If the notion of white-sand barefoot luxury with unparalleled crystal-clear snorkelling turns you on – then Vilamendhoo in the South Ari Atoll of the Maldives is the place for you.
Gently lapping water around the stilts of our Jacuzzi Water Villa is the only sound we can hear as we lounge on our deck overlooking the crystal-clear waters of the coral lagoon – a soporific sound broken only by the occasional buzz of a seaplane carrying expectant arrivals or reluctant departures on the twenty five minute flight to Male.
We’re on the island of Vilamendhoo in the South Ari Atoll of the Maldive Islands. It’s the very first time that we’ve ever contemplated a ‘beach’ holiday based in one location where there’s precious little to do other than relax.
Our normal inclination is to cover as much ground as possible, learning about a country and absorbing as many experiences as possible – so we’re a little uncertain of how we’ll get on here. The poor November weather in UK has tipped the scales with a Maldivian 30 degree temptation.
The island has an area of just under eleven hectares (thirty acres), measuring about nine hundred metres by two hundred and fifty. It’s roughly the elongated shape of an aerofoil, surrounded by a shallow lagoon that’s enclosed by a protective reef.
The resort in which we’re staying is the only one on the island and we have free run of its entire area. Vilamendhoo appears to appeal to all ages and families as well as honeymooners and those wishing to marry here.
No sooner have we landed on Vilamendhoo than we’re shown to our villa, one of only thirty in an ‘adults only’ area, along a raised walkway over the lagoon. The villa is spacious with its own sizeable deck, with steps direct to the water and loungers overlooking the lagoon; a well-appointed dressing room, spacious wet room shower and bathroom and an enclosed Jacuzzi and lounge area to the rear.
Although it’s to be expected, we’re impressed by just how spotless the villa is, with no scuffs or signs of prior occupancy. It’s well equipped with Bluetooth speaker, a TV (that we’ll never actually get around to switching on) and a complimentary mini-bar.
A bottle of chilled Taittinger awaits us in an ice bucket, as a welcome to our home for the week.
We’ve elected to book the ‘All-inclusive package’ so we can just relax without the chore of having to settle our account prior to departure.
Although this doesn’t include some activities and premium brands of spirits or the more expensive wines, it nevertheless includes a perfectly adequate red and a white South African wine and local spirit brands that mean we’ll never be short of a Gin & Tonic or a glass of wine at lunch or dinner.
Food and drink is available at most times of the day in various locations but contrary to our initial thoughts we find that we’re fully occupied and only eat and drink modestly at the more conventional times of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Other than our swimwear, shorts and light tops we’ve packed tennis gear and snorkel equipment in our suitcases – determined to keep active whilst here.
Our days are soon ‘filled’ by an early breakfast followed by a snorkel around the lagoon and to the outer sides of the reef.
We’re so mesmerised by the thousands of fish of all colours, patterns and sizes – in shoals and as individuals – that two hours easily flies by each day.
The unusual Cow-tailed Stingray, Spotted Eagle Rays and small Black-tipped Reef Sharks that practice rounding up the smaller fish in the lagoon, circle around us in the three feet of gin-clear water.
The steeper outer reef sides are home to Tuna, Trigger fish and countless hundreds of others that we have yet to identify.
We have never been surrounded by so many fish in our lives and are continually distracted and tempted to follow each new species as it appears.
Wrinkly fingers tend to give us the cue to return and we swim to the steps of our villa, shower off and throw on shorts and short-sleeve shirt before heading to lunch barefoot. Our restaurant has sand floors throughout but we always prefer to sit outside on the wooden deck in the shade of palm trees.
We’re not great lovers of buffet food, thinking that it’s always a compromise in terms of its preparation and freshness but Vilamendhoo makes the best of this option – always having a station where a chef prepares a couple of dishes to order, whilst an extensive selection of alternative cuisines is always available and most evenings are themed with the dishes of different continents.
A separate a la carte restaurant ‘Asian Wok’ is a ten minute stroll to the other end of the island but other than the complimentary evening we’re given there, we choose to stay in the ‘adults only’ Ahima that is nearest our villa – so much for being active!
Our waiter, Meerhad I seem to recall, is a perfect mix of courtesy, excellent manners and friendliness, who adds a dimension to our stay with his wit and excellent service.
We spend an hour or so after lunch, reading on our deck over the lagoon or swimming from our steps, before donning our tennis kit and heading to the court for an hour of singles play.
We’ve been unable to find anyone happy to play doubles in the week we’re here and the courts are only very lightly used overall.
Being November, we also dodge intermittent tropical storms that disappear as quickly as they arrive, freshening the air and colours but they’re quite welcome as we’re not ones to just lay on a beach and roast.
Other than June, July and August, which are the periods of greatest rainfall, you’ll probably encounter some showers at whatever time of year you go to the Maldives and as it straddles the equator you’ll get variations depending on whether you’re in the south or north of the archipelago.
Vilamendhoo offers numerous distractions in the way of excursions to neighbouring islands, days out for snorkelling or diving (organised by the well-equipped Euro Divers School on the island), Yoga classes, Badminton, Table tennis and even a small football pitch where the staff take on guests.
We haven’t really come here to socialise, more to enjoy our own company – so an early evening G&T on the deck of our villa followed by a barefoot stroll back along the walkway to the restaurant reserved specially for Jacuzzi villa occupants works well for us.
We never get around to using the resort’s Spa or even our own villa jacuzzi, such is the degree of immersion in our own, out of character, highly pleasurable routine.
We’re simply bowled over by the beauty of the view from our villa sundeck, whether it’s the opalescent shimmer of the coral lagoon in front of us, with fish jumping or lazily meandering around us, or the almost biblical palette of colours daubed across the western sky at sunset – this is a truly magnificent place to stay.
There are other areas of the island; over a hundred and eighty villas of differing size and amenity, many of which are on the beach, as well as other restaurants and bars but we are so enamoured of our water villa, the snorkelling and tennis that we become surprisingly solitary and reclusive; fully embracing our own desert-island lifestyle.
That said, despite being told that the resort is close to full occupancy, we’re never aware of many other people – in fact the beaches, lagoon and reef are very much our own when we visit them – a credit to the layout and use of the island.
There are a large number of atolls and islands and an ever increasing number of resorts in the Maldives – so competition is brisk.
That said, your choice of resort is largely dictated by your own preferences – do you want superb swimming/diving/snorkelling or simply white sand beaches; do you crave the exclusivity of five-star with small numbers of villas, or medium capacity four star resorts like Vilamendhoo – the choices are almost endless but in our opinion Vilamendhoo offers you a superb quality experience at a sensible cost with the flexibility to make of it whatever you wish.
Vilamendhoo gave us all we were looking for and it’s one of the few places that we’ve been really reluctant to leave at the end of a holiday – well worth investigating for yourself.
If you’d like to combine the Maldives with your own adventure to anywhere else in Asia, such as Sri Lanka or India, then why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel – to immerse yourself in the wonders of this world?
Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request