Wanderlust with Cynthia Rosenfeld

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A one-of-a-kind equatorial country off the southwest coast of India, made up of 1,190 coral islands, the Maldives may be everyone else’s idea of the ultimate couple’s getaway – but in my line of work, visits always mean business. I’ve tanned, seaplane-surfed, snorkelled with turtles and had numerous spa treatments – under and above water – accompanied by a teeming-marine panorama, all in the name of due diligence. However, of all my memorable visits to these jaw-dropping, low-lying paradise isles, I’ve never made it here with a date. When I tell people this, they’re often left aghast – and perhaps rightly so. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned after 15 years of multiple annual visits, alighting at almost every five-star island resort among the Maldives’ 26 atolls, only one adjective comes to my mind that summarises the guest experience: romantic. 

This may be changing, though. I recently discovered Niyama (niyama.peraquum.com), a duo of lush jungle-clad isles in Dhaalu Atoll, 40 minutes by seaplane south of the Maldives’ international airport. On assignment here recently, rather than staring enviously at all other guests like the solo animal boarding an amorous version of Noah’s Ark, I found myself shooting simulated targets in the activity pavilion, tapping into my inner ‘girl in the curl’ on some thrilling wave breaks and sipping tropical cocktails while mingling in Subsix, the world’s first offshore, underwater nightclub. Somewhere between letting Swapnil, the Indian yogi, twist me into a pretzel for an innovative sport therapy called PNF and going horizontal at the island’s overwater spa, it hits me: this island offers the flexibility to take an iconic honeymoon destination in entirely new directions.

To test my theory, I finagle an invitation for an Istanbul-based girlfriend to escape the recent Turkish tensions and join me. Our generous beach villa, one of 95 scattered on and off the seashore, provides plenty of nooks for nuzzling and a bathtub built for two but this resort’s unusually extensive array of decidedly unromantic land and water activities keeps us busy outside the villa, from morning snorkels among Napoleon wrasse, parrot fish and Oriental Sweet Lips to more social evenings under the sea, where an apparently world famous DJ spins everything but romantic tunes. We head back down to Subsix during the day with the resident marine biologist in search of baby sharks (we see two) and into the warm waters to swim among Technicolor coral species being brought back to life by the resort’s environmental initiatives.

Certainly other resorts offer snorkelling, coral adoption and even some nightlife but, at best, most manage a precarious balance in their small sandbox between entwined couples seeking maximum seclusion and boisterous families designed to intrude upon that privacy. At Niyama, I watch switched-on staff in the breakfast eatery look each guest in the eyes, smile authentically and lead them to a table overlooking the blue hues, families on one side, couples on the other and a scattering of female friends like us in between. We encounter the same adaptable vibe after dark at Tribal, the open-air, thrillingly experimental barbecue restaurant, where the Zimbabwe-born chef lures us with familiar thick slabs of Black Angus and grain-fed rib eye, ostrich potjie cooked over coals for six hours, tikin xic reef fish prepared as the ancient Mayan liked it and Portuguese peri peri chicken. We have so much fun that we don’t notice any other diners at all and then we wander back, feet in the sand, for one last simulated shooting match before sleep. If co-existence is the new luxury, this column is a shout-out to all my single girlfriends to pack up and come along.

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