‹‹ This far-flung carcanet of 1200 islands, only 200 of which are inhabited, really does live up to the cliché of a tropical paradise. Cocoa Island in particular captures the imagination by tapping into a child-like delight for magical hideaways and pure escapism. It’s small — it takes only 10 minutes to walk from point to point — but idyllic; a secluded white gold gem.
My expansive villa, built over a shallow turquoise lagoon, feels luxuriously airy and private despite being one of 33 similar structures all linked by elevated bleached-wood walkways. Beneath the kajan thatch roof, the interior is white and Minimalist but warm, welcoming and richly textured with natural wood and stone finishes, teak floors and tatami mats, and handmade textiles from nearby Sri Lanka. This is high-end, low-key luxury at its best, expertly curated by Como’s founder Christina Ong, the Singaporean billionaire who has built not one but two luxury resorts in the Maldives — Como Cocoa Island and its slightly larger and newer sibling, Como Maalifushi — as part of her stable of only 14 properties worldwide. The famously private Mrs Ong has, with her daughter Melissa Ong (the ‘mo’ in Como), established a personal brand of luxury around a golden trinity of stunning natural locales, impeccable yet discreet service, and first-class cuisine underpinned by an ethos of balance and wellness that goes under the title of Como Shambhala — a concept that embraces a suite of holistic treatments and therapies. On Cocoa Island, for me, Shambhala is all about the hydrotherapy session, an experience that verges on the biblical. I also try out the daily meditation, complimentary yoga and the healthy organic menu option in the resort’s restaurant, Ufaa, which translates as ‘happy’ in the local Dhivehi language. The beauty of Shambhala is that everything is optional. If your idea of balance, like mine, is a morning yoga session bookended by an evening cocktail, then this is for you. To truly immerse myself in the full Maldives experience and the magnificence of this part of the Indian Ocean, I take the spectacular 60-minute seaplane ride south to Cocoa’s remote sister island, Como Maalifushi. My host, general manager Pietro Addis, warmly greets me on the jetty, and ushers me into a golf buggy. Passing secluded garden and beach villas, I arrive at an overwater suite elegantly curated in Como’s signature understated luxury by Japanese interior designer Koichiro Ikebuchi. At my door is a bicycle, the preferred mode of travel on the island (there are no cars). And it’s here on Maalifushi, languidly cycling down white sandy tracks shaded by lush palm forest dotted crimson with hibiscus, that I find my personal definition of pure, unadulterated joy. There are three restaurants on the island, including the Japaneseinspired Tai, perched over the ocean with a viewing platform where you can watch baby nurse sharks cruising below. For the activityinclined sunset b among essence changin where yo