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Sun 8 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Beach bliss

With a gentle breeze blowing in her hair and powder-fine sand beneath her feet, Farzana Ali jetted off to the Maldives to find out what R&R really means.


With a gentle breeze blowing in her hair and powder-fine sand beneath her feet, Farzana Ali jetted off to the Maldives to find out what R&R really means.

The Maldives are a collection of picture perfect atolls that won't be there in 50 years due to global warming. Or so they say. Of course, the impending doom is not so near and everyone in the Maldives will argue that it's not true.

Well, they would say that, even though the country is known for having the lowest, highest point in the world. But with crystal clear turquoise waters and Christian Dior face powder like sand, it's certainly difficult for me to worry about that right now.

The bathroom is the most impressive part of the villa. There’s a dressing area and an outdoor rain shower, but it’s the enormous infinity bathtub that will blow you away.

The Maldives is comprised of a collection of twenty-six atolls, with 1192 islands, but only 250 are inhabited. Of those, approximately half are occupied by locals, while the rest are resorts - indicating the importance of tourism to this island nation scattered in the Indian Ocean, seven hundred kilometres south-west of Sri Lanka.

The capital Male, is located in the middle of the atolls and is where the majority of the Maldivians live. Should you wish to explore Male, it'll be the only place on your trip that you'll encounter ordinary locals and the culture of the Maldives.

Because, you certainly won't see any hint of that in your tropical hideaway. Apart from staff - who are comprised from a mix of Maldivian locals, Sri Lankans, Thai, Indians and some Europeans - the rest of which ever island resort you're staying at will be occupied by other tourists.

And most resorts in these cluster island retreats will make sure that you don't see them often, which explains why it's favoured so heavily by honeymooners.

Once you reach the small, but bustling, airport you'll be transferred by seaplane or sea boat to your resort. As we were staying at the Anantara Dhigu, it was a 35 minutes speedboat for us.

Looking out across the water as we sliced across the ocean's surface we could hardly believe that this piece of paradise is only a four hour flight away from Dubai.

Arriving at the welcome jetty to the beat of drums, you feel as if you're stepping into a postcard. And that feeling remains with you until you step off the same jetty when you leave.

Located on the South Male Atoll, the Anatarara Dhigu resort is part of complex that includes two sister resorts. While Dhigu is aimed at honeymooners, it's also family friendly and welcomes groups and older couples. The atmosphere on the island is sleepily relaxed.


Of the 110 rooms on the resort, 70 are beach bungalows, 40 are over-water villas and two of those come complete with pools should the clear ocean waters not be to your liking.

Having sampled both a beach bungalow and a premium over-water villa with pool, I have to say that both have their pros and cons. Staying in a beach room gives you direct access to your own piece of beach. Rooms are spacious and include a canopied daybed. The bathroom is magnificent.

Set outdoors in your individual garden courtyard, it comes complete with Anantara's signature made-for-two terrazzo bathtubs as well as two rainshowers - one of which is open air.

I realise that the last time I felt anywhere near this relaxed was probably when I was an embryo.

Moving back into the room, you'll find that your king-sized bed faces out to your private veranda, which includes more seating areas and access to the beach. If you do opt for a beach bungalow make sure you request the sunset side.

Not only do these rooms face the beautiful lagoon but you'll find that you get more natural light seeping into your room. As each beach villa is surrounded by greenery, you'll find that the sunrise side villas are pretty dark inside and void of much natural light - if you exclude the outdoor bathroom.

Built on slits, the over-water villas are larger than the beachside accommodation. All are complete with aforementioned canopied daybeds, and king-sized beds which look onto the private lagoon.

Stepping out of the bedroom, you'll be greeted by your private terrace complete with sun loungers and an outside daybed. Deluxe over-water villas also have a pool and all over-water villas have direct access into the warm ocean waters.

Plus, with the waters as clear as they are, you'll be able to watch a host a tropical fish swimming under your villa from your terrace and even your toilet, which has a glass viewing panel where you'd normally place your feet.

Once again the bathroom is the most impressive part of the villa. Yes, there's the usual - dressing area, twin basins and rain shower - but it's the enormous infinity bathtub, which looks out onto the turquoise ocean through floor to ceiling windows that open up, which will make your jaw drop.

However, the part of me that would have preferred a temperature controlled plunge pool, also wished that the bathtub had a Jacuzzi function so we could really kick back and enjoy the views from the massive bathtub.

But there is a downside to the over-water suites and that is that they aren't as private as the beach villas. Packed closely together, you can hear your neighbours from your terrace and your bathroom.


Plus, while you will love the views your bathroom affords you, you won't be so impressed when your neighbours are snorkelling and can see straight in. Or when kayakers are paddling past.

And you will miss the sand. Made from coral, the sand is not what we are used to in Dubai. Ultra fine, it's a pleasure to walk on, although all rooms do have a conveniently placed water pot at the entrance to allow you to wash it off your feet before entering your villa.

Hinting to their Thai roots, all rooms at the Anantara have lemongrass scented oil burning in each room, and every cooling flannel you are handed is also gently fragranced with the same fresh perfume.

