Written by Jo Foley
All the prerequisites of a paradise island are to found in the Maldives – in fact on almost 1200 of them – clear blue warm seas, silky white sand, swaying palm trees and the rest of the world left behind. This scattering of coral atolls is spread across the Indian Ocean to the south west of Sri Lanka and although 200 plus are inhabited, less than half are open to tourists and travellers. Most of these are home to a single hotel which underlines the exclusivity of a holiday there, for each one comes complete with its own private lagoon encircled by some of the best coral reefs in the world. And while any of the Maldivian islands is a diver’s idea of heaven you hardly need to snorkel to see hundreds of tiny jewel bright fish or vast stingrays, they just swim right up to the beach to put on a show for you. And that’s before the dolphins and flying fish flash past.
All of this plus some of the most exclusive and luxurious spas in the world. For what do you do when you need a rest from swimming, sunning, snorkelling and eating? You head for a little light pampering – and currently the Maldives is spa central of this planet.
Take one of my favourites – the Conrad Maldives on Rangali Island. Indeed it’s on two islands, Rangalifinolhu and Rangali proper, linked by a long wooden bridge, but it comes complete with three spas. Two for adults and one for children, so no-one is left out. The Over-Water Spa has treatments based on chakra rituals which help relax and balance the body. They are accompanied by special footbaths, light therapy and calming breathing exercises and followed by a dry brushing with silken gloves, a hot stone massage and special wrap. This is comfort and cocooning on a grand scale. The Spa Retreat comes accompanied by its own spa villas and restaurant and is the place to retire to when all you want is rest, relaxation, some detox and often weight loss programmes. It’s a destination spa within a resort and while you may prefer to spend your entire holiday there in your own overwater pavilion and wearing nothing except swimsuit, sarong and bathrobe you might occasionally wish to visit the delights of the resort particularly the underwater restaurant and the cheese room. Health may be important at Rangali…but so is fine food. The Ice Cream Spa will keep the kids happy with its mini mani and pedi cures, as will the newest attraction, a mini submarine, Nemo, so that everyone can enjoy marine life, without getting wet!
The One&Only Reethi Rah is possibly home to one of the most glamorous spas in the region. Located in a quiet curve of the island the spa offers his and hers changing, steam and sauna, a Bastien Gonzales foot clinic so that you are able to go home with better and prettier feet than when you arrived, a yoga pavilion, gym and mouthwatering views across the Indian Ocean. There is also a comprehensive choice of facials, wraps, scrubs and massages which take place in the privacy of stand alone villas dotted throughout the spa compound. While you can sip on delicious smoothies and juices and enjoy healthy snacks and salads from the Spa Bar. This is where you can come for an hour or a day to pamper and prettify.
Two of the newest spas are to be found on the northern and southern extremities of the archipelago. The Beach House is as north as you can go and provides privacy with true barefoot luxury in the first Waldorf Astoria resort in the east. A private plane takes you from the international airport at Mahe to this island of silver sand and deep green jungle. The villas and suites are dotted throughout the island while the Spa is slap in the centre surrounded by the forest and enclosed with its own meditation labyrinth. Paths lead to the spacious treatment rooms which boast either ayurvedic therapies or a specially devised menu of massages and facials from Aromatherapy Associates, catering for both east and western tastes. It also has its own apothecary shop where, after a consultation, products can be specially made for you.
Go as far south as you can in the Maldives and you will arrive at Gan, one of the largest islands, and one which you share with locals. Here you head for Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa – it’s just eight minutes by boat and is an exotic mix of ocean (it has 6 kilometres of coastline), natural freshwater lagoons (three in total) and lush forest interior it’s a true Maldivian showcase of land and sea. Best of all you can explore the island by bike – each villa and beach house comes complete with its own cycles, take a trek through the forest with the resident botanist or enjoy the more usual snorkelling and scuba-diving. However temptation awaits at the CHI spa, at the centre of the island is a beautiful dome like building which offers therapies from the Himalayas and China as well as local treatments using cowie shells!
Both Six Senses and Four Seasons have two resorts each in the Maldives. The former have reinvented desert island chic at both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili with shoes and sandals abandoned on arrival which has given way to their slogan No News No Shoes. If you can tear yourself away from the softest sand and warmest water the Six Senses spa is, with its jungle surround, reflecting pool and waterwalls a place of true solitude. Alongside a number of signature journeys the spa promises Thai, Balinese and ayurvedic programmes. Try the Kurumba Kaashi Coconut Rub – a heavenly mixture of papaya, honey and coconut oil to give your skin a real treat and the spa’s unique island treatment. Yoga, meditation and massage workshops are also available – the latter is where you and your partner can learn to massage each other. Best of all several of the villas have their own private spa suites so you need never move from your holiday home.
Sister property Soneva Gili is the epitome of intelligent luxury where only natural fabrics are used and the whole resort is built of sustainable materials. Head for the overwater spa again with a comprehensive choice of Asian therapies from Thailand, Bali and India. Should you only have one it must be the signature sensory spa journey where two therapists work on your body, face, scalp and feet – heavenly. If you want to totally spoil yourself stay at the Private Reserve – which can only be reached by boat and has its own spa and staff!
Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru has vast areas of wilderness and the largest lagoon in the islands, as well as host of projects for guests to take part in including marine conservation. You can also snorkel with turtles alongside whale sharks. Otherwise head for the spa and the only true ayurvedic retreat in the archipelago. Other spas offer ayurvedic treatments, here is a full retreat complete with doctors and full ayurvedic programmes individually prescribed after consultations, and all geared to bringing balance to the body. You can even book for special seven, fourteen or twenty one day programmes. There are a number of tantric rituals and chakra blessings also to be enjoyed, but if all you need is a massage or facial…that, too is available.
Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa has a gem of a spa on its own little island which is accessed by boat and alongside a choice of whole and half day programmes offers blissful scrubs and wraps alongside massages from Thailand, Bali and the Himalayas. It also has a number of treatments specially devised for men as well as a kids and teen spa menu. Try visiting both resorts, transferring between the two on the luxury Four Seasons Explorer, a glorious way of exploring other islands.
For something totally different, the tiny island of Huvaven Fushi offers the only underwater spa treatment room in the world. Per Aquum Lime spa is an overwater paradise, with an underwater surprise. The glass walled room, not only gives you a chance to view all the magic of marine life, but also allows the fish an amusing glimpse of what humans get up to in spas. There’s a choice of treatments which can be experienced there including a signature Turquoise Explosion which pampers, nourishes and oils the body. In this or the other treatment rooms you can enjoy a host of massages including a traditional Thai, a choice of Anne Semonin bespoke facials as well as a number of rituals which give 150 minutes worth of pleasure. Or try my favourite treatment Sole to Soul which consists of an Indian head massage, a marma point body massage and foot reflexology. A terrific combination.
Jo Foley, Contributing Editor
For over quarter of a century, Jo has been visiting and reviewing Spas, Sanctuaries and Wellness Centres on four continents and has written about them for publications as varied as the Financial Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Tatler, Harper’s Bazaar, the Sunday Telegraph, Woman&Home, the Daily Mail, the Times and InStyle.