Once a destination for couples only, Jamie Theakston and his family set off to explore the child offering on two luxurious islands in the Maldives
I have been visiting this archipelago, which takes up 90,000 sq km in the Indian Ocean, for over 15 years now, and I still can’t put my finger on what it is that brings me back year after year. Nothing much changes – the villas get bigger, as does your bill at the end of your stay, but apart from that, things haven’t changed a huge amount since I first stayed here.
Back then, it was strictly honeymooners only – kids weren’t only uncatered for, they were actively banned! That puts it alongside Vulgaria in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as one of the few places ever to ban children. Thankfully, the Child Catcher is nowhere to be seen on the islands these days – maybe Benny Hill drove him out?
Fast-forward 15 years, and these days the Maldives are tripping over themselves to encourage young families to come and stay. As the competition to attract customers becomes more and more intense, so the child offerings become more attractive to little tykes.
Take LUX* South Ari, for example. Located on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu, it’s a thrilling 25-minute seaplane transfer from the capital, Malé.
As you can imagine, this caused much excitement amongst my two young boys, who had never travelled on a plane this small, let alone one that landed on water. The seaplane transfer over the achingly beautiful azure atolls is a thrill that never fails to take my breath away.
With 4km of beach, it’s one of the largest islands in the Maldives and it feels like it. With seven restaurants and six bars, there are quite a few decisions to make as you lie on the beach enjoying the best sunsets in the world.
The kids are well catered for. PLAY kids’ club keeps the tiny ones engaged. They claim to engage children from two to 12 year’s old, although my two at seven and nine thought it far too babyish for them. In truth, it’s only really for those under six. Studio 17 teens’ club has a programme for the slightly older. A pool table and an Xbox were enough for my two, and the DJ lessons were also a real hit. Radio DJs are excluded it would seem…
It’s difficult to define the look and feel of LUX*. It’s far more modern than most of the islands and it’s certainly the most quirky. There is a red telephone box on the island that allows guests to ring home for free and brag about what a fantastic time they are having.
There is The Tree of Wishes, where each guest can write a wish on a red ribbon and tie it onto a banyan tree. According to ancient tradition, it’s believed that these wishes will come true. This is fantastic news, as we still haven’t booked anywhere for our next holiday. Fingers crossed…
Other original touches include a cappuccino bar and ice-cream parlour on the beach, and a party loo. I couldn’t go on without mentioning this as it’s possibly the most bonkers thing I have ever encountered. Anywhere. Ever. It’s a loo that doubles up as a mini nightclub. With a photo booth. And a pair of legs hanging from the ceiling.
You’d struggle to describe the whole offering as the authentic Robinson Crusoe experience. If thatched roofs and the boduberu is more your thing, then you need to twin your stay with a week on Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru.
Although not as big as LUX*, it’s still a large island by Maldivian standards, some 44 acres, and the Sri Lankan-based architect Geoff Bawa has done a clever job of blending understated luxury with complete privacy. The resort’s 102 thatched bungalows and villas are located on the beach, over the lagoon or within the lush interior and feature spacious gardens, private plunge pools, outdoor living rooms and sea-viewing lofts. Worlds apart from the Miami-inspired white minimalism of LUX*.
The Spa and Ayurvedic retreat was a big hit with Mrs T. Here, our Ayurvedic Physician suggested a chakra blessing. This involved, at one stage, being seated on a terracotta chimney pot whilst he lit incense underneath us. It’s difficult to keep a straight face when an Indian doctor is literally blowing smoke up your arse.
With our chakras suitably blessed, it was time to visit the Marine Discovery Centre. The resort is in the Baa Atoll and has recently been awarded UNESCO World Biosphere Status. I’m not sure what this means either, but you can enjoy the company of manta rays and whale sharks at nearby Hanifaru Bay. Sign up for the manta-on-call programme and you’ll be texted on your very own mobile phone to invite you to swim with giant beasts when the oft-sighted manta make an appearance. I think my trunks may have scared them off.
For the less adventurous, you could always spend some time with Elsa. She has been staying at the resort for some time now – you often see her in the pool or searching out some shade. She’s not bad for her age – a bit leathery, but friendly enough. She’s an Olive Ridley turtle and is part of the Sea Turtle Conservation Programme at Landaa. According to the WWF, six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle are endangered because of the human consumption of their eggs and the effects of rising ocean temperatures.
Elsa was fitted with a GPS device, which helps track her movements in the atoll. Not something I needed. In fact, Elsa had far more energy than I had when it came to doing anything vaguely energetic. The nearest you get to taxing on this island is deciding which of the three restaurants to choose.
Any ‘Four Seasoned’ traveller will know that the dining experience is a priority, and Laanda doesn’t disappoint. Our favourite was Blu, an Italian bar/restaurant with a view over a narrowing strip of beach, which disappeared where the sea meets the sky. Here the boys raced crabs whilst their mum and dad sank watermelon cocktails at the sand-floored bar whilst the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
Café Landaa is the main eaterie – the vast breakfast buffet even has Ayurvedic dosha-specific teas and tonics. The three thatched pavilions are separated by reflecting ponds – one with its own separate Teppanyaki counter. The final restaurant, Al Barakat, is a Lebanese affair serving mezze, grills and Moroccan couscous platters under a canopy of stars.
As any parent of seven and nine-year-old boys will tell you, its not easy to stuff yourself full of baba ghanoush when your loved ones are hanging off your Shisha. Thankfully, the Kuda Velaa “Little Turtle” kids’ club is on hand to keep the youngsters occupied with a programme that includes beach and outdoor activities, craft sessions and ice-cream making.
If it’s tranquility you’re seeking, lazing around the pool, at times being interrupted by an hour or two of pampering in the spa, then Landaa hits the spot. If it’s a bit more action, and a little variety you’re after (and a Club WC), then LUX* has everything you’re looking for. If, like us, you simply can’t decide, then do them both. Because wherever you stay, you will still see the most extraordinary colours of golden sand, framed by the azure of the ocean and a vast expanse of pale blue cloudless sky. And there you have my answer to my original question. It’s this that brings us back, year after year.
LUX* South Ari Atoll – prices for Beach Villas start from £630 per night on a B&B basis in low season. Prices for Beach Villas start from £910 per night on an all-inclusive basis in low season. Visit luxresorts.com
Prices at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru start at £1,001 per night, subject to 23.2 per cent service charge and gst. To book, visit fourseasons.com/maldiveslg/