Naladhu means “pretty little island” in Dhivehi (the native language of the Maldives), but as soon as you arrive at this resort, which opened in March 2007, you realize that it’s so much more. Located on a private island thirty minutes by speedboat from the capital of Malé, Naladhu has just nineteen sumptuous villas—they’re divided into “oceanfront” and “beachside” categories—that were designed for lounging, indulging and ultimate privacy. There’s a main lodge and several dining areas on the island, but chances are that you won’t want to leave the solitude of your home as was the case with me and my husband on a recent trip.
The airy, whitewashed interior of our Oceanfront House were furnished with Ceylonese colonial beds, set beneath high gabled roofs, and accentuated with Thai screens and glass-embroidered pillows. The piece de résistance was the open-air bathroom, facing the water, which was outfitted with a divan, cascade shower in adjacent garden, a terrazzo bathtub and an endless supply of L’Occitane bath products (store-sized, of course). My favorite detail was the immense private pool between the bed- and bathroom, which shimmered in the same hues as the reef beyond it. Every morning on my way to brush my teeth, I opened the sliding door by my bed and plunged into the water. Many an afternoon was spent lounging on the wooden deck, watching the ebb tide exchange parrotfish for swift-footed rock crabs on the reef.
Our thakuru, or house master, brought and served meals at our villa, as well as prepared baths, played my favorite music on a programmed iPod and pre-warmed the sauna. He also scheduled sailing, fishing and island-hopping excursions. During my visit, the hosts, who call themselves Mr. and Mrs. Naladhu, organized a little cocktail party, which took place in an outdoor living room. Under the swoosh of coco palms were day beds and Shisha pipes: a scene straight out of a Gauguin painting. Incidentally, this gathering was the only occasion where we saw any other guests while staying at Naladhu. Villas from $1,220.
Who should stay: Couples who enjoy maximum privacy and demanding types who enjoy “perfect” service.
Who should not stay: Families with children, and couples looking for an over-the-water villa.
Villas to book: All the villas are 3,200 square feet and have the same distribution, but the oceanfront houses are more private than the beachfront ones. I was in Oceanfront House No. 8 and found it to be far enough from the main lodge without feeling isolated. The decks of the beachfront houses, although hidden by shrubbery, are not completely obscured from other guests.
What to do: Activities include snorkeling, kayaking to the lagoon’s sandbar and visits to one of the seven restaurants located around the lagoon, including the one at Naladhu’s sister resort, Anantara. Your butler can also arrange scuba diving, fishing trips and excursions to nearby locals-only islands. There are hammocks on the beach under palm trees by the lagoon, where I napped every day. Cooking classes are available upon request.
Insider tip: Ask your thakuru to prepare a romantic dinner on a nearby sandbar and book at least one private yoga class with Andre. Adventurous types will enjoy taking a seaplane to a secluded surfing break to ride the waves without another surfer in sight.
Soneva Fushi & Spa
This Maldivian property, which opened in 1995, is owned by Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, visionary hoteliers who were among the first to introduce high-end resorts to the Maldives (a backpackers’ paradise until the early 1990s) and who are true innovators in the field of responsible and sustainable hotel development.
Situated in the North Baa Atoll, a thirty-minute airplane transfer from Malé, where all international flights arrive, Fushi occupies a lush 100-acre island, one of the largest in the Maldives. Its 65 villas are cleverly hidden in the tropical landscape, so you definitely won’t feel crowded here.
The resort—the first to champion the luxe Robinson Crusoe look that has since been widely copied—is built entirely out of sustainable materials like weathered wood, bamboo and thatch. The villas are supremely comfortable, but don’t expect to find marble floors or golden faucets; the interiors are truly island appropriate, with limestone floors, huge outdoor bathrooms, ceiling fans and cushy daybeds from which to take in the periwinkle ocean views.
Fushi’s motto, “No shoes, no news,” is taken quite seriously: shoes are placed in linen pouches, and you’re encouraged to keep them there until checkout. I had one of the most memorable meals of my life at Me Dhuniye restaurant, listening to the swoosh of the palm trees above me, sipping a crisp Sancerre and nibbling on fresh seafood, all with my bare feet buried in the soft sand under the table. Of course, had I been with that special someone, I would have arranged to have the same meal on a private sandbar a short boat ride away from Fushi. During the high season (December through April), villas start at $1,070.
Who should go: Couples who enjoy a tropical island setting and don’t mind families. Fushi is not exclusively a honeymoon resort, and children are permitted. Thanks to the spacious setup, however, you hardly ever encounter the neighbors.
Who should not go: Couples looking for a scene and people who are not comfortable staying in a natural setting. The outdoor bathrooms in particular can require some adjustment. On the other hand, I found brushing my teeth accompanied by the clicking of geckos magical. Also, there is no common pool, although twelve of the villas come with their own.
Rooms to get: Accommodations range from studiolike bungalows to two-bedroom villas. For the most privacy, request to stay on the northwestern side of the island, which is also where you see the best sunsets. I loved the two-story Crusoe Suite, which has an upstairs bedroom and its own little stretch of beach, complete with a hammock. For a splurge, book the Jungle Reserve, a 18,000-square-foot extravaganza with its own spa suite, large swimming pool and a tree house with a waterslide.
What to do: Activities include tennis, snorkeling, scuba diving (there’s a PADI-certified school on the island), fishing trips and excursions to nearby islands. Many guests, however, prefer to lounge, read, swim in the warm ocean or bike around the island (the bike pedals are cushioned to accommodate bare feet). A new feature that I didn’t get to try: Cinema Paradiso, an outdoor movie theater on the wild western part of the island, where couples can reserve private screen time.
Indagare tip: Partake of a wine tasting in Fushi’s lovely cellar, which stocks some 500 labels and is presided over by the former sommelier of England’s Chewton Glen. Also, couples should book the “deserted island” for the singular experience of lounging alone on a private islet in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A delicious picnic is provided, as are walkie-talkies, in case you want to return to Fushi earlier than planned.
What to bring: Pack light and casual: sarongs, bikinis, thin sweaters for nighttime and sun hats. Leave shoes at home but bring all those books you’ve been meaning to read.
Getting there: From the East Coast, the easiest and “quickest” way to arrive in the Maldives is to fly via Dubai (roughly a fourteen-hour trip from the East Coast). Emirates Airlines offers nonstop service (treat yourself to their first class, where you sit in your own small compartment, like on a train). From New York, the flight to Dubai is thirteen hours; the connection to Malé takes four. The thirty-minute seaplane transfer from Malé to Fushi is an extraordinary aerial introduction to these beautiful islands.
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