Discard your preconceptions of the Maldives as you head to the twin-island resort of Niyama. Jane Anderson reports
Stuffing my kids, aged 14 and 11, into a seaplane after a long-haul flight to the Maldivian capital of Malé via Colombo in Sri Lanka may sounds unfeasibly unpleasant, but actually it’s the most spine-tingly travel moment we’ve had in a long while. An aerial view of the Indian Ocean simply can’t disappoint. Myriad hues of blue and green gather up your spirits and lift them to a new dimension.
The view is marred only by that nagging knowledge of just how fragile these 26 ring-shaped atolls are, made up of more than 1,000 coral islands strung out over hundreds of miles, and how ocean pollution and global warming are a real threat to the paradise we’re lucky enough to be entering.
Does going as a tourist help these causes? I can only think that the trip will inspire my kids to be one of the good guys and take care of the planet. Many resorts here are striving to have a positive effect on the environment, putting in place ocean conservation projects.
Touching down in the lagoon around Niyama, we have a bird’s-eye view of the twin islands that make up the resort – linked by a wooden bridge – one christened ‘Play’, the other ‘Chill’. Niyama has been created with a conscious sense of fun and bold style. There’s an energetic vibe that other, sleepier islands lack, making it a good spot for families.
Throughout, touches of blood red jolt against the azure blue of the sea and the lush green of the foliage: the beach umbrellas, the trousers worn by our beautiful French ‘thakuru’ (butler) Camille, the welcome Frisbee left on our bed, the illuminated signs after dark – all are crimson.
Camille takes us by buggy to our insanely funky island villa on Play, which is mostly devoted to family stays. Couples are more likely to bed down in the serene overwater villas on Chill. Outside on our leafy pathway are four rustic white bikes with our names carved on little wooden plaques on the front baskets. A personalised hello we all appreciate.
We love cycling around the islands’ sandy pathways, all diligently swept every morning by dedicated staff, as the rainforest regenerates overnight and sheds its leaves. By the end of the day, hundreds of fat caterpillars wiggle on the paths, making us swerve to avoid them. A reminder that nature is fighting to reclaim this spot and should be respected.
Our family villa exceeds all expectation with its private pool and deserted beach beyond, huge master bedroom and sitting room converted into the kids’ bedroom, with awesome gadgets including a popcorn-maker and a fridge full of goodies. The al fresco bathroom, reached via stepping stones across a private water feature, leaves us speechless.
I hear a lot of people say they’d never go to the Maldives because they’d get bored. This was far from our experience at Niyama. Everything is within easy walking or cycling distance – restaurants, water sports, the spa, even an outdoor cinema. One visiting mum told me it was the most stress-free holiday she’d been on for a long while with her young children.
The playfulness of Niyama has a lot to do with surfing. It’s one of the few resorts in the Maldives to have a ‘house break’. We head to the surf centre on Chill for a lesson with surf guru Ricardo. As we’ve only ever surfed once or twice before, in Cornwall, we head to the calm lagoon, where an hour goes by in a flash as we learn the ropes with fun paddling races and competitions to see who can stand on their board in the classic stance.
The real surf break is off the far end of Play, where there’s a cool vibe with rustic tiki bar, swings, hammocks, yoga pavilion and even a surfboard graveyard.
There are plenty of other ocean adventures here. We head out of the lagoon by boat and pop on snorkels in a quest to see turtles. We glimpse white-tipped reef sharks, mackerel shoals and then gorgeous hawksbill turtles. The plankton are giving us tiny stings, so we don’t stay in long, but it’s still a thrilling experience.
One of the biggest adventures at Niyama is the culinary one. At six creative restaurants, meals are transformed into magical experiences, even for kids who find going out for dinner a chore.
Tribal is the first African-themed restaurant we’ve experienced, with burning torches, African artefacts and sand under foot. We’re escorted to a pod-like Maasai pavilion with distinctive African- print tablecloths and rhythmic beats. Our Kenyan waiter seems surprised that we have all heard of his homeland! We feast on tasty coconut bread dipped in macadamia and tomato and pumpkin seed purée. There dine beneath a seashell-adorned roof on squid-ink bread, crab ravioli, creamy soup and citrusy pan-seared sea bass.
At sunset the white awning is lit neon pink, and its overwater bar, Edge, becomes the perfect place for a sundowner cocktail. Adults can head below to Subsix on Wednesdays and Saturdays for what is as close the Maldives gets to a club night. Babysitters at the ready!
Food Play is a new culinary attraction. Under the guidance of a local chef, guests can explore the spice and kitchen gardens, or go on a cruise to catch fish that they can then prepare and cook themselves.
At Niyama, children are even welcome at the spa. We try out the ‘Spa-rty’ package: grown-ups soak in a bathtub with floating petals while kids are whisked off for massages in an overwater villa. We’re reunited briefly, my son returning in white waffle bathrobe with his usually unruly hair slicked back with coconut oil, a serene look on his face. As the children are spirited off once more for a movie, Steve and I are treated to our own side-by-side massages.
If you do need some kid-free hours, or feel that your little ones would benefit from spending time with other children, the Explorers Kids Club is something else. Long gone are the days when a room full of toys cut it. This club is hidden in the towering jungle, and is as stylish as the rest of the resort, with a large outdoor play area with everything from climbing wall to hammocks. Kids aged 1-12 years are welcomed with smiles and enthusiasm. There’s plenty to keep them busy, ranging from cookery classes to excursions such as coral planting with a marine biologist.
We end our visit with an indulgent Destination Dining experience. Camille delivers us by buggy to a beach that we have all to ourselves, lit by full moon, lanterns and torches. We relax on beanbags on the sand as a BBQ is prepared for us. My kids chat about the turtles, the surfing, the seaplane, the caterpillars and the fact that this is a paradise worth fighting for. ’Nuff said.
How to book
Destinology offers a special-offer 7-night stay from £7,299 for a family of 4 sharing a beach villa, half-board, including return Etihad flights from London Heathrow or Manchester and private seaplane transfers. Book by November 30 2018 to secure this saving of more than £2,100 per family.
The Explorers Kids Club is complimentary for ages 3-12, and approx £16 per hour for ages 1-3. Food Play costs £64 per adult, £32 per child.
Support ocean clean-ups, visit 4ocean.com, greenpeace.org.uk and parley.tv or head out with a bin bag and do your own beach clean-up.
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