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Fantasy island; Romance is in the air for SAM WYLIE-HARRIS on a trip to the Maldives.

Byline: SAM WYLIE-HARRIS

GINGERLY I take the hand of the cabin crew member helping me down the steps of the twin-engine sea plane to a small pontoon surrounded by calm turquoise water.

After a 20-minute scenic flight, my husband and I have arrived at our romantic hideaway.

About 93km from Male, Maafushivaru ('maaf' means flower and 'fushi' island) is on the southern tip of an ancient underwater volcano called the North Ari Atoll. It's a giant lagoon fringed by reefs and dotted with coconut and banyan trees.

A dhoni (a wooden boat) glides into view and an outstretched hand welcomes me on board for the briefest of crossings to a wooden walkway, the gateway to our romantic island escape.

I'd chosen a water villa over a beach bungalow as I loved the idea of staying in a bedroom on stilts and stepping down to swim straight into the sea.

Settling into this unique 'one-island, one-resort' concept (there's no island-hopping in the Maldives) we feel like we've joined an elite club where everyone's friendly, the staff greet you with a genuine smile and where you can simply relax or enjoy the superb diving and snorkelling sites.

Maafushivaru is an all-inclusive resort with a la carte dining options, 48 villas and a 'No shoes. No news' tag-line. Activities can include a sunset cruise to see dolphins, or snorkelling excursions to see turtles and manta rays.

What marks Maafushivaru out from other resorts is its neighbouring uninhabited island of Lonubo.

Guests can take advantage of a complimentary trip to the idyllic getaway, where they can spend a couple of hours swimming and sunbathing with a picnic (at extra cost). But my husband and I decide to splash out the extra 1,000 US dollars for a Robinson Crusoe-chic overnight stay.

Our adventure begins late afternoon when the dhoni boat drops us off on Lonubo and we stroll barefoot to our wooden bungalow. We find an exterior bathroom with a rainshower, big screen TV, pink frangipani scattered on crisp white bed and a bottle of wine on ice.

It doesn't take long for us to head for the dead calm sea. Waist deep with glasses in hand, we steal a kiss (even though no-one is looking!).

| As darkness falls we lounge on the beach bed and watch clusters of crabs building their evening home in the sand. enjoyed overlooking ocean The dhoni returns and a couple of members of staff busy themselves with a barbecue for a menu of grilled fish and lobster, to be served by candlelight.

Twenty feet from our table, there's another light show going on which captures our attention. Bioluminescent plankton are performing in the sea under the evening sky.

That night, alone on the island, we enjoy a peaceful night's sleep and awake to the sound of blackbirds in the trees.

Back at Maafushivaru, we continue the romance with a relaxing 60-minute couples massage in the newly refurbished spa. Set over the water, it offers body rituals from Indonesia, Thailand and India.

The plunge pool overlooks the sea with waves lapping beneath the day beds which are shielded from the sun by billowing sails.

That night, after dinner, we sink into giant beanbags and watch clips from David Attenborough's marine life series. What we'd seen while snorkelling replayed on screen and we toasted our good fortune at having been cast away on beautiful Maafushivaru.

NEED TO KNOW | SAM WYLIE-HARRIS, pictured, was a guest of Kuoni, who offer seven nights all-inclusive at the 4.5-star Maafushivaru in a beach villa, including flights with British Airways from Gatwick and seaplane transfers in resort.

| Prices are from PS2,539 per person, based on two sharing. Call 01306 747 008 or click www.kuoni.co.uk.

CAPTION(S):

| A water villa's sun terrace

| A gourmet meal can be enjoyed overlooking the ocean | Maafushivaru. formed from the tip of an ancient volcano
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 20, 2014
Words:648
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