If you were to imagine an island paradise, what would it look like?
I’m willing to bet it would look something like this…
Over the past week or so I have been watching the Instagram feed of Lara, A Plucky Heroine with a huge smile, she’s taken us with her on her honeymoon to paradise. Where exactly? I’ll let her tell the story:
Well, that’s the Maldives.
Or rather, it’s a very tiny piece of the Maldives called Athuruga. And to call it paradise would not be an understatement.
The Maldives archipelago is composed of 26 coral atolls, each one of which contains within it nearly 2000 small islands of white sand and dense tropical vegetation. Sitting South West of Sri Lanka and to the East of the Seychelles, if you zoom out far enough on google maps to see the nearest country, you can no longer see the islands on the map.
Athuruga is in the Ari South Atoll.
When you fly to the Maldives, you fly into the capital, Male. The airport is basically an island on its own, the main runway at one end and then a harbour containing all the seaplanes and boats that transfer visitors to the islands themselves.
Our transfer was a 25 minute sea plane ride from Male, stopping off at another island on the way. Telling people we were transferring by sea plane invoked one of two reactions – complete horror or total excitement. My mother was firmly in the former camp. I was in the latter.
When we left Male the sun was shining and it was a fine day. By the time we’d landed at the other island 20 minutes later there was a storm coming so we had to sit in the sea plane whilst it blew over. It only took less than ten minutes, but by that time we were starting to feel a little queasy. We were glad when the pilot decided it was safe to continue.
At the previous island we had dropped passengers at the end of the jetty but upon arrival at Athuruga we landed at a floating jetty and a boat (a dhoni) took us to the actual island. The island was tiny and we were to discover that you could walk round it in less than 15 minutes.
Diamonds Athuruga resort is made up of 21 beautiful, white water villas and 47 beach villas, so even when full there will only ever be 138 guests. Because it was low season the island wasn’t busy although the water villas were full for our entire stay. When we rocked up to the Kuoni travel agents back in March to book our honeymoon we asked for something small, quiet, beautiful and luxurious. And that is exactly what we got.
Our sunset water villa was beautiful. White throughout, with a walk in wardrobe, a day bed/sofa, an absolutely HUGE bed, and a double-sinked bathroom with a three way shower that was accessible from the veranda so that you didn’t schlep wet feet and sand in when you returned from snorkelling. The water villas all have Wi-Fi and an Apple Mac filled with a selection of music and movies for your listening and viewing pleasure. The verandas face either sunset or sunrise. And oh my what a view it is…
…and thus began a cycle of “sleep, eat, snorkel, sunbath, repeat” for two weeks.
Breakfast is served on your veranda, if you wish. We did this every day after the first day, having realised that we are completely lazy and could stay in bed longer by doing this. Also on the few days that the weather was wet (by which I mean tropical rainstorm) it meant we didn’t get wet walking down to the restaurant. Did I say walk? In reality, there was usually a golf buggy within spitting distance of us and every time we so much as put our head out the door the buggy would be there to transport us to either the restaurant or the island.
The Diamonds company is Italian and it shows. The food is mainly Italian and they have an Italian chef. Most of the non-Maldivian staff were Italian and so was the doctor (more about him later). The island guests were, for the most part, Italian, German and then British (Kuoni has exclusivity on this resort in the UK).
The food, true to the Italian flare, was amazing. A careful mix of Italian staples and local cuisine, there was fish a-plenty (most commonly Jack fish, or tuna), chicken which tasted like chicken should, and, without fail, the freshest seasonal ingredients in each meal.
The resort is all-inclusive, another really important thing for us and not something all islands offer. Not only does it make things easier whilst you are away – no wallets and bags to carry around – but also peace of mind that you’ve paid your money and you’re not going to get a big fat bar bill at the end of the fortnight.
Our transfer was by seaplane, so we were limited to 20kg of luggage each. This, however, was no problem with a free laundry service included, which we took advantage of this twice.
The fridge in the villa was stocked with water, soft drinks, wine and beer and was replenished at least twice a day. The main bar on the island itself opened at 8am, although we never found it necessary to drink earlier than lunchtime!
