Are holidays to the Maldives reserved for honeymooners? Travel writer and dad, Nick Savage, thinks not. Discover his take on two of the best resorts in the Maldives for families and see what you think.
The Maldives has long been renowned as one of the world’s foremost honeymoon destinations. Here couples can lounge among turquoise reefs or laze under palm trees doing, well… pretty much nothing. But take a look under the hood of the location and you’ll find there’s a lot more going on. With an incredible choice of world-beating hotels in the Maldives, the archipelago is an ideal setting for families to reconnect.
The microcosm of a private island resort can also be a delightful venue in which to explore other cultures. And the fragility of the ecosystem on which they, and, by extension, we, all rely is another learning experience. Over eight days spent with my eighteen-month-old daughter, I was able to enjoy two separate resorts in the Maldives both offering eye-opening, transformative and luxurious experiences.
Vakkaru: a perfect introduction to the Maldives for families
Vakkaru Maldives is nothing if not remote. To reach it, you have to hop a seaplane from Malé northwards to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll. As our small aircraft descended, the tear-drop outline of the private island became visible; taken up exclusively by the hotel, with 113 villas and residences nestled either along its white-sand beaches or on stilted wooden jetties.
Founded in 2017, Vakkaru takes its name from the local word for coconut timber. The island’s previous incarnation was as a coconut plantation and it still boasts over 2,300 fully grown coconut palms. Though just 30 minutes from Malé, the prevailing sensation was of being a world away from everything else; in itself, a lovely source of relaxation.
The arrival at Vakkaru was both chic and cinematic. As the seaplane motored towards the pier, staff were lined up to assist us off of its pontoons, which proved quite handy with a baby. They then offered refreshing towels and introduced guests to their private butlers. An invaluable asset, our butler organised everything throughout our stay, from the kids club and restaurant bookings to swimming equipment and aquatic activities. Finally, following a breezy tour of the island, we settled down into our beachside residence.
Deluxe Pool Beach Residence with only turtles for neighbours
Planned by Indonesian firm OT Design, the architecture at Vakkaru seamlessly blends understated high-spec luxury with a gorgeous tropical setting, using a colour scheme of earthy, natural tones. Our Deluxe Pool Beach Residence was strikingly idyllic. Intertwined with local laurel and palm, it featured a corridor of white sand broadening to a virginal beach, shared solely with the hawksbill sea turtles that occasionally nest there.
A broad veranda with day beds adjoined a full-size pool which was perfect for cooling off when the afternoon heat peaked. As well as an indoor and outdoor shower, we had a swooping statement bathtub, a super-king bed plus a living room complete with pantry kitchen and separate bathroom. There was also plenty of room for our daughter Isla’s crib.
Parrotfish Club for kids and spa time for parents
For parents, the first port of call should be the Parrotfish Club. This kids club caters for children aged between three and 12 an offers an extensive array of facilities including a small pool for toddlers to splash around. Older children will like the arts and crafts centre and mini kitchen for cooking classes. And the play areas could pique the envy of Peppa Pig. Though Isla was a little younger than the age requirement, we found Vakkaru to be extremely accommodating. She always had a big smile on her face and was reluctant to leave when we came to retrieve her.
The Parrotfish Club frees parents up to make use of the resort facilities. These include the incredible overwater Merana Spa in which you can zone out through plexiglass windows at shoals of tropical fish underneath while experiencing everything from gong bath ceremonies to Balinese deep tissue massage.
For more active families, there’s a choice of water sports, tennis tutorials and expeditions into the archipelago, such as scuba diving with manta rays in Hanifaru Bay. One of my favourite moments was taking a kayak out to a sandbar at the lip of reef and lagoon to investigate the blue hole, which is reachable from the end of the overwater pier.
Organic gardening and coral farming, only in the Maldives
There are six dining options to choose from: Amaany, for beachside breakfasts; Vakku, an open-air grill; Onu, a southeast Asian restaurant; Isoletta, a Milanese trattoria; Cabana, an alfresco poolside lounge; Vakkaru Reserve, the island’s wine cellar; and Lagoon Bar, which offers Japanese nibbles alongside mind-bending sunsets. All of these venues are supplied with fresh ingredients from Vakkaru’s very own organic garden.
One of our favourite moments of the trip was joining chef Pradeep Pathirana in the organic garden’s outdoor kitchen. Here we were able to pick and prepare a Maldivian feast with our daughter. The neat rows of fruit and vegetables provided the perfect setting for a toddler to explore. And standout dishes included marinated, seared reef fish baked in banana leaf; fresh salad with shrimp and Maldivian bread with tuna mas huni.
