- Some of the best hotels in the world to stay once in a lifetime
- And our 15 favorite hotels so far to get away from it all ASAP
On more than one occasion, we’ve referenced the fact that the Maldives Islands and some of their best resorts are exactly the place one hopes to find when the goal is clear: a vacation in paradise. A paradise that is absolute nothingness, in which there is no place for baroque styles, bracelets, entertainment programs (or any kind) and crowds. This may be the reason why the coronavirus has not made such a dent, apart from the fact that out of a thousand islands, only two hundred are inhabited, mostly small atolls belonging to tourist establishments and with practically no population center.
Is it possible and safe to go to the Maldives?
Yes it is. A very high percentage of the population is vaccinated. It is mandatory to present a negative PCR on entry and another on return. And many hotels save their ass by adding an antigen test to check-in. If there is any trace of the virus after all, it must be a new alien strain. For this reason, you can now book your flights. Etihad Airways flies daily from Madrid to Abu Dhabi and from there connects with the Maldives. Its “wellness” program provides extreme information and care for a safe and Covid-free flight and its business class is, as they say themselves, “everything but business”. Staff of ten, exquisite service on board (far above other airlines) and in one of its VIP lounges at the airport, great food, really, and a large, fully customizable space with a 100% folding seat. percent, level entertainment and Acqua di Parma “amenities” will make you forget the hours of commuting. Boy, since you left, and after this year of confinement, travel in the best and stay in the best, of course. The “joie de vivre” that you need to find has a clear scenario: Joali.
First “arty” luxury hotel in the Maldives
Joali is the dream come true of Esin Güral Argat, a renowned Turkish businesswoman and artistic patron. He discovered the tiny island of Muravandhoo during one of his trips and decided to combine his passions, in terms of leisure and business, and build a hotel that was unparalleled in the region. The result appeared two years ago and it quickly positioned itself in the top 3 of the islands.
Joali is the first and only immersive, ecological and sustainable art hotel in the country. Works signed by names such as Porky Hefer, the Spaniard Nacho Carbonell or Misha Kahn dot the corners of the complex, the rooms, the villas and even the crystalline seabed itself. His work joins that of local artists and craftsmen who create a high-level interactive gallery in the middle of the Indian Ocean. An installation here, a sculpture there, a limited design piece in your living room, all with an environmental message. The illusion of any collector is there. And it is, like everything else, integrated into a totality that shuns the “bling bling” sought by others and that relies on discretion, on a relaxed atmosphere in which you feel at home. It’s not a saying.
In few places have we lived so clearly as the great luxury which does not impose, but disposes. From your warm welcome in your own lounge at Malé airport, you already feel this “well-being” of a warm destination not only because of the sun which bathes you, but because of the family belonging which is perceived as soon as you touch down. The music, the colors, the shapes… Nothing creaks. You forget you’re at an airport until it’s time to catch a seaplane to Nirvana.
On the jetty that serves as the reception of the Joali, an imposing structure that imitates the waves of the sea and is inspired by Zaha Hadid, the customer is welcomed by his own butler. They actually use the word “jadugar”, which means “sorcerer” in Urdu, to refer to him. And it couldn’t be more appropriate, because it works like magic. It is he who takes you to the chosen villa and who is available throughout your stay on a simple cell phone call which is delivered to you. It’s not an invasive service, it’s there, always, when needed. And so they pass it on.
There are 73 villas, between those located on the mainland, with a stretch of private beach, or the coveted buildings on the water. They are neither better nor worse, although within each group there are categories according to size. The choice is based on taste or need, but we recommend opting for those furthest from the hospitality areas to get the feeling of seclusion you seek and the best stretches of sand. None, in any case, fall below one hundred square meters of living space or personal space, including private swimming pools, bathrooms and outdoor gardens, six hundred, two hundred in the case of those who rest on the sea.
