First stop is Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Maldives resorts are byword for barefoot luxury, so the opportunity to visit two iconic resorts in one trip is too good to miss. First stop is Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which arguably defined the Maldives experience. It has notched up numerous firsts, including first overwater villas on stilts and first underwater restaurant. Most recent is a private residence built over and under the ocean. It also bagged a prime spot in a country of abundant nature – swimming and snorkelling are a delight from its twin natural islands.
Impressive, but it doesn’t prepare us for how welcoming Rangali Island feels. There are many repeat visitors (warm hugs and catch-ups between guests and staff), and we feel among friends. We’re on adults-only Rangali Island, connected to livelier, larger (and child-welcoming) Rangali Finolhu Island by a wooden bridge. We have the pick of restaurants and bars on both sides. Also, we get to dawdle back after dark marine life spotting – even rays make regular appearances to gambol in the water lit up by the bridge lights.
Our Sunset Water Villa with Pool is bliss, and with a view to thrill – a sight-and-sound oceanside immersion. We love the shifting panorama from our giant bed, bathtub, large deck and personal pool. From here, it’s a few steps down to the sea below – so private it feels like our personal pool, only bigger. But we are not alone. On my first dip, I spot a crab watching from poolside. He and his tiny gang hang out on our steps to catch a breath, diving back in whenever they spot feet coming.
Shoals of fish race past, seemingly on the clock, and sitting on the beach or swimming in the infinity pool near The Quiet Zone beach bar becomes a nature watch. We spot resident flying foxes at dusk, graceful and silent. Then there’s George the heron, an island legend, who I mistake for a beach sculpture until he turns up at Vilu Restaurant, our favourite breakfast spot, standing silently by like some watchful avian maître-d.
There’s a busier breakfast vibe and huge choice at Atoll Market over the bridge, which also offers delicious a la carte and themed dinner options. Rangali Bar is our spot for leisurely lunches. We enjoy a dinner of exceptional quality at Mandhoo Spa Restaurant – designed to detox, and still leaving us feeling pleasantly plump.
Other high points include a sunset cruise accompanied by pods of playing dolphins, and champagne and canapés five metres below at Ithaa, where sharks and rainbow-hued fish circle lazily. We discover that Rangali Island’s new first – The Muraka – is a level beyond on a special tour. Upstairs, this private residence has magnificent sleeping and entertaining spaces (with butler thrown in), while 16 feet down is another glass-walled suite where you are lulled to sleep by dazzling marine life. You can even take the lift to your underwater quarters – it feels very James Bond.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
And so do we when we are whisked by seaplane back to Malé and straight on to a private yacht (55-foot Princess, no less) for the short transfer to our second Maldives experience – Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi. My partner is wildly excited by the boat (desperate to drive it), while I play it cool, drinking in champagne, ocean views and beautifully smooth ride.
Opened in summer 2019, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi has quickly garnered a host of prestigious travel awards, and high-profile visitors, and we can see why. Not only is the setting on private linked islands lush, but the dining and accommodation choices stand out for breadth – and high glamour. There’s even a totally separate private island for exclusive use by up to 24 guests.
Our King Overwater Villa is palatial, with lofty ceiling and double-height doors that can be closed to divide living and sleeping spaces. There’s a cool glass-floored dressing room and a glamorous bathroom with ocean vista. The private pool is big enough for a party, with multiple lounge spots – plus steps down to your own slice of ocean.
Bikes are laid on; buggies are a phone call away and personal concierges organise dining and entertainment. We love the relaxed beach-club vibe at Nava, a hub during the day. There’s plenty to keep active types busy, with tennis and other court sports, exercise classes, kids’ club (plus one for teens). There’s a fabulous lagoon-style pool for families – we gravitate to the tranquil adult pool for lazy laps and snoozing off lunch.
Food is definitely the thing, with round-the-world dining options and star chefs. We can’t squeeze everything in, but we give it our best shot, grazing at Tasting Table at breakfast, lunching like kings at Peacock Alley and drinking in the after-dark ambiance at Glow. Our standout evening happens at The Ledge by Dave Pynt (of Singapore’s Burnt Ends fame). The Aussie barbecue-inspired flavours are smoky and complex – the reputation well deserved. Our rum and tasting menu pairs fine Flor de Cana vintages with tuna and caviar, lamb ‘cigars’, buttery lobster and the most heavenly rum baba.
If The Ledge is an out-of-this-world indulgence, so too our session at Waldorf Astoria’s Aqua Wellness Centre. We’re not usually spa goers (although the main spa here is fabulous), but here’s a unique twist. We are guided around a special pool, each zone containing a water jet that targets a tension point. Starting with feet and ankles and ending with neck and head massage, it’s a dreamy hour that leaves us both restored and relaxed. So relaxed, in fact, this feels like the perfect finale to one hedonistic week at two iconic Maldives destinations.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island; conradmaldives.com
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi; waldorfastoriamaldives.com