1. Dhawa Ihuru
The island sanctuary of Dhawa Ihuru, part of The Banyan Tree Group’s Dhawa brand, is located in the North Malé Atoll, a speedy 20-minute boat ride from the airport. There’s a welcome lack of sophistication here – it’s a very relaxed, organic, casual affair. You’ll take your shoes off on arrival and they won’t go back on till you leave.
This casual existence extends to the rooms which lean ever so gently into rusticity. Access them via a main path or walk along the beach; each of the 45 villas have a sea view. It’s hard to miss really – a few feet from the end of your secluded, sandy garden made comfortable with a couple of sun loungers, a wicker pod and palm fronds providing welcome shade.
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2. Angsana Velavaru
Rather unusually, Angsana Velavaru sits across two islands with a shuttle boat that runs between them. On the main island, an arc of white sand, fine as dust and raked like a Japanese garden, greets you as you wander down the jetty. The beach villas sit around the edge of the island where you will also find the hotel’s pool, main restaurants and activity centres.
The other island houses the over-water villas, a restaurant and also the island’s house reef. Dotted about are covered sun loungers shaped like weaver-bird nests, a nod to the Maldives’ rich natural environment. At night, oval woven pods swing from the broad canopy of trees, dropping discs of light onto the sand below, still warm between your toes.
3. Patina Maldives, Fari Islands
Since opening in 2021, Patina Maldives has not only created a luxury resort of eco-friendly practices and environmentally-conscious architecture, it’s fixed the Maldives’ long-standing food dilemma, one beautiful dish at a time.
After a seaplane or boat transfer to the Fari Islands, you’re greeted by a Patina “experientialist” – your personal attendant for the duration of your stay. Whether you want a lift, your flight checked in, or someone to run your outdoor bath with rose petals, they’re only a WhatsApp away.
Welcoming you by name with a cool drink and towel that feels like heaven after a long-haul flight, they transport you along sand paths and palm trees to your accommodation. That’s an overwater villa that looks like it fell straight from the pages of a magazine. The suite is nothing short of extraordinary.
4. Cheval Blanc Randheli
Paradise is the Cheval Blanc Randheli – a luxury 46-villa resort on the Noonu Atoll in the Maldives. From arrival at Malé airport, the hotel’s attention to detail and impeccable service transports you to a world of total bliss, where every need is taken care of before you are even aware it exists.
There are three types of villa at Cheval Blanc – water (facing the sea, with steps down into the glistening ocean), lagoon (facing inwards towards a small inlet where tiny sharks and fish can be spotted), and island (these have their own private beach and two bedrooms, so are often best for families) – and each comes with a private pool.
5. Cora Cora Maldives
In a remote stretch of ocean to the north of the equator, Cora Cora, or Raa Maamigili, is a small but bustling ecosystem of restaurants, greenery and local wildlife. The Cora Cora Maldives resort prides itself on offering just 100 guest rooms, a mixture of the iconic Maldivian overwater villas or airy beach properties nestled on the seafront surrounded by lush vegetation and vibrant flowers.
Finished in bright tiles in the resort’s signature colours and furnished with light wood pieces, each villa feels private and luxurious, without sacrificing its unique quirky touches. An example of this is the bright vectors – a father and son fishing, a woman squeezing water from her trailing hair, a strolling couple – painted on each overwater villa.
6. LUX* South Ari Atoll
LUX* is renowned for its contemporary take on luxury, and its Maldives resort at South Ari Atoll is an excellent example of modern five-star travel. Choice abounds – sample an array of adrenalin sports, indulge yourself with an extensive range of spa treatments or repair to one of the cafes, bars and restaurants – and the staff are as bright and breezy as the water villas.
Based on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu, which measures just over a mile from one tip to the other, LUX* South Ari Atoll is one of the larger resorts in the Maldives. It’s therefore less of a desert island retreat than some of its neighbours and more of a premium holiday village.
7. Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa
With 60 beach villas and 60 overwater villas, the Emerald Maldives Resort and Spa on the island of Fasmendhoo in Raa Atoll has one of the lowest densities of villas in the Maldives, providing guests with their own space and privacy. The resort has all of the classic features that make the Maldives such a sought-after destination.
Each stand-alone overwater villa features a spacious bedroom, bathroom and wooden patio with a ladder leading straight into the ocean – which is a vibrant shade of aquamarine. Indeed, the crystal clear water in the Maldives is beyond compare, and the island of Fasmendhoo is fringed by a wraparound reef, rich with marine life.
8. The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
With its emphasis on architecture and design, the St. Regis Vommuli is no ordinary Maldives resort. It has the same vivid water, the same white sand and the same balmy climate as its neighbours, but the quality of the service, the villas and the activities on this jewel of an island are a league apart.
Opened in 2016, this resort combines the benefits of a super-luxury hotel with the unique appeal of the Maldives. The villas, some of them palatially proportioned, are beautifully furnished, their bedding soft and luxurious, and a wide range of restaurants offer international menus to suit every palate. The spa and the diving school are world class, providing a sense of indulgence and adventure that will elevate your stay out of the ordinary. And all guests benefit from the services of a dedicated butler.
9. Mirihi Island Resort
At first glance, Mirihi looks like an archetypal desert island, its thatched reception the only sign of civilisation visible from the landing jetty. Step between the palms and you’ll uncover a few more of its secrets – a handsome open-sided restaurant, spilling onto the beach, and a boutique collection of timber-framed villas. There’s a spa, too, and a dive centre, but little else to spoil the castaway vibe.
Charmingly small and intimate, Mirihi offers an escape from the rest of the world. Friendly staff encourage you to shed your shoes the moment you arrive: white coral sand extends throughout the resort, even into the restaurant and bar, so you will have no need for them. Mirihi has one of the most extensive and accessible reefs in the Maldives, enclosing the resort like a giant teardrop. Snorkelling and diving are therefore the principal attractions – aside from enjoying the picture-perfect island itself.
10. Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
Within sight of the high-rise Maldivian capital yet a world apart, the Banyan Tree resort on Vabbinfaru is a picturesque gem. Tall palms, bright hibiscus and heavily scented frangipani carpet the island and festoon the beach villas, each of which comes with its own private swimming pool. Small even by the standards of the Maldives – you can stroll across it in a couple of minutes – this perfect circle of an island has a big personality.
At many resorts in the Maldives, beaches are a bit of an afterthought. The focus is on over-water villas and sundecks rather than long stretches of sand. But Vabbinfaru is fringed by a wide swathe of white sand, lapped by the gentle swell of the Indian Ocean and protected by a reef that rings the whole island. And it’s all very convenient, too, just a 20-minute speedboat ride from the international airport at Malé.
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