Discover the island community that is making the Maldives more luxurious than ever

How do you improve paradise? Tempus heads back to the Maldives to discover the resorts — and the people — making the world’s best island resorts truly special

MaldivesSince the 1960s, the Maldives has held the crown when it comes to perfecting the art of pure, unspoiled and uninterrupted relaxing holidays. Today, the Maldives offers a whole host of luxury experiences spread across the series of islands that make up the archipelagic country. Both natural and man-made islands, surrounded by coral atolls, stretch across the ocean’s otherwise unblemished surface.

The islands are populated by sumptuous tropical vegetation — home to birds, spectacular fruit bats, reptiles and small mammals — which create secluded island paradises on which world famous hotel brands can redefine the art of private luxury and pure relaxation. I was therefore delighted when I got the call to learn a little more about how JW Marriott Hotels and the W Hotels & Resorts, two of the world’s most iconic luxury hotel brands, had created their visions of paradise in this legendary, romantic holiday destination.

I had not been to Malé — the Maldives’ capital — for more than 20 years, so upon arriving from London I was struck by the massive improvements that two decades of catering for the world’s elite had brought upon this tiniest of capital cities.JW Marriott MaldivesWe were greeted by staff from the JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa — our first destination — and any anxiety about venturing into the unknown simply evaporated as we were whisked to their waiting Range Rover for the shortest transfer in history, round to the city’s new and wonderfully efficient seaplane terminal. One of Malé’s most impressive improvements, the Maldivian Seaplane Terminal hosts the world’s largest fleet of seaplanes, operated by Trans Maldivian Airways. The airline has been the glue binding the Maldives’ 1,190 islands and atolls together and, with their 61 de Havilland Twin Otter seaplanes, provide quick and efficient transport to even the furthest resorts.

After freshening up with cold towels and refreshments in the VIP lounge, we soon boarded our seaplane for the 50-minute flight to the JW Marriott resort, siuated the north of the Maldivian island string, almost on the equator.

As we approached the island, we could see the crescent-moon shape of the of the resort, covered with rich vegetation working well with the scattered buildings, and a shoreline of pure white sand created by the coral that surrounds the island. To the northwest, a string of luxurious stilted villas peeled away from the island and into the Indian Ocean, providing the over-water experience that is now the hallmark of the region’s best hotels, each providing uninterrupted panoramic views across a glistening turquoise sea.MaldivesA WARM WELCOME

On touching down, the plane was expertly maneuvered to the jetty where it felt like the resort’s whole compliment of staff had turned out to greet us with what our host told us was a traditional Maldivian royal welcome, complete with singing and drumming as we walked ashore. I was immediately struck by the feeling of a close-knit community coming together to deliver a family feel and, indeed, the JW Marriott is a family-focused resort offering extensive experiences for all ages that goes well beyond the honeymoon destination limitations of other resorts.

Happily, this multigenerational  orientation did nothing to disturb the peace and tranquility of the resort. Extensive and fully supervised crèche facilities provided a host of activities for the young ones — I saw fun and laughter from a mixed group of toddlers obviously enjoying their vacation in paradise — while for the teens there was a fully equipped common room with PlayStation, TVs and billiards.

On a brief tour of the island’s facilities and nine restaurants to get my bearings, I was struck by how few fellow guests I saw roaming the beautifully manicured paths through the vegetation. The hotel was fully booked, yet its design means you rarely encounter large numbers of people except in the resort’s interesting and varied restaurants and bars.

The welcome and level of service is underpinned by the fact that the staff outnumber the guests (even at full capacity) by nearly two-to-one, and the efficiency with which the resort is run — from gardeners to the butlers assigned to each villa — is all done behind the scenes, making for a totally relaxing and stress-free stay for guests.Our beach pool villa was an impressive 274sqm duplex with a light and airy bedroom, sumptuous bathroom, and two sitting areas — one below and a relaxing lounge area above. The glass walls that wrapped around our sleeping area looked out onto the pool area, with loungers both in and out of the sun. Our villa was surrounded by deep, lush vegetation that provided perfect privacy from the equally impressive neighboring villas lined along the sunrise and sunset shorelines.

The design of these villas meant we could enjoy the privacy of our pool area and then, simply walking through the angled vegetation at the foot of the pool, suddenly be on the beach (complete with welcoming private loungers), looking out over warm coral sand and crystal blue waters, all crowned by a perfectly blue sky.

