Paradise. A word used too easily to describe a vacation. The instagram vs reality and filtering nature of the internet has made it difficult to see holidays as anything other than a superficial representation. The Maldives is the place to break from that mould. White sand, crystal clear water, cocktails on the beach – each of these a very clear physical reality that is hard to believe without being there. Every photo taken, a natural contrast of colours that can only look doctored and yet a perfect visual guide to daily life in island life.
The Maldives is a collection of 26 idyllic archipelagic atolls in the Indian ocean, the tropical nirvana tiptoes between cultures of Sri Lanka, India, Africa, South East Asia and the United Kingdom. An oceanic community with fish as the cornerstone, the eating, observing and preservation of underwater wildlife a defining characteristic for the locals as well as holiday goers.
A ten hour flight from London to the capital city of Male, a majority Islamic city and atoll itself, acts as a well oiled travel hub for domestic seaplane travel to the rest of The Maldives. The process of travel could not have been better organised.
Each leg of the journey passed through accommodating staff with luggage carried in toe. Travelling by plane, boat or a combination of the two, guests find themselves pulling into dock at their new home to the welcoming embrace of friendly staff, and a tropical juice fresh from a coconut.
In the west of The Maldives is the Baa Atoll, home to Finolhu resort, our destination for an extraordinary honeymoon and week of luxury island heaven. With its name being the Maldivian for ‘sandbank’, the circular island resort encompasses the stunning lagoon – a calm and natural world of marine life and one of the contributing shades of blue that make up Finolhu’s kaleidoscopic theme of furnishings, architecture and artwork across the island. The combination of lagoon opal, beach shore turquoise and deep sapphire ocean captures the beauty of the island and importance of the sea to the resort and its guests.
Unlike many other Maldivian resorts who focus purely on honeymooning couples, Finolhu is unique in providing both a romantic experience: candlelit beach dining, sunset boat cruises, personal floating pool breakfasts; as well as family friendly and child only activities. The weekly pirate club sees children designing their own pirate hats and setting sail to find treasure.
With 125 private villas split between stilt water villas and land beach villas, every care and consideration is taken to ensure luxury living in each and every accommodation. With golf buggies continuously shuttling guests to and from the various parts of the resort, the opportunity to see the beauty is always available.
On several occasions, our shuttle drivers would stop to point out a school of tuna, a reef shark or a rare glimpse of a sting ray from the side of our buggy, knowing the importance of the moment for their guests.
Staying in one of the many lagoon villas, there is no escaping the phenomenal beauty of the ocean. With complete privacy from other guests, the availability to take a quick dip in the sea to cool after sunbathing; snorkel to count the characters from Finding Nemo that you can see right outside your own jetty; or stare across the deep blue perfection, is hard to not appreciate wholeheartedly. A personal highlight was the afternoon spent watching a couple of bottlenose dolphins playing in the lagoon right from our bed.
The postcard perfect view of the ocean waves, leaping fish and the coming and going of speedboats and the seaplane can be enjoyed from the panoramic full wall windows of your villa, the personal decking with multiple loungers or the romantic rose petal filled bathtub overlooking the opulent splendour of your personal haven. Enjoyed day or night with the bottle of bubbly gifted on arrival, the honeymoon cliches were thoroughly enjoyed without any regrets.
A common concern for resort goers is often the quality of the food available. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is available to guests in buffet format from the Beach Kitchen.
Each day of the week offers up an exciting new theme to keep variation alive as well as core favourites such as the fresh grill. Cooked to order steaks of locally caught tuna, jackfish, shrimp, squid as well as chicken and beef accompany a salad or a dish in itself.
The traditional Maldivian night was a particular highlight with the inclusion of authentic tuna curries and leaf wrapped grilled fish. Tastes of coconut, chilli and Indian spices complimented the freshness of the produce whilst we enjoyed the customary sounds of Boduberu singers and drummers to mark the occasion. The recognition of the staff being given the opportunity to dance and sing was an excellent way to celebrate the end of our week.
As well as the available buffet, Finolhu has specialised restaurants to help mix the week up. The open kitchen Japanese restaurant of Kanusan sits on top of stilts over the Indian Ocean, making clear why it’s award winning.
Fresh prepared sashimi, nigiri and maki come straight from kitchen counter to table in a display of quality and precision that borders on perfection. Accompanied by their signature sake cocktail, the evening was a spectacular success, accumulating round after round of chef recommended dishes before rolling back to our villa via shuttle.
The Crab Shack is the resident seafood spot. Alone on the other side of the island, travel is usually by boat to arrive at the beach-side lunch spot. An extraordinary seafood bucket could not be missed in order to try all of the fresh delights that Maldivian fishing could provide.
With every amenity a staying guest could need including snorkelling gear, towel service across every inch of the island and bar service wherever you decide to set up camp, comfort and variation are clearly at the forefront of the Finolhu staff’s mind. The team and facilities do an excellent job of creating dynamic and fun-filled activities and events every day of the week.
