The Maldives. It’s a country the world associates with paradise: the polished white sand, the overwater villas and probably most of all, the shallow, is-it-Photoshopped, turquoise waters.
Well I can tell you this first off – it isn’t Photoshopped. Amazingly, the water really is that colour. It looks just like it does in the photographs, but better, because you’re actually there.
The many overwater retreats at Maldives
The first resort in the Maldives opened relatively recently, in 1972. Soneva Fushi was opened by Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström Shivdasani in 1995, and now the group has Soneva Jani and a two-bedroomed yacht, Soneva In Aqua. Because I’m a glutton, I decided to try out all three. This, ladies and gents, might just be the ultimate retirement holiday.
It’s pouring with rain when I land at Soneva Jani (this is the tropics after all), but once I’m in my over-water villa it’s hard to care. My room has its own, private 12-metre pool, outdoor and indoor bathrooms, an upstairs deck for stargazing, and glass flooring areas dotted throughout, so you can watch the fish swim about below.
In the morning I climb down a ladder straight into the Indian ocean and swim through crystalline water over reefs teaming with fish. I wander around the barely touched island (Soneva is all about sustainability – they desalinate their water, recycle their glass, are carbon-neutral and they like to leave things looking as natural as possible). At night, movies are shown at their outdoor cinema, with a screen poking out of the azure waters, and big, comfy daybeds to recline on.
Picked up by speedboat, I take the bumpy 1.5 hour trip to another perfect tropical island: the group’s oldest property, Soneva Fushi. Again, I can’t help gushing over the room (the Maldives is really all about the room and its immediate surrounds, because that’s where you spend most of your time).
It’s huge and thatched in the traditional way, with three living rooms (two outside, one inside), a plunge pool and the ocean accessed through a private pathway just a few metres away. But the best bit is the bathroom, which is the size of my unit in Sydney (seriously) and all outdoors. The shower sees you walking on raised paving suspended over your own miniature lake – again, seriously – to a rain shower set within the palms.
Live in luxury: enjoy your own private pool!
You certainly won’t go hungry. I eat my weight in fresh sashimi and local king crab claws grilled in front of my eyes at a Japanese barbecue; and they have complimentary cheese, ice-cream and chocolate rooms at each resort – God help your cholesterol.
Because the Maldives is a desert island destination and each resort is an island, there isn’t much to do – or actually, anything to do – outside of your resort. It’s basically a sunbake/eat/drink/swim sort of place. If you need some action though, Fushi and Jani both offer activities like snorkelling with a marine biologist (highly recommended) and stand-up paddle-boarding. Definitely go canoeing in a traditional, wooden, Maldivian canoe – it’s easier than it looks, as long as you stay in the shallows.
Relax like no other: eat, drink, sunbake, swim – and repeat
To complete my trip, I hop on Soneva in Aqua, the resorts’ custom-built yacht, for a night. Captain Aaron takes me out to a secluded island where we spot reef sharks playing with giant stingrays and watch a tropical storm roll in over the empty horizon. I snorkel on a remote sandbank, swimming past turtles, octopi and every single fish from Finding Nemo. I dine on coconut-rich Maldivian tuna curry mopped up with roti on the deck (you can even help catch the fish off the back of the boat if you like) and drink fresh watermelon juice while watching the sunset from my dolphin net, hanging over the side of the boat.
No trouble in paradise: you won't get tired of waking up to a stunning view like this!
Everything I need is taken care of thanks to my own personal butler at each property. It’s so fancy it’s almost a bit insane to be living it – but if not for your retirement, when would you?
What travel destination is on your bucket list? Comment below.
(Photography: Stevie Mann)