Merely mention the name Maldives, and images of exotic private islands and palm-fringed beaches immediately come to mind.
Stretching across an idyllic chain of remote atolls spread across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries. Covering nearly 90,000 sq.km. of azure seas, the Maldives is made up of 1,190 individual islands, spread over 26 vast atolls that sit atop a vast submarine plateau (the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge) spanning both sides of the Equator.
Much of the country – 99% – is covered by the sea, but despite its comparatively tiny land size, at just 298sq.km. (or less than half the size of Singapore), the country’s 26 major atolls are individually some of the largest on earth, and collectively make up one of the biggest marine ecosystems on the planet.
In fact, the word “atoll” itself is Maldivian in origin – coming from the local Dhivehi word, atholhu – a distinctly Maldivian terms adopted into numerous other languages, to describe the fringing coral reefs forming sea breaks around remote islands, essentially creating giant, lakes within the surrounding ocean, allowing unique marine life to thrive away from the pounding surf of the open seas.
And it’s these natural wonders that have made the Maldives one of the world’s top draws for everyone from serious divers, to beachgoers and sun-seekers.
Nation Of Atolls
Uniquely, many of the Maldives’ atolls are so large, they actually contain numerous faru, a native Dhivehi word for the localised phenomena of micro-atolls. These are essentially atolls-within-atolls – and often you’ll find dozens of micro-atolls within the sheltered waters of larger surrounding atolls, each dotted with dozens of individual islands – each one of which is literally a world unto itself.
One of the best examples of this is the island of Sirru Fen Fushi, or “Secret Water Island“ in Dhivehi, which is located in the Maldives’ third-most northerly atoll, the Shaviyani Atoll (230km, 55 minutes from Male via seaplane). The island is situated within a large lagoon.
Together with the neighbouring atolls of Noonu to the south, and Haa Dhaalu and Haa Alif to the north, Sirru Fen Fushi forms what’s essentially a giant series of interconnected lagoons enclosing more than 200 different islands, many surrounded by their own individual faru
Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi
Embodying the classic ideal of a tropical paradise, with its lush vegetation, pristine beaches, fringing lagoon, and remote privacy, the island of Sirru Fen Fushi measures just 17.5 hectares in size, and is home to a single, exclusive luxury resort – the eponymous Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi.
The 120-villa resort includes a range of luxury over-water villas (each with a private pool), as well as rustic tented jungle villas situated within the island’s lush interior.
Situated on one of the largest lagoons in the Maldives, the resort includes a 200m-long swimming pool which traverses the length of the island. Their in-villa dining is a new take on room service, and involves personal grills where meals are prepared and cooked – either by guests or their personal butlers – barbecue-style in the villas’ private sala.
In addition to their luxurious facilities, fitness centre and spa, many of the biggest draws of Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi are found in its rich, surrounding seas.
AT A GLANCE
Types of Villas:
• 1, 2 & 3-room Beach Villas (360-1,155sq.m.)
• 1, 2 & 3-room Water Villas (164-235sq.m.)
• Tented Jungle Villa (525sq.m.)
All villas come with private plunge pool, personal butler service, bicycles, and private sala
• 3 restaurants (International/ Japanese/ Seafood)
• In-villa private barbecue dining
• Castaway picnics (picnic on secluded islands)
• Destination dining
• Cooking classes
• Luxury spa
• Fitness centre
• Water sports centre
• Tennis & volleyball courts
• Art studio
• Private yacht (dolphin tours, overnight cruises,
village visits, etc)
The Maldives is a series of 1,190 coral islands dotted over a series of coral reefs and sandbars, and while only a handful of the country’s islands have a land area larger than a few square kilometres each, their surrounding, sheltered atolls are some of the largest on earth. These in turn create vast, calm lagoons which are home to thousands of coral reefs inhabited by over 2,000 types of fish, ranging from massive migratory whale sharks and majestic eagle rays, to species like the colourful clown triggerfish and surgeonfish.
Sirru Fen Fushi’s lagoon is home to a number of prominent species, including big pelagics like eagle rays, mobula rays, and stingrays, along with black tip reef sharks, which along with other commonly encountered species like jackfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish, as well as octopus, are easily seen on shore dives right from the beachfront.
The resort’s lagoon is also a favourite feeding (and breeding-) ground for endangered green sea turtles, encounters which are made all the more unique by the fact these gentle giants are the largest of all hard-shelled sea turtles, often growing to over 1m long, and weighing 150kg. Guests at the resort can also participate in their turtle release programmes.
