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Paradise found

Home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and diving experiences, the Maldives is high on the wish list for those seeking the ultimate escape. Letisha Pereira sampled a slice of this island paradise at Oblu Select by Atmosphere at Sangeli

Scattered like pearls across the shimmering waters of the Indian Ocean, the archipelago of Maldives has long lured travellers from far and wide. Few other destinations boast such pure and soft white sands along with cyan waters so clear that it is possible to gaze right into the colourful, living world beneath the waves. At Oblu Select by Atmosphere at Sangeli, we discovered that this is an essential part of the experience, enjoying luxury and nature side by side. But the island is also rife with opportunities for adventure, which starts on the journey from Malé International Airport to Sangeli Island, on which the resort sits. The five-star treatment began with a luxe air-conditioned speedboat carving through the waters of the Indian Ocean to take us to our destination. The 50-minute ride also passed by several other resorts that call the Malé Atoll home, making for some interesting sightseeing. Accompanying us on board during our arrival was the hotel’s executive chef, who was bringing back a trophy and several medals that the team won at a local culinary fair. It was a sign of things to come, preparing us for a truly rewarding experience at the hotel.

Once we arrived at the resort, we were met with the warmest of greetings – the sound of beating drums, singing and clapping, with the best treat of all being the hotel’s signature blue bubbly, created especially to reflect the colour of the waters surrounding the property. The moment we stepped in, it felt like we’d traded the world’s bustle for a secluded slice of paradise. Given the resort’s vast footprint, our hosts offered a buggy tour of the island highlighting everything it has to offer. But we were also told that bicycles were freely available to borrow from various points on the property, so we decided to hop right on after checking in and explore the island with the easy reference map of the resort provided to every guest. The resort sits on the main island of Sangeli and is connected to the smaller, adults-only One Banyan island by a string of overwater villas. The larger of the two is home to standalone beachfront villas, the sunset bar known as The Rock, the beachfront bar called The Sangs and the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Courtyard. On One Banyan, two speciality restaurants – Simply Veg and Just Grill – the spa and the overwater honeymoon suites can be found.

Our first evening at the resort saw us taking in the sights and sounds of a heavy downpour from the comfort of our cosy beachfront villa as the waves gently lapped against the shore. Complete with a pool, it was the perfect setting to take a dip and admire the endless Indian Ocean. That’s the beauty of the Maldives; even though we were left with no option but to stay indoors with the rain lashing down, we found that the hours simply flew by admiring the stunning views. But as soon as the grey clouds gave way to clear blue skies, we jumped right into the ocean for a refreshing soak in its warm, calming waters. Early evening, and every sunset thereafter, lured us to The Rock on the southernmost tip of the property, known for its stunning views. As we sipped on sundowners and watched the sky’s transformation from bright blue to fiery orange, we lost all sense of time and became entranced by the shoals of young lemon sharks, vibrant parrotfish and rays that scuttered close to the surface seeking their last nibbles of the day.

With most activities in the Maldives focussed in and around the water, it’s easy to assume that this is no place for non-swimmers. But the resort caters even to non-swimming guests, much like my travel partner, who discovered a new-found love for the world beneath the waves. Life vests are provided in every room for free use in the water and complimentary snorkelling equipment, including a mask, snorkel and fins, can be borrowed for the entire duration of the stay. For us, this meant we could freely and safely float on the water to admire the colourful fish swimming alongside us and other never-before-seen marine species on the seabed at any time of the day.

Every time we stepped into the water, a different experience awaited us. In one instance, we even found ourselves endlessly followed by a tiny fish who was probably very intrigued by the strangers in the ocean. Tempted as we were to spend our entire holiday in or near the water, Oblu Select by Atmosphere at Sangeli offered a lot more. The resort is a haven for foodies. Every meal was a true showcase of culinary indulgence, starting with the sumptuous breakfast buffet served at The Courtyard, overflowing with classics from all over the world – think eggs served in all styles, baked beans, sausage, pancakes, waffles, Indian chapatis and dosas as well as Maldivian curries.

Every morning, we’d wake up in time to catch the sunrise and join in an energising power yoga session by the beach (we’re now inspired to keep up the practice). This would work up our appetites for the hearty breakfast that awaited us. The Courtyard is also where lunch and dinner are served with specialities from all over the world. Live cooking stations feature fresh delights whipped up for lunch while themed nights bring international dishes all the way from the Med and the Caribbean to the shores of the Maldives. The Indian Ocean themed night, hosted every Friday, was a firm favourite, but our friendly servers told us that it is extremely popular with every hotel guest for the sheer array of spice and coconut-infused dishes from India and Sri Lanka as well as local delights native to the Maldives. It’s not only Indian Ocean night that is an interesting prospect for a Friday evening. The resort’s local staff also look forward to Fridays as this is their chance to entertain guests with a lively (traditionally, all male) dance and drum performance, known as bodu beru. With absolutely no knowledge of what the performance entailed, we were taken by surprise when the dancers took to the floor at The Sangs, swaying gracefully to the rhythm of local tunes. But as the evening unfolded, the beats built to an energetic finish that saw guests joining in to learn a new move or two. While bodu beru night is only a weekly occurrence at The Sangs, every evening, the resident singer and guitarist get together to fill the air with smooth jazz. After sunset, we found ourselves drawn to the venue to take in the serene ambience while sipping pre-dinner cocktails. This was also a wonderful spot to return to after dinner to wind down with soothing acoustic tunes while reclining on the venue’s beanbags and swings. 

