That water. It really does take your breath away. Any person who has visited the Maldives knows what I mean. The water of this island nation in the Indian Ocean comes in ever-shifting shades of blue, from aquamarine to cerulean to cobalt, and is so ridiculously clear that it seems like air somehow condensed into liquid.
This magical, crystal-clear water that has a comforting, almost nourishing, quality to it is one of the main reasons the country is a top spot for couples in search of some romantic time alone.
Although family-friendly vacations are becoming more popular these days, some resorts here prefer to maintain their status as exclusive couple getaways.
For me, having been to the Maldives before and having experienced the classic island-resort set-up that has become de rigueur across the country — little-dot islands, each home to a single resort scattered across the nation’s delectable waters — I was hoping for more on my next trip. This time, I wanted something a bit more diverse.
So I chose the Anantara Dhigu resort, one of three sister-island properties right next to each other, accessible directly from Male International Airport by a 30-minute boat transfer.
The first thing I noticed about Dhigu was its size. While I could still comfortably go around the whole isle in less time than it takes to stroll across one-half of Bishan Park, it was big, relatively speaking. (Big enough, in fact, that some guests only used the resort’s complimentary bicycles to travel around.)
The space is also central to one of the resort’s greatest assets — its land-based wildlife. My previous trips to the Maldives were memorable for the teeming underwater kingdom, but here on Dhigu we encountered lizards, geckos, hermit crabs, bats the size of adult eagles, and our favourite, the Maldivian water hen, or Dhivehi kanbili, to give it its local name.
On Dhigu, the beach villas are strewn around the rim of the island — not visible from the water, thanks to the landscaping — and a finger of overwater villas, all renovated in December 2015, reach out from the north of the island, like an insect’s antenna.
Anantara Veli, another of the three resort islands, felt different from Dhigu. Accessible via a pontoon, or a small boat, that runs back and forth between Veli and Dhigu, Veli is aimed at couples — children are not allowed on Veli except for dinner, although adults staying on the other islands can visit freely.
In terms of environment, it felt much more jungly, forested and primal, with waves that were stronger, the crashing surf on certain stretches of the island a visual and aural reminder of the power of the ocean.
Veli definitely felt more intimate than Dhigu, no surprise given its target market, and it holds events primed for its typical guest. Every Thursday night, it hosts a cocktail event at its Orchid Garden for honeymooners; here on the fence of the orchid nursery, hundreds of little wooden hearts with wedding dates inscribed on them attest to the newly married couples that have come to the island.
The Sundari Ayurvedic Spa, obviously specialising in Ayurvedic treatments, also exudes romance and privacy. Set behind a main gate, treatment rooms come with pretty painted doorways, helping to set the mood.
We went for dinner at the resort’s restaurant, Baan Huraa, one evening. A large, open wooden pavilion with a soaring roof, the restaurant has Thai staff and chefs, and food that tastes as good as any I have had on any of my visits to Bangkok (or Golden Mile Complex!).
The meal started with the traditional Thai snack, miang kham, that each diner prepared for themselves, wrapping diced shallots, ginger, sliced red chilli, lime, shredded coconut, roasted groundnuts, and a fragrant sauce made of lemongrass, ginger, coconut and palm sugar, in a betel leaf. It was an interesting and tasty experience.
Separately, Naladhu Maldives, the third of the trio of island resorts here, has its own door on a walkway that remains locked and off-limits, except to guests staying on the island (they have a key) or people with prior appointments, like me. The resort manager of the island, a lively German woman, showed me round. Naladhu has 13 ocean houses, six beach houses, and one two-bedroom residence, each attended by a housemaster and houseboy (think personal butlers).
Back on Dhigu, our base, there is plenty to do during the day. The watersports centre Aquafanatics is exhaustive: In addition to kayaking, scuba diving, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, water-skiing, jet-skiing (some with the jet pack option), and seabobs, it opened the first PADI-certified free diving centre in the Maldives in May this year.
The resort is embarking on a coral regeneration programme, with ropes strung underwater and tables in the ocean used as structures for coral to attach itself. Fans of coral and sea life can see both at Gulifushi, a tiny islet just north of Dhigu’s overwater villas that is part of the resort.
Gulifushi has a small restaurant that serves lunch and a swimming pool that is partially open to the sea on one side, making it a mini aquarium of sorts — it is great for snorkelling even if the sea is choppy, its walls acting as protection against any swells. It was there that we spotted scores of fish feeding off coral that had attached to the pool walls.
Like the pool at Gulifushi, the best moments here were those tied to nature. While waiting at the dock on Naladhu for the pontoon, I experienced the thrilling sight of flying fish zip through the air just metres in front of me. I won’t forget the sea life swimming underneath as I sat on the walkway between Veli and Naladhu.
One evening. as the sun began its quick trajectory down toward the horizon, it decided to hide behind some clouds. The sky became a canvas of pink slashes which, come to think of it, were much more impressive and unusual than the predictability of the sun sinking behind the sea.
It was, for all of us, another reminder of the indelible beauty of the Maldives.