What is it? An exclusive five-star resort on a private island in the Maldives fringed by palm trees and white-sand beaches and lapped by crystal-clear seas.
And what makes it different from all the other exclusive five-star resorts on a private island in the Maldives fringed by palm trees and white-sand beaches and lapped by crystal-clear seas? OK, there are a few – more than 100, in fact, with some 25 opening in the past year and tourism arrivals rising even faster than sea levels. But this one does have the benefit of splendid isolation. It’s at the northernmost tip of the Maldives and is actually closer to India than the country’s capital, Malé. (It takes a 320km seaplane transfer to get here.)
Unlike the less remote resorts, there are no boats and seaplanes buzzing by every few minutes. So you can pad around in a state of undress on your sea-view patio without the fear of snap-happy daytrippers disrupting your reverie. You are more likely to scandalise a school of passing dolphins.
Who visits? Comfortably off types, mostly. Recent guests have included British pop star Noel Gallagher, Portuguese soccer legend Luis Figo and a veritable galaxy of Chinese and Indian film stars. JA Manafaru is popular, too, with well-heeled Chinese tourists, who have been a huge factor in the growth of tourism in the Maldives. This is why it has Mandarin-speaking staff, a Chinese chef, life vests to wear while snorkelling and direction signs in Chinese as well as English.
They need direction signs on a tiny island? Surprisingly, yes. It’s dense with lush undergrowth and it’s surprisingly easy to get lost on your way between the seven restaurants, bars, spa, gym and water sports centre scattered around its 14 hectares. And there are big-wheeled mountain bikes for every guest to meander confusedly around on.
So why are the Maldives sinking? Conventional wisdom has it that global warming is to blame. However, I have a sneaking suspicion the process may be being speeded up ever so slightly by the sheer volume of alcohol on the islands.
JA Manafaru holds an incredible 8,000 bottles of wine at any one time – that’s roughly 100 bottles for every one of its 84 villas. About 3,000 bottles are held in the resort’s wine bar, The Cellar, where guests can dine in style while supping bottles costing anything from US$50 to US$20,000 a pop. You can’t bring your own alcohol into the Maldives and there are no 7-Elevens, but you can sleep easy knowing they definitely won’t run out of grog before you check out.
It does sound terribly romantic. That rather depends on who you’re with. For honeymooners and the otherwise hopelessly smitten, what could be better than spending a week or so in a hideaway in the Indian Ocean with nothing much to do except take spa treatments together, eat, drink, watch sunsets and gaze wistfully into each other’s eyes?
It’s a long swim if you fall out, though, so if the mood changes, a romantic break can quickly turn from Love Island into an episode of The Prisoner. On rare occasions, considerate resort employees have had to keep warring spouses apart, in one case moving a feuding couple to separate bungalows on opposite sides of the resort and discreetly warning each of the other’s movements to avoid accidental confrontations.
So, before you book, make sure that you’re going away with someone truly wonderful whose company you delight in and who you consider perfect in every way. For the record, I went by myself and I had an absolutely smashing time.
It must be expensive. Reassuringly so, you might say. The three-bedroom Royal Residence will set you back about US$11,000 a night, a one-bedroom beach suite is US$1,500 to US$1,700, a water villa with private swimming pool from US$1,350 to US$1,600, and an “entry-level” beach bungalow US$800 to US$1,200.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon fly between Hong Kong and Malé