For that dream winter sun holiday, one place stands out from the rest, the Maldives. It is the quintessential holiday desert island poster that dreams are made of. As Sinead sang so aptly, “nothing compares”. But how to choose the right resort in a country famed for over a thousand islands?
We decided to fly over in business class with Srilankan Airways and discover the very best the Maldives has to offer, from outright luxury to fabulous beaches taking in the finest residences, outstanding cuisine and adventure sports along the way.
Our trip started well as we were greeted at Heathrow airport with open arms by the Srilankan Airways manager Ruan who made sure we had all we needed and our bags were taken care of. The service in business class is terrific, attentive, warm and welcoming. We were served an excellent vegetarian curry and the adults also indulged in the delicious Piper-Heidsieck champagne and a lovely 18-Year-old Chivas that made the ten-hour flight positively fly by.
Once arrived in Male we transferred over to one of my favourite places in the world, the new Trans Maldivian Airways airport lounge. After testing the rather overly powerful massage chairs we took off in our seaplane heading for the extreme luxury desert Island resort of Atmosphere Kanifushi in the prestigious Lhaviyani Atoll.
Kanifushi is an all-inclusive resort at the very top end of the luxury scale providing excellent service and unparalleled cuisine. All with the peace of mind that the all-inclusive brings. Stress-free tropical bliss on a desert island, what more could you want? The island is 2 km of white powder sand, set in the clearest azure sea imaginable.
As the seaplane landed, a welcome party greeted us with necklaces made from palm fronds and we were escorted to our Sunset Beach villas via golf cart. Each beach villa consists of a gorgeous double bedroom complete with a sumptuous four-poster bed with draped mosquito net, plush sofa and a low dining table, with an outside bathroom at the back. The glass terrace doors look out onto the beach and the Indian Ocean through a corridor of palm trees that ensure total privacy. The decor is exquisite, with wood flooring throughout, warm-tone furniture and wallpaper capped by a high V-shaped oak beamed ceiling. Think beach villa by Gucci with all the mod cons. ‘Welcome to Atmosphere Kanifushi’ is spelt out on the bed in leaves next to the champagne resting in the ice bucket. The fridge is amply stocked with wine and soft drinks (included) and refreshed daily.
As it was still early we went for breakfast at The Spice which serves international dishes all day either out on the beach terrace with the waves lapping at your feet or indoors if you prefer a break from the sun. Then we dived into the sea and stayed there all day, apart from a few snack breaks. The vista is magnificent, the Indian Ocean glimmers and undulates like glass, and the white sandy beach curves away with no one else in sight, peppered with empty hammocks and palm trees.
What is truly extraordinary about Kanifushi is that you always seem to be the only guest on the beach. The entire Indian Ocean is yours to play with. As a family of six, we were never worried about making too much noise or indeed others disturbing our paradise. It is unbelievably perfect, an unspoiled Eden of extraordinary pristine beauty.
Our first stop the next day was the Dive and Sail water sports centre at Kanifushi run by Lou and Nick. Dive centres should be rated on the quality of the equipment, the dive locations near the island, the professionalism of the staff and the way they treat their guests. The Dive and Sail at Kanifushi scores very highly on all these points, Nick and Lou make all levels extremely welcome and offer everything from beginner’s courses to assistant instructor, including Nitrox. We looked forward to every dive as they made it fun and exciting while keeping it safe.
We then picked up six bikes from reception and cycled around the Island, marvelling at each feature, the wooden dhow beached at one end, the crossed palm trees marking the entrance to the Pier 6 restaurant and everywhere the Laccadive sea flowing like molten glass over the fluffy white sandy beaches. Plus with the exception of the occasional seaplane landing, the only sounds you hear are the gently lapping waves and the odd heron.
That evening we dined at Pier 6, the new modern luxury overwater restaurant shaped like a Manta Ray, serving delicious seafood such as tuna tataki, crab and chives dumplings and Teppanyaki. The surf and turf are absolutely outstanding, the steak was so tender that it may well be the best I have ever had, anywhere. But then it was all unbelievably good, the dumplings were a revelation, so soft, tender and fresh. The service is exceptional, you are treated as long lost family. The pride the staff and chefs take in the food is heartwarming. The lobster and Wagyu beef at the Teppanyaki deserve a Michelin star and the chef will entrance you with his ladle-spinning skills as he prepares the food before your eyes, part chef, part magician.
