Try to conjure up an image of the Maldives – those diminutive dots in the Indian Ocean – and impossibly clear skies, water in every shade of blue and pure white sands won’t be far away. The Maldives’ idyllic setting and year-round tropical climate are frequently sought out by honeymooners, families of all ages, diving fanatics and literally anyone whose idea of heaven is lying in a beach hammock with a cocktail. It’s very difficult not to fall head over heels for the laid-back lifestyle and, in the case of secluded Rangali Island – a 30-minute seaplane ride from the Maldivian capital Malé – having your every whim catered for. World-class hoteliers Conrad opened up here in 2007, dotting a selection of family suites and over-water villas around the tiny island to create a private luxury resort. Last year, it set its final jewel in the Rangali crown with the launch of the world’s only underwater villa, The Muraka. Here’s how to tick it off your bucket list…
The resort’s deluxe suites and over-water villas feature indoor/outdoor living spaces, some with private pools and all with incredible sea views. But for the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime experience, Conrad Rangali’s The Muraka (meaning ‘coral’ in the native Dhivehi language) is the hands-down winner. Idling at the end of a long pier – heightening the feeling of exclusivity while still allowing access to the rest of the resort – sits what looks like a one-storey villa. Inside feels quietly luxurious: two bedrooms, art-adorned walls, ocean-facing bathtubs, a private-chef-equipped kitchen and a huge terrace with a lap infinity pool overlooking that endless blue yonder. Impressed? This is a mere appetizer: go down in the private elevator and you’ll be met with views of reef fish, sand sharks and schools of dancing silver fish. The Muraka’s suite is a glass bubble located 6ft under the surface of the water, giving guests unbelievable 180-degree views into the surrounding coral’s flora and fauna from the bedroom, walk-in closet and even the shower room. After the initial shock and awe, it’s surprisingly soothing to listen to the silence of the ocean from your cloud-like, king-size bed.
As beautiful as life on this island is, it’s fair to say that – particularly for city dwellers – the peace and quiet might become, well, too quiet. If you need a bit of distraction or you want to be active during your stay, you’ll be well catered for, whether you’re in the mood for a gentle sunrise yoga session on the Rangali Queen boat, a thrilling snorkeling excursion with the on-site diving team (with a little patience and luck, you’ll swim with whale sharks, manta rays and giant turtles) or anything else in between. If all that activity gets too much, head to the resort’s stilt-raised Over Water Spa to indulge in a traditional Maldivian treatment where you’ll be exfoliated, moisturized and massaged. Even the colorful shoals swimming underneath can’t deflect from the feeling of total and utter serenity.
While the charm of the Maldives is in feeling far removed from the rest of the world, every culinary want from across the globe is satisfied at Conrad Rangali. Its 12 dining experiences are sprawled across the island, encompassing everything from al fresco Japanese teppanyaki to beachside lobster and champagne barbecues, and even the Maldives’ first cheese-and-wine bar. Celebrity chef Jereme Leung heads up Chinese restaurant Ufaa, which specializes in steaming xiao long bao dumplings and unctuous hand-pulled noodles, while open-air Vilu serves up a vibrant Mediterranean menu on the edge of the lagoon. If you’re celebrating an extra-special occasion, Ithaa – the world’s first underwater restaurant – seats a maximum of 14 people for an intimate dinner like no other. The tunnel-like glass structure attracts coral fish and sand sharks that glide silently past as you dine on local dishes such as blackened scallops and curried prawn bisque.