Fairmont Maldives is also home to one of the only underwater art spaces of its kind in the world. Created by noted British sculptor and conservationist, Jason deCaires Taylor, the semi-submerged art installation can both be seen from the shore, or experienced first-hand by snorkellers. Envisioned to eventually become a living work of art, its centrepiece, the “Coralarium” has already begun forming an artificial reef, adding further to the island’s marine ecosystem.
Since fishing is the mainstay of the Maldivian economy, guests at the resort can also try their hand at fishing on board their authentic Maldivian dhoni. Guides are on hand to teach the art of traditional line fishing using tuna as bait, and any catch will be cooked upon return.
For non-divers, the lagoon is home to resident pods of both bottlenose and spinner dolphins which can be readily seen frolicking every evening at sunset, and experienced up close and personal via the resort’s Dolphin Tour.
There are several other small islands in the area, some of which are uninhabited and offer idyllic, deserted beaches fringed by lush jungle, while others are home to traditional Maldivian villages. One of the highlights of staying at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi is a day-trip to the nearby local communities, offering visitors the chance to experience a different, more traditional side of the Maldives.
The largest of these communities is situated on the nearby island of Utheemu (45 minutes away by boat), in the neighbouring Haa Alif Atoll. Home to several small fishing villages, visitors to Utheemu can experience a traditional Maldivian teatime, with sweet cardamom tea accompanied by a variety of local snacks, or “short eats”, like bajiya (samosa), and gulhaa, a savoury deep fried dough ball filled with grated coconut, chilli, and fresh tuna. Utheemu is also an ideal place to try or even buy a bottle to take home, of homemade rihaakura, a traditional, salty fish paste made from tuna, that’s a staple of Maldivian cuisine.
Other activities on Utheemu include watching – and even assisting – the local fishermen mend their nets, while local women grind coconut for traditional dishes like mas
riha (a popular fish curry), or mas
huni – the Maldives’ favourite, savoury breakfast food made of grated coconut, and tuna, and eaten with the handmade chapati, called roshi.
Outside of the village, the island’s most famous site is the Utheemu Ganduvaru palace, the ancestral home of the Maldives’ national hero, Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu, who defended the country against the Portuguese nearly 500 years ago. The palace is made largely of wood and sandstone, and is one of the oldest examples of classical Maldivian architecture with its carved wooden walls, and traditional features like swinging beds and coconut-oil lamps.
Situated roughly in the middle of the Maldives, Male is both the country’s capital city as well as its most populous island. Home to nearly one third of the entire population of the Maldives and squeezed into an area of less than 6sq.km., Male is one of the most compact, and arguably, charming capital cities in the world.
It’s long been known as the “King’s Island”, thanks to its geographic position at the heart of the Maldives – a moniker that was doubly true over the centuries when the island was home to the country’s long line of Sultans.
Today it’s home to the country’s international airport, making it an obligatory stop for anyone visiting the Maldives. And while many tourists use it merely as an access point for the country’s other 1,189 islands, Male is a fascinating hive of activity in its own right, buzzing with urban life in its open-air markets, many cafes, and narrow alleys and shops – something that contrasts strongly with most visitors’ preconceived notions of what to expect in the Maldives.
Thanks to its compact size, the city’s a mass of colourful buildings and alleys, almost all of which boast stunning turquoise sea views in any direction.
Attractions in Male
Some of Male’s most famous sites include its mosques and palaces, which thanks to its compact geography are all located within a few minutes walk of each other in the vicinity of Jumhooree Maidan, aka Republic Square.
Dating back to 1656, the Old Friday Mosque is one of Male’s oldest and most visited sites. Its walls are adorned with traditional Maldivian lacquerwork and carved frescoes, the most famous of which commemorates the arrival of Islam in the Maldives back in the 12th century.
Open to modestly-dressed visitors outside of prayer times, it’s situated just a short walk away from Male’s largest mosque, the Grand Friday Mosque – whose golden dome has become of the city’s best-known landmarks.
Located just nearby is the Presidential Palace, or Mulee
aage. Originally built as a palace for the last sultan of the Maldives a century ago, it’s situated near the aptly named Sultan’s Park, the site of an even earlier palace, along with the National Museum of the Maldives – which while modest in size, is home to several ancient Buddhist artefacts, carved from coral and sandstone, and dating back to the islands’ pre-Islamic past
Several airlines fly to the Maldives directly from Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Airlines and Cathay Pacific, with a flight time of around 6.5 hours. Within the Maldives, various local carriers – including national carrier Maldivian Airlines – services various inter-island routes from Male.
To get to Sirru Fen Fushi, you can take a 55-minute seaplane ride from Male or a domestic flight to neighbouring island of Hanimaadhoo, followed by a 50-minute speedboat transfer. For more information about Sirru Fen Fushi, including availability and offers, visit www.sirrufenfushi.com.