three islands lined with overwater bungalows
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Cheval Blanc Randheli

The 46 thatched-roof villas designed by architect Jean-Michel Gathy seamlessly marry land and sea, with spectacular views.

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beach with four posted day beds and red cushions
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One & Only Reethi Rah

There’s a reason celebrities and honeymooners have been hiding away at Reethi Rah, the largest resort in the Maldives.

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Beachfront at Anantara Dhigu, Maldives

Anantara Dhigu

No hotel can be all things to all people but Anantara Dhigu gives it a good try. With 110 rooms, including beach villas and overwater bungalows, Anantara Dhigu is part of the Asian four-star chain from Thailand. When its owner moved into the Maldives, he found a lagoon with multiple islands and created three distinctly different resorts. Naladhu is the exclusive, boutique, all-villa property for those seeking maximum privacy and pampering. Anantara Dhighu, which occupies a five-hectare island across the way, manages to cater to both families (with a kids’ club, variety of restaurants and connecting beach villa options) and to couples (with overwater bungalows and private beach dinners and ceremonies). Anantara Veli is the lowest priced option. Anantara Dhigu’s 38 overwater suites are not for families, but a number of the beach villas can connect to pool villas to create mini-compounds. All rooms feature dark wood floors, high ceilings, silk pillows, Asian accents and lovely large bathrooms.

One of the highlights of the property is its overwater Anantara spa, which includes nine massive treatment rooms with special glass floors so spa-goers can view the marine life below during their massages. There are outdoor pavilions for Thai massages in the breeze as well as couples rooms with Jacuzzis. In addition to an Italian restaurant, Fuddan Fusion Grill and beach café, there is an overwater Thai restaurant reached by boat. As one of two properties to host a full-service Tropic Surf school (the other is the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa), Anantara is popular with surfers, particularly in the summer months when its nearby breaks are largest. All other water sports are also on offer as well as tennis, daily yoga, a kids’ club and a cooking school, which makes use of the herbs in chef’s garden.

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COMO Cocoa Island

The original owner of Cocoa Island, a photographer from Germany, leased it from a Maldivian when leases were still based on the number of palm trees on the island. The year: 1981; number of palms: 12. After he leased the island, he discovered that foreigners could not build private houses (only hotels), so he put up a few bungalows and began transforming the island into his own paradise. When Singapore-based hotelier and fashion tycoon Christina Ong bought it from him ten years ago, she raised the bar considerably, adding the overwater villas that exist today as well as the spectacular spa and restaurant.

Today the thirty-three overwater accommodations range from dhoni suites (in traditional Maldivian boats that are attached to a jetty) to two-bedroom villas with their own jetties for direct arrivals from the airport. All of the suites have large living areas facing the Indian Oceans, wide teak wood floors, white walls and huge windows to maximize the natural light. Most of them have their sleeping areas in upstairs lofts. Fans of sister resort, COMO Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos, will recognize the stylish beach living, which emphasizes natural simplicity in fine white cottons and Asian spare wooden furniture. The emphasis is on light, space and beautiful views but no marble bathrooms or excess of decoration.

This is the kind of place for people who consider it a luxury to live barefoot and take outdoor showers. Off the back of each room are wooden sundecks that drop into the lagoon for swimming and snorkeling. Rooms are connected by a long boardwalk to the island and its glorious white sand beach. At one end of the island sits the pool and restaurant area and at the other is the Shambhala spa with its gym, yoga pavilion and treatment cabins. In between is the dive center, where guides can set guests up with snorkels, paddle boards or windsurfing and, of course, diving.

As with all COMO properties, there is a serious focus on health and well-being, which extends from the spa to the cuisine. Its Ufaa restaurant serves some of the best food in the country, with a spa menu always available, as well as Asian inspired options. The chef plays up local and organi ingredients as well as the regional cuisine of India. Unlike many of the other island resorts, which are clustered near each other north of Malé, COMO Cocoa Island lies in an isolated lagoon to the south so delivers a particularly deep sense of isolation and serenity. When you are out snorkeling or diving you will not see other resort boats, only fisherman, which is becoming more of a rarity in the Maldives.

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Pool Lounge at Maalifushi by COMO, Maldives

COMO Maalifushi

With every luxury resort brand in the world trying to up fabulous quotient in the Maldives, COMO hotels may have outsmarted them all by going back to what it is that drew the smart set here in the first place: isolated islands. Its original resort COMO Cocoa Island has long attracted privileged purists, the ones who live glamorous lives but like escaping to natural beauty where less really is more. With their second property, COMO Maalefushi, which opened in November 2013, COMO has moved away from the cluster of resorts around Malé and found a private island even further south than COMO Cocoa Island.

