Getting a bit Christmassed-out already? And still a week to go? Alleviate those festive stresses and cast your imaginations to the elixir of an island paradise in the Indian Ocean. Gabrielle Sander sets it up for you…
As resort names go, this one is rather apt. The Hideaway Beach Resort and Spa, despite being the one of the larger Maldivian islands at 1.4km long and 500m wide, feels as private and exclusive as it sounds. At times, of course, you’ll wander past fellow guests, sit among them at dinner or breakfast, spot the tips of their snorkels as they bob around the reef… but for the most part, you could be holidaying here alone.
26 natural atoll formations and around 1200 islands make up the long, narrow Maldives; The Hideaway, the second most northern resort, sits on Dhonakuhli Island within the Haa Alifu Atoll, 290km from the capital city, Male. A 25 minute speedboat away is Hanimaadhoo International Airport, where you can fly to Kerala in under two hours. Dhonakuhli is encircled by a double coral reef – the only resort in the Maldives to boast this – forming a unique natural marina.
What this translates to is a calm shallow sea, the bluest of blue lagoons, and an abundance of fish, right up to the shoreline; so unperturbed by your presence they’ll swarm around and nudge you as if kissing your toes. You only need to get wet up to your ankles to spot black tip reef sharks, sea cucumbers, colourful schools of angel fish, butterfly fish, and various other stripped, spotted and iridescent ones indigenous to the Indian Ocean. Venture under and it’s a mind-blowing display, where turtles, clams, starfish and moray eels await. At sunset, larger sharks, jobfish and sting rays venture in for a swim around the bar, providing entertainment at cocktail hour. By far, this is the best Maldivian resort I’ve been to for the health of its reef and variety of sea life.
Inland, the jungle of intertwining paths is lined with tropical flowers, bread fruit trees, banana plants, coconut palms; knots of banyan trees which look like they get up and walk around when everyone’s asleep. Geckos sit in the middle of the track basking in the rays of sun streaming through the verdant canopy, darting out of the way at the last minute as a bicycle or golf buggy approaches; fruit bats soar overhead, or tuck up and hang upside down from a branch like little vampires. Every now and again, the silence is broken up by the monkey-like squawk of the Asian Koel birds.
Inside it’s equally inviting. The Hideaway is the only all-suite resort in the Maldives, with all ten spacious room types fulfilling the standard you’d expect from a five-star, right down to the generous, daily-replenished bowl of tropical fruit. There’s traditional decor to be found in the chalk white, Hobbit-style buildings, designed to emulate the traditional coral-walled Maldivian huts, which make up the two village-like 1,420sqm Hideaway Palaces; sleek, modern lines to be found in the two bedroom, two bathroom Ocean Suites, fit for a family; the Deluxe Garden Beach Villas, with 66-metre lap pool, open-air garden bathroom and private beach; and there’s the room I grew rather attached to in the time we lived there: the Deluxe Water Villa With Pool, with high beamed ceiling, 18sqm infinity pool, step access to the lagoon, Jacuzzi bath, rainfall shower, located with 49 others in a secluded spot at the other end of the island.
We kept our cool as we were shown around the room for the first time, by our dedicated Island Host, Abdullah, and fell into a fit of laughter at the ridiculousness of such luxury, as soon as he’d left, walking out on to the sun-blasted decking to uninterrupted views of that unbelievably blue sea, and falling hook, line and sinker for a life that would allow us to wake up to this every day, forever more. There’s nothing a dip in our private pool wouldn’t heal: jet lag, morning grogginess, too much wine and food the night before; what a way to start the day. In complete privacy, bar the two manta rays which glided past each sunrise, like clockwork, the little crabs that clung to the wooden stilts, and the occasional flying fish.
Parked outside were our bicycles for the duration, which gave us the freedom to come and go, without the slog of having to walk the lengthy journey to the other side of the island for breakfast and dinner. For when even cycling the flat, effortless, paths became too much of a chore, Abdullah was a call away.
