'Welcome to paradise'
These were the words of our British Airways pilot as we touched down in Male, at the international airport of the Maldives. Soon it was into our tiny seaplane (not recommended for claustrophobic-types) for a thirty minute flight before touchdown on Mirihi, our very own castaway island.
Two words: ‘Shoes Optional’. The entirety of Mirihi island (including the restaurant) is covered in sand, meaning there’s no need to pack any shoes at all. In fact, wearing them will mark you out as fresh-off-the-boat (literally, in some cases) straight away. Do the right thing and ditch the footwear the minute you alight on the pier. You’ll be welcomed with a fresh coconut juice (the native tree of the Maldives, which provides the only natural shade on the 1,190 islands that make up the country), before being whisked away to your private water villa or beach hut (there are only 37 on the entire island, meaning you’ll never once feel crammed in). And the sand between your toes? A bucket of water and a ladle is specially placed outside each doorway to wash it away before stepping over the threshold. There’s a personalised nameplate on your front door too. It seems they really do think of everything.
Have you ever stepped out of bed, walked a couple of steps to your balcony door, and upon pulling back the curtain come face to face with swathes of the aquamarine, crystal clear Indian Ocean, the waves of which are lapping beneath you? Because that’s exactly what will happen here. You’ll even have a set of private steps from your balcony down to the sea (don’t mind the crabs hanging around– they scuttle away as soon as you appear). This stairway to sea-life heaven is particularly handy because the majority of your time here will be spent doing one of three things – swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling. Get ready to jump right in.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are buffet style. (Unless you’re dining in the super fancy over-the-water restaurant, which you should at least once). I’ll admit I was skeptical at first (‘buffet’ conjuring up images of ‘all-you-can-eat’ gorge-athons of cuisines that should never be seen together on the same plate). But I was left eating my words: the food was delicious and there was enough choice to leave the fussiest of eaters satisfied. Guests are encouraged to eat three courses at every meal, and it’s hard not to with the amount of goodies on offer – think traditional Maldivian curries, plus plenty of meat, fish and veggie dishes, salads and sides. Then there’s the dessert table, full of delicate cakes, mousses and native fruit. (I recommend the passion fruit jam for toast lovers at breakfast time).
If you want to live through an episode of Blue Planet II in real time, this is the place to go. Mirihi, like the rest of the Maldives, is a coral island, and their resident diving school leads daily snorkelling trips starting from the beach. The underwater channel we followed opens up above striking coral cliffs teeming with life; sea cucumbers laze across the rocks, and kaleidoscopic fish flurry around entirely unperturbed by the black-tipped reef sharks that occasionally make an appearance (don’t worry, they don’t eat humans). There’s also plenty of snorkelling to be done offshore on one of the daily boat trips departing from the pier. In just one day we came across Manta Rays (terrifying), eagle rays (regal) and turtles (adorable). There’s also the chance to swim with whale sharks (the largest fish in the ocean), this being one of the best places in the world to spot them.
You really must
Take a dolphin cruise. There’s nothing to make you feel more joyful than watching a pod of dolphins skipping over the surface of the sea, while sipping on a glass of champagne and watching the sun go down (pro tip: clap and whistle to get them in the playful mood). You might see pilot whales too, but stay quiet for these ones as they’re of a shyer disposition.
For an extra dose of relaxation
Book a treatment at the Duniye spa. From facials to massages this will set you up nicely for another day of…well, relaxing.
And if you only do one thing at all
Get yourself in that water, chuck on a mask and snorkel, and live out your wildest Blue Planet II fantasies, you’ll be feeling as pro as David Attenborough in no time
For more information about Mirihi island visit mirihi.com