Powering Down in the Lowest Country on Earth: The Maldives
By Janis Turk
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
“So this is what blue is all about,” I mused.
When our small seaplane landed near a floating dock, blue hues of the deep seeped into my spirit. It was then I first beheld Mirihi Island in The Maldives.
A line from the film “Genius” came to mind when novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote of “A blue beyond blue. A blue he could swim into forever and never miss a fire-engine red or a cornstalk yellow.”
Yes, there was a blue beyond blue.
A pristine pavilion at the horizon’s edge, the Republic of the Maldives is an archipelagic state and independent country in South Asia comprising a chain of 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks rising from the sea, scattered across the sea in about 26 clusters, or atolls.
The smallest of all Asian countries, The Maldives land area is only about 115 square miles, dotting a 35,000-square-mile area of the Indian Ocean, resting about 500 miles southwest of India and Sri Lanka.
Like a freshwater pearl necklace tossed on cobalt waves, this string of coral islands, when first seen from a seaplane window, seems to be encircled by Tiffany-box-blue and indigo bands, all sun-bleached, sugar-white sandbars shaded by coconut palms.
Worth the Trip
These days, few places seem worth the hassle of long-haul air travel, but The Maldives do. It’s hard to imagine any destination worth enduring the discomforts of a 20+-hour journey in an economy seat, but all difficulties vanish in the Maldives sunset.
On tranquil Mirihi Island, worries seemed to sink into the sea the moment each hydroplane landed on lapis waves edging this Elysian isle.
Move Over, Venice
Sadly, due to climate change, the sea may one day swallow up the Maldives, leaving them a mythical Atlantis.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that, as soon as 2100, rising sea levels may leave many of The Maldives islands fully submerged.
The world’s lowest country, with land at some points resting in some areas merely 4 feet and 11 inches above sea level, the Maldives Islands are almost one with the water. Still, for now, like Brigadoon, they rise from the mist, the most magical islands.
Arrive in Style
On many of the 187 inhabited islands of The Maldives, a single resort property comprises an individual island, and some offer private resort airport lounges in the Malé Trans Maldivian Airway seaplane port. From there, DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft shuttle to the various properties.
Once I left the lounge, except for using my phone to snap a few photos and play music, I embarked on a peaceful, technology-free getaway. Of course, the Maldives offer far more than that.
Mirihi Island Resort is the perfect place to power off, shut down, reboot one’s weary soul, and unplug entirely. There are no televisions, speed boats, and blaring discos — nobody playing phones at dinner. It’s a serene, almost silent place to enjoy bright stars before falling asleep to the rhythm of waves lapping against the pilings of the resort’s over-water villas.
The Maldives is a place I’d always seen in magazines with photos of lodgings perched over water.
Each romantic and private villa stands above the blue, with a living reef below. I liked the shower in my private villa, its glass doors opening to the sea.
These villas approach perfection: spacious, well-appointed, and clean. Mine had a high thatched roof and patio outside.
Inside was a cozy seating area, a king-sized bed with crisp sheets, a convenient coffee area, a fruit basket and mini bar, roomy closets and storage, a digital safe, and an enormous luxury bathroom.
It also featured a roomy outdoor deck with steps leading down to the water. I could walk out my back door to snorkel and swim along the reef. The villa was as private and dreamy as I’d imagined. High-quality Bluetooth speakers filled the villa with my favorite island playlist, providing a pleasant soundtrack for my stay.
The villas were more attractive than the magazine pictures had promised and just as private and dreamlike as I’d imagined.
Getting to the Maldives can be tricky unless you add a layover night or two to your trip. An online search shows several two-stop flight options with travel time between 26 and 34 hours, including long airport layovers in Doha and Dubai. I’ve done killer back-to-back flights to Asia before, and even with a stop at the sleek, fab airport in Doha, Qatar, I wasn’t about to do that kind of air travel time again if I could avoid it.
That’s why I added a 2-night layover in London and boarded a nonstop flight from Heathrow afterward. This way, I could rest and acclimate to a new time zone before a direct, 12-hour, and 35-minute nonstop flight.
