Looking from above and from afar, the hundreds of islands that make up the Maldives vaguely resemble an inverted night sky.
Countless turquoise islands, sandbars, atolls and reefs scattered in a deep blue sea stand out like the stars, burning and hanging in the endless night of our universe.
It’s easy to feel insignificant, small, a tiny cog in the vastness of nature.
Perhaps that’s why many seek out that remote destination and the opportunity to leave behind a million worries and responsibilities, however briefly.
After two plane trips, a seaplane and a speedboat, my toes are in the sand, and I’m greeted on the island of Milaidhoo with a bottle of ice-cold coconut water to rehydrate, quickly followed by a glass of Champagne,
I’m here to experience a new stargazing retreat, allowing guests to experience the beauty of our galaxy from an Indian Ocean paradise.
Maldivian Milky Way
As a country that is 99% water, the Maldives is the perfect place for stargazing, with excellent dark sky quality and little light pollution between the islands.
Starting in the spring of 2023, Milaidhoo will be offering a number of astronomy retreats, timed to maximize the chances of clear skies.
It will be outside the traditional rainy season, which runs approximately from May to October, with dates based on analysis of an indigenous Maldivian calendar system known as nakaiy, lunar cycles and astronomical events.
The retreat will include the opportunity to name a star, guided stargazing, lectures on the history and culture of the Maldivian night sky, and dinner under the stars on a secluded sandbar.
Guests will be offered a “healing space” treatment, beginning with vibrating singing bowls, followed by a Balinese massage using rose aromatherapy – inspired by a rose that was sent into space at the end of the 1990s, on an experimental basis to create a brand new fragrance.
They will also have the chance to set sail on a traditional Maldivian dhoni and learn the ancient skill of wayfinding – using the sun, stars and waves to steer a course.
Guests will have the opportunity to spot the winter constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, including Orion, Taurus and Auriga, as well as stars such as Sirius, the brightest in our night sky.
Milaidhoo is only a few degrees north of the equator, so it may also be possible to see constellations in the southern hemisphere, such as the Southern Cross.
Astronomy expert Valerie Stimac, who will lead the retreats, says stargazing while on vacation is “a great opportunity to disconnect even more from the stresses of everyday life” and learn more about a destination in across his sky.
“During a general stargazing session, the eyes adjust to be able to see our galaxy forming in the night sky – it’s not something you can see in cities where people live. most people,” says the 35-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio. .
“And so that first moment of wonder, when you realize we’re part of something much bigger than just a planet or just a solar system, we’re in a galaxy and there’s even more beyond that, it’s my favorite thing to walk people through.
Stimac, who wanted to be an astronaut as a child, says the pandemic has contributed to the growth of astrotourism – where people travel to observe the stars – because it’s a great activity to “get away from other people and be outside”.
Using a powerful laser beam, she helps us identify the constellations of Sagittarius, which vaguely resembles a teapot, and Scorpio, part of which resembles the tail of a scorpion.
She is patient as our group asks questions ranging from the basic – “What is a galaxy?” – deep down – “Are we more likely to discover extraterrestrial life in the universe or will it find us?”
The resort has turned off the exterior lights to aid our night vision, and we are kindly reprimanded for looking at our phones unless we have a red filter that doesn’t interfere.
Be a castaway for the night
For a truly special experience, guests can visit a secluded sandbar a short boat ride from the island, which changes shape at different times of the year as the sand shifts.
As the waves gently roll in from all directions, we are treated to canapes and champagne followed by a three-course meal of sushi, grilled meat, fish and fresh vegetables and fruit, surrounded by dozens of candles and lanterns.
Dinner and a stargazing session are included as part of the astronomy retreat, but for an additional fee guests can arrange to spend the night sleeping on a four poster bed with just the stars for company, while a yacht anchored nearby provides facilities.
As stargazing is always dependent on the weather, there are alternative nighttime activities in case the sky becomes overcast, such as nighttime snorkelling, where guests may have the chance to spot bioluminescent blue plankton shimmering in the sky. ‘water.
What else does the island offer?
Milaidhoo is part of the Unesco Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve, so snorkelling in its azure shallows should not be missed.
As I follow the reef that encircles the island, I spot yellow and blue surgeonfish, parrotfish, clownfish and incredible coral formations.
You can also swim with manta rays in Hanifaru Bay, a marine protected area just 12 minutes away by speedboat.
Back on land, this is a resort that encourages barefoot luxury, but I stick to flip-flops, mindful of the tiny crabs scurrying across the sand and lizards striding across the island’s paths.
Sitting with a cocktail (or non-alcoholic) in hand, doing nothing and watching the sun go down, is essential Maldivian behavior.
Milaidhoo Bay Sunset is the perfect sunset. The fiery orange concoction is mixed with two types of gin – one that’s infused with chilli giving it a spicy kick – fresh mango, and served with half a red chilli on the side.
We sip ours in the Compass Bar’s infinity pool as the sun sinks below the horizon and the sky darkens, the pool’s delicate lights begin to twinkle in homage to the stars above.
The sand on the floor gives this bar a relaxed beach vibe, while the hanging egg chairs are perfect for snuggling up with a book.
Milaidhoo is one of the few Maldivian-owned resorts, and local influences are sprinkled throughout its 50 villas.
Doors and windows are painted pink or blue to reflect the colors used by locals on neighboring islands, while ceilings are vaulted to mimic an inverted boat hull.
The privacy coconuts – which guests can put outside their door when they don’t want to be disturbed – are hand-painted by one of the island’s housekeepers.
My beach villa is spacious and bright, with double-aspect floor-to-ceiling windows, and I can see a slice of beach and sea in front of the private freshwater pool from my enormous bed.
The water villas are located above the sea and have infinity pools and steps that lead directly into the water.
The little personal touches are what make Milaidhoo truly unforgettable – fresh aloe vera delivered to my villa after I sunburned my pasty British legs, staff remembering how I take my coffee, a surprise bath sprinkled of flowers after snorkeling and “see you soon” spelled in the sheets on my bed on my last evening.
I end my stay feeling like a VIP, knowing that I will soon be longing for the beauty and silence of a still Maldivian night sky.
Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk; 03301 734 712) is offering a seven-night trip to the Maldives staying in Milaidhoo in an overwater villa with private pool from £5,500 pp based on two people sharing a B&B. Includes flights and seaplane transfers.
Maldives Milky Way Retreats will be launched in Spring 2023, for more information contact [email protected]