Lifestyle Contributor Sana Butler on Finding Serenity, Luxury & Paradise in the Maldives

By Sana Butler | November 29, 2022

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A view from one of Joali’s two-bedroom ocean villas PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES
A view from one of Joali’s two-bedroom ocean villas PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES

If you are reading this page, you’re likely already a world traveler. Taj-ing. A&K-ing. Four Seasons-ing. Seen it. Did it. Been there. Done that. Five-star hospitality is as evergreen as hailing a taxi in a white neighborhood. There’s always another one around the corner. Then there’s a place of discovery like the Maldives, where the luxury you pay for unfurls at the luxury you envy. It is a charm beyond the Caribbean that well justifies the flight time. Less than 20% of the 1,200 Indian Ocean islands have been sold, held to the one-island, one-hotel model. Everything you want from an island resort is here: overwater bungalows, rain showers and wine cellars, but that’s just the tip. Here are three examples of living the right life.

An outdoor dining space in a three-bedroom ocean residence PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES
An outdoor dining space in a three-bedroom ocean residence PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES


Joali’s Manta treehouse PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES
Joali’s Manta treehouse PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES

The bedroom inside the resort’s sunset luxury water villa with pool. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES
The bedroom inside the resort’s sunset luxury water villa with pool. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES

JOALI

This Muravandhoo Island property—owned by one of Turkey’s leading businesswomen, Esin Gural Argat—does not belong to any luxury global brand but masters what makes a small hotel grand. Butlers who serve the careful art of reading minds, spa rooms equal in size to suites at other resorts, popups with Michelin stars from around the world, a wagyu beef truffle teriyaki seared to perfection and everyday vegetables high on nutrients and gomma dressing that you will literally inhale on an avocado salad. Heck yes, ask for the recipes. Why not? Maruhabaa is more than a kind gesture the staff express when they see you but a soul display of bounty and plenty. No wonder “Spread happiness” is their mantra. It is that graceful unpretentiousness to share the love that Friday had in mind when he found the destitute Robinson Crusoe. Not obsessed with trends or bling, Argat’s personal vision of an escape from the world epitomizes ease and comfort that some guests stay months to be at home in. joali.com

Vandhoo restaurant interior. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES
Vandhoo restaurant interior. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOALI MALDIVES


Inside the Temptation pool water villa. PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL
Inside the Temptation pool water villa. PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL


An aerial shot of one of LUX* South Ari Atoll’s pools PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL
An aerial shot of one of LUX* South Ari Atoll’s pools PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL


A stunning sunset on the beach PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL
A stunning sunset on the beach PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL

LUX SOUTH ARI ATOLL*


Dinner at Senses restaurant. PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL
Dinner at Senses restaurant. PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL


A view of the resort’s infinity pool PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL
A view of the resort’s infinity pool PHOTO COURTESY OF LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL

This all-inclusive, eco-conscious, eco-friendly resort has grown a distinct following over the years: big families, single moms and countless selfies. Powered by one of the world’s largest floating solar energy systems to serve 193 private villas, this Ari Atoll property feels more like a small city with e-powered tro tros (or taxis) picking up and dropping off on a 2-mile stretch of bars, restaurants, spas and instagrammable photo-ops (the beach swing is the winner). There’s also underwater experiences, from swimming with whale sharks and manta rays to studying local reef life at the Marine Biology Center. High-five to the creators behind the #BREAKTHEBIAS, an initiative to promote gender equality by raising awareness against bias and stereotypes in this mostly Muslim country, which makes it empowering for most female staffers to wear hijabs. luxresorts.com


Inside the Sea restaurant PHOTO COURTESY OF ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES
Inside the Sea restaurant PHOTO COURTESY OF ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES


A beach pool villa bathtub. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES
A beach pool villa bathtub. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES

ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES

Nature takes center stage on Anantara Kihavah, not because of the green certifications (which it has) or the awards (which it has won) or the enormous rubber-tree-sized orchids grown on the side of 1,200 wild coconut trees (the island is a former coconut plantation) in a number of 25 different varieties, but your room’s ability to sate your wanderlust. Located on the Baa Atoll in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the private island has 80 beaches and overwater pool villas. There are lagoons between a lush rainforest of coconut trees and a mangrovelike dirt pathway (don’t forget to duck) that opens to the edge of nothing but ocean. The aboveground view is rivaled only by the turquoise rainbow underwater beauty at Sea restaurant. One of seven restaurants, this underwater dining experience allows guests to eat on the ocean floor. Suddenly, a shark will appear in the glass and the room will scramble wide-eyed with excitement as if to see the Loch Ness Monster. The sommelier chills over 450 wines from two dozen countries. To understand the effects of cold temps on the aging process, he often submerges Champagne at 40 meters below to compare to wine cellar storage. It’s a convivial conversation piece for the next dinner party. Perhaps as impressive on a full moon is a view of the otherworldly with Mr. Shameem, through one of the most powerful telescopes in the region. The Orion Nebula rests in purple rain. anantara.com


Inside a living area of the resort’s three-bedroom beach-pool residence PHOTO COURTESY OF ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES
Inside a living area of the resort’s three-bedroom beach-pool residence PHOTO COURTESY OF ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES

Photography by: JOALI MALDIVES; LUX* SOUTH ARI ATOLL; ANANTARA KIHAVAH MALDIVES