Luxury is one of the most overused words in travel. It seems to describe every new hotel from a glamping site in Wales to the latest 6* Dubai Palace, which leaves you wondering how can we really assess what luxury really means?
When you google ‘luxury destinations’ what are you really searching for? You’re probably expecting it to be more expensive but is your idea of luxury really being met? After all, luxury means different things to different people. For some, it means winding down, practising mindfulness and finding inner peace. For others it means spending precious time with the family and having enough facilities and entertainment on offer everyone is kept happy. Or it may simply mean an indulgence of amenities, top food from world-class chefs and an abundance of staff ready to deliver your every whim.
For me personally, luxury means a laid-back environment, with a hotel team having anticipated my needs before I’ve even asked for it. From fantastic food, not having to fight for a sunbed, a gorgeous spa overlooking the ocean, lots of watersports to keep my husband happy so I can lie back in peace and enjoy my book and the view.
So I was in heaven when I arrived at the new Maldives gem, Emeralds Resort, which managed effortlessly to tick all of the above boxes. Emeralds luxury’s personalised laid-back approach and warm welcome ensured I immediately felt at home. With the removal of formal eating times, and surprising welcome touches such as no hidden costs with mini bars or cocktails, I instantly relaxed with the knowledge I wouldn’t be stung on the extras bill when I checked out.
If you haven’t been, the Maldives is the most beautiful place in the world. It’s made up of a cluster of white-sanded semi-deserted, coconut palm tree-lined islands, surrounded by crystal shallow, turquoise seas and accessible only by seaplane. I felt like an A-list celebrity before I’d even arrived. Stepping off the seaplane onto a boat, I was whizzed to the jetty and warmly greeted by waving staff, waiting with a glass of Champagne in hand and grass emerald necklaces made of leaves. And relax…..
I was lucky enough to visit this new resort during our winter months (their summer) and their understanding of what I needed to truly went way beyond a 400 thread-count crisp Egyptian cotton sheets encasing my feathered pillow.
Firstly there was space, not easy to achieve on a small island, but a concerted effort has been made to only build 60 villas onto the 20 square acre island to accompany 60 water villas. This instantly gave me privacy and breathing space to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the crystal blue sea from my room, with no noisy neighbours to disturb my fun. And the rooms are enormous, think Kardashian-style bathrooms with stand-alone baths situated to look out directly to the sea, huge two-person showers and walk-in wardrobes gave me space to relax and spread out. The style is natural elegance where they have used the natural beauty of their surroundings and brought them into the design wherever possible: living walls on the sides of the water villas to reflect the lush agricultural forest of the island; huge floor to ceiling windows allowing the beach and water to feel within my room; natural stone, bamboo and lang lang (think long thatch) roofs all blended effortlessly into the natural surroundings.
There are no specified dining times so I could choose between the four different internationally-acclaimed restaurants at any time of the day (perfect for my long lie-ins) which included the Maldives’ first ever South Brazilian restaurant and a Thai fusion to complement a vast buffet all cuisine dining and a beach island grill where you sit with sand underfoot. The chefs welcomed any personalisation of the menus and were more than happy to create fresh alternatives around any dietary requirement or whim of appetite.
I personally loved the wine tasting by a top South African sommelier offered at the sea edge at sunset – there’s nothing better than sipping crystal cold rosé while my ankles splashed in the warm sea.
Another highlight was the snorkelling excursion, where you are out on a huge boat to go snorkelling – despite the rain and poor visibility the day we went out, we found a pod of five Manta Rays majestically circling below us – it was such an exciting experience to be able to witness. We also had the incredibly experience of watching dolphins dancing around our boat on the way back to hotel.
The Maldives is a special, incredible place to visit, but the personalisation of Emerald resort and the thoughtful finishing touches: your own bikes parked and returned outside your villa, every drink, cocktail, ice cream and meal wherever you want it, and a house coral reef that houses Nemo and family available from any access point make it quite possibly my favourite place on earth. If you want luxury, just search Emerald.