Agendas of sporting tournaments, group excursions, child-friendly get togethers and night performances means that every single day has a unique twist, shaping your holiday and allowing guests to make the most of their time in the sun.
The in-house Finolhu fire performers put on shows on a regular basis, adding a wow factor to a late dinner or topping off a social gathering like the weekly white party. DJ sets for all tastes are hosted at the Finolhu bar, poolside or whilst enjoying some shisha at the hookah club. Frequent art clubs are also hosted for adults as well as children at the on island art club.
A must experience, the Fehi spa is another way to spend your time. The calming facilities topped and tailed with health boosting tea were the icing on the cake to a much needed couples Balinese massage. A full body soothing realignment carried out by skilled masseuses who found the balance between force and sensitivity, leaving us practically knocked out from tranquillity. A huge selection of treatments are available at the spa including salon, sauna and spiritual.
It’s not all relaxation though, the possibility of a daily morning swim three steps from your ludicrously sized bed keeps you from packing on the pounds, though you are on holiday!
Quality tennis courts and multi-sport courts are used for personal matches as well as organised team games of football including the weekly guests vs staff fight for honour. A state of the art gym is available at all times as well as a virtual golf range to practise your long range while the kids are occupied.
Countless options for activities are available for adults and children alike. Various motorised and non-motorised water sports from the Palm Beach are available throughout the day including the flexible renting of paddle boards and kayaks, jet skis, banana boats and parasailing. Table tennis, boules and giant chess are also great ways to entertain as well as breaking up all of the resting.
A recent addition, couples can rent out the island bubble room for a memorable night bathing and sleeping under the stars with dinner and breakfast cooked by a personal chef right on the beach. A personal butler fulfils your every need and has in the past helped couples to find nesting sea turtles in the dunes nearby.
As the staff are on rotation across various roles on the island, it’s clear from their enthusiasm that the priority of attention to detail and politeness is the reason why interactions with the team border on friendships and truly creates a wholesome community environment. Getting on first name basis with the staff is common and welcome as the buzz of kindness carries through the day as collective positivity.
Without being in your face or overbearing, the staff at Finolhu created a homely atmosphere and kept our room in perfect working order throughout the stay. Small touches like fresh fruit, welcome macarons and notes left in palm leaves made for an inclusionary and communicative stay where one could not be blamed for locking themselves in their villa for seven days.
The wildlife in The Maldives, and in the Baa Atoll specifically, is incredibly unique and offers up once in a lifetime experiences hosted by the skilled diving centre team. The Hanifaru Bay plays host to one of the only places in the world where whale sharks are known to mate. The bay also acts as a feeding ground for one of the most spectacular sights in the natural world.
The congregation of Manta Rays and their organised hunting of krill is an astonishing sight. The team at Finolhu expertly guided our group to the best spots to watch giant Mantas glide elegantly under your body, inches from you as they chow down on invisible prey. The ‘angels of the sea’ really are peaceful and curious creatures and the experience was breathtaking.
As well as Hanifaru, the diving centre monitors the activity of local hawksbill sea turtles, taking excursions of guests through coral reefs to find and swim alongside these gorgeous beings. Schools of Moorish idols, anemones hosting families of Maldivian clownfish and cavernous depths with moray eels are almost guaranteed as the team takes you down current on a snorkelling trip whilst capturing professional underwater photographs and videos to enjoy after. Coral reefs can be explored freely at any time, with a group on regular excursion events or as part of the trained scuba diving courses offered to all guests.
Trips to search for bottlenose dolphins and various types of personal fishing trips are also available including the teaching of the traditional Maldivian style of Baraa trolling as well as big game and sunset options. Semi submarines and cruises are another option, and every activity can be personalised for a unique or romantic experience.
A considerable amount of effort goes into the maintenance and protection of marine life by the team at Finolhu. As well as the upkeep of the atoll’s structure through shifting and lifting of sand (think building sand castles using heavy machinery), the preservation of the natural wonders are clearly paramount to the continuation of Finolhu.
Support for local UNESCO biosphere reserves, educating of guests with their resident marine biologist and the explanation of the importance of biodiversity and endangered species baked into excursions show the dedication of the resort to giving back in thanks to the glorious natural gifts that The Maldives have to offer.
Swapping out city pigeons for giant fruit bats beating their wings across the blue of the sea and sky is a trade I’m willing to make. Watching the magnificence of Manta Rays slowly swimming directly towards you in a coordinated manoeuvre has made it into the top life experiences thanks to the staff and wildlife at Finolhu.
The surpassing of expectations is an understatement for what was a carefully organised and consistently reviewed way of island life at the resort. Boredom is not possible where more activities than you have time for are available and a return trip will just have to be necessary. Woe is me.
Every idea you’ve ever had of paradise has to look like The Maldives. An experience like no other, this holiday is not just a notch in your belt, a bucket list strikethrough or the unlock of extreme bragging rights. The Maldives, and Finolhu resort is a lifetime topping adventure and unforgettable stay.