An email from the authorities in the Maldives that my Covid documents are in order says: “Hope to see you soon on the sunny side of life.”
It’s a nice human touch during what can be a stressful process. And there are few better places to stroll on the sunny side than this tiny nation of islands scattered across the Indian Ocean.
And if there’s urgency in the air, it’s because time is running out. Even if all the promises made at COP26 are kept, the lower Maldives would still be at the mercy of rising sea levels.
Vibrant: The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives, pictured above, only opened in October, Max Davidson reveals
It is certainly a delightful part of the world, offering a myriad of subtle pleasures. There are over 100 island resorts in the Maldives and, despite the horrors of Covid, new hotels continue to open.
After landing in the capital, Malé, I take a seaplane to my final destination. A quick hop over the throbbing blue waters dotted with atolls and I’m on the beach with the sand in my toes and a glass of prosecco in my hand. The party can begin.
The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives only opened in October. The finishes are still being applied. “There’s no full-length mirror in my bathroom,” I hear a guest shout, as if she’s found a snake in the shower. He is on his way, he is told.
Cora Cora is a class act, with no expense spared and friendly staff setting the tone. They’re helpful without being obsequious: there’s no bowing or scratching.
The setting is the perfect miniature Maldives – a car-free island that you can walk around in 15 minutes. Soft white sand. Palm trees offset by the winds. A seascape of a thousand blues and whites. Accommodation worthy of a honeymoon.
After landing in the capital, Male, Max takes a seaplane to Cora Cora (file photo)
Half of the rooms, including mine, are built above the water on a long, curved pier. The other half is built along the shore, lined with frangipani trees.
There is a resident artist in Cora Cora who gives painting lessons, but it would take a genius painter to capture the fleeting beauty of this landscape: the rolling and heaving sea under an ever-changing sky; the delicate vegetation; the beneficent sun.
Exploring the island barefoot – even flip flops seem redundant here – provides both expected and unexpected pleasures.
The resort has “honeymoon-worthy accommodations,” writes Max. Pictured is a spacious Beach Villa bedroom
An open-air bathtub in one of the resort’s Beach Villas. Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa on an all-inclusive basis
The view of the water – “a seascape of a thousand blues and whites” – from the porch of one of the guest villas
I was prepared for the infinity pool, upscale spa, bustling watersports center, cute thatched-roof restaurants, but not the historical museum next to reception.
It has the most extensive collection outside the capital, and its artifacts, from Chinese porcelain to Dutch East India Company relics, are a reminder that long before welcoming tourists, the Maldives was on a trade route Very busy East-West.
Equally fascinating is the small archaeological site next to the museum. You can still see communal baths dating back centuries; traditional houses with carved wooden shutters; even the floor of an old mosque, through which a ginger cat roams carefree in the world.
A bird’s eye view of the resort. “Exploring the island barefoot — even flip-flops seem redundant here — provides both expected and unexpected pleasures,” says Max
According to Max, you will find “soft white sand” and “palm trees off-center by the winds” on a walk around the island.
Pictured is the resort’s historical museum, which houses everything from ‘Chinese porcelain to relics of the Dutch East India Company’
Another must-see site for travelers with an interest in history is Ghost Island, a nearby island accessible by boat.
It measures just half a mile in diameter, but was home to over 3,000 people before it was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Only two islanders lost their lives, but the damage to buildings was so extensive that the entire population had to be moved, leaving behind a crumbling cityscape reminiscent of Pompeii.
A rabbit hops through the ruins of the old hospital. A moldy teddy bear hides under a palm leaf. In the school, the light falls on mottos that fade on the walls of the classrooms. ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Poignant stuff. Warm too. There’s a lot to ponder as I return to base for the inevitable cocktail perfectly mixed with an equally perfect sunset.
Cora Cora’s premium spa. Max reveals: “In the spa, I see a woman in the back of a book called How Not to Grow Old, which kind of looks like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time”
Pictured above is the Acqupazza restaurant by the pool, which Max describes as an “excellent Italian restaurant”
Diving off Male. A “sophisticated interactive app” allows customers to book snorkeling trips in Cora Cora
For me, being the gregarious type, it’s often the people as much as the scenery or the food that make a vacation memorable, and my fellow guests at Cora Cora are a gloriously eclectic mix.
I meet a synchronized swimmer-turned-movie actress, a diving-mad Mexican, a Russian family asking me to sing Beatles songs, and pun-loving Julius from Germany ordering a Caesar salad for lunch. ‘I have to do it, with my name. Actually, I hate salads, but I love carrots.
The salad is superb, like everything that comes out of the kitchen.
There is an excellent Italian restaurant and an even better Japanese one.
At breakfast, I’m faced with everything from fresh fruit to blueberry muffins to Maldivian fish curry, which is so good I want to take some home in my suitcase.
Pictured is My Coffee – a resort bar and snack bar. Max is impressed by Cora Cora’s “pretty thatched-roof restaurants”
Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa at Cora Cora Maldives, on an all-inclusive basis.
Includes return economy class flights from London Heathrow to Male on Qatar Airways and return seaplane transfers. Cost from £3,000 pp based on two adults sharing (simplymaldives holidays.co.uk, 020 7481 0804).
The station is not only car-free, but largely paperless. A fancy interactive app lets me book everything from spa treatments to snorkeling trips.
I spend one memorable afternoon kayaking along the shore, another making a scented candle to take home.
Nobody shouts. Nobody rushes. No one looks stressed or tired. In the spa, I see a woman at the bottom of a book called How Not to Grow Old, which somehow looks like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time. One morning, the wind picks up, to the delight of a little boy, who runs along the beach, is knocked down, gets up and is blown again, before collapsing into fits of laughter.
“This boy could be president or prime minister one day,” thinks a local man, smiling at his antics.
“We want to send him back with such happy memories of the Maldives that we won’t be forgotten at future police meetings.”
Amen to that. Barely half a million people live in the Maldives. The regime in place is not to everyone’s taste, but the country remains on a pedestal of its own when it comes to budding holidays.
As I boarded the seaplane for my trip home, I cast a long, wistful look over my shoulder, my reverie only shattered by the splash of a woman falling off her paddleboard.