This twenty-acre island lies in the pristine Thaa Atoll and is reached via a fifty-minute seaplane ride the south of Malé’s international airport. The Thaa Atoll’s first resort, this sixty-six-room property offers a genuine sense of escape (not an inhabited island in sight) and a spectacular untouched water world to explore. Divers and snorkelers can explore nearby reefs as well as spot rare hammerhead and whale sharks.

For those who don’t even want to share their days with other guests, the resort owns a neighboring island that can be booked for private picnics, beach idylls or private dinners. Guest rooms include overwater suites as well as beach rooms, suites and villas, some with their own private pools. Japanese designer Koichiro Ikebuchi, who also oversaw COMO Cocoa Island's spare aesthetic, masterminded the décor in the rooms as well as the three restaurants. He used locally sourced materials and maximized natural light to create cabins that seem to blend into the natural environment for minimal environmental impact.

In recognition of how the Maldives has expanded from a romantic, honeymoon destination into a magnet for families from all over the world, the resort contains three two-bedroom villas. As with all COMO properties, the Shambhala wellness spa and philosophy has been incorporated into treatments, daily yoga and a healthy menu option in all of the restaurants. The problem for COMO fanatics will be how to choose between the two Maldivian resorts. The solution: dividing time between the two.

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Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island entered a league of its own with the opening of the world’s first underwater restaurant and underwater villa.

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Beach at Four Seasons Explorer, Maldives

Four Seasons Explorer

The smallest Four Seasons in the Maldives and the only one of the brand’s properties that cruises around. The Four Seasons Explorer is an eleven-cabin catamaran that travels between its two sister properties (Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Four Seasons Landaa Giravaru) and to outer atolls for a truly water-based adventure into the Maldives less traveled.

Sailing between the North Male Atoll and Baa Atoll, the boat visits remote lagoons, deserted islands and virgin dive sites, giving guests the chance to snorkel, dive, surf, fish, water ski and sail in pristine waters where they may not see another boat or visitor for days. But the remote reach of the boat does not mean that guests sacrifice comforts. Among the twenty-five in staff who care for the twenty-two guests are a marine biologist, dive and surf instructors, a masseuse and gourmet chef.

The 129-foot sailboat features three decks that house the dining, lounge and bar areas as well as the cabins. Each of the ten staterooms has king or twin beds plus seating areas and bathrooms with shower/tubs. The best room is the Explorer Suite, with a view over the bow as well as dining and dressing areas. All of the staterooms feature yacht-worthy amenities such as air-conditioning, DVDs, LCD Tvs, even wireless internet that reaches up to one kilometer for use on nearby islands. Though the boat can be chartered out privately for large groups, it is also possible to book a room on three-, four- or seven-day cruises. The ideal combination for those who don’t mind packing and unpacking would be a few nights at each of the Four Seasons island resorts with three or four days on the Explorer in between.

Indagare Tip: In the summer months, the boat is chartered by Tropic Surf, so tends to attract surfers and their companions with a focus on finding the best waves.

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Outdoor Pool Lounge at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, Maldives

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

Designed like a Maldivian village with thatched beach villas and overwater bungalows, the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa was one of the first five-star hotels to open in the Maldives, though it was majorly rebuilt after the 2004 tsunami. The 96-room hotel is smaller than its sister resort Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, and since it is only a twenty-five minute boat ride from the airport, it is popular with Asians and Middle Easterners who pop over for short three- or four-day visits and want to avoid the longer seaplane journey to Landaa. Many also prefer the community feeling that this more intimate resort fosters. You are not eating at the same table as other guests (in fact, there are multiple restaurants) but you do pass each other frequently enough that you are likely to be saying hello to familiar faces within a day.

The island is divided (as many here are) into the sunrise and sunset sides depending on whether your views face east or west; and rooms lead on to the beach or drop into the sea depending on whether you choose a beach villa or an overwater one. Both have lovely “modern tropical” Interiors, which translates into airy spaces with high, thatched ceilings, wood floors, enormous sliding glass doors and beachy touches like sea grass carpets, baskets of shells, drift wood accents and light cotton bathrobes printed with a tropical sea motif. The one-bedroom overwater suites have two large sun decks with loungers and steps into the sea and a bathroom with both indoor and outdoor showers. All of the rooms feature amenities like wifi, Nespresso machines, Bose sound systems and plasma TVs and DVDs, as well as a dining area for ordering meals in the room.

Two of the resort’s highlights are on prominent view when you arrive at the resort jetty. On one side is the island spa (reachable by boat) and on the other is the water sports center. The spa offers twice daily yoga as well as a range of treatments, including massages on tables with glass views into the lagoon below so you can watch the hypnotic marine life below. And for those who want to get into the sea, the dive center can teach children as young as eight as well as handle advanced divers, offering reef, wreck and channel dives as well as Master and Rescue Diver courses. Those not yet certified can shorten the process before coming to the resort (from three or four days to just two) by completing the online portion of their instruction before arriving at the resort. Additional activities include sailing, water-skiing, parasailing, banana boating, jet skiing, paddle boarding, windsurfing, kayaking and tennis. The Marine Center, staffed by marine biologists, hosts daily lectures and safaris to teach guests (and sometimes local school children) about the resident marine life. They run dolphin cruises and shark safaris and a turtle rearing and rescue program, which includes raising just-hatched turtles to juvenile size and then tracking their progress in the sea by satellite.

On the other side of the island from the water sports center is the main family pool, Café Huraa, gym and Kids’ Club, which serves as the other family hub. Tucked away on the tip of the island, the Reef Club features an adults-only infinity pool and tranquil beach of its own as well as an Italian restaurant. The Indian restaurant Baraabaru opens for dinner only and offers the prized spot on the water to view the sunset. These separate social zones allow for families and romantic couples to co-exist harmoniously on this small piece of paradise.

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Bedroom at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

A thirty-minute seaplane ride north of Malé brings you to a floating platform with a sign that reads “Welcome to Baa Atoll, UNESCO Marine Biosphere. Altitude: 0 meters. Population: Happy.” This is not your typical Four Seasons, though all of the amenities and service that you expect from the brand are here. For example, the lowest category room is an 800-square-foot beach bungalow with its own plunge pool, private garden and sundeck. But every room—whether it’s a beach villa or an overwater bungalow—comes with guest bicycles, the old-fashioned kind that brakes by pedaling backwards. (Honeymooners can request tandem bikes, and tots are given tricycles or ones with training wheels.) Yes you can always call for a buggy but experiencing a Four Seasons by bike sets the tone for this natural paradise.

Beaches surround the 44-acre island and its lush jungle interior, traversed by sand pathways that are just wide enough for a buggy and a bike to pass. Hidden within the greenery are the fifty-some beach bungalows and villas, ranging from bungalows to two-bedroom family villas, including the Royal Villa with its own lap pool. Amongst the fifty overwater options are villas with and without pools and two bedroom suites. For those who cannot choose between beach and overwater, there is even a Land & Ocean Suite with its living and dining pavilion on land with overwater bedrooms reached via wooden walkway. The designs incorporate Maldivian traditions such as thatched roofs, coral walls and outdoor showers as well as modern comforts like enormous bathrooms, plasma Tvs and Nespresso machines. Cotton throw rugs, bright pillows and organic wood lamps lend a modern beach house feel to the rooms.

The island’s two main activities revolve around its state-of-the-art Ayurvedic spa and its two-kilometer lagoon. Based on the Indian healing traditions of Ayurvedic medicine, the glorious spa (with ten treatment pavilions, including some overwater) offers beauty and wellness treatments, most of which begin with a consultation with one of the two on-island Ayurvedic doctors. There are 7-, 14- and 21-day healing and detox programs. Resident yogis teach complimentary group and private yoga classes, and an herbal garden supplies natural ingredients for many of the treatments.

For more active pursuits, most guests head to the beach, though there is a tennis court. In addition to offering a slew of water sports activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing and sailing, guests can water ski, parasail, kite surf, banana boat and, of course, dive. The five-star PADI dive center makes the most of its access to Baa Atoll’s UNESCO marine reserve, which includes 30 coral gardens and Hanifaru Bay, where manta rays and whale sharks gather in the summer months. Regular excursions include dolphin cruises and turtle safaris. Five marine biologists work at the resort’s Marine Discovery Center on such innovative projects as a turtle rescue and satellite tracking program, a coral regrowth program and a hatchery for breeding tropical fish. The first project of its kind, the fish nursery was the idea of a local and the hope is that communities might raise tropical fish for export to retail aquariums as a means of income as well as to provide an alternative to aquariums’ current practice of taking fish from reefs. The center shares its knowledge and research in daily talks and interactive exhibits for children and adults. In fact, the Kids’ Club incorporates sessions with the resort’s biologists, yogi and chef. For older kids who have had enough beach time, there is a club with ping pong, pool, PlayStations and other teen-age diversions.

