Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Maldives
Romance, exotic locales, snorkeling, diving, even over-water designer villas

Anantara is actually three island resorts in one - Anantara, Anantara Veli and Naladhu - and excels in dining options. Dine by Design lets guests select the where and when for a romantic meal, such as a beachfront dinner with heart-shaped palm fronds and candlelight. The variety in dining options, such as Italian, fusion and Thai, becomes important on longer stays, which is the norm here.

There's even a disappearing dining venue: When the tide rises, the lagoon sand spit where lunch was served is covered in water. There also is a Thai cooking class, a wine guru and a salt sommelier, who offers a delightful tableside presentation of salts, chutneys and mustards. The breakfast dhoni picnic and snorkel resulted in great underwater footage of swimming with a green turtle. Surfing lessons are available, and the over-water spa is another jaw-dropper. Prices start at $780; www.maldives. anantara.com, 960/664-4100).

Naladhu, meaning "pretty little island," is across the lagoon and part of the dine-around program. Here 19 colonial-style houses offer nearly every amenity imaginable, from private swimming pool to a massive deck with palm trees, a daybed, a swing bed, and an adjacent bathroom with outdoor shower, steam room and chaise lounge, plus see-through tub. Breakfast at 5 p.m.? No problem.

Or arrange impromptu excursions to see spinner dolphin. Quite a few guests seem never to leave their rooms. Rates begin at $871 per night for the buy-five-get-seven special; www.naladhu.com, 960/664-1888.

Cocoa Island is a quiet, small-island getaway but still upscale. Focusing on healthy eating and spa therapies at its Como Shambhala Retreat, Cocoa strives to provide a peaceful, harmonious sanctuary (the meaning of "shambhala"). Spa treatments are complemented by a hydrotherapy pool and free yoga classes.

Vegetarian dishes with organic ingredients are a specialty. Great dive sites are nearby, and the resort is an easy speedboat ride from Male. All of its 33 villas are over water, including the original dhoni-shaped villas. Prices start at $590; www.cocoaisland.como.bz, 960/664-1818.

The 150-room Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, one of the Maldives' largest resorts, is actually two islands connected by a walking bridge. Arrival is by seaplane.

The quiet side, Rangali Island, is usually preferred by honeymooners (50 villas), while the more populated Rangali Finohlu has the pool, watersports and the must-see Ithaa Restaurant, said to be the world's first all-glass undersea restaurant. Ithaa, which means "pearl," seats 14, and cost $2.5 million to construct. Couples may have their wedding ceremony here.

The 21 over-water spa villas, each with its own treatment room, are part of the Spa Retreat, a destination spa set on stilts over the ocean off the main island, while the Over-Water Spa offers glass-floored treatment rooms above a coral reef in the resort's lagoon.

The property has 10 dining options, from in-the-sand Japanese cooking to the outstanding spa restaurant to a popular international buffet.

The 10,000-bottle wine list is impressive, as is the wine-and-cheese bar with black-sand floor. The wine cellar has special tastings and dinners with tabletop, pop-up TV screens for presentation. Rates begin at $585; www.conrad hotels.com, 960/668-0629).

For more in formation, go to visitmaldives


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