Sea Change

The mod­ern Mal­dives is about more than sun­tans and ro­mance — dis­cover fine food, quirky art and plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties to get the heart rac­ing.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - CONTENT -

No longer only a des­ti­na­tion for honey­moon­ers, the Mal­dives now of­fers a whole lot more.

DUR­ING THE LEAD-UP to our trip, my part­ner and I hear count­less sto­ries about the re­laxed vibe and slower pace of the Mal­dives, so we’re some­what taken aback when we exit the air­port ter­mi­nal in Malé and en­counter a scene of barely con­trolled chaos. There are sea­planes, pilots and newly ar­rived vis­i­tors ev­ery­where — it’s a traf­fic jam of hu­mans and ma­chin­ery. But our ho­tel has a shut­tle wait­ing for us. We’re stay­ing at LUX South Ari Atoll, which em­ploys a staff of 650 and has a ded­i­cated team at the cap­i­tal’s air­port. Within min­utes, we’re whisked away to the LUX sea­plane lounge, where we await our air trans­fer in com­fort.

The flight to the re­sort’s is­land of Dhid­hoofi­nolhu takes just 25 min­utes. We sit in stunned si­lence through­out the trip: fly­ing low over an ocean made up of count­less shades of blue and feast­ing our eyes on the many gor­geous is­lands and reefs, each one seem­ingly more beau­ti­ful than the last.

By the time we ar­rive at our des­ti­na­tion, we al­ready feel like we’ve been on an amaz­ing jour­ney. But noth­ing pre­pares us for the sheer scope and scale of the re­sort, which oc­cu­pies an is­land some four kilo­me­tres long.

Hav­ing un­der­gone a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ren­o­va­tion in 2016, which in­cluded the ad­di­tion of 49 vil­las each with their own pri­vate pool, LUX South Ari Atoll now has some of the most mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties in the In­dian Ocean na­tion. As we make our way through the airy re­cep­tion area and to our suite, we can see a water­sports precinct, nu­mer­ous restau­rants and bars, plus sev­eral stretches of bliss­ful beach­front. When the beam­ing staff mem­ber who guides us rat­tles off a long list of ameni­ties and ac­tiv­i­ties, we start to re­alise what we can lay our eyes on is only the be­gin­ning of a mul­ti­tude of op­tions.

There are 193 guest rooms which are ar­ranged specif­i­cally to max­imise pri­vacy. The vil­las on the beach­front are well cush­ioned by dense green­ery to cre­ate a sense of seclu­sion, while the over­wa­ter vil­las are an­gled away from a cen­tral jetty so each one al­lows guests to gaze over a patch of ocean all their own. We choose the lat­ter and are soon nap­ping on our king bed while a sea breeze washes in through the bal­cony doors.

Later, we de­cide to ex­plore the rest of the re­sort com­plex. We soon dis­cover it’s not like the Mal­dives ho­tels of old, which fo­cused on in­dul­gent din­ing and beach­front lolling. Here, there are seem­ingly end­less ac­tiv­i­ties to dis­cover, from the thrills of high-oc­tane hov­er­board­ing to sun­rise yoga. While we stroll along the beach, a fam­ily on pad­dle­boards floats past us. In the dis­tance, other guests are wind­surf­ing.

Through­out the re­sort’s seven restau­rants, the LUX phi­los­o­phy — which places the em­pha­sis on light and fresh in­gre­di­ents that leave you feel­ing en­er­gised — pre­vails. For break­fast, we try the over-the-wa­ter East Mar­ket, which of­fers a range of South­east Asian bites and fresh-baked treats. Then, for later in the day (and de­pend­ing on our mood), there’s Ja­panese at Umami or su­perb Ital­ian at Al­le­gria.

There are bars to suit all moods, too. The La­goon Bar oc­cu­pies prime beach­front po­si­tion and be­comes LUX’s so­cial hub dur­ing the day, com­plete with re­clin­ers, sun umbrellas and gi­ant in­flat­able swans. There’s a reg­gae sound­track and

a menu of light day­time eat­ing op­tions — in­clud­ing a vi­brant salad dubbed Ni­cole, de­liv­ered to you in a jar. Nearby, Beach Rouge has a French Riviera feel — al­beit with crisp wood­fired piz­zas in­stead of heavy Gal­lic fare. The chic couches and ex­pertly mixed cock­tails are the per­fect recipe for re­lax­ation and a DJ spins tracks each night. It quickly be­comes our favourite spot from which to watch the sun set over the la­goon.

The Mal­dives may have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing hon­ey­moon ter­ri­tory, but it doesn’t re­ally feel that way at LUX South Ari Atoll, which has all the usual bells and whis­tles of a romantic five-star re­sort but also pro­vides the en­ergy of a mod­ern, ur­ban bou­tique of­fer­ing. No one seems out of place: dur­ing our stay we see fam­i­lies, cou­ples and even solo trav­ellers. De­spite an abid­ing fear of large marine life, on the sec­ond day I take my snorkel out into the ocean to look for whale sharks. I join an ex­pe­di­tion manned by a hand­some English marine bi­ol­o­gist named Ed, who looks like he has been plucked out of a big­bud­get BBC TV drama. We travel for an hour by boat to where the sharks were last spot­ted, dur­ing which time Ed takes us through a fas­ci­nat­ing brief­ing. We learn that whale sharks are an en­dan­gered species, but sci­en­tists don’t know much about these crea­tures be­cause they’re hard to track or tag.

The pro­tected, food-rich wa­ters of the Mal­dives are ideal for young sharks year-round, and some moth­ers use the area as a nurs­ery. When fully grown, they can reach up to 12 me­tres long. On this day the whale sharks prove elu­sive, but a nearby boat party beck­ons us over — their guide has spot­ted some manta rays. I slide into the wa­ter, de­ter­mined to make the

most of this sight­ing. See­ing the manta rays — which are four or five me­tres wide — is in­tim­i­dat­ing, but they’re gen­tle giants.

Of course, there is a spa. The LUX Me spa is a com­plex of four bun­ga­lows and ex­tra treat­ment rooms that of­fer not just mas­sages but also sig­na­ture fa­cials (de­signed ex­clu­sively for the re­sort) as well as heal­ing Chi­nese medicine treat­ments.

We spend our time at LUX mix­ing adren­a­line-pump­ing ac­tiv­i­ties with laid-back pur­suits. One evening, we watch a film un­der the stars at Cin­ema Par­adiso; on an­other night, we grab some de­li­cious home­made ice-cream and find a se­cluded lo­ca­tion on the beach. Ev­ery­where, we dis­cover re­minders of the play­ful LUX brand ethos: in one spot, there’s an old English red tele­phone box that sits among the trees, which guests can use to phone home — or wher­ever they de­sire — for free.

In the minds of count­less trav­ellers, the Mal­dives is per­haps a des­ti­na­tion that spe­cialises in drowsy post-wed­ding es­capes. But, af­ter a fun week of ac­tion-packed ac­tiv­i­ties, close marine en­coun­ters and buzzy din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, we know bet­ter.

THIS PAGE

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT En­joy a cof­fee break at Café LUX; the La­goon Bar; ad­ven­tur­ous types can dive in and swim with whale sharks.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.