If you've ever dreamed of being like Richard Branson and owning your own private island but don't quite have the resources, then this is the next best thing. Set on the southern tip of the Maldives, in the remote and pristine Gaafu Alifu Atoll, Raffles Maldives Meradhoo’s Beach Island Experience is the only resort that gives you two completely separate experiences, thanks to two private islands, a beach one and an overwater one.
Then there is the legendary butler service, which makes your stay completely seamless and unique. Our lovely butler Saain went above and beyond during our stay, always greeting us everyday with a smile on his face and helping us with any query. He even provided us with a fresh breakfast despite our pre-dawn check-out on the last day, and accompanied us to the airport.
There are two separate vibes depending on which 'world' you're staying on. Beach lovers can stay on the palm tree-peppered private island, comprising of just 21 villas and residences, a sublime spa, beachside restaurants and world-class dive centre with on-site marine biologist.
Those mesmerised by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean can opt for the Raffles Maldives Meradhoo’s Overwater Island Experience, just a moment away by boat. With its 16 vast overwater villas and residences, sophisticated Nikkei restaurant Yuzu and sunset-facing Yapa pool bar, it provides a perfect little bubble.
Whichever experience you go for, you can rest assured the level of comfort and luxury will be second to none. The smallest beach villa is 220 sqm, has its own private pool and terrace with outdoor shower, a bedroom with king size bed overlooking a large living area, a massive bathroom with sunken bath and a walk-in closet.
Then you have two-bedroom residences for families and friends, while the resort’s Raffles Royal Residence and three-bedroom hideaway are the ultimate escape for bigger groups - the latter even has a private infinity pool and retractable roof on the first floor so that you can gaze up at the stars.
The food & drink:
Despite its relatively small size, the resort has loads of dining options. On the overwater island, there is pool bar Yapa, where world-class mixologists create intriguing cocktails inspired by the spirits and spirit of South America and Japan. Sip on a pisco sour and watch the sun sink into the shimmering Indian Ocean, before heading to adjacent fine-dining restaurant Yuzu, where Peruvian chef Anibal Torres serves Nikkei cuisine, marrying Japanese and Peruvian influences, using sustainable, line-caught fish sourced from local fishermen.
On the mainland, relaxed feet-in-the-sand dining is encouraged here. The Firepit is an outdoor barbecue restaurant where hearty specialities such as spicy lobster with green papaya or beef tenderloin are grilled over an open flame. The best tables, and chairs, are carved from the sand and set directly on the shore for uninterrupted views of the limitless night sky.
Then there is international restaurant Thari, which covers all your needs, from healthy breakfat smoothies and freshly baked pastries, to fresh salads and curries for dinner. You can also enjoy the sunset with a cocktail in hand on this side of the island, at the Long Bar. In homage to its namesake at Raffles Singapore, its signature Maldives Sling is a mix of gin, grapefruit, coconut, cinnamon and clove that mirrors the pink-peach colour of a typical Maldives sunset. Delicious.
Set on the beach island, the overwater Raffles Spa combines Eastern practices with age-old local influences and offers highly personalised facials by Biologique Recherche. I was lucky enough for my stay to coincide with the wonderful celebrity facialist Adeela Crown, who quite literally gave my tired and sundried skin a new lease of life with her signature Crowning Glowry treatment (here's how you can book her in London).
At the spa, you can also enjoy rejuvenating body treatments from Aromatherapy Associates, and manicure and pedicure concepts devised by Margaret Dabbs London. Should you wish to exercise, there is also a gym with all the equipment you could need, and which also runs yoga sessions on an ocean-facing deck, as well as tutorials in tai chi, mindfulness and more held by visiting practitioners.
What to do:
The beauty of it is that you can do as little or as much as you want. If you can drag yourself away from your private pool, then snorkelling is a must. Raffles Maldives is unique in the that all its butlers are also marine butlers, so they can lead guests through a private snorkelling tour of the resort’s two beautiful house reefs - expect to see mobula rays, baby sharks, turtles and a myriad of tropical fish.
And if you're looking for an even more in-depth experience, chat to the talented on-site Marine Biologist Giulia Pellizatto, who is on hand to offer detailed insights about the sealife.
As well as snorkelling, dolphin-watching cruises, fishing or diving expeditions can be arranged, and you can also borrow the island's paddle boards and see-through canoes.
The need to know:
Rates at Raffles Maldives Meradhoo start at $1153 per night based on two people sharing a Beach Villa. Domestic transfers are $500 per adult for a round trip and includes all taxes. Direct flights from London to Male with BA from £728.
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Penny Goldstone is the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, covering everything from catwalk trends to royal fashion and the latest high street and Instagram must-haves.
Penny grew up in France and studied languages and law at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris before moving to the UK for her MA in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. She moved to the UK permanently and has never looked back (though she does go back regularly to stock up on cheese and wine).
Although she's always loved fashion - she used to create scrapbooks of her favourite trends and looks, including Sienna Miller and Kate Moss' boho phase - her first job was at MoneySavingExpert.com, sourcing the best deals for everything from restaurants to designer sales.
However she quit after two years to follow her true passion, fashion journalism, and after many years of internships and freelance stints at magazines including Red, Cosmopolitan, Stylist and Good Housekeeping, landed her dream job as the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK.
Her favourite part of the job is discovering new brands and meeting designers, and travelling the world to attend events and fashion shows. Seeing her first Chanel runway IRL at Paris Fashion Week was a true pinch-me moment.
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