All rooms also include LCD satellite televisions and DVD players - but anyone who chooses to even switch these on in such a beautiful destination should be escorted off the island and put on a plane immediately.

The same goes for gym-goers. Because while there is a small, but functional, gym within the resort there are much better ways of shifting that lobster dinner from the night before, than pounding a treadmill.

In fact anyone who has ever said you'd be bored in the Maldives was lying. Because between all the rest and relaxation a resort such as the Anantara Dhigu offers you, there's also a host of activities to keep you occupied as well.

The Aqua Adventure centre on the resort is where you should head if you want to learn to dive or windsurf. The centre also has kayaking and snorkelling equipment for you to hire at no extra charge.

And every time you dip your head under the water you'll be sure to see some brightly coloured fish swim past. We recommend hiring out a kayak and heading over to one of the smaller islands within the resort.

Once there you can rest on the secluded hammocks before you come back. Alternatively, try swimming out to the raised deck which has two sun loungers on it and feel like you're in the middle of your own tropical haven.

Those looking for complete relaxation should try the morning meditation sessions or the Vin Yasa yoga.

If you fancy going further a field then there's plenty of excursions to try. Hire a catamaran, go deep-sea fishing or board a traditional Dhoni-style boat at sunset or go dolphin watching.


The less adventurous types can however, head to the resort library to borrow a book. Those who fancy themselves as a Nigella Lawson/Jamie Oliver type should definitely try either the Thai or Maldivian cooking class. We tried the Thai class and it was fantastic.

The chef is brilliant and talks you through the dishes you'll be preparing, and more importantly, is on hand to make sure everything tastes exactly as it should.

The best thing is that after you've made each course you get to sit down in an empty restaurant - cleared so you can fully enjoy your culinary experience - and eat the dish you've just created.

You'll leave feeling comfortably full, with recipes cards, a chef's hat and apron - ready to re-create the amazing three-course meal you just chomped down. Or that's the plan anyway, because when you get home, sans chef, the dishes all seem far more complicated than they did while you were there.

This brings me onto the dining options at the resort. Because Dhigu is part of complex with two sister resorts close by, you won't be bored of dining and drinking at the nine different options you have.

While access to the 19 villa resort of Naladu is restricted to guests staying there, Naladu guests have access to both Anantara Dhigu and Anantara Veli. While guests at Dhigu and Veli can move between each other freely and they are only a three minute water taxi ride away from each other.

The must-try eatery is the Baan Huraa. Located on the island of Veli, this Thai restaurant seats 28 inside and 20 outside on the deck and is definitely worth at least a few visits regardless of how short your stay might be.

And the dish that will have you going back is the green mango salad with scampi. Another to try is the Fuddan Fusion Grill. Serving mouth-watering seafood, ask for a seat by the edge of the deck to enjoy the ocean breeze and watch colourful fish swim past.

The one to miss however is Geckos. The Italian-Japanese eatery is as confused as it sounds and dishes like the mashed potato pizza are too heavy to be enjoyed in such tropical weather.

As with all Anantara properties, there are several Dine By Design options available. And whether it's a barbecue on the beach with your personal chef, or a candlelit picnic on a desert island, it's an experience that is should definitely be sampled.

Of course, when you're not relaxing on the beach or sampling the culinary delights of the various restaurants at the resort, it wouldn't be a Maldivian holiday if you didn't book yourself in for a spa treatment.


The spa, which is what the Anantara group is famous for (after all there's one at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi) will not disappoint. Walking to the end of a spa jetty, beautiful Thai women (all the spa staff are from Thailand) will take away your shoes and greet you with friendly smiles.

With the fan gently humming above you, you'll feel like you are on your way to Nirvana.

Once you've been ushered past all the Elemis products, you'll find that your massage table looks down onto a glass viewing panel. As the masseuse gently rids your body of any last stresses that you have, you can watch fish swimming underneath. You'll be so relaxed by the end of the treatment that you'll book your next session in before you leave.

It's the feeling of total relaxation that people go to the Maldives for and so it's no surprise when the assistant food and beverage manager informs me that where possible guests often ditch their stopovers plans (usually in Dubai) in favour of the adding further days onto their Maldivian holiday.

I believe him, because at the thought of leaving this piece of paradise draws closer, I try and figure how and when I can come back.

Also, having left my laptop at home and placed my mobile phone in the safe - only to be looked at the end of the trip - I realise that the last time I felt anywhere near this relaxed was probably when I was an embryo.

And arriving home I am gripped with a feeling that I haven't had since that first night I was at university - I was homesick, or should that be Maldives-sick?

MALDIVES HOTELS: Best of the rest

Dhoni Mighili

North Ari atoll

00 960 6660 751

www.dhonimighili.com

Huvafen Fushi

North Malé Atoll

00 960 664 4222

www.huvafenfushi.com

Cocoa Island

South Malé Atoll

00 960 664 1818

www.cocoaisland.como.bz/flashintro.asp

One&Only Reethi Rah

North Malé Atoll

00 960 664 88 00

www.oneandonlyresorts.com

W Retreat & Spa

Fesdu Island, North Ari Atoll

00 960 666 2222

www.whotels.com/maldives

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