Travel

Escape to a boutique island in the Maldives that ticks all the right boxes

Posted by
Gemma Crisp
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Stylist’s acting editor Gemma Crisp checks in to a new island resort and finds the ideal destination for fans of fine dining, gourmet cocktails and non-stop sunshine.

I didn’t go to the Maldives to get wardrobe inspiration. But while snorkelling around the reef at Faarufushi, a relative newcomer to the Maldivian resort scene that opened in March, I decided I needed to inject way more colour into my outfits upon my return to the UK. 

Because darting around me was a smorgasbord of tropical fish that would put Roksanda’s colour-blocking skills to shame: parrotfish boasting shimmery mermaid green, aqua, orange and grey; clownfish showing off a chic combination of yellow, black and white; and a school of angelfish that made the Pride flag look faded.

As soon as I was within a sniff of wifi (available everywhere on the island for any social media addicts reading this), the online shopping spree commenced. 

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Although the reef around Faarufushi is full of colour, the resort prides itself on its minimalist, sophisticated design. Its aesthetic is ‘tropical Scandi’ (think Danish design brand Hay, but on holiday) and despite being able to stroll from one end of the island to the other in less than 10 minutes, there’s plenty of space.

Unlike some resorts, you never feel crammed while breakfasting at all-day restaurant Iru, having an expertly mixed sundowner at signature bar Boli, or snoozing on a day bed (or beach beanbag) by the pool. All 80 villas have spectacular ocean views – either looking out over the beach or, if you’re in one of the 41 ocean villas, perched directly on top of it with a private pool for when you just can’t summon the energy to climb down the steps into the sea. 

The water is a constant temptation. Faarufushi is just one of 1,192 coral islands splashed over 35,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean, making the Maldives one of the most dispersed countries in the world. As well as snorkelling – either straight off the beach or via a quick boat excursion to a nearby reef – kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding became a daily habit. For more dedicated divers, there are scuba excursions as well as Peter diving, a hybrid of snorkelling and scuba diving without the need for a PADI qualification or a hefty tank on your back. Instead, the oxygen tank floats on the surface, allowing you to stay underwater for at least 30 minutes and reach depths of up to six metres. As someone who loves snorkelling but is too scared of the bends to ever go scuba diving, it’s the perfect compromise.

Bath, pool, sea...decision making at its toughest.

Of course, if it’s total relaxation you’re after, it’s very easy to do absolutely nothing. Having flown from London to Doha then onto Maldivian capital Malé, followed by a domestic flight and a speedboat journey, we unsurprisingly felt a little bleary on our first day. Which is why we grabbed our books, clambered into our private plunge pool, settled ourselves onto its built-in curved bench and didn’t move for the next three hours. With temperatures hovering around 32°C – dropping to 29°C overnight – the best time to visit the Maldives is November to April, before the monsoon season starts in May.

It’s funny how you can still work up an appetite even when you’re barely moving a muscle. One of the many advantages of the resort is that all four restaurants are à la carte – not a buffet to be seen. Airy Iru with its stained-glass windows and soaring steepled ceiling is the ideal place to start the day with poached eggs, avocado and walnut sauce. After a few laps of the pool, it’s only right that you check out the menu of adjacent restaurant and bar Sangu, which offers an array of dishes including som tam salad, nasi goreng and grilled prawns with aubergine hash. However, the stand-outs are the curries: both the lamb rogan josh and the butter chicken are tastebud bombs of flavour.

Given its location on the beach and its ping pong, foosball and pool tables, Athiri has a casual vibe but still serves up Instagramworthy dishes. Ignore the robata grill that fires up in the evenings at your peril: the sirloin and reef fish were both cooked to perfection and our choice of sides – creamed spinach, sweet potato mash and beans with almond butter – all scored highly. And don’t miss the caramelised pineapple, coconut ice cream and ginger syrup, aka the dessert of my dreams. If there’s a special occasion, a private beach BBQ is a treat, but just as impressive is Eclipse, an over-water fine-dining restaurant with a more Mediterranean menu: Jerusalem artichoke soup and fennel-roasted scallops followed by a twist on the classic cheese board: ricotta cake, brie creme and gorgonzola ice cream. The same goes for the tom yum daiquiris at Boli, the neighbouring over-water bar with banquettes perfectly positioned for watching the sunset and star-gazing – one of the staff recommended the SkyView app to help us identify the plethora of twinkly constellations.

Despite an innovative cocktail list that puts some London bars to shame (pineapple-infused negroni, anyone?), we kept returning to those tom yum daiquiris: their rum infused with chilli, lemongrass and kaffir lime packed a spicy-yet-addictive punch. We recreated the recipe within a week of returning home, so I’ll always have something to remember Faarufushi by – those, and my new rainbow-coloured wardrobe.

Kuoni offers seven nights half-board in a beach bungalow at Faarufushi including Sri Lankan Airlines flights from London Heathrow and group transfers. For selected departures in September and October 2019 based on two adults sharing, prices start at £4,258 per person; kuoni.co.uk.

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Over-water stays that are closer to home

Don’t have enough annual leave left to make it to the Maldives? Book one of these beauties instead:

HÔTEL PALAFITTE

LAKE NEUCHÂTEL, SWITZERLAND

Just 20 minutes from Bern is Europe’s only five-star accommodation on stilts. Fourteen pavilions hug the shore of Lake Neuchâtel while 24 jut out into the water, complete with private terraces, Jacuzzis, incredible views of the Swiss Alps and a handy ladder for dips.

Lake pavilions from £460 a night; palafitte.ch

COUCOO GRANDS

CÉPAGES, SORGUES, FRANCE

Ten beautifully designed cabins float on a fishing reserve near Avignon, enclosed by timber screens for privacy. With the acres of blonde wood and outdoor hot tubs, you may feel like you’re in Scandinavia, but the breakfast pastries are pure Provence.

From £238 a night; cabanesdesgrandscepages.com

KINGFISHER CABIN AT DRAGONFLY CAMPING,

PEMBROKESHIRE , WALES

This small, solar-powered, eco-friendly cabin floats on the Cleddau Estuary next to a small campsite on a dairy farm, complete with hot shower, barbecue, wood-burning stove, giant sofa bed and a hammock on the wrap-around deck for those all-important water views.

From £120 a night; glampingly.co.uk

Gemma loved the privacy at Faarufushi.

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