If France is known as the country of love, Thailand the lands of smiles and Austria the place for beauty and music, then the Maldives should be called heaven on earth.
Nestled in the north-central Indian Ocean, the Maldives consists of about 1,100 islands and sandbanks on 20 natural atolls, each one of them hugged by crystal clear water, pristine marine life and many featuring resorts so luxurious you’ll never be able to holiday any other way ever again.
Pair that with the pure tranquility of the remote islands, the panoramic views, affable and welcoming locals and endless culinary and sporting experiences and you’ll wonder why it’s taken you so long to visit paradise in the first place.
Pictures just don’t do the Maldives justice and luckily for me, I was invited to check out Accor’s latest offering in the Maldives - the brand spanking new Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort - on the Gaafu Alifu Atoll, after it opened its doors in September last year.
After receiving my first taste of what royalty must feel like with a jovial welcome to the island by a group of staff singing and playing drums on the jetty, I felt the weight of the world just ripple away when I descended the boat and stepped foot into the aqua waters at the Pullman Maldives.
It’s exactly what you would expect from an island resort in the Maldives - immaculate beaches, stunning overwater villas and tall coconut palms swaying in tune with the breeze - but once you explore a bit further, you soon realise there’s a lot more to Maamutaa than meets the eye.
The island is surrounded by lush vegetation, thick mangroves and one of the region’s largest and deepest lagoons - meaning you’ll be able to spot everything from baby turtles nesting before making their dash to the ocean, to land hermit crabs scuttling along the beach and an abundance of ficus and coconut trees, with the later being the national tree of the Republic of Maldives.
The Pullman Maldives consists of 122 villas, including beach and oceanside villas and one opulent royal suite, which has been described as a mini resort within itself (we’re talking four bedrooms over two levels, a private butler and chef, a spa and wellness room and a mini gym).
For those looking for something extra special, the Pullman also offers two aqua villas, which feature bedrooms submerged beneath the water so you and your loved one can really feel at one with the marine life.
In a ‘pinch me’ moment, I was dropped off by a staff member in a buggy - who does loops of the island every half an hour - at one of the ‘overwater’ ocean villas, which comes complete with an infinity pool overlooking the water. If there was ever a time I was going to feel what Beyonce must experience while on holiday, then this was it.
Oversized cushioned chairs, an L-shaped couch and a massive shaded area finishes up the completely private outdoor space, which was probably bigger than my whole one-bedroom Sydney apartment.
Inside was just as opulent, with a large bed sitting in front of fully-retractable patio doors, a mini bar which is restocked twice a day and a bathroom that features three showers, one outdoors and two indoors.
There’s also a large plunge bath in the middle of the bathroom, two sinks and C.O. Bigelow premium toiletries.
One of my favourite parts of the room was the glass window panel in the floor just beside the bed which lit up at night, allowing you to get your marine life fix even after the sun went down.
What to do
Eat and drink
Besides the fancy villas, amazing views and range of activities, one of the biggest selling points of the Pullman Maldives is that it is one of the most extravagant all-inclusive resorts in the Maldives.
Guests can dine in any of the six restaurants at the resort at any time of the day and choose from a wine list of over 80 names across red, white and sparkling.
That includes all-day dining restaurant Mélange, which serves up such a vast range of cuisines over countless stations that even the pickiest of eaters could feast for days and still not have tried everything on offer. Try out the homemade pain au chocolat, you won’t regret it.
There’s also the more relaxing option of dining poolside at The Hub with small bites or for a glitzy evening experience, head over to Saffron Affair, where you can feast on tapas and delicious cocktails.
Souq oven brings guests the best of Middle Eastern cuisine, including flat breads, dips and ethnic desserts, while Sol Rising is the perfect place to start your day off right with a healthy breakfast of energy boosters, grains, nuts and superfoods.
But the stand out restaurant that has to be the jewel in the Pullman’s culinary offering is Phat Cameleon, which is one of the first organic, vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the Maldives.
Set amongst a vegetable and herb garden, the restaurant offers up the freshest of ingredients and you can even pick any two straight from the garden and the chef will whip up a dish for you right there and then.
The roasted aubergine with charred spring onion, cumin yoghurt and smoked tomatoes was a personal favourite, followed by the dark and white chocolate mousse which just melted in the mouth.
Hit the water
You’re in the Maldives, you’re surrounded by water, so the only thing to do is jump right in.
Water temperature is slightly cooler at the Pullman than many other islands, which means the coral, marine life and activity below the surface is second to none.
Divers listen up because it’s the only place where you can spot up to 13 species of sharks in the resorts 26 dive sites.
Snorkelers won’t be disappointed either, as whether you’re simply snorkelling off the back of your overwater villa, on one of the Pullman’s guided excursions to local sites or exploring the beaches, you’ll be sure to spot everything from reef fish to turtles and stingrays.
Believe me, there’s nothing quite like taking to the ocean with nothing but a snorkel and flippers and seeing a baby shark whizz by.
Calm waters make the Maldives the perfect paddle-boarding location and if canoeing or catamaran hire is more your thing then you have the choice of renting them out for an hour daily.
Take to the water again in the evening for a breathtaking sunset cruise, get your hands on some bikes to explore the island (one of the funnest things I did) or get onboard with a sunset fishing tip.
While we’re all about experiencing everything you can about a new travel destination, the Maldives is all about relaxation at the end of the day.
The resort’s inviting Spa by Phytomer features eight treatment rooms perched over a white sand lagoon, offering up a range of massages, facials and treatments to propel you into pure relaxation mode.
I tried out the 60 minute Maamutaa signature massage, which promised it would melt away tension and stress leaving me feeling ‘spiritually energised’ - and I can confirm it delivered on all of that.
For gym bunnies who are missing their fitness routine, there is a five kilometre island running track with fitness stations dotted around it to keep you on your toes, or you can sign up for a bootcamp style Taaveriya Workout on the beach, which includes coconut tree climbing, tyre throwing and a refreshing swim in the lagoon.
How to get there
I hopped aboard an AirAsia flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Malé’s Velana International Airport.
From there, it’s a 55 minute flight to Kooddoo Island and a 15 minute speedboat until you’re at the Pullman.
You need to be prepared to travel on the budget airline by bringing along your own (full) water bottle, your own blanket, iPad, book, a meal if you haven’t paid for it and a pillow if you want to catch a few winks. Also remember that no checked baggage is included in the fare so make sure you prepay before check in.
But once your carry-on-case is full of the essentials, you’ll have a fairly pleasant trip and I was surprised at how spacious the legroom was.
Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines also all fly from Sydney to Malé. The majority of flights arrive into Malé. airport and you’ll then need to get either a short flight or a boat ride to reach your final destination.
This journalist was a guest of Accor and AirAsia
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