With the Maldives celebrating 50 years of tourism, two resorts narrate the history of this eternal paradise.
Don’t worry, you are never late,” quips one of the members of Baros, when I excuse my tardy arrival due to an unexpected rain shower. “Also, this is a barefoot island,” he adds. “Feel free to go anywhere without shoes.”
There are few places in the world that have the instant capacity to make you feel at ease. The Maldives, with green islands surrounded by azure waters, and offering top-notch hospitality, is one of those destinations. However, although the archipelago stands for relaxation and fun, it is also synonymous with a serious industry, with hospitality at the beating heart of its economic ecosystem. In this context, and in a year that the Maldives is commemorating 50 years of tourism with pomp and circumstance, Baros stands out as a historical landmark, being only the third resort built in the country, and still owned and managed by the influential Maldivian family behind Universal Enterprises. This enables for an authentic experience, curated with a sense of belonging.
Built on the soil of a former coconut plantation, and located just a 25-minute speedboat cruise from the capital Malé, Baros is a small but diverse resort. It proposes seven categories of rooms, from the traditional water villas standing on top of the ocean, to secluded rooms nestled in the privacy of the tropical jungle – all conceptualized by the local architect Mohamed “Sappé” Shafeeq. The Deluxe Villas by the beach, with straightforward but solid design in timber and sandstone, are not only comfortable, but very Instagrammable, with private decks that take you from the room to the sea. Although Baros doesn’t offer over-the-top, bling-bling luxury (reflected in reasonable rates compared to its competition), the resort provides unforgettable experiences. There are sunset private boat rides in a traditional dhoni, dinners organized in an isolated sandbank or in a floating platform in a blue lagoon, and yoga and meditation offered every morning. Food-wise, the king restaurant is the Lighthouse, where the oysters and Maldivian lobsters are to die for, elegantly served with Bernardaud tableware.
Baros, from US $800 per room per night
With half a century of history, Baros inspired another Maldivian gem also managed by Universal Enterprises. Milaidhoo is reachable by seaplane – forgoing the need to travel to Malé for the transfer. The resort is in the Baa Atoll in the Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Here, while nature still rules, there’s a sense of nobility in every detail, inspired by the history of the local sultans. Designed in curved, organic shapes, 50 villas aim to capture the spirit of the island nation in a contemporary style, while offering generous areas decorated with light-hued woods and blue accents. Each villa also offers a private pool, all designed by Shafeeq for a feeling of continuity. And while shoes are still not needed, a sense of high-heeled elegance breezes through the island.
Besides the daytime activities such as dolphin cruises and the spa, Milaidhoo gets a completely new dimension at night. Adventure into the sea and snorkel at night to meet spectacular nocturnal species. You can also sleep under the stars, as the resort will transform a nearby sandbank into an open-air villa, fully secluded but with all amenities, including a four-course dinner. And if you really fall in love with the magical Maldivian night sky, enroll in the Astro Retreat, where an astronomy specialist will guide you through the different constellations and the history of the universe. Don’t finish your trip without a visit to Ba’theli by the Reef, the country’s first gourmet restaurant celebrating homegrown cuisine, inspired by the Maldives spice route, and hosted inside three traditional local wooden boats. For more than 5 000 years, the ancient Ba’theli sailing vessels have been connecting the country to Arabia, India, and Indonesia, transporting the spices that today enrich most of the dishes on the gourmet menu, & om cardamon to ginger. We tried the Maldivian lobster curry, which felt slightly more syrupy than the traditional Indian version. Surprising? Not really, as life feels sweeter in nature’s haven.
Milaidhoo, from US $1,300 per room per night
Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia