From the air, the island kingdom of The Maldives seemed unreal. We flew into Malé International at 3:30pm, gliding above the coral atolls that pattern the ocean with perfect turquoise circles. We breezed through customs and, in a matter of minutes, were gathering at the quay awaiting our boat transfer.
The air smelled faintly of sea salt, and various boats bobbed on their ropes along the jetties. For the immediate facade of an international airport, it was a refreshingly tranquil scene. The combination of an excellent crew and a new, light speedboat provided by our resort made smooth work of the waves as we swapped air travel for seafaring.
Occasionally an island would appear on the horizon. We’d speed past it, noting its paucity within the vast, calm sea; its palm-studded white beach separating the blue water from the green trees. Then the horizon would be blank again, prompting those reflective thoughts that travelling inspires. Another island portside, bigger this time, with a necklace of water villas curling into the lagoon. All the while Malé’s concrete towers receded at our stern as we hopped across the Indian Ocean to somewhere the brochures call paradise.
It was soon apparent how accurate this description was. Approaching the shallow lagoon the engine clicked and quietened leaving just the gentle sound of the lapping water as we docked at the wooden pier. The warm sun was beginning its descent into an orange and lilac sunset. Vivanta by Taj Coral Reef, Maldives was a sight to behold. The definition of timeless tropical beauty. We disembarked exchanging wide-eyed smiles of disbelief. We bowed our heads for the beautiful lily garlands presented by our welcoming committee.
We’d arrived at 5pm which, it turned out, was dinnertime for the local stingray population that thrives among the resort’s house reef. Crossing the jetty towards the shore we were accompanied by some fine specimens headed for the beach to be fed by some lucky resort guests. A baby reef shark and scores of kaleidoscopic smaller fish were waiting in the wings looking for leftovers. Stingray feeding, every day at this time, is one of the many unique motifs at Vivanta by Taj Coral Reef.
The resort is the only property on this island in the North Malé atoll and although it was fully booked, it didn’t feel like it. Walking to my beach villa I passed two other guests on the sand path that winds through the palm trees and mangroves, and there was a young couple taking selfies on the beach. But otherwise there was no one around. In fact, you’re more likely to encounter a member of staff than another holidaymaker – they outnumber guests at a reassuring ratio of 2:1. By limiting the number of rooms and suites to just 62, and designing these to be hidden away amid the island’s natural greenery, Taj Hotels have imbued this resort with an intimate feel; an exclusive atmosphere of seclusion and escape. They’ve mastered the art of the luxury Maldives holiday.
The first thing I noticed when I entered my villa was the beach view through the French doors. I dropped my bag, kicked off my flip-flops and was feeling powdery sand underfoot within about ten paces. Five more and I was paddling in the turquoise lagoon. I don’t mind admitting – I had to pinch myself.
I got changed for dinner and made my way to Open The Grill to meet my travel companions. Open The Grill is an exotically Arcadian open air restaurant adjacent to the infinity pool. The menu is South American-inspired and created by a passionate executive chef who hails from the US. Peruvian ceviche, shrimp and scallop soup, carne asada with roasted peppers and home fries, green tea sorbet… Dinner was delicious. I ordered an ice-cold beer which was placed on a cotton coaster to absorb the beads of condensation descending the glass. Bikram, our excellent host from Taj Hotels, was talking us through Coral Reef’s brilliant in-house activities, and suggesting which one we could begin our day with in the morning. ‘Hands up for snorkelling,’ he said.
A huge thank you to Shikha Kataria at Taj Hotels and Ron Vijn at British Airways for arranging such a fantastic Fam Trip.
Photos courtesy of the author © Kenwood Travel