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Escape Routes: Head to the Maldives

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Stylist’s entertainment editor Debbie McQuoid uses the island paradise of the Maldives to detox and get energised...

For someone who can happily spend entire Sundays on the sofa, I tend to jam-pack my holidays with endless activities and epic car journeys. An 800km road trip across California in two weeks, Paris to Biarritz to Languedoc tasting wine, a tour of nudist beaches in Croatia (not as fun as you might think); if I’m in the same place longer than two nights, I’ve somehow failed my holiday duty.

Traditionally, the Maldives don’t lend themselves to this level of activity. The group of islands in the Indian Ocean are known as the go-to destination for happy honeymooners exhausted after their nuptials. Certainly, after our flights – 13 hours from London and a 90 minute seaplane transfer – I’m inclined to lie on the beach for the entire week to recover. But, as we’re greeted by staff at the luxury Beach House Iruveli resort on the most northern island of Haa Alifu Atoll, the sensory overload of the white beaches, azure ocean and fresh fruit mojitos perks me up considerably and I’m ready for whatever action they can offer me.

As the smallest Asian country in both population and land area, and the earth’s lowest country, the Maldives has some serious issues, as rising sea levels threaten its future. Rumours it will disappear under water in 20 years make it a ‘now or never’ destination. Plus, a recent coup in the capital Male means that tourism is down significantly, making it – perversely – a perfect place to visit for some quiet time (the political situation is completely restricted to Male).

Surrounded by a colourful coral reef, you can choose between any of the Beach House Iruveli’s 83 villas – either over the water or on the beach. Each comes with its own private pool, along with the services of a butler (ours was the wonderful Shinaz) who will tend to your every need (sometimes embarrassingly). At the beginning of the week, we dismissed the on-call 24/7 golf buggy as laziness, but as we acclimatised to island life, walking 100 metres seemed like an effort and we used his speed dial daily. Having tried both villas, we preferred to be over the water even though the beach ones were larger. The novelty of staring out over the bluest Indian Ocean just never wore off. They’re truly picture perfect and everything from the king-sized beds to the roll top baths in the open-to-theelements bathroom made us feel like pampered film stars.

ABOVE: An ariel view of Haa Alifu Atoll

As much as you could do literally one thing (lie in a hammock all day) and be perfectly happy, the Beach House Iruveli offers such an eclectic range of activities you can be occupied from dawn until dusk. We revelled in water aerobics, Pilates, circuit training, meditation, tennis (I’m awful), and ping pong (only slightly better); all leaving us feeling rejuvenated and extremely virtuous. The only hiccup was during yoga. After a whole morning of convincing my husband to try it, he positioned himself behind a woman who promptly broke wind moving into a sun salutation. To be fair, it took her by surprise just as much as it did him. As for relaxation, the spa – De’ Spa – was addictive. Offering traditional local healing practices with more recognisable Western techniques, we opted for a blissful couples’ De Stress Massage and two Freshwater Facials.

For trips off the resort, the snorkelling excursion is a must. A reef visit roughly an hour’s boat trip away was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time (we were told shark attacks were ‘rare’ but ‘could happen’). On the other hand, the Historical Island Experience, where we were taken to the neighbouring island to see how locals lived, was, to be honest, unsettling. If you have any social conscience, the difference between the luxury of our resort and the poverty of real life jars uncomfortably.

Dining at the Beach House Iruveli is all about delicious, fresh, creative, organic food and the resort boasts six restaurants plus the option for in-villa dining. There’s the informal pool-side Amazon and its mango salads and pizza, and Saffron with its stunning ocean views. Be sure to try the Bodhu Hifun – reef fish, sweet potato and yellow lentil curry. The more romantic beach restaurant is Medium Rare, where you’re treated to six-star service and served fresh vegetables and herbs from its own garden. The island’s seafood is out of this world, with black cod, crab salads, lobster ravioli, tuna skewers and sushi all on the menu. If you’d prefer something reared on land, I highly recommend the Wagu beef cheeks from Medium Rare, preferably followed by its refreshing lemongrass crème brûlée. For true foodies (and winos!), book a spot at the more formal Cellar Restaurant to test its extensive collection of fine vintages from around the world. Expensive but worth it.

Alcohol is pretty pricey and anything you bring yourself is confiscated at the airport – perfect for an enforced mini-detox. The one evening we pushed the boat out with cocktails and a bottle of Domain Phillippe, I was so ‘clean’, it went straight to my head and I convinced my husband to hit the dance floor for a steel drum version of Lady In Red. You have been warned.

A beach suite at Beach House Iruveli costs £760 per night on a B&B basis (inclusive of taxes); beachhousecollection.com. British Airways also offers seven nights for £2,129 per person at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, including flights; conradmaldives.com

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