No longer just for honeymooners, this Indian Ocean nation is making its mark among families seeking an escape with something for everyone.
WORDS Amelia Hungerford
It's easy to see how families come to fall under the Maldives' spell. When it comes to sheer beauty, this island nation has few rivals. Its vivid turquoise lagoons, coconut palm-covered islands and isolated sandbanks are complemented by world-class resorts and warm hospitality. The clear sun-dappled water invites you to explore and the balmy weather only encourages you to slow down and linger longer.
Once the domain of honeymooners, families are now making their mark on this Indian Ocean paradise. It began when the same honeymooners returned as parents, wanting to balance romance with experiences they could enjoy with their little ones.
Kids' clubs began springing up alongisde overwater bungalows, two-bedroom residences nestled by the beach and focus on all things water became the hallmark of a Maldivian holiday.
HAMMOCKS AND SWINGS
Admittedly, the image of honeymooners lounging beside the pool was my first thought before I arrived at Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort, a 35-minute speedboat ride Male's airport marina. Strolling around the island at sunrise, however, and it quickly became clear that this identity was shifting. Toddlers join their parents in an early-morning swim and, at the centre of the resort, the Dhoni Club anticipates young travellers with a treehouse, a colourful climbing wall and land-bound dhoni boats bursting with arts, crafts and educational discovery.
Diversions such as hammocks, pentaque courts and oversized chess boards wait around every corner, bikes are the preferred mode of transport, and the beach swing and water hammock offer perfect photo opps; I lost half an hour trying to clamber onto the seat of one of the lagoon swings during low tide. A journey out to the private picnic island of Gulhifushi guarantees a day of sun-soaked fun, with dining facilities, pristine waters, beach games and kites.
The Sunset Family Villa offers plenty of space, with a pint-sized bathroom for the little ones and an outdoor bathroom with terrazzo tub for mum and dad.
Just across the lagoon from Dhigu is Anantara Veli, a couples-only sister resort, and Naladhu, Anantara's retreat where anything is possible. The Two Bedroom Pool Residence, facing out to the mesmerising ocean waves, is the choice for families, with a twin bedroom, a butler's kitchen ands the exclusive House Master service catering for any desire.
MY ISLAND HOMES
Further south in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Baa Atoll, a half-hour seaplane jaunt from Male International Airport, Amilla Fushi has reinvented the Maldivian resort with an Australian twist. Its name means 'my island home' in Dhivehi, and that's just what you'll find here.
Its two-bedroom Tree Houses are the first of their kind in the island nation, perched 12 metres above the ground, and perfect for families looking for a different perspective among the palm fronds. Beach Residences with four, six or eight bedrooms offer an ideal escape for larger tribes with all the comforts of (a very lavish) home: full gourmet kitchens, spacious bedrooms, ocean-view pools and sundecks to while away the day, rounded off with a katheeb butler service and babysitting on standby.
The two Australian hoteliers behind Amilla - Chairman Michael Flynn and Director Tom McLoughlin aka the Island Chief - have a sophisticated understanding of how their compatriots and families like to travel.As well as crafting experiences parents and children can enjoy together - the house reef is home to a wealth of marine life - the complimentary kids' club gets little ones exploring the island and meeting new friends, while the Teens' Games Area is equipped with a juice bar as well as billiards and table tennis.
"Kids' clubs began springing up alongside overwater bungalows, two-bedroom residences nestled by the beach and a focus on all things water began the hallmark of a Maldividian holiday."
Dining is courtesy of island restauranteur, Luke Mangan, including the Maldives' first proper Fish and Chips Shop. It's just one in an array of flexible dining options in the Baazaar precinct that lets guests eat where they please, regardless of which menu they order from. It's a suprisingly simple solution to the problem of fussy eaters and different appetites; and one of the many ways Amilla adapts itself to families.
TWO ISLANDS, ONE RESORT
If nothing less than the truly exotic will do, however, make your way to the Dhaalu Atoll where PER AQUUM Niyama's split personality brings out the inner child in everyone. Its two islands, Play and Chil, offer two very different ways to appreciate the diversity of the Maldives. Families will feel right at home on Play, opened earlier this year with a flourish of its signature red. As well as 48 new villas, the new island is also home to beachfront dining at Blu, treetop meals at Nest and the vibrant kids' club, Explorers.
The children are out making a body scrub at LIME Spa when I visit, leaving me to test my rusty bouncing skils on the in-ground trampoline and explore the different spaces devoted to the four 'tribes', divided by age group. Adam Smith, the kids' club manager known only by the name of the Scottish economistm is infectiously enthusiastic about the adventures his young charges can undertake, whether cooking pizza in their miniature kitchen, exploring the reef with a marine biologist or splashing through the water playground.
The wonders of Explorers are complimentary to kids over the age of three between 9am and 6pm while also catering for little ones as young as 12 months - an offering unique in the Maldives.
When it comes to accommodation, Niyama's two-bedroom beach pavilions are made for families, in particular the 770-square-metre Family Beach Pavilion With Pool. Upon entering this marble-clad haven, any vestige of adult decorum vanishes entirely and I scurry from room to room, gawping at first, the private spa room with its living moss wall, then the nanny's room, the main pool and the smaller plunge pool, and the black-tiled outdoor shower, amazed that this is to be my home for the next two days. The full-sized Deli-In fridge is brimming with drinks and the freezer with complimentary handmade ice-cream (restocked daily), while a popcorn maker adds a new dimension to the in-room movies.
When not snorkelling, picknicking on a sandbank, enjoying a cooking demonstration or zooming around the lagoon on a sea bobm take the time to enjoy the simple pleasure of your sundeck, sipping on a fresh coconut from the vendor passing by on the beach. Family escapes just don't get any better.