I have stayed in many of the most impressive overwater villas in the Maldives and there are certain attributes they share: unobstructed views of the Indian Ocean; easy access to its bath-warm waters; private pools; and a position intended to frame the sunrise or the sunset perfectly.
Still, as with all the best things in life, the most special moments afforded by these hovering hotel rooms are the most simple. Happily sozzled from too much sun, I will often retreat to my villa’s deck for an afternoon snooze with the murmur of gently lapping water as a soundtrack: a perfect holiday moment. Then there are those unexpected flashes of pure delight, like when I look out on another sultry evening to see the setting sun has turned the turquoise sea molten, or when I glance underfoot to see the shallow lagoon is providing calm passage for a solitary turtle.
And I can confirm those pleasures are more potent now than ever: I am writing this from an overwater villa at Vakkaru Maldives resort. I flew from London to the Maldives on Saturday to rumours of another lockdown, landing on Sunday to discover that my journey home might be considerably more difficult. Still, there are worse places to be stranded and it is highly likely that this tourism-dependent nation will be reinstated on our travel corridors list when holidaymakers from the UK are again permitted to travel there.
With staff subject to stringent testing and quarantine, visitors required to submit negative PCR tests prior to arrival and every resort on its own private island, staying here right now feels like true escapism and a longed-for return to “normal”. The worries of the world seem further away when you are seemingly floating on water. Here’s my pick of the best overwater villas in the Maldives.
FOR A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
The Muraka at Conrad Maldives
From afar, The Muraka overwater villa at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resembles a mammoth Palm Springs bungalow, but its defining attribute in fact lies 17ft beneath the sea’s surface. Just above the ocean floor and encased within an acrylic dome, its master suite inverts the aquarium experience: here guests reside while rainbows of shimmering fish float mesmerisingly outside. It is a bedroom like no other, but even so The Muraka has so much more to offer: upstairs awaits an infinity pool and yoga pavilion, while its VVIP guests enjoy exclusive experiences.
Read the full hotel review: Conrad Maldives
A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
John Jacob Astor Estate at St Regis Maldives
“Home” may seem too humble a term for a 16,570 sq ft villa, but for the billionaire class who are happy to shell out a minimum of £18,500 a night to stay here, it is likely that their own properties stretch to a similar scale. The St Regis’s signature suite does all it can to encourage them to settle in for longer too, eschewing the decorative seaside tropes and supposed castaway chic found in many Maldivian resorts to create instead a space that considers the practical needs of long-term guests. Alongside its staff quarters, gym, spa section, yoga terrace, pool and tiny private beach, its master suite incorporates an office and no fewer than seven televisions (with Netflix at the ready for rainy-day distraction) and its professional-grade kitchen includes everything the resort’s chefs might need to rustle up dinners both fuss-free and fancy.
Private Reserve at Gili Lankanfushi
Half a mile from the resort and the largest overwater villa in the world at 18,300 sq ft, Gili Lankanfushi’s Private Reserve is a playground for wealthy travellers who prioritise privacy above all else. Truly self-contained and with a nanny’s quarters alongside four vast bedrooms, it’s almost needless to say it includes an infinity pool, gym and 24-hour butler service; more unexpected are the sauna, steam room and slide. One of its most attractive features, however, is among the most basic. Set on wooden poles above the water, a stand-alone hammock offers endless views of the turquoise Indian Ocean.
Read the full hotel review: Gili Lankanfushi
FOR LAID-BACK FAMILY HOLIDAYS
The Residence at Vakkaru Maldives
The awards won by the Residence at Vakkaru Maldives are proof enough that it is regarded as one of the country’s best villas. Accommodating up to eight adults across 10,450 sq ft, the sunset-facing property is especially popular with families, who are gifted a range of special experiences should they book a stay at the property. They range from high tea to a private beach barbecue, bespoke yoga sessions and a movie night with bottomless popcorn, candyfloss and ice cream.
The Crescent at Niyama Private Islands
Removed from the rest of the resort’s inventory, The Crescent at Niyama Private Islands is a spread of five pool villas intended to be booked en masse by friends or multi-generation families who are perhaps in the Maldives for a special birthday, an anniversary or a destination wedding. Staying alongside rather than on top of one another, groups of up to 14 adults and eight children can expect attentive service from their two butlers, private chef and housekeeper. The resort also makes a special effort to ensure that guests share memorable moments during their stay, with packages providing their party with a private sunset cruise, a traditional Maldivian Boduberu musical and dance performance, and a starlit barbecue.
Read the full hotel review: Niyama Private Islands
FOR SIMPLE SEASIDE CHIC
Dhoni Water Villas at COMO Cocoa Island
Beautiful though they invariably are, most island resorts simply duplicate concepts successfully realised by their competitors. That ubiquity means that even the simplest deviations from the norm have a capacity to charm, which may be why the Dhoni Water Villas at COMO Cocoa Island are so appealing. Designed to resemble traditional Maldivian fishing boats, these cute abodes are finished with plain white walls so all attention is focused on the dazzling blues of the surrounding ocean.
FOR ROOFTOP RELAXATION
Overwater Villas at LUX* North Male Atoll
Ambitiously but enticingly branded as penthouses, the two-storey overwater villas at LUX* North Male Atoll have flat roofs rather than the traditional thatches that are so frequently seen in Maldivian resorts. This is relevant because these rooftops have been appropriated as so-called Sky Lounges and they can serve as all manner of recreational spaces. This means that guests can enjoy, for example, their own private rooftop cinema experience with popcorn and cocktails, or even have a decadent sunset barbecue from their own Indian Ocean eyrie, where the seafood feast might include such dishes as oysters Rockefeller, ginger and chilli crab and citrus tuna tartare.
Read the full hotel review: LUX* North Male Atoll
FOR OCEAN OBSESSIVES
Overwater Villas at Hurawalhi
It might seem strange to recommend an overwater villa by saying I don’t like it, but hear me out. I found Hurawalhi’s villas dreary – the rooms don’t encourage you to linger. However, Hurawalhi’s house reef is so flush with life that it must be one of the best in the country, with more than 2,000 species of fish and 200 types of coral. There are 50 dive sites within easy reach, while glass-walled undersea restaurant 5.8 provides another perspective on the marine marvels so abundant here. For those drawn to overwater villas because they are obsessed with the ocean, few other places offer such immediate immersion in the wonders of the water.
FOR DESIGN LOVERS
Overwater villas at Cheval Blanc Randheli
That every corner of Cheval Blanc Randheli seems photo shoot-ready is down to two things: LVMH and Jean-Michel Gathy. The property forms part of the fashion-forward group’s portfolio, so looking the part is essential; hired to make sure the setting became an acme for aesthetes, Gathy is one of the world’s most highly regarded hotel designers. I was taken by lofty cathedral-style ceilings and the 23ft-high handcrafted wooden panels that can be turned to open or close the villa’s disparate spaces. Other touches are more discreet, with teak, thatch and coconut shell elements incorporated to make the space seem natural.
Read the full hotel review: Cheval Blanc Randheli