The four dining options at the property range from the Middle Eastern restaurant, Al Barakat where Lebanese mezze and Moroccan tagines are served in an exotic ambiance by the water, to Blu, a beachy blue and white Italian restaurant with curtains strung with sea glass. Café Landaa near the main pool area features Indian and Asian specialties, while Fuego Grill serves fresh seafood and meats grilled on the beach. And for really special meals, the resort organizes private dinners on the beach or on sandbar all your own.

Tip: Be sure to book a trip over to the nearby Anantara Kihavah Villas' underwater restaurant. You will dine under the sea, which may be an expensive meal, but it will be unforgettable. 

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Four Seasons Private Island Maldives at Voavah

Indagare review the Four Seasons Voavah island that offers private castaway luxury with three sprawling villas, an overwater spa and 62-foot yacht.

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Sunset view at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Gili Lankanfushi

This property looks like the perfect incarnation of a glamorous beach getaway, with its dramatic over-the-water bungalows, large pool and palm-studded coastline. All forty-five villas are built over the shallow lagoon—seven are freestanding and reached only by boat—featuring the same sustainable materials as those on Soneva Fushi. Details like large sun decks, glass panels in the living room floor and glass-encased showers are wonderful. For the ultimate privacy, book one of the sumptuous Crusoe Residences, freestanding villas in the middle of the lagoon. Be aware, however, that you’ll have to navigate a motor dinghy to and from the main island every time you want to leave your abode (you can also call your personal villa butler to come pick you up). For easier island access, there’s the Deluxe Residences, which are equally spacious but attached to the end of jetties. For those who crave total solitude, there’s the 15,000-square-foot Private Reserve, which is made up of five interconnected houses.

The island itself is small, but the stylish visitors (mostly couples) tend to stay put in their ultra-comfortable villas, except for the occasional visit to the excellent Meera Spa. There’s scuba diving and snorkeling, but the reefs are not as good as those around Soneva Fushi. And really the point of staying here is to do as little as possible other than swim, read and stargaze from the daybeds on the villas’ upper-floor terraces.

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Interiors at Naladhu, Maldives


Naladhu means “pretty little island” in Dhivehi (the native language of the Maldives), but as soon as you arrive at this resort, you realize that it’s so much more. Located on a private island thirty-five minutes by speedboat from the capital of Malé, Naladhu has just nineteen sumptuous villas—they’re divided into “oceanfront” and “beachside” categories—that were designed for lounging, indulging and ultimate privacy. There’s a main lodge and several dining areas on the island, but chances are that you won’t want to leave the solitude of your home.

The airy, whitewashed interiors of the Beach and Ocean Houses are furnished with Ceylonese colonial beds, set beneath high gabled roofs, and accentuated with Thai screens and Indian print pillows from Ralph Lauren. The colorful rugs, pillow strewn window alcove and shelves of book add to the cozy feeling that may remind you of an idyllic California beach house. The piece de résistance, though, is the open-air bathroom, where the bathtub merges with a plunge pool. The space is outfitted with a divan, cascade shower in adjacent garden and a terrazzo bathtub. In the Ocean Houses the baths face directly on to the water; and in the Beach Houses to the palms and gardens between you and the beach. You could spend many an afternoon lounging on the wooden deck, watching the ebb tide exchange parrotfish for swift-footed rock crabs on the reef.

Each house comes with a thakuru, or house master, who brings and serves meals at your villa, as well as prepares baths, plays favorite music on a programmed iPod,  pre-warms your private sauna/steam or arranges spa appointments in room. He also schedules sailing, fishing and island-hopping excursions and dinner, which most Naladhu take in their rooms or the main living room, but there are seven other restaurants around the lagoon at sister properties Anantara Dhigu and Anantara Veli.

Activities include snorkeling, kayaking to the lagoon’s sandbar and visits to one of the seven restaurants located around the lagoon, including the one at Naladhu’s sister resort, Anantara. Your butler can also arrange scuba diving, fishing trips and excursions to nearby locals-only islands. There are hammocks on the beach under palm trees by the lagoon.

