There’s more to this paradise destination than you might think. From surfing to soaking up the local culture, here’s one traveller’s special experience in the Maldives.
I am jetting past atolls and little pockets of paradise on a speedboat, having firmly left the hustle and bustle of Malé Airport behind me. After a 13-hour flight, I am beyond grateful that my destination is only a 30-minute trip by water, with no need for a seaplane. As I gaze out of the window, I spot the Maldives’ infamous electric blue ocean and instantly a feeling of calm washes over me, as my tropical home for the next six nights begins to take shape on the horizon.
Say the words ‘the Maldives’ and a kaleidoscope of romanticised images will no doubt form in your mind’s eye: intricate water villas over the crystal-coloured sea, golden-white beaches, and the unavoidable sunset dinner shots, sometimes even with an aperitif of a loved-up proposal.
For decades, the Maldives has undeniably been the 40-degree hotbed of honeymoons – and for good reason; The archipelago state is made up of 1,200 secluded, picture-perfect islands – a fraction of which are inhabited – with each one sprouting plush, tropical plant life, surrounded by countless exotic marine life, and blessed with the promise of unparalleled views and vibes. It’s castaway ‘eat, pray, loving’ in the lap of luxury.
But beneath all of the glimmer of romance, you can find a more soulful and empowering side to the islands, that’s not exclusively for lovebirds or luxe-hunters. It was this lesser-known aspect of the archipelago that I was about to experience, courtesy of Kudu Villingili, a resort established in 2021, located in North Malé Atoll (the most explored and popular part of the Maldives).
Anchored in restoration and self-improvement, not just R&R, Kudu Villingili prides itself as an experience-led resort.
To further amplify their offering as a leading luxury wellness destination, they’ve incorporated their one-of-a-kind jewel in their crown to the wellness programme – their world-class surf break. I was diving head first into a new type of adventure-led therapy – blue therapy – and was about to be one of the first to try Kuda’s new specialised surfing programme.
‘Blue therapy’ promises huge health benefits, including a boost in self-love, self-esteem and a general feeling of wellness. The resort couldn’t be a better location to introduce this new approach as it’s blessed with prime access to Chicken’s Break, a long, lively break that can provide wave ride up to an impressive 500m long, and hold swells from 3ft to well over 10ft. The break is perfect for first-timers and trained surfers alike, giving all abilities great opportunities to catch a wave regardless of their skill.
Surfing is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of wellness therapies, but recent studies have shown that more time spent in nature, water and ‘blue spaces’ has been linked to improved mental health, with water-based therapy now even prescribed by doctors in some countries.
The initiative welcomes guests to join a three-day surf school, designed by UK-based charity The Wave Project and carried out by Kuda Villingili’s dedicated water sports team. Training begins in a shallow bay located by the water sports centre. It’s baby steps (or baby waves should I say) to start with, as each surfer-to-be begins on an oversized stand-up paddle board.
While I’m laying on the board, one of the team gently pushes me forward to simulate a slow and steady wave for me to stand on. It takes a good five or so pushes (featuring several disastrous headfirst falls into the ocean) but eventually, I am balancing myself and steadily rise up on my board to strike my first surfer girl pose. I am told that if I can do this in still water on push waves like these, my time out there in the big blue should be a doddle.
Once I had my bearings on the board and a general understanding of surfing basics, it was straight to the dive centre to journey out into the ocean. I won’t lie, surfing in the sea was much harder than in the bay, but it was beyond thrilling. Even on the days I didn’t manage to stand up, I still had the time of my life learning a new skill and felt a swell of pride and accomplishment after each session – my first taste of the impact that surf therapy and blue therapy can have.
Learning to surf is strenuous work, so the spacious rooms and ginormous beds at Kuda post-surf were a welcome respite for my wave-weary body. A total of just 75 luxury villas pepper the island, where guests can choose between a beach or water villa, each designed with 36-degree unspoilt views across the Indian Ocean.
While the beach villa is bright, open and contemporary – a highlight is the enormous outdoor shower – the water villas feel more intimate and sophisticated. Both possess a spectacular sea view that provides the perfect backdrop for pensive relaxing morning coffees on the deck, or sundowners in the evening. My favourite? The water villa. This floating home has a wooden deck kitted out with a unique swing bed, a private swimming pool and of course direct access straight into the glistening jewel-like water.
Each villa is designed to feel as private as possible, much like the island itself. Carefully landscaped trees shroud much of the infrastructure and architecture has been designed low and light in colour to adhere to the tropical island charm. At times you can feel like the only guest on the island – very much adding to the mental refresh the resort offers, whether that’s via land or sea.
Style-wise, the resort is nature-inspired-chic-meets-unparalleled-luxury. Think tropical pockets of calm and scores of chill-out areas that are carefully embedded throughout the island. Maldivian architecture meets Asian influences, with decor designed by a Singaporean architecture firm – space and spectacular uninterrupted views are the goal in mind throughout. Natural textures, earthy tones, carved wood, stone basins and baths, fill every space to seamlessly blend the beauty of nature with the luxury of design.
The swimming pool area boasts one of the longest swims in the Maldives, measuring in at 150 metres. This is the island’s central hub and it’s flanked by three different restaurants, The Med, East and Spice, as well as the main bar which is the central socialising spot. Watch the house entertainment perform here with a sundowner drink while three-foot-wide fruit bats swoop down low as the sun sets. The Raalhu Bar at Chicken’s Surf Point is also an idyllic location to wind down at the end of the day and watch the best surfers ride the waves.
For post-surf recovery, lose track of time and surrender at the South Asian-inspired spa, which has 8 private and secluded treatment rooms nestled on a private sandbank, surrounded by the sights and sounds of crashing waves. I went for the signature Balinese aromatherapy massage, a delicious hour-long experience of rolling kneading and sublime scents. My masseuse began by soaking my feet with aromatherapy salts, then carried out the treatment on a heated massage bed – heavenly would be an understatement.
Cuisine on the island was epic, with restaurants catering to the most diverse of palates and award-winning culinary experiences on offer inspired by seven unique dining experiences. True foodies can even cook their meals themselves under the watchful eye of one of the head chefs. In the ‘East’ restaurant I was treated to a Thai Green Curry lesson, resulting in the most delicious version I’ve ever eaten. No luxury resort would be complete without these extraordinary bespoke experiences and Kuda is no exception. For my last evening on the island, I enjoyed a curated meal cooked at the Asian-Peruvian-inspired Murami.
As I reflect on my final night, with my feet in the sand and my eyes firmly fixed on the patchwork of glowing stars above me, I very clearly see why this very special part of the world continuously calls in visitors year after year. Having spent a week immersed in the ocean, extraordinary activities and awe-inspiring sights, I marvel at the alchemy of blue therapy.
It’s departure day, but I don’t feel sad. I am jetting back past those same atolls I passed just six days earlier, feeling renewed, rejuvenated and realising the island’s love vibes may have gotten to me after all – I’d fallen hard for a life lived by the ocean and surfing.
Monique flew from London Heathrow to Male via Doha Ahmad Airport via Qatar Airways’ award-winning business class offering: Q Suite. Check for regular flights from LHR – MLE via www.qatarairways.co.uk
Prices at Kuda Villingili start from £1000 per night. On All Inclusive basis: £1300 per night
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