Five-Star Luxury on Velassaru in the Maldives
Live the Robinson Crusoe fantasy on Velassaru, a sun-drenched small island in the Maldives with soft white beaches, a warm turquoise lagoon, luxury accommodation and an over-water spa
Scattered across the Indian Ocean like a necklace of precious gems, the Maldives islands are one of the world’s most romantic destinations. Nowhere else epitomizes paradise on Earth quite as perfectly as these tiny coral islands, basking in year-round sunshine and surrounded by warm translucent seas.
We first visited years ago, when there were few resorts and no spas– and tourists arrived on charter flights. A couple of decades later, over 90 resorts are open (with more planned), spas are ubiquitous and scheduled flights operate from Europe and Asia. The Maldives is a tiny nation of less than 500,000 people who live on just 200 islands out of a total of over 1,000.
Tourism started in the early 1970s, when a few uninhabited islands were designated as tourist resorts. These quickly became sought after destinations for honeymooners, scuba divers and those searching for peace and solitude in idyllic surroundings. Many more islands have since been developed, and tourism is booming, albeit carefully controlled, to safeguard what visitors travel so far to experience – – the unique beauty of perfectly formed tropical islands.
We stayed on Velassaru, formerly known as Laguna Beach, which has been transformed into a stunning new five-star resort, and which has now reverted to its original Maldivian name. Velassaru is in the South Male Atoll and is only 40 minutes from the airport by speedboat — a bonus when arriving after an overnight flight.
Our luxurious and airy water villa had dark timber floors, a sumptuously large white bed and a bathroom with a freestanding tub surrounded by pebbles. Glass sliding doors open onto a spacious sun deck with cushioned sun loungers and a double day bed. We had our own private plunge pool for cooling off, with steps down into the lagoon so we can snorkel and enjoy the colorful marine life directly from the villa.
Soft white sand beaches, a coral reef and warm shallow seas surround the pretty triangular shaped island. We strolled and swam from different beaches several times during our stay, savoring the different seascapes and glorious sunsets. The warm coral seas are teeming with marine life. Every day, on the short journey over the walkways from our water villa to the restaurants or beach, we saw shoals of small fish, turtles, baby sharks, crabs, needle fish and other exotic marine life.
Velassaru may be small, but there is no shortage of things to do. Island-based activities include treatments and yoga sessions in the Aquum spa, tennis, a large infinity pool and a fitness centre. There is a well-equipped dive shop offering scuba diving lessons with PADI qualification, and dive trips for both novice and experienced divers. Deep-sea fishing, water sports and offshore explorations can be arranged, as well as excursions to Male, the bustling Maldivian capital.
It’s also a great place to people watch. When my husband, Alec, went for an early morning scuba dive, I ate breakfast outside and watched the fascinating mix of guests from behind my sun specs. Honeymoon couples walking hand in hand along the beach or snuggled up in oversized hammocks under the tall palms, groups of friends holidaying together, young families from Asia and Oz, even older marrieds with wanderlust, like us.
The clear warm water, abundance of tropical fish, coral reefs and interesting wrecks make the Maldives a scuba diver’s paradise. Unfortunately, neither of Alec’s dives (both taken with one other guest and an instructor) is trouble-free. On the first, the dive site was a mere five minutes away, but once in the water there was a problem with the current and everyone had to climb back onto the boat. Luckily, a second descent was more successful and offered good sightings of colorful fish, napoleon wrasse and large moray eels.
On a dive on the Bolifushi wreck a day later, marine life was unusually absent, and the other inexperienced diver wanted to get out of the water early, so an in-depth exploration of the wreck wasn’t possible. Unluckily on this occasion, neither dive trip lived up to expectations.
We had no such disappointments when we visited the over-water Aquum spa, with its ten exotic treatment pavilions set on stilts over the lagoon. There’s a small pool and a yoga pavilion, both with ocean views and a boutique selling a range of Pevonia and other spa products. Aquum’s extensive spa menu includes signature treatments using indigenous ingredients, spa baths, body wraps and massage for two.
After a short consultation to discuss our needs, our treatments began with a warm footbath. We both opted for individual Balinese massages. This traditional Indonesian treatment uses a combination of gentle stretches, acupressure and aromatherapy oils to stimulate the flow of blood, oxygen and “qi” (energy) around the body. It is an intense and therapeutic massage that boosts the circulation and eases aching joints and knotted muscles. The warm essential oils and unusual massage techniques of skin rolling, kneading and stroking induce a feeling of deep relaxation.
We were spaced out after our treatments and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on our sun deck. We snapped out of our lethargy in time for dinner, where an entertaining culinary experience awaited us in the Teppanyaki over-water restaurant. Personable chef Alfie Leoncio prepared for us a veritable feast of freshly caught sushi and other delicacies, all beautifully presented. We finished with a dessert to die for : crepes with fruit and sorbet, which Alfie calls “Fire and Ice.”
Romantic dining is an intrinsic part of the Velassaru experience, whether you eat alfresco under the stars or in the stylish restaurants. Sands’ modern fusion cuisine, served on a little jetty above the waves, and the delicious Mediterranean menus, amazing décor and “wine library” in Etesian are our favorites.
One of the joys of small secluded islands like Velassaru is the lack of light pollution. Night skies are clear and unbelievably starry, and sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. One evening, we joined four other couples for a sunset cruise on the deck of a large restored dhoni (Maldivian boat). We lolled on oversized bean bags, sipping champagne and nibbling canapés as the sky became a magnificent kaleidoscope of fiery red, orange and pink, and the sun slowly disappeared over the horizon. The attentive crew were on hand to top up our glasses and accede to our photo requests, so we could relive these precious moments after we returned home.
On our last evening, we had a romantic dinner on the beach, cooked to perfection by our own personal chefs, Vamsi Krishna and Pankaj Bhandari. After the meal, we were escorted to the jetty for a romantic night cruise for just the two of us. The heavens were filled with millions of stars, the night air was still and balmy, and the only sound was the lapping of the waves as the boat glided across the ocean. It was an unforgettable evening and a fitting end to a fantastic few days.
We reluctantly departed Velassaru after breakfast, saying farewell to the charming staff who had looked after us so well. We had one more night in the Maldives before flying home — a visit to Kurumba, the Maldives’ first ever resort. But that’s another story.
Kuoni (+44 (0)1306 747008 or www.kuoni.co.uk) offers 7 nights on room and breakfast basis at Velassaru Maldives in a deluxe bungalow.
Price includes flights with Sri Lankan Airlines from London Heathrow with transfers in resort.
Prices for late October and November 2010 from £1255 per person based on two sharing or £1503 per person half board.
7 nights on bed and breakfast basis in a water villa with private pool, including flights from London Heathrow from
£2,194 per person sharing or £2,432 per person half board for the same period.
Velassaru is a Universal Resort www.universalresorts.com