Paradise found with five-star luxury in the Maldives

The Maldives offers truly five-star luxury with a range of all-inclusive packages, writes Barry Coughlan

Ocean Pool Villa on Kandolhu Island. The island is just 200 metres by 140 metres in size and is a honeymooners haven.

THE Maldives island of Kandolhu could not quite be described as a desert island, but it’s close.

This bank of land which stretches just 200 metres by 140 metres is never home to more than just over 200 people.

But the maximum number of 60 hotel guests, looked after by 150 staff, will experience a tropical paradise and luxury beyond belief on the holiday of a lifetime.

Ours was just a day trip to look at the amazingly high quality of accommodation in pristine surroundings and to enjoy a sumptuous lunch time banquet after a speed boat transfer from our base on the considerably larger Kuramathi Island.

Our host on Kandolhu was Laura Robinson, co-Resort Manager with her partner Mark LeBlanc, and she explained that, notwithstanding the tiny land mass involved, people still managed to get lost.

Not for long, mind, but it’s easy to see how one could get confused by the clever tropical plant and tree-laden lay-out of the island, although guests are never far enough off one of four (soon to be five) restaurants so they always manage to find their way back by the smell of food if not by a good sense of direction.

Given the scale of things, this is not a party island although guests will find there is some entertainment on hand in the evening.

Without doubt, it’s a destination for the chilled-out and geared almost exclusively to honeymooners or couples of older vintage celebrating special occasions.

Sand Bar on Kuramathi Island; the Maldives consists of 1,190 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 27 atolls, spread over some 90,000 square kilometres, making the country one of the most unique destinations in the world.

Kandolhu is one of four islands run by Universal Resorts in the Maldives and is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (slh.com), and just that 40 minute speedboat ride away from Kuramathi, our base for a memorable stay at the back end of September.

For the record, the Maldives consists of 1,190 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 27 atolls, spread over some 90,000 square kilometres, making the country one of the most unique destinations in the world. Situated south west of Sri Lanka and India, temperatures range between 24 and 33 degrees centigrade throughout the year. Nice.

We got there after two international flights with the award winning Turkish Airlines out of Dublin, and to Kuramathi itself following an amazing 20 minute seaplane experience out of the capital of Male.

Kuramathi, like Kandolhu, offers tranquillity but being a much bigger island it provides a whole lot more activity for those who want more diversification in terms of restaurants, bars and entertainment.

It is an eco friendly island to boot, with electric buggies there to transport guests through the island, and they are extensively used given the constant high temperatures bordering on or over 30 celsius.

Here, there are no less than 12 restaurants (nine a la carte) and seven bars to allow up to 700 guests enjoy a wide range of choice. There are various packages on offer too, starting with a simple bed and breakfast deal but with a choice of accommodation.

The vast majority go full board and many others opt for one of two all-inclusive deals to include extensive dining experiences and all-drinks except for champagne.

The basic all-inclusive package includes a wide variety of premium drinks, snorkelling and windsurf equipment and two excursions, while the Select All Inclusive package additionally allows guests dine at nine a la carte restaurants and includes a selection of bottled wines on top of the normal drinks.

While eating and drinking is a key part of the Kuramathi experience, so too is relaxation, on the beach or near any of the swimming pools. One needn’t even have to move too far if chosen accommodation is a pool villa, a huge structure that has a bathroom as large as a very big bedroom and a bedroom bigger than most huge bedrooms. There’s an outdoor (rain forest) shower at the back and a dinky little pool in the middle of a wide expanse of decking. Because it’s perched high above the white sands there is no direct access to the beach but the bonus is there is no fear of prying eyes imposing on privacy.

The vast majority of guests on Kuramathi will be couples although on our stay there was one small family group, mother, father and toddler. In reality, the management would prefer to welcome families with children older than six, although there is a Kids Club catering for those between three and 12 and that offers a huge range of activities such as nature walks, treasure hunts, beach activities and, importantly, marine life education in conjunction with the resort’s Echo Centre. A professional team is on hand to ensure the young have a fun time on Kuramathi whilst allowing their parents to do the same.

Visitors with experience of diving will find a fully equipped PADI/SSI dive centre offering a range of underwater adventures including the chance to dive with manta rays and it’s one of the few places in the world where you can still see hammerhead sharks.

Watersports (non motorised) such as windsurfing, catamaran sailing and kayaking are at the heart of day time action and a full range of excursions is available, including visits to local islands, snorkelling trips, sunset cruise and big game fishing.

On Kuramathi Island there are 11 categories of accommodation from beach villas with jacuzzi to over-water villas.

SO, while relaxation — and that has to include at least one spa treatment — is a huge part of this luxurious holiday experience, there is actually plenty to do.

You will, though, spend some time in deciding where to eat and what to eat. Quite honestly, there is a staggering array of choice; the food is of the highest quality, really five-star stuff, and the service is second to none.

Here, you’ll not once detect a hint of disinterest amongst the ever-smiling staff in any of the restaurants/bars, and there was a real sense of welcome in all areas of the resort, from the maintenance crew to senior management.

We stayed there courtesy of Island Marketing and from time of embarkation with Turkish Airlines to departure from the Maldives six days later it was a five-star break that will live long in the memory.

Turkish Airlines has built a huge reputation over the last number of years, its economy class is very good, its business class is spectacularly good. Prices out of Dublin to the Maldives via Istanbul (four and eight hour flights respectively) are amongst the most competitive on the market and a visit to the business class lounge in Istanbul has to be one of the great travel experiences.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in several Business Class lounges around the world. This one makes other really good ones look pretty ordinary and it made going home to prepare for Storm Ophelia a little easier to bear.

Verdict? For those who dare to dream — start saving!

GETTING THERE

Turkish Airlines flies to more countries (120) than any other airline. It has 14 weekly flights to Istanbul from Dublin.

Round trip economy prices from Dublin to the Maldives are from €723 inclusive. Business class starts from €1,968. www.turkishairlines.com or call 01 525 1849

Accommodation: Kuramathi Island: There are 11 categories of accommodation from beach villas with jacuzzi (starting price is €2,165) to over-water villas (from €2,960).

There is a €413 supplement for those opting for the basic, all-inclusive package, while dinearound A/I package (add €693) allows for dining in any of the nine a la carte restaurants.

Travel from Male to Kuramathi by speedboat is included but there is an option to travel by seaplane for an additional €199 return.

Kandolhu Island: The resort is a member of ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’.

Prices are from €3,150 per person on bed and breakfast basis for seven nights including flights and seaplane transfers in a Jacuzzi Beach Villa and from €4,395 per person in the Ocean Pool Villas.

The resort features a comprehensive all-inclusive package ‘Ultimate Inclusions’ that allows fine dining in all four restaurants and includes all drinks bar, the best French champagne, including a choice of 30 bottles of in-villa wines. That comes at a premium of €1,330.

More information: Travel Focus: www.travelfocus.ie 7, Anglesea Terrace, Cork; Phone: 021 432 0898; info@travelfocus.ie or Discover Travel; www.discovertravel.ie; Church Lane, Midleton, Co Cork; Phone 021 463 5440; worldwide@discovertravel.ie

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