Being eye to eye with a shark while you're having a massage may not sound relaxing, but it could happen at Lime Spa, the world's first underwater spa. Set 100m out to sea and eight metres under, guests descend a candlelit staircase to a circular pod with wraparound windows. Eerie blue light fills the room, while reef fish teem outside. I can’t help but feel like a tropical cocktail as I’m massaged with oils made from local coconut and lime, before dozing off to the rhythmic strokes of my masseuse.
While the massage is indulgent, it’s hard to beat plunging into the aquamarine waters of the Maldives. These atolls, renowned for their stunning coral and a diversity of marine life, is a haven for divers, but you’ll see plenty simply snorkelling, as Huvafen Fushi has one of the finest house reefs in the area.
The wonders of the underwater world are mere steps from your villa. Most days see a healthy population of blacktip reef and nurse sharks swimming lazily about. Beautiful spotted eagle rays and hawksbill turtles glide by and moray eels reluctantly make an appearance.
Bleaching has zapped colour out of coral in many parts of the Maldives, but bursts of it can still be seen among the great discs of fan coral that unfurl inches from you, and in the gnarled fingers of staghorn and great lumps of brain coral that ring the resort. Beyond the coral walls, the ocean drops into deep blue nothingness, where more mysterious creatures lurk.
It only takes 10 minutes to stroll across the island, yet it never feels crowded and there is plenty to keep you busy, should you feel the need. Most of the resort’s 44 rustic-meets-sleek villas are overwater, but whether you choose to be on land or above the sea, all benefit from space, comfort, Indian Ocean views, plunge pools, indoor and outdoor living areas and bathrooms, and a thakuru, or butler.
The overwater villas are lovely, but the two ocean pavilions are something else. They sit on a private boardwalk a further 200 metres out to sea. On entering these two-bedroom pavilions, you’re greeted by an infinity pool that extends from inside the living room to the sundeck, with a retractable glass wall in between. Add to that a jacuzzi, barbecue, dining room and cocktail bar and you’re ready to rock.
Topping the ocean pavilions is a staggering 800 sq m beach pavilion, which comes with its own private beach. The master bedroom has a glass floor, which looks down on a fibre-optic-lit infinity pool that’s as big as some hotel pools.
Gourmets and oenophiles will eat and drink well at Huvafen – at a price. Take a half- or full-board plan, though annoyingly, restrictions are placed on what you can order and where you can eat without paying a supplement. Raw serves delicious uncooked fare, including reef fish carpaccio and raw tuna pizza, as your meal’s relatives swim underneath the restaurant, and it’s a top spot for sundowners.
If you really want to push the boat out, splurge on a destination dining experience, including a lavish Indian meal under the stars, a barefoot dinner on a sandbank, or in a cellar under the sea. The cost might make you cry, but it’s worth doing, once…
Who stays here? Russian oligarchs in January, secretive Chinese entrepreneurs in July and sun-chasing Brits at Christmas. Honeymooners, couples, mistresses and toy boys. George Clooney and Kate Moss are said to have stayed, too, though not necessarily together. It can make for fascinating people-watching, or you could quite comfortably hole up in your villa and not be seen.
One of Huvafen’s best assets is that it’s just 30 minutes by speedboat from the international airport, which means you don’t have to overnight in the capital, Male, if you get in on a late flight. What’s more, you don’t see neighbouring resorts, which can’t be said for a number of other high-end places so close to the airport.
Competition is fierce among the Maldives’ uber luxe resorts, and there are newer and flashier places to stay, but the intimate charm of Huvafen, its tip-top service and X-factor, make it a dream.