The Luxurious Retreat To Book If You’re In Need of Winter Sun

8 min read

As an island escape where comfort is key and barefoot informality breeds a quiet luxury, Milaidhoo is The Row of the Maldivian resort landscape

Over 1,100 white sand islands dotted around the Indian Ocean make up the Maldives, with 132 of them home to luxury resorts waiting for the next wave of beachcombers wanting to switch off and crash out. In a landscape that’s saturated with some of the most indulgent five-star stays, knowing where to check in can be an overwhelming task. So when Milaidhoo promised barefoot island-inspired life with all the comforts of luxe living, my husband and I signed up for four nights hoping to leave behind the loud extravagance of Dubai, and dip our toes into the customs of Robinson Crusoe in a quiet, Succession-esque sort of trip.

Milaidhoo is located in Baa Atoll in the protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Hanifaru Bay, famous for adventurous snorkellers wishing to swim with manta rays and whale sharks. We leave Captain Chaos, our rambunctious toddler, at home thanks to the resort’s minimum age of nine years old, hoping for some deep sleep, and, without the loom of daily food fights, dinners eaten at ease.

Following a four-hour flight from Dubai, we’re met at Valana International Airport by a friendly Milaidhoo face, who immediately whisks our luggage out of our hands and accompanies us to a cool SUV, where we’re swept to the seaplane for a 35-minute flight where the scenery is nothing short of an episode of Planet Earth. We land next to a floating wooden platform in the middle of the ocean, before an air-conditioned speedboat picks us up and takes us onwards to the resort. Ten minutes later and we arrive at Milaidhoo just as a bright orange and pink sunset fills the sky. We are introduced to Hussy, a smiley, efficient Maldivian, who is to be our concierge for the duration of our stay. He immediately puts his number in my WhatsApp and I’m told to drop him a message should we need anything. Anything, at all.

The island is small, just 5.4 acres in total, and it takes three minutes to walk to our beachside villa which, surrounded by bushy greenery and tall palm trees, feels blissfully secluded. One of 20 on the island, in addition to the 30 villas on stilts teetering over the Tiffany-blue ocean, Milaidhoo’s concept of interpreting local heritage is captured in the cosy thatched roof and thoughtful decor all sourced or reclaimed locally. Designed by Maldivian architect Mohamed Shafeeq, each detail is inspired by conserving the natural beauty of the island and ensuring minimum impact on the coral reef, from the natural wood floors to the custom-made furniture, softly curved and void of sharp corners. The pale aquatic-hued soft furnishings throughout our 290 square metre haven, combined with lofty ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows that open up 180 degrees to a huge sundeck, allow for seamless indoor-outdoor island living and the tranquility hits us like a dart.

Even the bathroom encourages wilderness living (if you were able to forage and graze on Acqua di Parma products), with an outdoor garden shower surrounded with lush tropical greenery, indoor rain shower, spacious standalone tub and every amenity you need should you happen to have arrived empty handed.

Secluded villas allow for the utmost rest and relaxation

We are reunited with our luggage, and head barefoot to Ocean, the resorts’s all-day dining restaurant, where a menu of dishes hand-picked from around the world, but with a Maldivian twist and locally-sourced where possible, accompanies a breezy sea view as the sun dips beneath the skyline. The menu changes daily depending on seasonal produce but to garashi-seared tuna with black quinoa and avocado wasabi, and grilled local sardines with fennel and salsa verde hit the spot. The same restaurant hosts a lazy breakfast from 7am to 10.30am where an impressive à la carte menu and buffet fuels us at the start of each day. Eggs any way, chia pudding, overnight oats, avo on toast, locally-caught sushi, freshly-squeezed juices and a revolving menu of beauty elixirs, you name it, they’ve made it. But it’s the small details that get us really excited, from the nine types of mustards to accompany our eggs to the six different Manuka honeys, and the cold brew bar with four different flavoured syrups. The attention to the smaller details is impressive.

