The Maldives has always been known for its luxury resorts, set on beautiful islands, offering romantic getaways. Kuoni traveller Rachel O’Reilly tells us the story of her recent visit to Milaidhoo Maldives and we discover that this island is a little different.
I couldn’t help but be captivated by Milaidhoo Maldives from the moment I heard about it. There is something magical about their story of a small island concept, which makes a virtue of its diminutive size and enthrals visitors with its inventive array of authentic experiences, all originating from Maldivian culture.
In the heart of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, Milaidhoo Maldives is indeed small but perfectly formed. Its whole sustainable ethos really appealed to me. From Ba’theli, the Maldivian restaurant on a traditional boat, to authentic cookery classes at the chef’s table using the finest fresh ingredients and learning to catch a tuna with a local fisherman – the team have pulled out all the stops to think creatively.
The personal touch is evident as soon as you arrive, with an island host dedicated to looking after you throughout your stay. My host was a delight, discrete but always patient and kind even when I managed to lock myself out of my room for the third time. Nothing is too much trouble and it does make the service very personal and friendly, but not at all pretentious.
Whilst some resorts have a wide range of room types, at Milaidhoo there are just two - the beach villas and the water villas - which are both equally stunning, spacious and stylishly designed. The pictures speak for themselves, the villas really do set a new design standard in the Maldives – and for the rest of the travel industry. Each villa has its own pool big enough to really swim in, which makes it a gorgeous place to spend time – so gorgeous in fact you have to really make an effort to leave the front door.
I love snorkelling so the house reef, which is a protected area and noted as an outstanding snorkelling and diving site in its own right, is something which was a big attraction for me. Just one example of the innovative approach at Milaidhoo was the Finding Nemo snorkelling trip, run by Nina the resident marine biologist. Clown fish, the inspiration for the Pixar movie, are to be found in abundance in and around the coral reef here and we spent an exhilarating afternoon spotting them.
One of the great joys during my stay was finding two yoga mats in the room. As a yogi, it was a thrill to find something so simple and thoughtful in my room and one which prompted me to spend a few minutes each morning practicing my tree pose, gazing out from the deck of my villa. For guided yoga practice, classes take place in a purpose-built studio with an ocean view. There are sessions at 7am each morning or you can book one-on-one classes at a time to suit.
One of the real standout features at Milaidhoo is Ba’theli - the only restaurant in the world set on a boat in a lagoon featuring gourmet dishes inspired by island cuisine from the Maldivian spice route.
The restaurant’s name and theme are inspired by the stories from the ancient world when the Maldives was an important point on the spice trade route between Arabia and South East Asia. In exchange for silks and fragrant spices like cardamom and turmeric, the merchants traded goods like coconuts, sun-dried fish and boat sails with the locals. All of these goods were transported through the area in cargo boats known then as ba’theli.
The three boats of ba’theli restaurant– one being the kitchen, one being the bar and one the restaurant - are quite a presence on the island.
Milaidhoo are certainly following the trend for destination dining. And they’ve set a new benchmark with the sandbank pop-up restaurant, one of the many personal dining experiences the small island team will design around the individual guests.
You’re cast away to a private sandbank, surrounded by nothing other than perfect white sand and turquoise ocean, and met from the small boat by a smiling waiter welcoming you to paradise with a chilled glass of champagne.
Your chef creates seafood platters or vegetarian options, which are served to you on table and chairs carved into the sand. When you close your eyes and dream of paradise, this experience must surely be it.
Food is such a big part of any holiday and as someone who loves pottering around in the kitchen at home, I loved our cookery afternoon. We made traditional Maldivian chicken and prawn curry and a type of traditional tuna bread, with the tuna freshly caught from local fisherman that morning.
One of the other fun memories I’ll have from my visit was the cinema under the stars. This is an experience the island hosts can arrange for guests in the residence, which is the largest of the room types. We watched Sex and the City with popcorn on a sun-lounger, with a crisp glass of white wine. The Odeon in Epsom will never quite have the same magic!
Overall, Milaidhoo Maldives is a small island delight. For peace and tranquillity, with some of the biggest pool villas in the Maldives and an authentic and sustainable ethos throughout, this is laid-back luxury at its very best.