Paradise found

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am

Stunning atolls, crystal clear waters, picture-perfect beaches and world-class resorts set this natural beauty apart from the rest

Flying over the Maldives at low altitude in a private seaplane is an experience that can only be described as awe-inspiring: the azure sea stretches out to the horizon, broken only by rings of atolls, coral reefs and the occasional pristine white sand beach bordering one of the nation's many five-star island resorts.

It is the resorts themselves that truly set the Maldives apart from other destinations. As your seaplane pulls up to the pier, the chances are you'll catch a glimpse of some of the area's natural wildlife - perhaps a manta ray cruising beneath the pier with a rainbow of tropical fish following in its wake.

One such destination where all this is guaranteed is The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. The resort was voted the most Exclusive Resort in the World by Conde Nast Traveller Britain last year. It is situated on its own two idyllic islands linked by a 500-metre wooden walkway, about a 30-minute seaplane flight from the capital, Male. At night, floodlights under the walkway attract seemingly more aquatic life than even the most avid of divers could encounter in a lifetime of travel.

Picture-perfect beaches surround both islands, offering guests almost total privacy even during the peak season.

Along with the outstanding natural beauty comes a selection of the world's most exclusive villas, some based on the beach while others stretch out into the ocean on stilts. Beneath the villas, residentsare guaranteed a glimpse of even more of the resort's aquatic life, perhaps best enjoyed from your own private massage table above a glass floor.

Carsten Schieck, general manager of the resort, explains that in many ways resorts in the Maldives can provide more than most other destinations. 'It's a top-end destination, so of course you pay top dollar, but what you get in terms of natural beauty both under and above the water is better than anywhere in Asia. The service quality is also impeccable in the Maldives. You get the highest quality food and beverage, and accommodation.'

The resort, which recently underwent a US$50-million makeover, offers a host of unique attractions, not least of which is Ithaa, a spectacular underwater restaurant, the only one of its kind in the world, offering the opportunity to dine with some of the resorts more permanent residents - manta rays and beautiful tropical fish.

A meal at Ithaa is in itself reason enough to make the journey to the resort as the view outside is matched by the internationally-renowned cuisine within, often served up by celebrity chefs specially flown in for an occasion.

In all there are seven restaurants catering for the most avid gourmets, including an underground 10,000-bottle wine cellar and a wine and cheese bar.

The Over-Water Spa sits on its own wooden promenade stretching out above the coral reef, and offers innovative rituals for individuals and couples in what could possibly be one of the world's most tranquil settings.

The resort caters not only for honeymooners and couples, but does just as well for children, with its 'Ice-cream Spa', offering a range of child-friendly, fun treatments, along with an entire area specially designed to provide entertainment for young ones while their parents enjoy the more peaceful aspects of the islands.

A range of water sports from jet skis to diving is on offer, with some of the world's best dive sites within easy reach.

The size of the resort, and the fact that it is spread across two islands, means that even when it is fully booked, guests can be forgiven for thinking that they are only one of a few guests staying there. And finding yourself alone on a private area of beach is not uncommon.

Whether you choose to stay at one of the island nation's most exclusive resorts or opt for a slightly less pricey option, the islands themselves will provide all you need for the ultimate holiday in paradise.