From the slouchy comfort of one of the giant beach beanbags outside Meeru Bar & Grill, grade ‘00’ flour-soft white sand between our toes, we watched crabs, big and small, scuttle about and do battle over their holes; ‘George’ the Grey Heron standing as still as a statue and then at rapid speed, poaching fish from the water. When we weren’t lounging sea-side, book in hand, we were exploring the underwater world with our dive centre-hired snorkels, paddle boarding the milky turquoise lagoon over by the water sports centre, attempting to shoot some hoops on the basketball court, playing best of three on the pool and table tennis tables, being pummelled into a state of pure bliss with a Balinese massage in the secluded garden spa, and meaning to take part in the daily 7am complimentary yoga classes, but never quite mustering up the motivation to make it…
If you get a bit antsy or just fancy a change from island life, the resort can organise a variety of excursions. We headed out on a dhoni for the sunset line fishing trip with three local fishermen, and six other guests. It turned into a surprise dolphin watch as one sloped past the boat on our way to the deep sea. Turns out I was quite the dab hand, catching no less than eight fish of varying shades and sizes (more than anyone else on the boat, I might add), pulling each one in by hand, re-baiting and dropping the line back down; the too-small-to-eat, carefully prized away from the hook and chucked back in.
The bonus is being able to choose which one of your fish you’d like to have prepared for either dinner that evening or lunch the next day. I went for the mighty, plenty enough for two, red snapper, which was served up as sashimi for dinner at Matheefaru restaurant less than two hours later. The sand-floored Matheefaru is also the place where breakfast is served: a buffet of fresh pastries, bread, delicious French cheeses, honey you can swipe straight from the comb, eggs any which way, pancakes to order, seasonal fruit, as well as Sri Lankan curry and congee. The half board dinners are also hosted here, with a daily changing a la carte menu to order your main course from and a wide selection of buffet bites to fill your plate for starter and dessert.
Absolutely delicious curries, moreish naans, and other Indian dishes are served up at Samsara, a five-minute golf buggy ride away, where, at a lagoon-side table, blanket of stars above, it really does feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. For excellent pizza – try the Maldivian – and other light lunchtime bites, as well as your choice of fish from the aquarium cooked on the lava stone grill, there’s Meeru Bar & Grill. They also serve German wheat beer, much to our delight, a very good Old Fashioned, all manner of Bellini (including a delicious coconut one), a fine selection of wines, and throw a mean lobster and champagne BBQ feast. On Fridays, all this is accompanied by the hypnotic beats of the Bodu Beru (‘big drums’) house band.
The Hideaway re-opened at the beginning of 2015, following a $50million redevelopment, so everything is in pristine condition and the amenities top-notch. There’s certainly emphasis on it being a prime honeymoon, wedding and couples destination, but families and children are equally welcome and well catered for, with an inflatable Water Park, a Kids’ Club for three to 12 year-olds, child sized bikes and all manner of dietary requirements tended to. If your distaste for children is on a par with The Witches, there are plenty of areas to seek adult-only solitude, including the Blue Heron Beach Club – the first beach club in the Maldives – with DJs flown in from France serving up ambient beats by day and something harder, depending on the clientele, by night; infinity pool, raw seafood bar, and a sunset setting on the southern tip of the island.
Unless, you’re so used to holidaying in such delicious places that it’s by the by, pinch me moments of pure bliss will creep up and remind you how lucky you are. There’s a price to pay for paradise such as this, and not just the hefty room rates, you’ll be chasing this high for all future holidays to come. It’s money well spent, in both senses of the word.
Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa Information: Red Savannah (01242 787800/ redsavannah.com) is offering a saving of £1,954 per person on a seven-night stay at Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, Maldives for two adults in a Deluxe Water Villa with Jacuzzi Pool on a half board basis from £3,697 per person. Price includes return flights with Turkish Airlines from London to Malé via Istanbul and return seaplane transfers to the resort. Valid for travel between 10 January – 20 December 2016. For further information, please visit www.hideawaybeachmaldives.com.