If you stay in a water villa you have exclusive use of the over water à la carte restaurant. We had a dedicated waiter for the fortnight we were there and he was smashing – able to offer advice and an opinion on the food and wine (and the weather!) although he didn’t really understand the concept of bacon with pancakes and maple syrup! We opted to eat in the buffet restaurant on the main island a couple of times, which was nice for a change but we preferred the à la carte restaurant (not least because there was a cooling sea breeze).
You literally could walk round the island in less than 15 minutes.
There is a spa on the island although the cheapest treatment, a massage, was $75 and we were so relaxed we thought it wasn’t really worth having one.
There were the usual water sports available, a yoga class, and either football or beach volleyball going on once a day but what everyone was really there for, apart from the sun and relaxation, was the snorkelling.
And what a reef it was!
We could snorkel straight of our villa but we soon realised that offered limited possibilities and we found snorkelling off the island itself was much better. You could access the outer edge of the reef by a mixture of man-made and natural channels that almost divided the island reef into thirds. The sheer number of fish was incredible, not just the type.
Huge Parrot fish, tiny Clown fish, damsel fish, Banner fish and any number of Tangs, shoals and shoals of them, all swimming amongst the beautiful coral and clams. For the first few days I wouldn’t let go of MrS’s hand but by the end of the fortnight I was fearless. Well, nearly, I kept an eye out on the drop to our right for any undiscovered sea monster that might appear. I’ll be honest and admit the closest we came to that was the reef sharks, the biggest of which we saw was about 4 feet. An impressive sight I can tell you!
We weren’t lucky enough to see any manta rays, although we saw sting rays and an eagle ray. Most amazing of all though, was the discovery, just 3 days before our departure, of two turtles living on our reef. I can report that it is possible to cry with a snorkel mask on.
On our second day at the resort MrS got stung by a Crown of Thorns starfish, a real pest on the reef as their presence is totally destructive. The island doctor (Italian, they come for 2 weeks at a time, we assume on the basis that they get a free “holiday” as long as they remain on call) was superb and MrS practised his rusty Italian with him. Which was just as well because I had no idea what they were talking about and once I’d established that MrS wasn’t going to die from starfish toxins I let them get on with it. In the end we availed ourselves of 2 different types of cream and antibiotics. Having expected a hefty medical bill at the end of the fortnight we were amazed to discover that they don’t pass the cost onto guests at all. Take note other resorts.
Our honeymoon at Diamonds Athuruga was truly amazing. We hadn’t heard a single bad report from anyone who had been to the Maldives but when travel agents describe somewhere as “paradise” the tendency is to think “yeah, yeah…” but I can honestly say this really was.
Think of any cliché – white sand, turquoise waters, glorious blue skies with single fluffy white clouds, first class service – ALL of these things were true about Athuruga. For the first time ever we said we would return to a place, something we never do because there are so many other places in the world to visit. But I can totally see why the Maldives inspires devoted travellers who return year after year to their own slice of paradise. It really is a heaven on earth!
A few pointers:
We booked through Kuoni and stayed for a fortnight at Diamonds Athuruga. We flew with Emirates. September is low season and because of that there were no direct flights. We flew from Gatwick to Dubai, then to Male with only a brief stop over each way. In high season there are direct flights from London to Male with both Emirates and BA. Our preferred airline is BA and we said that we would go in February/ March next time to avoid some of the storms we had. I have been told that after March until August it gets extremely hot and the breeze is minimal. I would highly recommend this resort with the caveat that it is NOT for small children. There were 2 or 3 small children there while we were there and they were absolutely no trouble but there are no facilities for children and the Maldives offers plenty of choice for families elsewhere.
The final word goes to MrS, who has been pretty much everywhere, including the Cayman Islands, Bora Bora and the Great Barrier Reef and he said this was his “best holiday ever”. And who could ask for more than that?
If you would like to know more, Lara will be talking in more depth about their holiday on Life and Love in London.
As I dream of paradise I wonder: