By Jeninne Lee-St. John
Oct 21, 2020
Remember when a vacation in the Maldives was a definitely super-special-occasion, probably once-in-a-lifetime trip? Well, the island nation is now going totally the other way with it.
Starting in December, they’re launching a nationwide loyalty program to encourage you to keep coming back. The Maldives Border Miles campaign allotts you points every time you enter the country, with bonuses for special-occasion visits. Accumulating more points moves you up in their three-tiered system, giving you access to special privileges and exclusive benefits. And it’ll be easier than ever to get into the first South Asian country to open to tourists now that the Maldives says they’ll accept negative Covid-test results from up to 96 hours (an extension from the previous 72-hour requirement) prior to your flight in.
If you’re wondering where to splash out for your first foray, I’m going to mix metaphors here and say you’ll definitely land a triple axel at Ozen Reserve Bolifushi, which opens in November. This gorgeous private island has an ice skating rink (what!). Its all-inclusive rate includes cellar-worthy champagnes and aged whiskies. Since the baseline here is all pool villas, reset your luxe-ometer to get excited about their combo overwater-villa/private-beach multi-building-compound Royal Residence, and also their waterslides into the sea.
Speaking of two-story slides, that’s practically Soneva Fushi’s signature, and they’re one of two resorts to have just opened new OTT villas in which you’re guaranteed to get lost. Soneva Fushi is laying claim to the world’s largest one- and two-bedroom overwater bungalows. At 584 square meters and 857 square meters respectively, these eight pads come with outdoor showers ringed by ocean, glass-paneled floors for peeping on the fishies (or your significant other after they slide underwater), and retractable roofs for stargazing from bed.
Courtesy of Raffles Maldives Meradhoo.
Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, meanwhile, is trying to entice you and your closest 14 friends to their new Royal Residence, a three-bedroom villa that can expand to six and stretches 1,700 square meters. The 40-meter pool on the private beach is where we’re likely to spend most of our time, but with so much space, you can book en suite spa treatments or a barbecue dinner party for two dozen guests. Everyone up to the roofdeck for sunset views with rare spirits and cigars.
It’s a great way to toast what’s set to be an exciting year ahead for the luxury archipelago. Chedi, Sun Siyam, The Ritz-Carlton, Capella and Capella Group’s about-to-be-birthed Patina brand are all moving into the Maldives for the first time. Chedi Kudavillingili, a quick 25-minute hop from Male, will be boutique in size, with 99 villas, but big on bells and whistles, such as the country’s longest pool, 150 meters. December should bring the debut of Siyam World, where I can’t decide which is more exciting: the 22 hectares of white-sand beaches, or the all-inclusive rate that includes round-the-clock dining service from 11 restaurants and, yes, alcohol.
The Ritz-Carlton—designed by architect Kerry Hill, with Summer Pavilion restaurant by Michelin-starred Cantonese chef Cheung Siu Kong, and an interactive Jean-Michel Cousteau conservation program—opens its 100 pool villas in May 2021 but has just opened its system for reservations. Capella will be bringing villas and what they’re calling “mansions” designed by starchitect Kengo Kuma and interior designer Andre Fu. Their parent company has also selected the Maldives for their first-ever Patina, with 90 one- to three-bedroom villas and 20 studios for an independent-minded, well-grounded, younger-skewing, less traditional but still highbrow audience (think: Canggu in the Maldives).
All three are in the Fari Islands, north of Male, part of a stunning new development for top-tier travelers looking for access to multiple offerings but steeped in a sense of place and a feeling of being truly far-flung. The hub Fari Marina Village will feature a beach club; art, music, fashion and design programming; creatively curated boutiques; and fab F&B for your indulging-in-paradise pleasure.
The Fari Islands opening is one of the next-generation masterplans changing how travelers experience the Maldives. The most recent example is Crossroads, another multi-island integrated resort that’s more family-focused, with two accommodation options in SAii Lagoon Maldives Curio Collection by Hilton and Hard Rock Hotel Maldives, and practically in viewing distance of the capital’s international airport.
Among our essentially new (read: opened just pre-Covid) extremely exclusive faves are the 26-house, 24-hour spa, eat-whenever-and whatever-you-like, private-beach-community-vibe, serious-cool-points The Nautilus, whose yacht you’re going to want to take to manta-ray and whale-shark hub Hanifaru Bay. And: the design-forward Velaa Private Island that has its own submarine, all the better to check out the largest coral regeneration project in the country; a spa featuring bling treatments like a green caviar facial and a snow room; and a nine-hole golf course with an academy designed by short-game-master José María Olazábal.
I could honestly (obviously) go on; the Maldives is awash in awesome options for each of your Border Miles border crossings. And, as one of the only countries in the region open to tourists from anywhere without any restrictions (so long as they stay on one island), the Maldives is looking like an ever-more appealing place to spend Christmas. And New Year’s. And Chinese New Years. And Easter…