Mindful Maldives

Discover what a stay at the only wellness resort in the Maldives is really like


The entrance to Joali Being is no ordinary hotel lobby. Named the Gate of Zero, you first spot it as you approach the Maldivian island of Bodufushi, in the Raa Atoll, exiting through the clouds in a tiny sea-plane.

The poetic, white, undulating structure looks more like an art installation than a hotel reception. As it turns out, it is an art installation, designed by Turkish sculptor Seçkin Pirim, and shaped like the skirts of a whirling dervish, its ridged curves soaring into the sky.

As you enter, you are told you will “leave everything outside to live in the present” (just as the dancers do in the midst of their frenetic whirling). “Here, you start your journey from being to becoming.”

The “becoming” in question takes place at what is the only dedicated wellness island in the Maldives, which opened in late 2021.

Those of a pragmatic nature might want to turn a blind eye to the liberal use of Rumi-esque slogans bandied about at Joali Being.

There’s much talk of the “joy of weightlessness” and of your “journey”. You’ll even find inspirational messages on the coat hangers (“Go beyond your boundaries!”) — and don’t even think of calling the spa a “spa”. It’s a “transformational space” called Areka, named after the areca plant, whose betel nuts are traditionally given as a welcome gift in the Maldives. (Who knew?!)

Motivational mantras aside, however, there is a real depth to be found at the resort. While many hotels in the Maldives — from Soneva Jani to Six Senses Laamu — already offer well-respected wellness programmes, Joali Being’s offering is the first of its kind in the region. Wholly immersive, it aims to rival established retreats such as Chiva Som in Thailand and the SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain.

Founded by Turkish hotelier and entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat, this is the sister property to her starry first resort Joali, found a 15-minute boat ride away. She opened it after a lightbulb moment, realising this idyllic Indian Ocean destination, beloved by honeymooners, was actually the perfect place for travellers in search of a reset — a growing demand, post-pandemic.

As a result, she’s gathered a top-notch team of in-house practitioners, including a traditional Chinese doctor and Ayurvedic master, as well as a roster of visiting experts in disciplines such as craniosacral therapy, dynamic movement and neuroscience.

Guests can choose between a menu of well-thought-out programmes (there are 13 new launches this year, such as the Gut Reset, Weight Rebalance and Men’s Health) or cherry-pick from the huge menu of treatments and experiences on offer, based around four pillars of wellbeing; mind, energy, microbiome and skin.

To help guide you, the first port of call is an in-depth consultation with one of the in-house specialists. Mine was with naturopath Deidre Groenewald, which turned out to be a refreshingly candid chat about, well, life, health and the pressures of being a midult. The result was a curated itinerary of treatments that perfectly matched my needs.

The traditional hammam was one of these. Designed to take you “out of your head”, the very physical experience is not for the faint-hearted.

It takes place in a heated marble room at Kaashi, the hydrotherapy hall (where there is also a Watsu therapy room and a Russian Banya steam room). During the 90 minutes, you are pummelled, scrubbed and covered in a curious bubble-foaming formula to cleanse the skin.

Your hair is carefully shampooed as if you are a child again, and you are massaged with black soap, which is then rinsed off with a heart-thumping dousing of icy water to enliven the heart and skin.You emerge feeling reborn, but also a little discombobulated as to what has just happened. Mind Therapy was another recommendation “to ease over-thinking”.

Warm oil infused with myrrh, frankincense and lavender is dripped deliciously onto your scalp, and this is followed by a head, neck, and shoulder massage. The therapist also uses deep reflexology techniques on the hands and feet, to relieve any stress. As she works, you can feel your brain dial down several notches.

If fitness is your goal, then you’ve also come to the right place. Stocked with the latest Technogym equipment and home to a vast 16m-high pyramid-shaped studio for dance and boxing classes, Core is the biggest gym in the Maldives (just don’t call it a “gym”).

There’s a 3-D scanner to map your progress, a cryotherapy chamber to ease any injuries and a D-Wall Movement Analysis machine, which creates a bespoke training programme.

You’ll also find Reformer Pilates on offer and an inventive daily calendar of sports activities, which includes sunrise yoga and meditation sessions at Ocean Sala, a breezy pavilion set over the ocean.

Although impressive, it’s easy to feel slightly overwhelmed by the huge choice on offer here. But, you can also retune your mojo by just pottering about the resort.

The sound discovery path is a magical place to be, especially at dusk. Tucked away amid mature banyan trees and towering palms, you are free to strike the chimes, gongs and tubular bells in abandon, feeling their vibrations resonating within.

Or switch off totally in the circular salt room, which is lined with mesmerising, amber-hued Himalayan salt bricks, and unwind in the sauna with its views over the island’s jungle-like interior.

Aktar is another wonder; the glass room, adorned with bunches of hanging dried flowers, is home to the resort’s herbologist. She not only conjures up a variety of teas — think mallow, thyme and rose petal infusions, served after every treatment — but also runs workshops to learn more about the healing nature of herbs.

And simply rising early here, seeing the sunlight shimmering over the incredibly blue water, is restorative.

A walk around the island takes just 20 minutes and is a joyful morning practice. As you go, leaving footprints in the shell-strewn, bone-white sand, you see reef sharks playing in the shallows and black Kanbili birds skipping ahead in front of you.

Nature is at the centre of everything at Joali Being. The 68 villas have been designed with biophilic design principles, intended to connect occupants to the natural environment; here they feel like they are an extension of the tropical setting.

Sea-green glass is used for shower doors, chairs are upholstered in shades of shell pink and walls are textured like ripples in the sand. Bedrooms have soaring triple-height ceilings, and feel almost cathedral-like. The bed takes centre stage, like an altar encased in wafty, cream curtains.

The attention to detail is impressive. There’s a choice of three different bath salts, hair straighteners and a “sleeping menu” from which you can choose a variety of pillows. Each room has a library of thought-provoking books and, outside your front door sits a turquoise-painted bike, with your name engraved on a wooden plaque. Just the thing to whizz around the island.

There are also pretty kimono-style robes and soft lounge suits in case you can’t even be bothered to unpack.

The culinary offering reflects the resort’s dedication to health and nature too, all inspired by Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Maldivian flavours. The earth-to-table ethos focuses on locally sourced and unprocessed ingredients, with many dishes high in fibre and based around whole grains and vegetables.

Menus are divided across the four pillars but are essentially designed to promote gut health. The choice is wonderfully eclectic, from broths to vegetable tacos, spinach flatbreads to vegan meatballs.

By day, you eat close to the beach at Mojo; at night, the menu revs up a notch at Flow, which is lit by flickering lanterns. There are dedicated plant-based menus, plus a huge choice of fruit juices, smoothies, kombucha and mocktails.

Esin Güral Argat devised Joali Being’s wellbeing concept in conjunction with Oxford University professor Gerry Bodeker, an expert in integrative medicine. Inspired by the strong link between gut health and mental health, they wanted to put nutrition at the heart of the offering, but were conscious they didn’t want it to be too “worthy”.

The result is the opposite of uninspiring salads and chewy quinoa. Every morsel feels nourishing and good for you. Dishes are flavoursome and filling yet low in calories. You feel good after eating. Lighter. Weightless, in fact.

Getting There

Villas at Joali Being cost from around £1,750 per night based on two sharing a Grand Beach Pool Villa B&B.

Wellbeing programmes start from around £1,350 per person based on a five-night programme.

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