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length and derive their name from the fact that they leap above the water to perform aerial pirouettes, and there were bottlenoses, which seemed to love swimming along in the bow-wave of the boat, and jumping just above the surface.


But you do not need to board a boat to commune with nature here. At Hurawalhi – which is still luxurious and incredibly comfortable but not a stylish, designer resort in the same way as its more expensive little sister Kudadoo – all you have to do is walk down the beach and into the sea, then snorkel over the shallow coral reef that surrounds the island. We’d been told that the sharks here were not interested in eating people, but when a 1.5 metre-long blacktip shark swam past us, regarding us suspiciously and moving effortlessly through the water, Mrs Smith couldn’t help but let out a sub-aquatic scream. My heart skipped a beat too, if truth be told. Similarly, when we neared the ‘drop-off ’, where the shallow reef falls away and the deep blue sea begins, it was somewhat unnerving – but incredibly exciting – to see a ‘fever’ of enormous stingrays glide past. I felt transported to another world. That feeling – of being in a different domain – even extended to dinner that evening, as we dined at the Hurawalhi’s underwater restaurant. Named 5.8 because it is that many metres below the surface of the ocean, it is the largest underwater restaurant in the world thanks to a 400-ton transparent acrylic shell that was shipped from New Zealand.


I must admit I had expected it to be a little gimmicky. And although that description might be fairly applied to some of the food – several of the courses come with a ‘foam’ of some kind – the experience is anything but. If you go for dinner, you are encouraged to take your seat before the sun sets, so you can see life on the reef during the hours of daylight, dusk and then finally at night. Shark sightings become gradually more frequent over the course of the evening, sparking a wave of excitement among diners as they shoot by. The third and final port of call on our trip was COMO Cocoa island. Like Kudadoo and Hurawalhi, it is a small private island. But its character is different again. A large part of the island is given over to the COMO Shambhala Retreat, a collection of beautifully designed spa and wellness facilities. At breakfast, lunch and dinner – which can be taken outdoors among the trees that surround the pool, or in the airy, high- ceilinged, open-walled dining room – there is


Other than the speedboat that whisks guests here in 40 minutes from the airport, there is no


motorised transport on the island – which suits those who like to simply relax


the option of choosing from a special COMO Shambhala menu, which ‘incorporates organic ingredients rich in living enzymes, vitamins and sea minerals’ and is low in calories. The aesthetic here is perhaps the apotheosis of high-end, wholesome ‘barefoot luxury’ – with plenty of white, light and natural wood. Our ‘loft water villa’ (one of the 34 residences) had a terrace with a staircase that allowed us to walk straight out onto a shallow sandbar, and paddle around as we watched the sun melt into the horizon.


Other than the speedboat that whisks guests here in just 40 minutes from the international airport in Malé, there is no motorised transport on the island – so unlike Kudadoo there are no golf buggies or jet skis. There is also a more hands-off approach to guest service, which will suit those who like to be left to simply relax. You can sense the island has been created in the image of the woman who owns the


resort: Singaporean hospitality billionaire Christina Ong (referred to exclusively as ‘Mrs Ong’ by the island’s charming staff). Under her COMO brand, she has high-end hotels from Belgravia to Bhutan – and two in the Maldives. The portfolio of her husband, Ong Beng Seng, includes Four Seasons hotels, including several in the Maldives. Soon the Ongs will have even more


competition at the top end of the market, as new Ritz-Carlton and CHEDI properties in the region open this year for the first time. Locals also mentioned news of two other major launches that have not yet made it into the travel press.


But one imagines that neither the Ongs,


nor Lars Petre, will be unduly concerned. As travel remains difficult in many parts of the world, the unique character of the Maldives means it will likely thrive – both for the next few months of Covid purgatory, and for many years to come.


S


Spear’s was a guest of Kudadoo Maldives Private Island. Ocean Residence with the fully-inclusive Anything Anytime Anywhere Experience from $4,742 per night. Kudadoo.com; Hurawalhi Maldives. Beach Sunset Pool Villa and All Inclusive Plus from $1,838 per night. Hurawalhi. com; COMO Cocoa Island. Loft Water Villa (with yoga class, snorkelling equipment and use of non-motorised water sports equipment) from $2,110 per night. Comohotels.com. Spear’s flew to Malé from London Heathrow with Qatar Airways. Qatarairways.com


Bottlenose and spinner dolphins are among the wildlife that inhabits the waters of the Maldives


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