Bored. It’s something I felt often on childhood vacations and dread as an adult. So the idea of the Maldives’ islet flecks, many of which you can jog the perimeter of in, say, 10 minutes, strikes fear into my boredom-loathing heart. Yet on a recent Indian Ocean trip, as I sat on my very own castaway isle, spanning about 10 by 15 metres, just me, some low vegetation and a hermit-crab welcome committee, I was anything but. I was able to read with nary an interruption in the shade of a big umbrella, enjoyed a chilled picnic lunch and, just off shore, lay a rich house reef with a dramatic wall dropping to unseen depths teeming with life to snorkel around. Entertained and content even on this minuscule isle, I didn’t have to worry about being bored on its mother island – my holiday base, The Residence Maldives at Dhigurah – which I could spy just a couple of kilometres away.
Considerably larger than this castaway escape, and one of the larger private resort islands in the Maldives, Dhigurah is over two kilometres long and three times larger than sister-resort Falhumaafushi. The two are connected by a kilometre-long wooden bridge – a Maldives’ first – over a blue lagoon with a sandbar at the centre on which you can while time away; during my stay it proved popular with guests kayaking in from the “big” islands. Combined, the islands make up one of the country’s biggest resorts. Guests are encouraged to bop back and forth between them, easily done by golf buggy or on a bicycle, so you can dip your toes into their pools, beaches and restaurants (all-inclusive packages include dining at both properties).
At a glance, the two resorts may look the same (swaying palms lining white-sand beaches, laid-back bars and restaurants, stand-alone villas – check, check, check), but Falhumaafushi is positioned as the quiet, intimate experience, while the newly opened Dhigurah, with its villas overwater and (mainly) on the beach, is the livelier sibling with music floating through the
island and a bigger roster of activities. Families are likely to prefer this island thanks to the Turtle Kids’ Club (something Falhumaafushi lacks), nestled in a shady coconut grove and catering for three- to 12-year-olds with games, nature walks and arts and crafts. The afore-mentioned castaway island is also exclusively available for Dhigurah guests to find themselves willingly stranded on for romantic escapes.
With 173 villas you’ve got the choice between beach hideaways amid tropical foliage and overwater retreats. In addition to the one-bedroom standards (which still come in at a spacious 150sqm and include butler service, a private pool, vaulted wood-beam ceilings and indoor and outdoor showers), two-bedroom and deluxe options have additional space and larger private pools. In a Deluxe Lagoon Pool Villa I felt I was getting the best of both worlds, just steps from the island with the sound of palm fronds rustling in the background as well as the ability to dip into the lagoon from my sundeck. The style is island contemporary, the décor airy and clean in white with dark wooden furnishings. While not directly over the house reef (book a Water Pool Villa for that), a short swim brought me to a field of protected seagrass, alive with small clusters of coral, fish, rays, turtles and even some surprisingly large reef sharks.
It’s only a matter of time before the island coaxes you out of your villa to explore. Cycle around to see flying fox bats soaring through the air and count the 2,600 coconut palms, each numbered, or head to the water-sports and dive centres to jet-ski, paddle board, set sail on a dolphin cruise or follow one of the resort’s guides out to the vast and bustling house reef, located just a few flicks of your flippers away from the dock. Set in the Gaafu Alif atoll, one of the deepest in the world and one of the Maldives’ most southerly and remote atolls, you don’t need to go far for an unforgettable underwater safari. I was spotting gigantic sea turtles, outrageously coloured fish the length of my arm and coral bursting with silky anemones almost as soon as I dipped my head beneath the surface. Back on land, a well-equipped fitness centre has trainers and classes, and The Spa by Clarins ensures that though you’re smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, your pampering is still world-class, using products from the French beauty brand in Balinese, Thai and Ayurvedic wellness treatments. There’s an outdoor yoga sala with complimentary sunrise and sunset yoga, a beauty salon and the 10 large overwater treatment huts are each kitted out with a terrace and outdoor bath for post-treatment relaxing.
Dining options are varied, too. The Dining Room is open all day with international fare beneath its thatched roof. Stop by for your first meal of the day or order a floating breakfast served in your villa pool – and get your camera ready for an Instagram-worthy snap. Café del Sol, next to the beachfront infinity pool, boasts a large bar and a Mediterranean-inspired menu, and Li Bai serves up excellent Cantonese fare in a more sophisticated (though still island-relaxed) setting. And the venues at Falhumaafushi – elegant French over the water and laid-back beach barbecues – are just across the bridge.
The island may be far-flung, but 55-minute domestic flights depart from Malé regularly to Kooddoo island, from where Dhigurah is just a five-minute speedboat ride away (no need to be at the mercy of seaplane schedules). Your layover is unlikely to be long, but upon landing you’re whisked away to Moonimaa Lounge where you can sit back, have a nibble, take a shower or even indulge in a spa treatment while your hotel porter checks you into your next flight. And just like that, before you’ve even arrived, The Residence makes it so your holiday’s already begun.
This story was originally published in the August 2019 edition of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, as seen below