A manta ray sped away as I snorkelled carefully towards a sand bar, a bright white strip in the middle of the Indian Ocean, trying to keep my body flat as I floated across the shallow waters so I didn’t to touch the coral below.
We’d jumped off a speedboat from the island of Velassaru in the Maldives into dark turquoise waters, with the sand bar – our own private island for the day – almost within touching distance.
But we weren’t allowed to just swim across to it for fear of damaging the reef below, so we headed around a longer way and then swam through a safe ‘channel’, spotting a couple of turtles as well as huge shoals of tropical fish just hanging out a couple of metres below the surface.
Arriving on the sand, we literally jumped for joy at discovering a perfect, footprint-free paradise, before our hosts set up a white tent stretched across wooden posts for a sushi and champagne lunch.
Never having been to the Maldives, I’d expected the islands to be everything you see in the brochures: snow-like sand, swaying palm trees and snorkel-wearing couples emerging from shallow waters hand in hand, with which part of the beach to lie on being the biggest decision you have to make all day.
The islands are just like that, but the resorts (each island is made up of an entire resort) are pretty competitive with each other and the three I stayed on were quite different: Velassaru, Kuramathi and Kandolhu. More than 100 islands of 1,190 are developed for tourism, and the Maldivian people live on 200 more.
OK, many offer wedding vow renewal (popular with fifty-somethings), and all are full of lush vegetation surrounded by Tiffany-box blue waters but they’re also the kind of place you can take your teenagers, de-stress or let’s face it, with not much else to do, rekindle your sex life.
Best Maldivian island to spice up your sex life: Velassaru
Velassaru is one of the closest islands to the Maldivian capital Male; only 20 minutes away by speedboat. I stayed in an over water villa, with a huge bedroom, blonde wood floors, a large deck with plunge pool and steps directly into the sea below.
Padding back into the bedroom after a dip, I noticed a discreet silver box next to the wardrobe, which turned out to be a ‘shy bunny love kit’, yours for only $68 (£44). But the tickle feather, desire dice, condoms and intimacy oils inside would spice up any honeymoon (70 per cent of the island’s visitors are honeymooners) or rekindle an age-old marriage.
With or without props, the huge bed alone is enough to make you want to roll around, and of course the outdoor deck, loungers and pool are pretty private, and beautifully-lit at night so some alfresco fun is perfectly possible (disclaimer: nude or topless sunbathing or activity is frowned upon, the Maldives being a Muslim nation!). My room faced the lights of Male across the sea, but otherwise felt pretty secluded.
The bathroom might also get the juices flowing, with its floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the water, freestanding bath and rain-head shower. You can close the blinds of course, but what’s the point with little likelihood of being seen (unless the couple next door is taking a night-time dip)?
If it’s romance you’re after, you can go on a sunset cruise on a traditional dhoni boat, chill out on turquoise bean bags, sip Taittinger champagne and nibble fresh tuna canapés. We ate at Velassaru’s intimate Teppanyaki restaurant, sharing sashimi, Wagyu beef and a green tea cake, and the island also offers candle-lit romantic ‘dug out dinners’ in the sand, as well as private dining in your room.
Best Maldivian resort for families with children: Kuramathi
If you’ve got teenagers, Kuramathi offers plenty of ways to let them escape from you. It’s one of the larger islands, with 300 rooms, an eco centre, tennis court and gym. Golf buggies zoom guests around, along paths lined with coconut palms, purple bougainvillea and red hibiscus.
You could easily drop your offspring at the water sports centre for the day, where they can sail, windsurf, wakeboard or paddleboard. Guests are also welcome to join staff football matches, and there’s a volleyball league too.
I opted for something more relaxing: having taken an overnight flight and seaplane transfer to the island, I just wanted to chill out. There’s an infinity pool at the island’s northern tip where I snoozed, before heading for Kuramathi’s best beach, a sand bar stretching into the Indian Ocean that looked silvery in the sunset.
Jumping on a golf buggy back to my room, we passed Hector, a Brit in his sixties who holidays on the island around four times a year, sometimes with his children in their twenties, spending much of his time diving.
The island has two dive centres and you can take your PADI open water course there in four days. Kids can try it too, going to a maximum depth of 2m.
I didn’t dive, but the snorkelling is wonderful, and resident marine biologist Angie took me on a trip to two reefs, a 20-minute boat ride away at Rashdoo Atoll. I saw reef sharks and turtles, bright yellow longnose butterfish, black and white stripy ‘humbug’ fish and white clark’s anemonefish – made famous by Finding Nemo.
If you’ve younger children, the island also has a lovely kids’ club, Bageecha, set in a replica upturned ship’s hull, with different activities daily, including a barbecue day where three to 12 year-olds can play musical chairs in the morning and toast marshmallows in the afternoon.
Kids will also love Kuramathi’s giant, 300 year-old banyan tree in the middle of the island, and it’s an amazing site, with 300 feet of endless, Jack and the Beanstalk-style creepers and trunk.
Best Maldivian island for total relaxation: Kandolhu
It’s a 25-minute seaplane flight from Male to tiny Kandolhu, and the island is so small you can walk around it in seven minutes, with pristine beaches perfect for lazing. It also manages to pack in four restaurants, a bar, water sports centre, spa and gym, which is plenty to serve the 30 rooms.
If you want somewhere non sand-based to chill out, there’s a lovely library above reception looking out to sea, where Dickens and Brontë rub spines with The Hunger Games trilogy, and there’s a telescope for stargazing. There’s also a sunset pavilion, great for a rest after snorkelling, and there are plans to put in a kitchen there for people who fancy dinner surrounded by the ocean.
But the star of the show on Kandolhu is the house reef that you can reach directly from a short jetty. Within minutes, I’d seen a shark lurking deep below, and two turtles followed soon after. I picked an unusually cloudy day to snorkel (the weather is hot and dry from December to March, and wetter from April to November) and the water was chilly, so I headed back to my room to laze in the giant free-standing bath in my outdoor bathroom.
My room also had three showers (an outdoor one set on sand and surrounded by pebbles and lush greenery, plus two inside), a downstairs lounge area, which was generous in size but felt a little ‘executive’, and a huge bed upstairs with a balcony overlooking a private plunge pool. It was the perfect place to snooze as the sun set, before a facial at the spa.
The island imports seaweed-based Voya products, made by an Irish family firm, and the facial was thoroughly relaxing with some sore but necessary extraction halfway through. Afterwards, a pre-sleep treat had already arrived in my room: dainty pots of coconut panna cotta with some sticky and delicious banana spring rolls. Of course I ate them before heading to Olive, the resort’s Italian restaurant, for dinner.
While undeniably beautiful and remote, Kandolhu hasn’t yet the character of the other islands, having only opened in February 2014, but manager Marc is working on that, showing off the reclaimed coral-walled restaurant Sea Grill and he is commissioning photography for the bedrooms, so there’s more to come.
Getting to the Maldives
Kuoni and Universal Resorts offer seven nights at Velassaru Maldives in a deluxe bungalow with breakfast, including return economy flights from London Heathrow and transfers from £1,275 per person, based on two sharing.
Seven nights at Kuramathi Island resort in a garden villa on full board meal basis, including return economy flights from London Heathrow and transfers cost from £1,235 per person, based on two sharing.
Seven nights at Kandolhu Island in a jacuzzi villa with breakfast, including return economy flights from London Heathrow and transfers cost from £2,272 per person, based on two sharing.
Lucy Handley was a guest of Kuoni and Universal Resorts. Kuoni.co.uk