Perhaps this is where Atmosphere Kanifushi differentiates itself from the other islands in the Maldives, they have one of the best dive centres and an exquisite island, yet they still go that extra mile to provide dining that would be considered exceptional in the best gastronomic quarters in Paris.
Gabriel, Ben and I got up early the next day to go diving with Lou. The picturesque blue dhoni took us out to the nearest reef and once Lou had checked the direction of the current, we jumped in and floated down into the clear depths, grinning like idiots at our first dive after Covid. I dive on Nitrox as I can stay down a little longer, but we soon saw a couple of Grey Reef sharks, then a trio of Manta rays in the distance, their wings billowing as they glided effortlessly against the current just a few meters away. The boys were entranced by the Manta and a little wary of the sharks which are harmless but imposing at just under a metre and a half long. We dived many times and each time was different, creating amazing memories that will last a lifetime.
One of our favourite spots was Ceylon Bliss, a rustic shack on the seashore surrounded by Banyan trees, swings and log tables that serves a range of light exquisite Sri Lankan street food, creamy curries and subtle hors d’oeuvres. Perhaps the most relaxing and welcoming place on earth, oh, and a thousand crabs that undulate like a living carpet over the sand. Bliss.
After a few days, we moved to the newly designed Kanifushi Residence. It would be an understatement to say this villa is poorly named, perhaps they are being humble. Kanifushi Palace would be more apt. The design, layout, furnishings and swimming pool make this one of the finest premium luxury villas in the world. The front door at the rear of the villa takes you into a large hall come dining room with a pantry. On either side is a master bedroom with king size bed and opposite a twin room plus an entertainment lounge and a nanny’s room. There are two 65-inch flat-screen TVs, en suite bathrooms with giant outdoor bathtubs, indoor rain showers and large wardrobes replete with complimentary holiday essentials.
It is the outdoor terrace on the beach that truly elevates this to the pantheon of ultimate luxury residences. The glass terrace doors lead to a vast raised wooden deck with an imposing and utterly magnificent scallop-shaped swimming pool of 115 m² incorporating a sunken dining area with a panoramic underwater view. Submerged sun loungers, a double Maldivian bed swing and outdoor dining complete this luxury island Arcadia.
We filled our iPhones with photographs of the family swimming up to the glass as we sat with a large glass of bubbly on the recessed lounge watching the sunset. The pool also presents a glass wall to the sea, so you can admire the beach and the sea beyond whilst swimming underwater. There are colour controls for the pool lights too. One night my daughter and I swam in the rain and watched the clouds gather over the sea. More memories to treasure.
The residence also includes a personal buggy service and a butler, who will make any arrangements or bookings for you, so you can spend your entire time relaxing.
I highly recommend a private jet-ski safari with Dive and Sail. We took the whole family off for the morning, touring the tropical islands of Hinnavaru and Naifaru. I managed at least 72 mph and one of my sons may well have beat that. Touring the Maldives on a jet-ski is an adventure of exceptional beauty, nothing but desert islands dotted over crystal clear turquoise waters.
You must dine at Just Veg, we experienced a seven-course dinner with a wine pairing and it was out of this world. First, discard any preconceptions you have about vegetarian food. Then sit back and enjoy. The master chef plays with a myriad of subtle flavours, contrasting one against another, fusing different textures, matching and opposing taste sensations to fabulous effect.
The Sunset Pool Bar offers light meals during the day and fine dining in the evening, fusing Asian and Mediterranean cuisine all by the long 50 m pool. Our family challenge was to see if we could swim the entire length underwater with one breath. I managed it and the boys came close. They’ll get there next year as we may have to come back to catch just a few more sunsets.
Our last day was spent racing jet skis against Tilly the water sports guide and windsurfing as the evening light turned orange and fiery red.
Kanifushi gets everything right, honing every detail to perfection, on an already sublime island set in the splendid Laccadive sea, plus warm and attentive staff, creating an unrivalled island paradise. There is no finer group of restaurants anywhere in the world and the setting is utterly magical. The Dive and Sail centre offers professional water sports and friendly service, ensuring all the family has an unforgettable experience. I have viewed thousands of villas and the Kanifushi Residence is the pinnacle of Maldivian luxury. It does not get better than this.