During our stay, we also had the opportunity to sample the gourmet fare at the hotel’s speciality restaurants. We visited Simply Veg for dinner – the ambience, with mood lighting, lent itself to an intimate dinner for two. We left with our perceptions of vegetarian cuisine completely altered. Classic dishes such as the pumpkin soup and mushroom gnocchi were presented with unique twists while unconventional combinations, think banana and bean tapas, and beet and goat cheese samosas, also featured on the menu. Just Grill, on the shores of One Banyan island, evoked a laid-back beachside barbecue experience.

During our lunchtime visit, our servers recommended the catch of the day, the barracuda, and we were impressed with the simple preparation that allowed the freshness of the seafood to shine through. Although the setting at these venues leans towards fine dining, beach chic is still the order of the day, which means arriving in flip flops, or even barefoot, is not discouraged. Every evening, a newsletter arrived at our doorstep, announcing the weather forecast for the next day, the themed night and schedule of activities taking place. Having brushed up our swimming skills, we decided to embark on a guided group snorkelling trip, conducted on a complimentary basis for every guest by the TGI Dive & Watersports Centre on site. We set sail on a traditional boat, locally known as dhoni, towards the outer reefs of the atoll, where the sea bed is almost 25 metres deep and home to the most exotic marine species, making for a truly memorable experience.  

By this point, our curiosity for the underwater world reached peak levels, which is why we were thrilled to move to an overwater villa on our last day at the resort. While the glass floor panels were one of the most striking features, nothing compared to the thrill we felt of being able to dive right into the ocean from the villa’s deck. Although we intended to spend our last few hours in the water or lounging on the deck, we opted for some spa time at Elena Spa as we felt our sun-kissed skin would need a little more convincing as we reeled back into reality. Our therapists customised our treatments, incorporating movements from the traditional Balinese massage with after-sun care products for a truly energising experience. There couldn’t be a more relaxing solution to draw our visit to a close. Departing this rustic-meets-luxury retreat brought out an overwhelming mix of emotions – the happy memory of a holiday well spent, the sad farewell as the staff bid us goodbye when we boarded the speedboat to the airport and the overwhelming urge to return to this charming retreat in the Indian Ocean. We clung to our cameras, capturing those last few moments to keep the memories alive. But those times we spent on the white sandy beach getting our feet wet amongst the gentle waves and spotting hermit crabs playfully washing ashore will never soften or blur.  

Plan the perfect trip

FLIGHTS Most international airlines offer direct or connecting flights to Velana International Airport. UAE-based carrier Emirates operates daily direct four-hour flights from Dubai to Malé

TRANSFERS Speedboat transfers from the airport to Oblu Select by Atmosphere at Sangeli can be arranged with your reservation

CHECK IN Take your pick from six room categories at the resort:

  1. BEACH VILLAS OR DELUXE BEACH POOL VILLAS Two adults with two children or three adults with one child

  2. TWO-BED BEACH POOL SUITES Two adults with four children; four adults with two children or three adults with three children

  3. WATER VILLAS OR DELUXE OVERWATER POOL VILLAS Two adults with one child or three adults

  4. HONEYMOON SELECT OCEAN VILLAS Couples only for a minimum of three nights 

DINING Sample world flavours at the resort:

  1. THE COURTYARD: The resort’s signature restaurant, The Courtyard serves a buffet for breakfast, international specialities from live cooking stations for lunch and themed nights for dinner

  2. JUST GRILL: Open for lunch and dinner, grilled meats and fresh seafood feature on the three-course menu

  3. SIMPLY VEG: Open for lunch and dinner, the venue serves a four-course menu with gourmet vegetarian dishes

  4. THE SANGS: Premium beverages are served all day from 9am until 1am. Every evening, the Mr. Fry counter at the venue offers sunset snacks from 4pm until 6pm. There is a live music performance every evening after sunset while the local bodu beru performance also takes place here on Fridays from 10pm onwards

  5. THE ROCK: Open only at sunset from 5pm until 7pm, the venue serves sundowners with light bites against stunning ocean views  

WELLNESS Elena Spa, open from 9am until 9pm, offers bespoke wellness experiences, therapies and massages, while health experts at the Fitness Centre conduct daily workout sessions, ranging from aqua aerobics and resistance training to yoga

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