A slice of paradise

Head to the Maldives to discover why it’s heaven for active travellers and families


Heaven is a copy of the Indian Ocean, Mark Twain famously said — and while he suggested Mauritius, the Maldives have got just as good a case for being the inspiration for paradise.

Flying above them, the atolls sparkle turquoise in the deep blue of the ocean, as vibrant as a peacock feather with coralline white sand glinting in the tropical sun. It’s enough to make you heave a contented sigh before you’ve even touched down.

This idyllic reputation is hardly a secret of course: for years it’s been a bucket list honeymoon destination, somewhere to escape and do very little together.

But while couples hunting a romantic retreat aren’t going to be disappointed, there’s far more to attract families and those fascinated by marine life to these islands than ever before.

Which is how my seven-year-old and I found ourselves testing out just how child-friendly the two different Maldivian resorts from Four Seasons are — and joining a special programme to spot manta rays.

The two resorts, Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giraavaru both focus on marine conservation, with various research and rehabilitation projects run from the islands.

As a guest, that means a chance to get involved too, taking tours and joining activities designed for kids and adults with marine biologists. In fact, there are so many ways to fill your day — a couple of dozen daily activities from shark snorkel safaris to SUP yoga, surfing, spa treatments, scuba diving, snorkelling — that you’re in danger of not having enough time to chill out.

Having been met at arrivals, escorted to an air conditioned lounge in Male’s airport and then out to the airport jetty for our speedboat, the weariness of the long-haul flight seemed to dissolve in the sun.

Around 20 minutes later we were welcomed by waving staff and the sound of drums at Kuda Huraa, in the North Male Atoll.

Designed like a Maldivian village, nothing ever seems more than a short stroll away (although there are buggies to whisk you around if needed).

In the centre, a kids club with its own playground sits near the kids’ splash pool and infinity edge freshwater main pool, one of the largest in the Maldives — there’s also a separate adults-only pool at the other end of the island.

Four restaurants offer everything from Indian to Italian food, as well as fabulous fresh fish, a huge buffet and plenty of vegetarian options: you can also request kosher food.

Ceviche looking out to the sea from Café Huraa, the catch of the day at Kandu Grill and Keralan dishes at Baraabaru while watching sharks in the water were highlights — although the wood-fired pizzas at Reef Club restaurant were my daughter’s favourite.

There’s a house reef, a few minutes away by boat, but you only need to wander off the main beach to discover the brightly coloured fish flitting around on the snorkelling trail, part of the Reefscapers coral replanting initiative.

The spacious villas have life vests for adults and children provided as well as snorkel gear to borrow.

You needn’t even wet your toes. Wandering between the overwater villas, everything from eagle rays to black-tipped sharks and shoals of fish darted past the frames in the clear water.

And while it was tempting to lounge on our own villa’s deck — with a choice of two nets over the waves, various loungers and cushioned seats, plus a small private pool — the resort’s Marine Discovery Centre is unmissable.

Rescued turtles dive and splash in their tanks; some babies being treated for infections, others brought in as part of the turtle rehabilitation programme after being injured in ghost nets — abandoned fishing equipment.

The goal is to return as many as possible to the wild. There are talks on turtle conservation and the chance to watch them being fed: just seeing them paddle over inquisitively delighted my daughter.

And the resort’s trips, such as our boat tour to see acrobatic spinner dolphins, also begin here with an introduction to the marine life of the Maldives, as well as the chance to learn more about the threats to the ocean.

Even the treatments in the spa — currently relocated to the gardens while work is done on its usual island home — are inspired by the ocean, using products containing marine ingredients.

My indulgent Healing Waters massage (rebranded a ‘wobble wobble’ treatment for my daughter, who got a child-friendly version) took place on water-filled mattresses.

But there was a seaplane with our name on and the next resort awaited, Landaa Giraavaru in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve.

Slightly bigger than Kuda Huraa, guests get bikes (including for kids) plus the same fabulous service, beachfront snorkelling, kids club, activities and array of restaurants — Middle Eastern at Al Barakat, fish on the beach at Fuego Grill, Italian at Blu and sushi among the choices at Café Landaa.

Here we stayed in one of the beach villas, a wonderful day bed and hammock on the balcony above our private pool: the lavish overwater villas themselves have just re-opened after major renovations.

It’s no identikit copy though. You can explore the jungle trail through lusher green surroundings or discover the Ayurvedic Centre, with tailored Ayurvedic retreats on offer as well as complimentary consultations for all guests to learn more.

There are more child-friendly touches here too, including the Passport to Adventure challenges with a reward of ice cream or stuffed toy if you collect enough stamps, plus a surprisingly addictive daily postcard update about life on the reef from resort mascot, Kaku the hermit crab.

But the biggest draw here is the chance to swim with manta rays. Sign up for the special Manta On Call programme and if the rays are spotted, your Manta phone rings to tell you to grab your gear and head to the boat.

I had a bag ready, my daughter primed for kids’ club — the deeper waters and currents mean it’s not suitable for younger kids — and a magical turtle safari booked as back-up.

A leatherback sea turtle glided lazily below us in the deep waters off the reef, while in the shallows blue tangs, swirled past in a vibrant rainbow, and boxfish weaved through the corals alongside butterfly fish and triggerfish.

And the manta rays? Alas they didn’t show up before we headed home — but that gives me a great excuse, if I needed one, to return to this slice of paradise.

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