On Thursday, Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, finally had some good news: from 4am on Sunday, the Canary Islands, Mykonos, Denmark and the Maldives have been added to the travel corridors list, meaning holidaymakers will no longer need to self-isolate when they return from those destinations.
Each new entrant has its charms but, with the clocks going back and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) setting in, one stands out more than any other: the Maldives. I have visited an embarrassing number of times and, given the terrible year we’ve all endured, the country’s appeal is greater than ever. Maybe next year we might have the energy for abseiling expeditions in Azerbaijan, but for now a fortnight’s beachside recuperation, lazily reading under the shade of Maldivian palms and with something chilled close to hand, is all I desire in terms of exertion.
I wasn’t always a fan. Before my first visit, I was a naysayer who dismissed its tiny private-island resorts out of hand. “There’s nothing to do,” I’d say, as if that were a bad thing. Within a day of my arrival, I realised the Maldives’ mellow rhythm suited me nicely. There’s something freeing about a setting unrepentantly pushing unfettered R&R.
Even with nothing to do there, I barely have enough time to do it. On a typical rest day I might follow my lie-in with a multi-course breakfast, usually involving just the right number of cakes and pastries to induce a midday snooze. Lunch ordinarily includes sushi and ice-cream, and is typically followed by a spa treatment and some gentle snorkelling. By the time I’ve dried off and changed, there’s hardly a moment to spare before rushing off for sundowners and dinner. At night, I speed through books instead of doom-scrolling through Twitter.
And on the days I deign to explore a little further, the sea life delivers. I have sailed on sunset cruises accompanied by somersaulting dolphins; I have been encircled in warm waters by squadrons of manta rays. At Hurawalhi resort, I can dunk my head underwater and witness a scene reminiscent of “old normal” Oxford Circus, so dense are the kaleidoscopic crowds of butterflyfish, parrotfish and angelfish that surrounded me.
While it might take just 20 minutes to walk a lap of a typical resort, they are packed with wonders. Though the complicated logistics of providing a refined hospitality experience on a minuscule island in the midst of the Indian Ocean means a holiday here will inevitably be expensive, intense competition ensures properties go all out to secure custom. In the world’s quintessential luxury-travel destination, it’s essential that everything they offer is stellar.
The vast villas designed by Jean-Michel Gathy at Cheval Blanc Randheli and St. Regis Maldives Vommuli’s nature-inspired villas are stunners. I was lucky, too, to be the first guest to stay in the Muraka at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. With its perspex-domed master bedroom submerged some 16ft below sea level, I had the remarkable experience of seeing the sun set from the ocean’s floor with champagne glass in hand; from my bed that evening I watched as silverfish darted overhead, shimmering moonlight giving them the streak of shooting stars. No other holiday destination in the world matches the Maldives for decadence or quite manages to deliver experiences like that.
Exceptional dining experiences abound, too, and beyond the expected seafood restaurants, I’ve tried knockout international dishes ranging from Peruvian to Thai to Scandinavian. I have had some of the most blissful, restorative spa treatments of my life here, too, though admittedly the Maldives’ fixation on romance can be stifling for those of us who visit with friends or on our lonesome. I have done both and squirm when I recall how one property mistook my pal for my partner and gifted us a surprise night-time couples massage before leading us to our shared candlelit bath, daintily covered in rose petals.
All that said, future visits will inevitably be a touch more onerous. Travellers now need to provide a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of their departure for the Maldives, and hopping between islands is less viable. They are minor inconveniences and there are few destinations that more eagerly await holidaymakers’ return: tourism directly and indirectly accounts for about two thirds of the Maldives’ GDP.
After Shapps’s announcement, I’m among the many who have looked for flights already*. The Maldives is unmatched when it comes to facilitating escapism effortlessly and completely. If ever there was a time for making the most of that, it’s 2020.
*Currently BA is the only airline that offers a direct route to Male, between November and March; all others involve transits and mean you won't avoid quarantine upon your return.