You can probably get a ton of snorkelling activity closer to home, but you certainly won’t be as comfortable swimming with the sharks of other seas like you can here. Which is why the Maldives for water-loving kids wins extra cool points than just an average beach holiday.
My 11-year-old son and I went snorkelling in a lagoon, as the dead-eyed creatures glided past, perilously close, caressing the coral reef. Even through his mask, I can see that Zac hasn’t batted an eyelid at the astonishing sight of sharks only feet away - he even dips, turns and dives deeper to explore the glorious colours and formations further down the reef.
I am part of the Jaws generation. My first instinct when I see a shark is to shout, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat!’ But where we are, you don’t need a boat at all to enjoy such marvels. And the ingrained temptation to panic seems to melt away very quickly. That is the most important thing to get across. This is a place where relaxation is as natural as breathing.
I like holidays where there is the option to do a lot, or nothing at all. Some days we chose the latter – lazing by (or in) the villa pool, or playing chess on the verandah that led directly from our living room to the beach. On other days, we tried our hand at some of the many activities on offer. Snorkelling and diving, superbly supervised by the staff at the Marine Centre, were a big hit. I was impressed both by the careful professionalism of the teachers and their readiness to get us out and exploring the reef as soon as possible. This meant that we were quickly scuba diving, as well as snorkelling, expertly supervised but free to explore the teeming marine life, including rays, countless varieties of fish and, yes, sharks. It is a difficult balance to strike – between safety and freedom – but the Baros staff did so splendidly.
The resort is committed to protecting the environment, and offers a fascinating opportunity for guests to help replenish the coral, which has suffered from natural and human degradation. This involves tying fragments of the stony polyps to metal frames where, with the correct care, they morph into regenerated coral colonies. While Zac and I saved the planet, his younger brother Teddy, aged nine, was inspired to paint back at the villa. Call it the Gauguin Effect. The muse seems to descend quite happily on Baros. And that is because the mind and body are so preternaturally relaxed. It normally takes me a week on holiday simply to shed the cares and concerns of work.
Not so on Baros, where the effect was almost instantaneous. Where else on the planet would a nine- and an 11-year-old boy agree to ‘check out the spa’?
The absence of pressure, paradoxically, encourages adults and children alike to try new things. We spent a happy few hours with Upul, the genial executive sous chef, learning how to cook a mild chicken curry. And, though we say so ourselves, the results were delicious.
All these themes were brought together by a memorable twilight fishing trip. No fancy kit required. Just a length of twine, a chunk of bait, and a whole lot of patience as we peered over the side of the boat into the depths, looking for our catch as the sun descended slowly into the waves.
Here, I was royally trumped by my sons. Teddy caught three fish, while Zac snagged a barracuda, which was duly prepared that evening for a delicious Thai-style dinner. There is something uniquely satisfying about tucking into a freshly cooked fish that one of you has yanked out of the ocean only an hour or two before.
Baros was one of the first resorts in the Maldives. A tiny coral island in the Indian Ocean, it’s a short speedboat hop from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. The phrase ‘island paradise’ is so over-used that one is always braced for disappointment when it is deployed. But, from the moment my two sons and I were welcomed at the jetty, I realised that, just occasionally, the description is justified. Swathed in white sand, coconut palms and sprays of gorgeous flora, Baros is a place of near-impossible perfection and tranquility. As soon as you step off the boat and onto the island, it takes a conscious effort to feel anxious about anything much at all. Somehow, everything else seems instantly irrelevant.
The North Male Atoll resort is a legendary destination for honeymooners, and it’s not hard to see why. The villas and other buildings are deliberately constructed to maximise privacy and the sense of luxurious remoteness. The water villas, for instance, with their stunning views of the ocean would be ideal for a newlywed couple celebrating their first days of marriage. If you want to play Mr and Mrs Crusoe, this is just the place. But the island has a huge amount to offer families, too. The mellow mood that prevails on Baros is natural, unstrained and easygoing. This is not one of those destinations where you can hear a pin drop, everything seems breakable and parents are made to feel guilty by the staff and other guests. On the contrary – the ambience could not have been warmer or more welcoming.
Baros rightly deserves its stellar reputation as
a boutique honeymoon resort. But it is much, much more than that. For families in search of something quite beyond the norm, who want to experience ocean life first hand and to detach themselves completely from the hectic demands of everyday life – a detachment which, in truth, is harder and harder to find these days – this is a place like no other. I still dream about it.
Price: Seven nights at Baros Maldives cost from £1,908.50 per adult and £1,833.50 per child, based on two adults and two children sharing two rooms in a Baros villa, including breakfast, flights and group transfers, with Kuoni.
This is typical of the harmony that characterises Baros. At the beautiful Lighthouse Restaurant – justly famous for its sensational lobster bisque – you can see rays and other marine life coast like aquatic ghosts beneath the slats all around you. It is an extraordinarily restful and rejuvenating way of living. You’re never bored here, but your blood pressure dips blissfully, too.
How to get there: British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Malé; from £818 return.
Travel time: A flight from London to Malé takes around 10 hours and 10 minutes.
Resorts can take everything from ten minutes to reach via speedboat to forty minutes on a seaplane from the capital, which you can organise when you book the resort.