THE MALDIVES by Karin Henry

I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to visit four islands in The Maldives in June this year. We departed Birmingham Airport with our group of 13 on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. I was very impressed with Turkish Airlines. I flew outbound in economy class and inbound in club class which was excellent with a very comfortable flatbed. The transfer in Istanbul was smooth and the new airport there is like a huge shopping mall with excellent passenger lounges offering a wide choice of food and beverages. The approach to Male airport offered amazing views of the turquoise islands down below us and I was glad of my window seat. It brought a lump to my throat as more and more islands came into view below us. On arrival at Male Airport after collecting our luggage we were met by local representatives and taken to our 45-minute speedboat transfer to OBLU by Atmosphere Helengeli for our first night, just a short walk from the terminal. This was my first experience of travelling this way and a very bumpy ride due to the sea conditions, however no sea sickness from any of the group!

We were warmly greeted on our arrival at the jetty by several of the Island’s staff and offered fruit cocktails and cold towels to freshen up before being taken to the buffet restaurant ‘Spice’ for lunch which was delicious and offered an excellent choice of local Asian inspired cuisine and international cuisine. This Island is just how I imagined the Maldives to be, small, white powder sandy beach and turquoise sea. The sand on the restaurant floor confirmed that I shouldn’t have brought my heels!! Our accommodation here was in beach villas with open air bathrooms and outdoor decks leading straight onto the beach. Very comfortable with lovely bright interiors.

This island has its own exotic house reef with resident silver-tipped sharks, lobsters and sea turtles so is ideal for channel diving and swim out snorkelling. It has 20 world-renowned dive spots in the nearby vicinity and the Atmosphere AQUA club and a PADI certified dive school. It was here that I experienced my first taste of snorkelling. I was too nervous to swim out to the reef with the stronger and more experienced swimmers, however I enjoyed pottering about in my snorkel and flippers in the shallower waters. Those that did go out to the reef said that it was a great experience and they saw a lot of marine life. Evenings here are very low key and we enjoyed dinner at ‘Spice’ followed by drinks and cocktails in the bar. This island suits couples best and those looking for excellent diving and snorkelling. A real desert island getaway. The next day, after breakfast and a morning of snorkelling, we headed to the jetty for our speedboat transfer via Male to the next Island for a 2-night stay.

OBLU Select at Sangeli – North Male Atoll
After a smoother speedboat transfer from Male on a more upmarket vessel we arrived at Sangeli to another warm greeting from the Island staff and a cocktail that matched the colour of the sea. Lunch was at The Courtyard, the Islands main restaurant, another excellent meal with a great choice. We were then taken by buggies on a tour of the island including the over water villas, beachside and family villas with pools. All are of a high standard with bright décor and soft furnishings and a huge outdoor bathroom in the beach villas which I loved! The bed is one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in! The over water villas have easy access to the beach either by walking or buggy. Dinner was hosted by the general manager at ‘Just Grill’ and was a selection of fresh seafood dishes and meat grills, delicious! We ended the evening in the Sangs bar which had a DJ playing officially till midnight although he did play for longer due to the request of the guests which included several young honeymoon couples and our group.

The following morning, we woke up to torrential rain, due to the monsoon time of year inclement weather was always possible, but I have to say this is the only rainy day we had on the whole trip and therefore I feel that the Islands can be visited year-round. Lunch was at ‘Simply Veg’, their vegetarian option and my first visit to a vegetarian restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed the tasty menu on offer and dinner was at the Courtyard restaurant. Sangeli offers The Serenity Plan – an upgraded all inclusive plan which caters for all tastes. The island is great for families with the 2-bedroom family beach villas offering ample space for the whole family. Children are catered for in a well-equipped kids club. Equally it is ideal for couples and honeymooners with its One Banyan adult’s only enclave housing Elena Spa, an adult only pool and two fine dining restaurants, ‘Just Grill’ and ‘Simply Veg’ and it also has the Atmosphere AQUA Club including PADI supervised diving and scuba diving.

Today was to be my first experience of travelling by seaplane. After a speedboat transfer back to Male we checked in for our flight and were taken to a comfortable lounge offering complimentary drinks and snacks while we waited to board our flight to Atmosphere Kanifushi for our next 2 nights. I really enjoyed the seaplane experience all be it a little noisy! Another chance to view some of the Islands from the air which was lovely.

Atmosphere Kanifushi – Lhaviyani Atoll, Northern Atolls
We were greeted on arrival at Kanifushi by the resort team and led along the jetty by a band playing the drums in colourful costumes, where we were met by buggies to take us on a tour of the Island and its accommodations. This island is fairly large being 2km long hence the need for buggies. The first thing I noticed, apart from the pristine white sand beaches, is how green the island is with lots of lush tropical vegetation within which the beach villas are hidden, giving them a very private feel. The accommodation is Maldivian style and is beautifully furnished in dark wood with outdoor bathrooms, all villas offer direct access to the beach. There are 2 bedroomed family villas available making it suitable for families and couples. At 5pm the traditional feeding of the stingrays took place at the beach and we got to see them up close as they came into the shore, a lovely experience.

Dinner this evening was at The Sunset Restaurant which offered a mix of a la carte Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. Drinks after dinner were at The liquid where they offered a wide choice of cocktails and premium drinks. The following morning a snorkelling trip by boat was arranged for us then it was back to the beach, lunch was at The Spice buffet restaurant. This evening before dinner at The Spice we were taken on a sunset cruise which is offered to guests as part of the all-inclusive package. The boat was by no means luxury and the sea a little choppy, we therefore returned a little before sunset due to some passengers feeling a little queasy!! I have to say I was surprised that I had my sea legs, must be all those speedboat transfers!

The next day after breakfast we took a seaplane back to Male and then a speedboat to Ozen by Atmosphere for our final 2 nights. This is the 5-star deluxe island in the collection and therefore the speedboat was more luxurious with very comfortable seating and less bumpy.

Ozen by Atmosphere at Maadhoo– South Male Atoll
On arrival at Ozen we were all given foot massages by the spa team before having lunch at The Palm’s all-day dining restaurant, another delicious meal. After lunch we were taken by buggies on a tour of the island and its accommodation. This  included the beautiful large family private water villa The Residence at Ozen, where many rich and famous have stayed, which is opposite the underwater restaurant ‘M6m’. The restaurant has all round windows to the sea and its marine life and you can enjoy Steak and lobster specialities. This island has the wow factor with beautiful powder white sand beaches and a very upmarket feel. We stayed in beach villas with pools which are directly on the beach looking towards the horizon. They are beautifully furnished and offer 2 bedrooms for families and outdoor rain showers and baths leading from a huge bathroom/dressing room and toilet. Dinner this evening was at The Traditions IndoCeylon offering South Asian cuisine from Sri Lanka, India and The Maldives. After breakfast there was snorkelling or free time to relax and enjoy the beach and swimming of which I chose the latter. A few of us went on a short trip on the island’s submarine, another new experience for me. Before dinner this evening we went on the traditional Maldivian style fishing trip. Several fish were caught, not by me but one of our group did manage a catch. After dinner we enjoyed drinks at the ‘Gin is In’ bar.

After breakfast our final day was spent enjoying the Islands beaches and water sports before taking our speed boat transfer back to Male for our homebound flight with Turkish Airlines. In summary there is a Maldivian Island to suit all, couples, families and singles. There are small desert island getaways or more sophisticated resort style islands, whichever you choose they are all absolutely beautiful! Thank you to If Only, Atmosphere and Turkish Airlines for giving me this wonderful opportunity.