Once in the Maldives, visitors land at the Velana International Airport on Hulhulé Island by the capital city of Malé. Many flights are available from cities in Asia and Europe.
Travelers can fly from Paris Charles De Gaulle or book a non-stop flight from London Heathrow. So, getting to The Maldives may be easier than you’d expect.
No matter the journey’s difficulty, being there trumps all obstacles along the way.
After a 30-minute seaplane flight from Malé, my friends and I landed on a small floating deck where a boat awaited to whisk us away to Mirihi Island Resort.
No Shoes, Great Service
The boat moored alongside a long wooden dock leading to a thatched-roof lobby with white sand floors. Mirihi Island Resort’s open-air lounge is lovely, with a reception desk, comfortable couches, and chairs, a lively little craft cocktail and rum spot called Anba Bar, the Ruhgandu Wine Lounge.
There is also an island gifts and sundries shop and the large Dhonveli restaurant sprawling across the sand and edging the beach. Nearby rests a full-service Duniye Spa with a lobby and relaxing deck facing the beach. Nearby stands the Ocean Pro Mirihi Dive Center and a yoga pavilion.
Mirihi is a shoeless island; even flip-flops seemed unnecessary except on the warm, wooden, elevated walkway to our over-water villas.
Men quickly took to wearing traditional sarongs. I spent most days barefoot and in bathing suits. The only other footwear I’d don were flippers for snorkeling.
Snorkeling the Reef
Sometimes, we’d snorkel on the house reef below our bungalows or off boats during Mirihi’s popular Whaleshark-Seeking Cruises, where we’d see dolphins, sea turtles, schools of colorful fish, and enormous, often elusive, whale sharks.
Chef-prepared boxed lunches on board were astounding, with sushi, strawberries, grilled vegetables, rice, and delicately handmade chocolates.
Sunrise yoga classes were on a shaded pavilion surrounded by coconut palms and tropical plants.
There were world-class pro instructors leading scuba diving excursions and exciting and informative visits with marine biologists and other experts in sea life.
Buffet Dinners at Dhonveli
Guests enjoyed sunset cocktails on the beach and lavish buffet dinners at Dhonveli, with fine cuisine prepared by executive chef Felix Bamert.
One night, Maldivian drummers danced and sang for us in the sand.
The culinary highlight of our visit was a wine-pairing dinner at the over-water Muraka Restaurant, featuring the culinary wonders of pop-up guest chef Noah Sandoval, the Michelin two-starred executive chef of Oriole, Chicago. Guest chefs are but another reason to choose Mirihi for the perfect Maldives experience.
A Chicago Mixologist
Also visiting Mirihi was acclaimed American mixologist Julia Momosé of Kumiko, Chicago (named #25 in 2022’s “World’s 50 Best Bars” list).
Momosé offered a special cocktail program and informal classes, creating new drinks using Maldivian ingredients. She even allowed guests to help come up with their own take on her signature concoctions, and her in-villa cocktail kits were a fun surprise in our lodgings.
Chef Noah and Mixologist Julia worked with Mirihi restaurant supervisor/resort sommelier Shafraz Jalal, to offer a special Michelin-star-menu-inspired wine- and cocktail-pairing dinner. The fun began at sunset with Julia’s craft cocktails and ended with Chef Noah’s exotic desserts served beneath the Southern Cross.
Magical Memories in the Maldive Islands
Few island getaways are as unique as those to the Maldive Islands.
One afternoon, a large heron strolled along the boardwalk two paces ahead as if escorting me to my room. He bowed his head as he reached my door, a silent, civilized “Good day,” and flew away.
The following day my friend, Vincent, while holding his coffee cup above his head, waded over from his over-water villa to visit. He could have come across the boardwalk, but treading water with coffee was more fun.
As he climbed the stairs to my villa’s back deck, we laughed, pinching ourselves to see if it was a dream and wondering how any place could be this perfect.
The sun’s early rays sparkled as we took in the view and smiled.
Yes, there it was again: a blue beyond blue.