Take time to savour the paradise of Hurawalhi.
Lying on the sundeck of our over-water villa at Hurawalhi Island Resort, it’s hard to remember just hours ago we were rushing through busy Malé to catch the seaplane to paradise. And what a paradise it is! In front of me is an ocean of turquoise and indigo stretched to the horizon, where fluffy white clouds mark the border between sea and sky. In the distance, the island’s beach gleams under the brilliant sun as palm trees sway in the gentle breeze. It’s exactly how you picture the Maldives.
Opened in December 2016, Hurawalhi is a private coral island set in the north of the Lhaviyani Atoll. Getting here requires a 40-minute seaplane flight from Malé plus a five-minute speedboat ride. After a scenic journey over the Indian Ocean, you arrive at the resort welcomed by smiling staff, a glass of bubbly and a leisurely rhythm played on traditional Maldivian drums to set the pace of your great escape.
Check-in is a relaxed affair. At the open-air reception with a refreshing drink in hand and toes dug into cool sand, I sit back and take in the postcard-perfect view. The realisation that I am indeed in the Maldives, a world away from the skyscrapers, traffic jams and deadlines finally sinks in.
In no time we are ready for breakfast at the Canneli Restaurant (you will be taken to your villa if you arrive in the afternoon or if your villa is ready), which serves an international buffet thrice daily. My growling stomach urges me to devour the pancakes as quickly as possible, but there’s something in the air that tells me to slow down and savour every bite. Perhaps it’s the lulling sounds of the waves lapping against the beach? Or maybe it’s the egret standing on rocks nearby, waiting patiently for a crab, like it has all the time in the world?
Later we settle into our home for the next few days, and decide that instead of packing activities into the afternoon, we’ll simply laze around or take a dip in the clear lagoon. While all 90 Ocean and Beach villas share the same chic, natural design and modern furnishings, the Ocean Villas and Ocean Pool Villas are built on the lagoon, giving you direct access to the inviting water through a staircase from the sundeck. The villa is spacious and homey, and the door of the shower opens to the sundeck, which is convenient after a swim.
At the beginning of monsoon season, the sky can go from sunny to stormy in minutes; but the lagoon is a constant, mesmerising robin egg blue. It’s a soothing sight even when dark clouds approach. If you look closely enough, you can see different marine creatures zoom by below the villa, although it’s difficult when the sea is rough.
With little wildlife on land (aside from bats, geckos and egrets), the spotlight is on the rich sea life here. Strolling around the island we frequently spot fish and blacktip reef sharks swimming near the shore; but the real treasure lies deeper under the sea.
Thousands of fish species thrive around the island, so grab your snorkel or scuba diving gear and get in the water. There are half-day and full-day trips to discover the atoll’s colourful reefs where you may encounter sea turtles and manta rays, and the resort’s house reefs are also not to be missed. With regular introductory sessions and snorkelling sites for different levels, even less confident swimmers can get a glimpse of the mysterious world below the surface.
A knowledgeable instructor will guide you through the basics and accompany you during the tour, ensuring safety and showing you what to look for. There is nothing more peaceful than the quietude underwater, and nothing more exciting than swimming alongside a reef shark. The farther out to sea, the more you will see: funny-looking sea cucumbers, majestic stingrays and all sorts of exotic fish – if you’re searching for Nemo, the colourful sea anemones are where the orange clownfish call home. Remember to capture some of this magic through the lens (you can rent a GoPro from the diving centre).
Can’t swim at all? Visit the 5.8 Undersea Restaurant and you will be able to appreciate marine life up close without getting wet, all the while indulging in an exquisite meal with your loved one. It’s currently the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant, located 5.8 metres below surface where colonies of coral gather.
Dining here is a multisensory enjoyment. Look to the left to see flamboyant damselfish leisurely minding their own business; on the right a few small fish playing hide-and-seek in a shipwreck decoration; look up and you may see larger fish zooming around hunting for their own meal.
