The Maldives still make for a magical getaway
Could you ever tire of this Indian Ocean favourite? Sam Wylie-Harris rediscovers her love for the islands at the new Faarufushi hotel.
Racing into the sunset, I feel a warm glow on my face, even though I'm shielding myself from the sun's rays with a wide-brimmed hat. We've been skimming across the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean for 20 minutes, and it feels as if time's standing still, with nothing on the horizon but a sinking sun.
Then, like a mirage, a lush green island looms into view. As we circle its silver sandy shores, I feel a tickle of excitement. Within clear view is a table for two, a parasol, bean bags, chef in whites, two waiters and a fired-up BBQ.
We're handed flutes of ice-cold fizz, and as dusk falls, we tuck into plates of Cajun-spiced yellowfin tuna, seabass, king prawns and wagyu steak, topped with more fizz and wine.
By the time papaya is served, we're so relaxed, all our cares have been washed out to sea, and we're chatting and laughing like two love-struck teenagers under a blanket of stars.
This romantically remote desert island dining takes place at the newly opened Faarufushi, the latest addition to Raa Atoll.
A scenic 50-minute seaplane journey north of Male, this small coral island has 37 beach bungalows and 42 water villas, each marked by a thatched roof of coconut leaves and mesmerizing views of the turquoise lagoon - and most boast private infinity pools.
Tellingly, the flora and fauna have been carefully preserved, and at first sight, the showstopping 45-metre pool (just shy of Olympic-sized) is so expertly cushioned amongst the tall palm trees, you'd think it was how mother nature intended.
Sleeping in style
Our huge water villa is about 200-metres down the jetty (golf buggies ferry guests to and fro), and days are topped and tailed with dips in the sea.
Just steps away from our king-sized bed (with 400 thread-count sheets), we snorkel, sunbathe, and casually sip rose from our well-stocked wine fridge.
The nature-inspired decor combines warm woody tones with swatches of turquoise, and little touches include a coconut with roots in a vase of water. The rattan rocking chair, raffia slippers and an origami elephant towel at turn-down service are a world away from our bijou flat back home.
Wining and dining
Four restaurants operate in the resort, with smiley, engaging staff providing friendly service. Turn up barefoot and breakfast like a king in Iru (the Dhivehi word for sun), which serves an impressive hot and cold buffet, as well as a la carte.
We enjoy lunches sitting by the pool at Sangu (meaning shell horn), which serves the best sashimi - or the beach restaurant Athiri, where ceviche and Korean chicken wings are 'finger licking' good.
On one special evening, we get dolled up for Eclipse. Their fine-dining restaurant rests on stilts overlooking the lagoon and the intimate ambience feels deliciously romantic.
Strolling down the jetty for sundowners in adjacent Boli Bar, we're diverted by our barman excitedly pointing to the water. In utter amazement, we watch rare eagle rays glide past us at high tide.
Spa and relaxation
Burning incense creates an air of sweet earthiness at Nika Spa (named after the Banyan tree in its pavilion), which has six couples' treatment rooms with luxurious en-suite bathrooms. Set on stilts, they resemble giant treehouses.
Three chimes of a gong ushers in our 60-minute Lombok massage, which combines medium pressure strokes and skin rolling to release any tension.
If you struggle with a massage, Nika offers complementary yoga sessions (based on the activity schedule).
Alternatively, walking barefoot along the shoreline and counting blacktip reef sharks (they're harmless) is the best therapy in the world.
During the day, staff tend to the trees and gardens, while at dusk, giant fruit bats sweep between the palms. Even though it only takes 15 minutes to walk around the island, there's always so much to explore.
This secluded hideaway isn't flash, but it is a dreamy paradise.