Paradise with stilts on

The atoll of islands the Maldives bashes every travel writing cliché into touch. Talcum powder sand, azure bath warm waters, one of the best (if not the best) diving and snorkelling experiences in the world (extra cudos I am told if you take your PADI here). Resorts with beach villas with open air bathrooms, showering under the stars, with the occasional warm rainfall to add to the sensual experience of washing behind the ears.

The wow ocean views from the double mahogany beds in the ocean villas on stilts. Keep the glass doors open and hear the sound of the Pacific lulling you to sleep. The shark feeding, the dolphin watching, the parasailing, the sea bobbing, the exquisite quality and variety of fine dining, the absence of mosquitoes (if you are on the stilts), and ability to not see another living soul (the villas are so private this is possible).

The fact every staff member on the island is a licenced baby sitter, and for every guest there is a ratio of two members of staff per guest. The Presidential Suite 001 worthy of any 007. Near empty pristine beaches with strategically placed hammocks and swings, where every angle is an Instagram hit. Where sunsets are chakra colours and sunrises are…oh stop it.

The Maldives, eleven hour flight from London Heathrow, twice a week with BA, into main island of Male, is one of the destinations I am told every January in a press release I must visit because it will shortly disappear. Destined to submerge under the weight of plastic and David Attenborough’s disapproval of the profligate use of plastic water bottles available in each villa’s mini bar.

As the ice melts in Antarctica, the water level rises, I wanted to see first-hand if the Maldives is shrinking under the pressure of global warming, even if some like President Trump believe it is all hot air.

It is still there, and more beautiful than I remembered it. The last time I visited the Maldives was over ten years ago, where the adults only luxury resort I stayed in, was only accessible by sea plane. This twenty seater plane was scheduled to stop at three other islands before landing on mine. By the time I arrived, it was over two hours later from picking up my bags at Male, I was shattered and already dreading the journey back.

The Sheraton experience was totally different. The journey to the Sheraton resort (now part of the Marriott group), is a mere fifteen minute fast sexy speed boat ride to the island. On arrival I was greeted without fuss or forms, I was shown to my beach villa and within a few minutes took the obligatory walk along the beach, sand between the toes.

A recently renovated five star island resort with over 170 guest rooms, one of the oldest island resorts in the Maldives, boast seven restaurants, bars, spa, three fresh water pools, targeting families as well as honeymooners, although the two demographics in my experience rarely mix well.

To be fair, they tend to keep themselves to themselves and are rarely seen out in restaurants at the same time, the mooners emerging as the little rays of sunshine are retreating into the dark. It also sells itself as being ideal for single travellers – both men and women, and the variety of water sports, the excellent snorkelling and diving make it an option for those who prefer their holidays below ocean level rather than above it.

As well as its brilliant accessibility once you arrive, there is a delightful policy of balancing out the nationalities in situe. That means the same number of Brits, to Germans, to Spanish, to French, to Americans, to Russians, to Japanese to Chinese to…

Everyone has their quota. Some nationalities I was (off the record) told by staff take up more ‘space’ vocally and physically than others, but the quota remains even and the atmosphere even when the resort appears to be at its most crowded (at breakfast between 7.30 – 9, appears good natured, never crowded, and no need for queues, not that some nationalities other than the Brits would any ways. The noise never raises above a hum, even when there are children and Russians about.

If you don’t snorkel, there is a very charming and calm instructor called Mango, who would put even the most anxious of water babies at ease. There is a thai restaurant where all the ingredients originate from Thailand as well as the chefs. Cookery courses will tell you how to use local spices and why you should never bite into one of the small red ones. There is a tea room serving made that day macaroons with a variety of teas concocted from local flowers and herbs. The quality and variety of the food – especially the variety of local Maldevian cuisine and fresh fish is phenomenal.

As are the options of where and how you want to eat. You are able to have breakfast, lunch or sunset suppers on the beach, or if you so prefer, the staff will take your table into the ocean and you are able to dine on fresh lobster and tuna while little Nemos nibble at your toes. I ate in the ocean on the first day of my visit, and it was an intriguing experience, feeling a little awkward eating fish while their mates swam around my calves. There’s also the Robinson Crusoe option of being driven by speedboat and stranded on a sandbank of your own, with loungers, a few umbrellas, snorkel and a bottle of champagne and amuse bouche.

The resort has an excellent spa with a wonderful heavenly relaxation area which is a large glass room, glass ceilings and walls set in the middle of a tropical garden. It rather disconcertingly reminded me of that scene in the dystopian film Soylent Green where people are left just before they die. Heavenly indeed. Extensive gym and yoga sessions are free, as well as coconut tree climbing and kayak racing if you are tapping into your Tarzan.

Parasailing, which is offered, gives you an excellent view of the island in relation to all the other islands of the Maldives (Maldives means line of islands). Out of the three times I have had the privilege of visiting this part of the world, this was the most pleasurable. Easy access, good nightlife, plenty of natural shade amongst the coconut and banyan trees, fragrant orchids and frangipani. The fruit bats are out during the day as well as the night, and little birds with long legs, looking like quail scuttle about as do lizards and colourful geckos making me realise that the five stars are given the X factor by the location.

This is a once in a lifetime experience destination. The price of such a resort, as per any resort in the Maldives renders it so. If you have the money to go to the Maldives, choose full board. Otherwise you will be tempted to overload at breakfast buffet and not leave your villa for the duration. Although if you are on honeymoon, that may be your plan anyway.

Is it disappearing? There are now over 105 resorts now in the Maldives, with initiatives sponsored by the government and funded by many of the resort owners to protect the turtles and the coral reefs (the latter of which Sheraton is getting involved in in 2019.). The coral reefs are the only things protecting the islands from the storm surges.

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Sarah Tucker
By: Sarah Tucker Author, Broadcaster, key note speaker, lecturer