But when the first dish of the tasting menu is served, your nose will lead you back to the table: a treasure trove of bite-sized appetizers with the most promising aromas. The mains that follow are just as toothsome. They can be yellow fin tuna, Angus beef and red mullet, or in my case artichoke with goat’s cheese and morel mushrooms, zucchini flower with roasted eggplant and tomato jam, and the delicious forest mushroom risotto from the vegetarian menu. Chef de cuisine Bjoern van den Oever, who also heads the Aquarium Restaurant above, is known for his creativity and changes the menus based on season and his inspiration. Both lunch and dinner are available but I am recommended to arrive at 6pm – great advice as you can witness the transition between day and night, which is nothing short of spectacular.
REST AND RESET
Those with a thirst for adventure will enjoy the excursions and water sports, but the isolated paradise also provides an ideal setting for ‘me’ time. The resort has a range of wellness programmes to help you return to balance physically, mindfully and spiritually. So even though there is Wi-Fi throughout, try to unplug for a day or two – if not for the entire holiday – and take some time truly for yourself.
Begin your day with sunrise yoga to gently awaken the body and senses, then head to Duniye Spa for a wellness breakfast to load up on healthy selections like the banana berry bowl and tuna bento, as well as an array of fresh pressed juices and smoothies. You can also book a wellness lunch to sample scrumptious, healthy dishes – the Asian infused broth with soba noodles and crispy lotus root is a favourite, while the soya milk and banana ice cream satisfies the sweet tooth without guilt.
Several visits to the Duniye Spa are also necessary to complete your getaway. ‘Duniye’ means ‘universe’, which reflects the spa’s holistic approach. Not simply a place to relax, the spa focuses on holistic well-being, from head to toe and from the inside and out. The treatment rooms are housed in the overwater spa villa connected to the reception by a bridge, which creates the feeling you are stepping into a sanctuary of bliss.
Try the signature Sense of Touch massage for an uplifting treatment. Warm ginger and lemongrass herbal poultices are used to stimulate and harmonise the body’s natural energy flow, while the African Potato body balm by Healing Earth has a pleasant, refreshing scent and replenishes your skin with antioxidants. What makes the spa experience extra special, however, is the therapists who are gifted, not only with their hands, but also with an intuitive understanding of the guest’s needs so you can feel their genuine care. Also worth mentioning is the glass panel below the treatment bed, which provides another opportunity of sea-life spotting if you manage to stay awake during the treatment.
Aside from the menu of body, face and beauty treatments, the spa regularly invites visiting practitioners to offer different healing experiences. During my stay, reiki master and energy healer Shaylini Somani gives me my first reiki session. Unlike a massage, Somani directs energy to different parts of the body to remove blockages, balance the chakras and activate the body’s natural healing processes. The consultation with her leaves the most memorable impression. We discuss the four aspects of well-being – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and it’s freeing to speak about concerns and issues without worry of being judged. At the end of the session, while some physical discomfort remains, I feel lighter and hopeful, with a smile on my face for the rest of the evening.
Life is simple at Hurawalhi, but that doesn't mean you’ll get bored easily here. You can fill your day with wellness activities, dive, indulge in succulent food, take a sunset cruise and return for a cocktail; whichever you choose, there’s no need to hurry, as a sense of ease and happiness permeates the island.
The staff always look like they are in the best mood; their smiles not merely polite but heartfelt. On the day of departure a waiter at the Canneli Restaurant asked me if I was feeling better (I’d caught a cold during the flight over), a touching surprise that he remembered. It dawned on me then, that while the ocean has a natural, calming effect, it was the staff who created such a relaxed atmosphere, where you feel like you are part of a family. Perhaps this is what makes this little island so special. www.hurawalhi.com
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Awaken your body and senses through beach yoga; the 5.8 Undersea Restaurant offers a unique, multisensory dining experience; slow down, sit back and simply enjoy the mesmerising view.