Entering one is instantly stunned. It is not usual in large chain hotels, as good as they are, to find the good taste and the details that we glimpse here as soon as we cross the doors. It’s not just the size, but also the materials, the exquisite interior design, that marble, those hand-carved wooden doors that are an ode to craftsmanship. Every object is designed, the itinerant books of the libraries, the bar counter (because no, it’s not a mini bar) to prepare a cocktail in complete privacy, the dressing rooms with these silky kimonos, the lighting and the tones warm that sometimes removes the coldness of a hotel, fascinating home automation that controls everything, concerned about the environment… We imagine ourselves visiting the owner’s house, a guest for a few days. It is her, they tell us, both in material and aesthetics and in aspiration, and that philanthropy and the environment are two of her vital pillars.
Joali amazed yes, but don’t let that be misleading. We’ve said it before, it’s a big luxury, huge, but barefoot, happy. Each construction of local inspiration is integrated into the island, with the pre-existing vegetation pampered and preserved from the surface to the coral bottom. There are no large communal beaches or swimming pools full of hammocks and “spots” to “see and be seen”, and of course there is no noise, party or spaces to socialize at the beyond the restaurants. Joali invites you to be yourself, not to show yourself to others, whether in the privacy of the villa or in dozens of quiet corners around the island.
The attitude of the staff follows this same line. Most of them come from other big hotels in the country, big competitors, and the training is noticeable, although here they are imbued with that familiar, available and attentive treatment, without excess, without corsets. On the second day, they feel like members of a big family who live in the hotel as if they were at home. It is not about knowing the name or the tastes of the guest, which is expected in an accommodation of this type, it is rather that attitude, that smile and that closeness with which they approach it at every crossroads or in each of the five fabulous restaurants
The art here is not just in the rooms that are scattered around the island, but also in its kitchens, despite the logical gastronomic difficulties that these types of remote destinations always entail. The variety, the quality and the elegance surprise in the middle of the palm trees, in front of the infinite blue of the water or in the light of the candles. The Italian Bellinis, recommended by the starred chef Theodor Falser, who signs a suggestive tasting menu, is one of the most requested dinners and, only for its tagliolini with squid ink and lobster, we understand it. Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean are present in Vandhoo and the New Levant respectively, while Japan is the protagonist of the fascinating SAOKE, a building that juts out into the sea thanks to an imposing design by Noriyoshi Muramatsu. Takagi Kazuo is the Japanese name who designed the proposal which is enjoyed at sunsets and nights watching dolphins and sharks swim by while toasting with suggestive sake cocktails. Write Mura Bar to eat or snack and have a drink in front of the sunset and do not forget to go for breakfast: the buffet and the menu, with all kinds of international or Maldivian alternatives, is a fantasy for which you have no excuse as it is available until 11am.
If you are still unwell…
We highly doubt you have any shreds of stress left at this point in Joali. But if so, know that in the hands of their therapists, it will be gone in 30 minutes. The luxurious natural products of Espa, with which other great references such as the Peninsula hotels have, will bathe your body in indulgent treatments that, expert advice, you must book in the special private cabins that the SPA has on the ‘water. Aside from the massages, this is one of the best “photo stops” in the hotel.
Family hotel in the Maldives
With or without children it’s great but it’s especially focused on families and the little ones will enjoy it as much or even more than you. Its charming “kids club”, very caring throughout the day, organizes all kinds of games and activities so that they feel like real pirates in search of treasures. The hotel’s water sports center handles snorkeling, kayaks, paddle surfing, and countless alternatives. It is true that this island does not benefit from the fabulous and close seabed that others have in the country, here they are more damaged. The comparisons are odious but they still have a lot to do to spend time swimming among the goldfish and their regeneration work is commendable. The family villas, with two, three or four bedrooms, have several swimming pools and even their own SPA. And La Joie ice cream is the perfect dessert. Come on, dwarfs are guaranteed fun and you can lose sight of them for as long as you want. This small drop of sand in the immensity is a resort for them and for you, a resort that raises the basics, the standards of luxury, and makes the difference by doing it without artifice.
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