We’re doing what many honeymooners have done before us: heading to the coral atolls of the Maldives in search of tropical paradise. Our destination, Emboodhu Finolhu Island, is just a 15-minute boat ride away from the capital, Malé. We arrive at the island, home to the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, and pause to marvel at the spectacle in front of us: we’re surrounded by a luminous pale-aquamarine lagoon — one of the largest in the Maldives. It quickly becomes clear that we’ve arrived somewhere truly special.
In the reception area, one of the friendly members of staff approaches us with a camera. “Smile!” she says, warmly. We hold our glasses of champagne and grin: easy to do when you’ve just gotten married and then landed in heaven. It’s our welcome photo, which will be framed and given to us as a departing gift.
After check-in, we’re introduced to Raj, our personal butler. He escorts us to a golf buggy and we’re driven along a sandy path past vivid flora to our villa. There’s a big ceramic bowl of cool water outside, for dipping our feet into before we enter our room. Shoes are not required on the island, unless you’re dining at The Deep End restaurant, in which case the dress code is smart casual. That’s about as formal as things get at the Taj.
The villa is enormous and opulent. Inside, everything is impeccable: elaborate Indian-inspired furnishings, ornate fabrics and a huge marble bathroom. Outside, there’s a freshwater plunge pool and a sundeck. Big screens ensure no one can see you; privacy is key at the Taj Exotica. While the island is spotted with 64 villas — including a presidential villa suite that feels much like a lavish Indian palace on stilts — it’s easy to feel as though you’re the only two people on the island. Even on the beach, sun loungers are discreetly arranged so you’re not in sight of anyone else.
The following day, we laze by the water, observing the wildlife. A heron stalks the shore, plucking small reef fish from the sea. Baby blacktip reef sharks also hover close to the beach, their sleek fins surfacing. A school of fish resembling an oil spill erupts out of the water when the skittish baby sharks move towards them. There are small stingrays, too.
At five o’clock, we watch a stingray feeding. Giant, saucer-shaped rays are tossed juicy pieces of fresh tuna by staff there’s also an adult blacktip reef shark feeding off the deck at The Deep End.
Watersport enthusiasts have plenty of options at the Dolphin Base Dive & Water Sports Centre: snorkeling? Diving? Wakeboarding? Or, since you’re in paradise, you could just read piles and piles of great books and check into the spa for daily massages. Treatments at the phenomenal Jiva Grande Spa are inspired by the traditional science of Ayurveda.
Later that night, we meet the hotel’s general manager, Girish Sehgal, at the Equator Bar. He tells us over kir royals that guest feedback is highly valued.
“You see the swing in the ocean?” he says, pointing to the charming wooden swing swaying above the sea. “One of our guests asked for it, so we did it.” Likewise, the Tree House was another guest suggestion.
The following night, we enjoy one of our wedding gifts, a candlelit degustation dinner in the open-air dining space. It’s just us, the sound of the ocean and the occasional visit from Raj to deliver our next course. We quickly discover that it’s not just the glistening turquoise water and sun-bleached sand that elevate this place to beyond idyllic. The culinary experiences here are sublime. The 24 Degrees restaurant is the more casual dining option. One evening, after cocktails, we head to dinner and order their signature Maldivian reef fish curry. It’s the best curry we’ve ever eaten.
On our final night, we visit the serene Deep End restaurant and nibble on Emboodhu lobster ravioli with onion confit and shaved truffle, followed by blood-orange souffle for dessert.
Before we leave, a plate of petits fours is placed on our table. On a chocolate plaque are the words: “We will miss you”. It’s a sweet touch. We toy with leaving a note: “Not as much as we will miss you”, and decide on another glass of champagne. Mission accomplished: paradise found.
Visit Taj Hotels for more details. Via Harper's Bazaar UK. Images: Mark LuscombeWhyte