dappled sunlight. We swam with him for what seemed like hours, keeping our distance but feeling as one. Breathtaking.
Later, after sunset, we were submerged again, this time for a night snorkel with Nina Rothe, the delightful and hugely knowledgeable resident marine biologist. Our torches picked out grinning conger eels, Maldivian ‘Nemo’ anemonefish, and stingrays, which swam right underneath us. Thrilling, from start to finish.
From June-November the dive-shop runs trips to the world’s largest manta ray feeding station. The resort is also a member of Green Fins, a global initiative promoting sustainable diving and snorkelling, and runs a turtle scheme to identify and protect the ‘locals’, and a guest-friendly coral planting programme.
Taste of the sea
All of the resort’s four dining venues are great, but we particularly enjoyed the Shoreline Grill and Ba’theli. At the former you sit at tables on the sand and dine on delights such as duck breast salad with thyme and honey dressing, tiger prawns barbecued on sugar cane (to die for), and grilled Maldivian yellowfin tuna. Ba’theli is the only authentic Maldivian restaurant in the Maldives and serves delicious dishes such as lobster curry and chicken poached in coconut and spices. It’s perched on stilts over the lagoon and designed to resemble three traditional Maldivian sailing boats, or ‘dhonis’. It doubles as a cocktail bar (try the totally tropical Milaidhoo Bay Sunset). Breakfast was also a treat – possibly the most comprehensive display we have ever seen. Everything from sashimi to bacon and eggs, Alpine cheeses to fruit compotes, cold meats to cold-brewed cinnamon-spiced coffee …
Couples will love
The thrill and romance of snorkelling hand-in-hand over the reef. Couples spa treatments in overwater villas with sea breezes for A/C and waves for a soundtrack. Dining on fabulous seafood on the beach. Night skinny-dipping in your private pool with the Milky Way blazing overhead. Peace and quiet (no kids under nine helps) and waking every day in the tropical splendour of your über-luxe villa.