In keeping with the resort’s impressive design characteristics, the Kaashi treetop restaurant provided beautifully-prepared Thai cuisine in a novel setting — guests dined across a series of private platforms in the trees, joined together by wooden steps and rope bridges in the foliage, looking out over the spectacular seascape. Evening dining at Japanese restaurant Hashi and Maldivian grill Shio was another special treat, where our hosts Mohit and Juliette navigated the menus for us to deliver a feast of exquisite detail and variety from these unquestionably world-class dining experiences — complimented by a fine choice of wine from the resort’s Wine Room.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and I was very sad to leave the JW Marriot and its exceptional team, who had made our stay so lovely. But, unlike unlucky honeymooners returning to a cold and rainy England, I was buoyed by the fact that we were simply island hopping — and a stay at the W Maldives was our next treat.W MaldivesBEACH CHIC

Returning to the immaculate seaplane terminal in Malé we were met by the equally immaculate W Maldives staff. Our baggage was seamlessly reloaded onto another Twin Otter seaplane and we were whisked off to the W Maldives, only a 30-minute flight from the capital.

On landing at the W’s heart-shaped resort we received a warm welcome from the hotel management team and were driven to our beach residence by one of the destination’s brightly-coloured electric buggies — each of which is named after the famous celebrities who have enjoyed a stay here. “Madonna”, driven by our wonderfully charismatic and extremely knowledgeable host Ariko, navigated us to our beachside villa, complete with private swimming pool and a spectacular sea view looking out over the dark blue Indian Ocean towards Sri Lanka.

The décor was unmistakably W, with rich dark woods and subdued lighting synonymous with the brand of cool chic. The décor reminded me of excellent stays in New York, Miami and, of course, LA in past years. The setting, however, was uniquely Maldivian, with all the facilities housed on the resort’s Ari atoll and a huge sweeping wing of 27 beach villas and 50 over-water villas — including some palatial bungalows, such as the Extreme Wow Ocean Haven — with private pools and terraces facing west towards the legendary Maldivian sunset.The W boasts a superb over-water spa, where experiences range from beauty treatments to robust massages, leaving us perfectly zombified — only to be revived by a wide range of cocktails available in the oceanfront Sip bar, poolside or back at our perfectly-equipped villa.

After an interesting floating breakfast experience, we were relocated to an overwater villa to experience the full range of treasures at the W. Again, the quintessential W design came through — this time with a huge apex ceiling sitting over the bed, which gave a feeling of space and height. Glass walls from left to right offered uninterrupted view across our balcony and pool area, to the cargo net protruding over the sea promising hours of relaxation with the lapping waves below.

The W has an altogether more grown-up feel compared to the welcoming and family-orientated JW Marriot. The design can only be described as cool, and the island felt more populated, with guests mingling in communal areas. This was clearly a couple’s location, where meeting people socially in the resort’s many bars and restaurants was as much a part of the experience as the plentiful opportunities for seclusion, peace and quiet.The nightlife at the W is much more adult orientated, and the exceptional quality of the restaurants made it easy to see why W Maldives attracts so many celebrity visitors who want to combine the Maldives’ unspoiled island beauty with a familiar W look and feel. Fire — the resort’s jungle-meets-beach dining concept, which came highly recommended by Ariko — was of particular note; an expert kitchen delivered a superb meal combining culinary delights unique to the Maldives. The elevated backyard grill and charcoal dining experience offered perfectly grilled meats complimented by the finest French wines, coming together for a truly exceptional experience. The resort’s other restaurants include Fish, specialising in local seafood, and Kitchen, which combines soul-food with an all-day bistro concept.

The Maldivian wildlife — and particularly the aquatic life surrounding both these island communities — is quite simply breathtaking. With turtles and dolphins as regular visitors to these waters, and every variety of tropical fish just below the surface, there is a world of colour and tranquility just yards from the shore for guests to discover by snorkel — as well as many other aquatic activities offered by both resorts.W MaldivesFor a taste of relaxing luxury, the Maldives is the destination of choice for quiet individual reflection, whether as a couple or as a family. Which resort you choose is key to the flavour, and fine tuning exactly what you are looking for will only add to an incredible experience.

If I was asked which of these fine island hotels I preferred I could honestly not decide. Both delivered an exceptional experience and are jewels in the crown of their respective and well-respected brands. Each resort has its own personality but, above all, what made my stay exceptional were the people who make these masterpieces of luxury function, and who represent these world-class brands in a truly beautiful and unique way.  I can only extend my thanks to all the staff in these wonderful communities for delivering a true and authentic luxury experience that you would find hard to beat anywhere else in the world.

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