Indian Ocean unplugged

With a constant barrage of notifications on our phones, switching off has never been harder. Our writer resolves to do better on a digi detox in the Maldives


I knew I had a problem when — at 6am in my darkened bedroom — I broke out in a cold sweat, thinking I had lost my phone. I had got so used to waking up, reaching for my little screen and checking updates, that the thought of not be able to do this had resulted in a disproportionate level of anxiety.

I knew I had to do something about it when I later found my phone hidden in my pillow case, where it had slipped the previous evening after some late-night scrolling. Being constantly connected to the digital world had taken over my real one.

I’m not alone in having a smartphone addiction. A recent survey by Ofcom found the average person in the UK spends more than a day online each week, twice as long as ten years ago, with one in five adults spending as much as 40 hours a week on the web.

While much of my screen usage is down to work, I realised that most of my relaxation time was also spent on devices and I was finding it increasingly hard to switch off — literally.

When I was offered the chance of a solo ‘digi-detox’ trip to the Maldives, I wasn’t surprised to find that the idea simultaneously appealed and appalled.

By the time I reached Mirihi Island, in the South Ari Atoll — seamlessly easy thanks to a direct flight from London to Malé (complete with WiFi) and a short hop on a sea-plane — I had watched two movies, answered all my emails, was on top of the news back at home, and had checked in with family.

Despite the cobalt-blue skies, the impossibly azure sea and bleached sands surrounding me, I was feeling quite grumpy at the prospect of not being ‘in touch’ for the few days I was here. What would I do all day? Who would I share the experience (and the photos) with? How would my family manage without being able to reach me?

I’m embarrassed to say that, at first, I hardly took in the exotic beauty around me.

Ten minutes on the tiny Mirihi Island changed that. It is a literal barefoot retreat: as soon as you arrive, shoes are discarded, and not seen again until you leave, and flip-flops are left unpacked.

Everyone pads around the sand-floored resort barefoot, with buckets of water to rinse off your feet before entering your villa and restaurants.

While the Maldives’ more glitzy new openings have been making news recently (think resorts with under-water suites, slides to deliver you into the ocean and Michelin-starred restaurants), Mirihi is altogether different.

“Our USP is to offer our guests a ‘quiet’ form of luxury,” says the gently-spoken general manager Mohamed Shareef, who has been at the resort since it opened 18 years ago.

“We’re not about fuss — so you won’t find a butler service, but you will find our staff friendly and personable. Just ask and we will do our best to meet your needs, but we won’t bother you if we see you are relaxing. Yes, we have a whole range of activities on offer, but, ultimately, this is an island to come to when you want to unwind and find some headspace.”

After I said goodbye to my phone and iPad (which I locked away in my safe), I went in search of some headspace of my own. Neither the over-water villas or beach hideaways come with TV, so there’s no chance of binge-watching. Instead, the entertainment is the natural vista around you.

The ultimate Maldivian experience is to reside over the ‘deep blue’, butthe beach villas have their own charm, giving a castaway feel with doors opening onto the sandy shores.

Décor is simple and pared-back — whitewashed walls, open-air bathrooms and colourful naïve artworks depicting the tropical colours of the region (many of the canvases have been created by the staff).

My first day I filled ticking off some of the activities on offer. There’s an early morning yoga class and end of day meditation (I was the first to arrive for both).

Stretching by the turquoise hues of the ocean was an invigorating start to the day, and ending it by emptying the mind allowed me to think much more clearly.

Contrary to what I’d expected, hours go quickly on Mirihi. It may be tiny at just 350 metres long and 50 metres wide, but it boasts one of the best house reefs in the Maldives, so much time is spent snorkelling and swimming, taking in the incredible underwater life just feet from your villa.

From reef sharks to manta rays, turtles to parrot fish, each visit brings a different encounter with vivid-hued creatures.

Day two was spent on the resort’s 55 foot pine-wood yacht as part of the Whale Shark Safari — a day trip with Mirihi’s resident experts in search of pods of whale sharks and manta-rays.

You are encouraged to jump into the water and snorkel alongside the gentle giants, which was a daunting yet moving experience. Before I knew it, the day had sped past.

Dining is another highlight and to encourage conversation and connectivity with each other, none of the restaurants and bars have WiFi. The central, laid-back Dhonveli Restaurant offers Maldivian specialities, under the watchful eye of jolly head-chef Felix Bamert.

Marrying Indian flavours and Sri Lankan traditions, Maldivian cuisine is light and moderately spicy with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes — Tempered Jackfruit with Mustard, Banana Curry, and Pumpkin Salad with Tamarind Dressing, for example.

Meanwhile, Muraka — the over-sea restaurant — offers a fine-dining experience. If at first it seems too romantic a setting for solo travellers, after a sip of chilli-passion-fruit daiquiri, you realise that having a meal here (alone or not) is undoubtedly one of the most uplifting ways to reflect on your day.

The cooking classes at Chef Felix are also an engaging way to spend an afternoon, and you can master simple recipes, such as Red Lentil Curry, Pol Roti Coconut Bread and Banana Fritters.

By day four, I had overslept and missed yoga and, after a late breakfast of exotic fruit and freshly-baked rye toast, headed to the deserted beach to flop on one of the bean bags.

Lunch was beachside — I was in no hurry to move much — and by mid-afternoon I had nearly finished one of the books that had been gathering dust for months by my bedside back home.

That night, after a rum and chocolate tasting under the palm trees, I realised it would soon be time to go home. I wondered what the news was back in the UK. I idly contemplated work. I should check in, I thought.

But what’s the rush? Tomorrow will be here soon enough.

Maybe I had too much rum, but nothing else seemed to matter except the moment.


Like this? Sign up for more with our JC Life newsletter

From fabulous recipes, to parenting tips;  travel and West End entertainment; insightful interviews and much more: there’s more to  the JC than news

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive