I am frequently asked which country is the best to visit. It is one of the hardest questions to answer, because the world is such a diverse place and plenty of countries I have visited have so many highlights. However, ask me which is the most beautiful location in the world and I’ll give you an immediate answer: the Maldives. It’s the only place on Earth where when you look down you see paradise, and when you look up you see heaven.
I have been lucky enough to visit the Maldives a handful of times – in 2010 I visited Coco Bodu Hithi. I was stranded there when the Icelandic ash cloud forced the cancellation of flights to Britain. It wasn’t exactly a hardship to be marooned in such a wonderful spot, and I’ve been addicted ever since, hence visiting again for my honeymoon in 2012.
The Maldives is made up of more than 1,200 tiny islands – the majority of them are uninhabited but about ten per cent are used by the tourism industry. For my most recent trip, I stayed with my husband Alex and our two children at Mirihi, which boasts palm-fringed beaches and sand that is as soft as talcum powder.
I would suggest you leave your shoes at home because when you step off the seaplane and on to the jetty after your 30-minute transfer from the capital Male, you will realise there is nowhere else like this picturesque island. At just 1,200ft long and 160ft wide, this privately owned island located in the heart of the South Ari Atoll is one of the lesser known to the UK market. The smattering of British guests I met there were are quick to tell me they want to keep Mirihi a secret. Staying here is like living on your own private island. It is classy yet understated and not at all stuffy.
In 2015 Mirihi was voted by the French publication Voyages De Reve as one of the top ten hotels in the world for honeymooners, but I’d say it’s the perfect place for anyone looking for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation, or those who want to try some of the best diving in the world. If you are a foodie, you won’t be disappointed either.
The 160 members of staff constantly polishing the bifolding doors of the Anba bar or grooming and sifting the fine white sand look impeccable in their brightly coloured uniforms. They are a credit to Guenther Kofler, the resort’s manager. Much like him, they are polite, efficient and informative and they all smell amazing, as if they have bathed in the island’s zesty fresh cologne.
Every inch of this resort is pristine and the staff so attentive that you feel every bit as relaxed as one of the petals of the flower Mirihi is named after. The accommodation is Maldivian with a Swiss twist – luxurious bathrooms, designer furnishings, a sitting area with a sound system, and a Nespresso coffee machine with complimentary pods each day. There are a total of 37 palm-thatched villas – six on the beach come with outdoor bathrooms, and 30 water villas that have steps straight into the lagoon.
Staff outnumber guests by two to one, but even when the hotel is at full capacity, Mirihi never feels overcrowded. You only ever really see 20 members of the team – the rest are behind the scenes running this well-oiled machine.
During our seven-night stay we picked out a few favourites – the English- and German-speaking mixologist J. C. Perera, and Adam and Malaz, two of our regular waiters.
As you relax on your sunbed watching the crystal-clear waters ripple against the shore, you can expect to meet Shahula and Sithura each day. They will offer you a cold towel and a slice of thirst-quenching watermelon.
When it comes to catering, the food is outstanding. There may be only two restaurants – the culinary delights from the a la carte menu in Muraka or the buffet dining experience in Dhonveli – but the selection on offer is like no other, rivalling that of the world-famous Sandy Lane buffet in Barbados.
You can help yourself to fresh lobster or oysters on seafood night, or head for the incredible display of sushi on Asian night. The food looks almost too good to eat. Felix, the head chef, is one the most passionate people I have ever met, and he is proud to give guests a tour of Dhonveli restaurant each evening to show off his creations.
My tastebuds certainly got a workout, but I wish I could say the same for my body. I did visit the island’s gym three times but I’m sure I returned to the UK carrying a few extra pounds. I think I took comfort from Felix’s words of wisdom. ‘Laura, you are on holiday,’ he told me. ‘It’s fine!’
Although relaxation at Mirihi is key, should you wish to participate in any excursions or activities, the team are happy to book them on your behalf. We took a half-day trip to watch whale sharks, and we also got to swim with dolphins, manta rays and turtles. An unforgettable experience. We enjoyed wine-tasting with Alexander, who is not officially the island’s sommelier but might as well have been.
There is the option of rum-tasting, too – Mirihi has the biggest collection in the Maldives, with 130 varieties – but I was happy to stick with the wine, otherwise I think I would have been out cold for the remainder of our stay.
What you won’t find on Mirihi is a swimming pool, but why would you need one when you have a clear-water lagoon less than 15ft from your bedroom? The resort had the option of building a pool when the site was renovated back in late 2014, but opted against it as the thought of individuals fighting for sunbeds was not in their remit.
Having visited islands with and without a pool, I think they made the right decision. We didn’t miss having one.
However, one thing I can’t live without when I’m on holiday is a spa, and the therapists at the Duniye Spa on the island are some of the best. In a place that could warrant charging more, the treatments were well priced and good value. Needless to say, I visited every other day. Throughout the day at Mirihi, you can use the complimentary kayaks, try your hand at windsurfing or snorkel in the reef to spot the spectacularly coloured fish.
Prices for seven nights on a half-board basis start from £2,249pp. This includes transfers and return flights from Heathrow with Qatar Airways.