Another memorable experience, which instilled us with a sense of environmental responsibility, was the coral ceremony. Coral provides the foundational structure for the entire atoll and is one of the first casualties of ocean heating. On the final night, I joined the resident marine biologist at the end of the pier. Here we attached broken pieces of coral to a rebar frame, allowing it to grow and thrive in Vakkaru’s lagoon. And looking forward to that future felt like a fitting way to bid farewell at the end of four perfect days at the resort.
Gili Lankanfushi: pioneering ‘no news, no shoes’ barefoot luxury in the Maldives
Just a 20-minutes speedboat ride away from Malé, Gili Lankanfushi has been one of the Maldives premier properties since it was launched in 2012. In fact it was the resort which pioneered the concept of barefoot luxury with its, “No news, no shoes” policy. It draws inspiration from Robinson Crusoe and not only exudes the same castaway sense of adventure, copies of the Daniel Defoe classic are found in every room. However, the resort is easily reached from Velana International Airport and doesn’t require the same extensive pilgrimages as some other prominent hotels in the Maldives.
Upon arrival we were quickly whisked away to our overwater Family Villa with Pool – overwater was to become our holiday theme. Here we were checked in by our ‘Mr Friday’ and plied with chocolates and snacks prepared on premises as well as a bottle of champagne. ‘Mr Friday’ is the term by which butlers are referred to at Gili Lankanfushi, another idea borrowed from the pages of Robinson Crusoe.
Wow to our overwater villa with its own, private infinity pool
The villa was not lacking in wow factor. With a total area of 385sqm and a 32 sqm L-shaped infinity pool, it felt more like a residence than a room. An extended walkway led to a family area with large living space, dining table and pantry. We spent hours chasing our daughter around as she flitted from floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the eastern border of the reef to the floor windows gazing down into the water below.
The semi open-air private bathroom featured a catwalk to an open-air shower, as well as a stairway down to a rock garden, where parrotfish and angelfish flitted between the columns. Each villa also features a rooftop eyrie terrace, where guests can catch the rays unobstructed during the day or even sleep under the stars. As the entire residence is hooked up through Bose Bluetooth, you can pipe the same tunes in the pool as you can in the family room.
Suffice to say, it was difficult to leave, but Bobbo, our Mr Friday, was keen to see us fed on the inaugural night. So we were zipped across planked boardwalks and white sands in a buggy to the overwater bar, where we were welcomed with cocktails. Acrobatic traditional Maldivian dancing provided the entertainment and we were hard pressed to keep our toddler from joining in.
Bamboo bicycle is our preferred mode of transport at Gili Lankanfushi
Gili Lankanfushi’s executive chef, Hari Govindaraj, is an eclectic multi-talented hand in the kitchen and runs a rotation of different “Culinary Journeys” each night at Kashiveli Resataurant. On the night of our arrival we were treated to his Brazilian churrascaria evening: a sumptuous carnivorous glut!
Feeling a bit bleary-eyed in the early morning, I rode a bamboo bicycle across the boardwalk and was rewarded with an incredible display of aquatic wildlife. Pulling up, I watched a navy blue, white-spotted eagle ray undulate between outcroppings of coral. And as I was about to ride away, a shoal of black-tipped reef sharks sped through the shallows in a veritable Sharknado. Feeling energised, any nocturnal bleariness was firmly jettisoned by the time I began practising yoga with instructor Dev at the beachside champa.
As at Vakkaru, sustainability is of foremost importance to Gili Lankanfushi. Not only was the hotel very keen to show us their organic gardens and recycling centre, they also offered guided snorkelling and conservation experiences with the resident marine biologist. The result was a feel-good, educational experience, ideal for families who want to mix learning with their luxury.
World class diving, surfing and spa time
The resort is also located within easy reach of world-class diving, snorkelling and surfing. If you’re a bit achy from all the activity, you can always repair to the Meera Spa. We booked sports massages from Dev, who was already apprised of our tight spots after instructing us in yoga. Although the spa’s overwater treatment rooms offer an array of treatments, ranging from Ayurvedic therapy and Tibetan singing bowl sessions to reiki healing and detox seaweed baths.
It’s easy to work up an appetite too, and we had deluxe gastronomical experiences at both the Underground Wine Cellar and By the Sea Restaurant. The former saw us descending into a basement cellar to enjoy a brilliant selection of wine and cheese. Then, at the latter we ascended a bamboo staircase to a beachy dining room with superlative views, where we were lavished with a Japanese omakase experience.
Just as our daughter dragged her feet when leaving the Parrotfish Club, we were collectively dragging ours as we bade farewell to Bobbo (who took a framed polaroid with us on the pier) and headed back to the airport and reality. Eight days in the Maldives turned out to be the perfect antidote to the wear and tear of daily life and a phenomenal way for this family to reconnect.
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