For such a small island, the cuisine options at Milaidhoo are more than mighty, with Ba’theli by the Reef the jewel in the resort’s crown. The world’s first ever fine dining restaurant offering gourmet local Maldivian cuisine, Ba’theli’s unique architecture is inspired by ancient wooden sailing vessels so while we’re safely moored to the sea bed, we dine as if we’re floating at sea, and with very little light pollution, under a sky full of stars that would put Coldplay to shame. The menu is inspired by the 5,000-year-old Maldivian Spice Route, when the archipelago was a key port for ships heading from Indonesia and India to Arabia with precious cargos of cinnamon, cardamon, turmeric, cloves, ginger and pepper, all of which infiltrate the menu. Failing to make a decision when it comes to editing down the choice of locally-inspired and sourced dishes, we let junior sous chef Anwar Rashad take us on a culinary ride with the seven-course tasting menu. Highlights include locally-caught seared yellowfin tuna loin, a zesty seafood broth with scallops, prawns and local fish poached in coconut milk infused with spices, and melt-off-the-bone slow-braised lamb curry inspired by northern island cooking. The tangy Maldivian lobster curry alone is worth the trip, which Anwar spices perfectly with a moorish kick.

We also dine at The Shoreline Grill. One evening we sit on the Chef’s Table as cheery chef Arron Jude Ron Bastiansz cooks us a teppanyaki feast of fresh lobster and wagyu just the way we like it while entertaining us with tales of his past working in Dubai, and on another, the restaurant hosts a seafood market, where shoals of fresh fish sit on ice ready to be marinated and cooked in any way we fancy. A feast of oysters prepared three different ways, Singaporean crab, locally-caught lemon and herb butter grouper and a chilled bottle recommended by the sommelier offsets all the snorkelling we’ve been doing daily.

Endless ocean views and balmy sea breeze? Don’t mind if we do.

Milaidhoo offers one-on-one mediation sessions, morning yoga on an over-water pavillion and cooking classes, but we find it hard to tear ourselves away from our sun-soaked sanctuary. Our private sundeck comes complete with a fully-stocked outdoor fridge, soothing swing chair, sprawling kingsize day bed and sun loungers overlooking a freshwater infinity pool, and beyond that, uninterrupted sparkling waters.

The only thing that pulls us away from lying horizontal and our dog-eared paperbacks is the rich coral reef just metres away, so we head to the resort’s dive center, Ocean Stories, where guide Hassan Hassam (who likes to go by Koobe) takes us on a snorkelling tour around the island to meet the locals. Milaidhoo is home to200 species of coral and over 2,000 species of fish and within five minutes of floating about, we’re met face to face with a turtle who then joins us for most of our swim amongst hundreds of rainbow parrotfish, fat tunas eyeing us suspiciously and even a harmless whitetip reef shark having a snooze under a rock. Wanting to up the ante, Koobe tells us a squadron of manta rays had been spotted earlier today thanks to a team of local biologists tracking the marine life and he’ll take us to meet them tomorrow if they decide to hang around. Fast forward 24 hours and we’re back on the speed boat with Koobe and the resort’s resident marine biologist, Diana Vergara, heading towards untroubled waters. Ten minutes later and we’re quietly floating above and around the giant, graceful endangered animals, some of which have wingspans of seven feet. It’s my third trip to the Maldives, but a first for us both when it comes to meeting these magnificent gentle fish, and it’s an unforgettable moment.

Following the thrill of our sea adventure, Hussy books us in for massages at the resort’s Serenity Spa to soothe our exhausted shoulders. Each of the four treatment rooms is built on stilts overlooking the ocean, with stone bathtubs big enough for two on each balcony. The spa’s philosophy is focused around holistic treatments incorporating the power of botanicals and herbs (some of which are pulled from the resort’s own herb garden), and Milaidhoo’s Signature Body Massage is 60 minutes of pure bliss. Our Maldivian therapists melt organic shea butter into our skin with long, soothing strokes which aid circulation and encourage relaxation, before warm compresses made from Maldivians and soothe both our mind and muscles and we leave feeling floatier than our fishy friends.

What sets Milaidhoo apart from the rest? Everything is executed with as little friction as possible to maximise the rare luxury of switching off iCal reminders and unshackling from the daily grind of to-do lists. It’s luxury so quiet you barely notice. We didn’t once have to remind anyone how we preferred our tea and coffee, it arrived justas we liked it. The light switches are placed a finger tip away from your pillow. Our bath is filled with rose petals one late afternoon after a dive. Hussy is incredibly attentive but not intrusive. As an era of quiet luxury prevails in the fashion scene, with exquisite materials, excellently executed silhouettes and functional investment pieces all part of the appeal, Milaidhoo has captured the art of subtle luxe when it comes to holidaying in style. It’s living the life of Logan Roy, even for just a few nights. Book now

Read Next: These Luxurious Destinations Are Taking Ski Holidays To The Next Level

  • Words by Kate Hazell