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Bedroom at Soneva Fushi & Spa, Maldives

Soneva Fushi & Spa

This Maldivian property, was opened in 1995 by Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, visionary hoteliers who were among the first to introduce high-end resorts to the Maldives (a backpackers’ paradise until the early 1990s) and who are true innovators in the field of responsible and sustainable hotel development.

Situated in the North Baa Atoll, a thirty-minute airplane transfer from Malé, Fushi occupies a lush 100-acre island, one of the largest in the Maldives. Its 65 villas are cleverly hidden in the tropical landscape, so you definitely won’t feel crowded here. The resort—the first to champion the luxe Robinson Crusoe look that has since been widely copied—is built entirely out of sustainable materials like weathered wood, bamboo and thatch. The villas are supremely comfortable, but don’t expect to find marble floors or golden faucets; the interiors are truly island appropriate, with limestone floors, huge outdoor bathrooms, ceiling fans and cushy daybeds from which to take in the periwinkle ocean views.

Fushi’s motto, “No shoes, no news,” is taken quite seriously: shoes are placed in linen pouches, and you’re encouraged to keep them there until checkout. I had one of the most memorable meals of my life at Me Dhuniye restaurant, listening to the swoosh of the palm trees above me, sipping a crisp Sancerre and nibbling on fresh seafood, all with my bare feet buried in the soft sand under the table.

Accommodations range from studio-like bungalows to two-bedroom villas. For the most privacy, request to stay on the northwestern side of the island, which is also where you see the best sunsets. I loved the two-story Crusoe Suite, which has an upstairs bedroom and its own little stretch of beach, complete with a hammock. For a splurge, book the Jungle Reserve, an 18,000-square-foot extravaganza with its own spa suite, large swimming pool and a tree house with a waterslide.

Activities here include tennis, snorkeling, scuba diving (there’s a PADI-certified school on the island), fishing trips and excursions to nearby islands. Many guests, however, prefer to lounge, read, swim in the warm ocean or bike around the island (the bike pedals are cushioned to accommodate bare feet). Travelers should know that there is no common pool, although twelve of the villas come with their own. Partake of a wine tasting in Fushi’s lovely cellar, which stocks some 500 labels and was amassed by the former sommelier of England’s Chewton Glen. Also, couples should book the “deserted island” for the singular experience of lounging alone on a private islet in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A delicious picnic is provided, as are walkie-talkies, in case you want to return to Fushi earlier than planned.

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Aerial View : Sultans of the Sea, Maldives

Sultans of the Sea

Travelers who prefer deckhands to porters and who love the rush of the wind in their face, you can hop from hotel to hotel while based on one of the Sultans f the Sea. Lunch at One and Only Reethi Rah, stop for a massage at Huvafen Fushi, and dine on a deserted island before retiring to your new floating home. Sultans of The Seas has three super glam, super sleek yachts—Rolls-Royce engines (properly quiet), the latest whiz-bang technology and on-board butlers who make lethal cocktails. You can whiz from hotel to hotel, visit locally inhabited islands and dive in completely uncharted waters. There’s a Jacuzzi on board for moonlit bathing, even the sheets are a superior thread count. The smaller of the boats, Sultans Way 006, can float you straight to the airpor

Suite at The Beach House Iruveli, Maldives

The Beach House Iruveli

The wonderful water-world of the Maldives is hard to beat (from your seaplane these gorgeous atolls look like Tiffany-blue floating poached eggs), and the Beach House Iruveli allows both adults and children to enjoy this beautiful place in style. Set on an idyllic thirty-five-acre private island, located in the Haa Alifu Atoll in the Northern Maldives, the resort is surrounded by coral reef lagoons but also boasts a wealth of green vegetation—something very rare in the Maldives. The sixty-eight rustic chic villas come with private pools, personal butlers, and their own stretch of soft buttery beach.

The resort was founded by Maldivians and they chose one of the most secluded northern atolls (only 18 of its 42 islands are inhabited) for maximum privacy. Most pleasures can be pursued horizontally: sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving. There are also tennis and badminton courts, a range of complimentary water sports, catamaran sailing excursions and an enormous trampoline as well as Kids’ Club. You can be dropped off at a deserted island for the day (hammocks and picnics provided), head to the spa for Thai, Ayurvedic and Swedish treatments, or simply chill. The children’s club welcomes kids from two to sixteen with a mass of games and activities, and teenagers can go on overnight camping trips and visit sea turtle nesting sites in the dead of night.

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