Imagine translucent turquoise waters so clear that you can just about make out the individual shells at the bottom, picture a sea richer in fish than your average aquarium and pristine, powder-fine white sand beaches hugging a manicured tropical island decorated with palm trees, infinity pools, cocktail bars, Michelin starred restaurants and plush luxurious villas sitting on stilts above the aquamarine waters and you’ll find yourself transported to the Conrad hotel on Rangali island in The Maldives. To say it’s paradise on earth would be an understatement.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is nestled in the South Ari Atoll, and as if one island isn’t enough, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island offers two, linked by a five-hundred-metre long footbridge and surrounded by a beautiful lagoon.
On the main island of Rangalifinolhu, beach villas stand by a pristine white coral sand beach, whilst across the bridge on the quieter Rangali Island guests stay in enchanting water villas built on stilts over the lagoon.
The holiday started before we had even set foot on the island – when we finally landed at Malè International Airport we were transported to the Conrad lounge at the seaplane terminal where we were offered complimentary massages to ease the knots and stiffness out of our necks and backs, before we flopped back onto comfortable beds and sofas and helped ourselves to the buffet of complimentary food and drink – all a very welcome treat after several long haul flights.
Feeling much more relaxed we walked down to our seaplane – a tiny aeroplane so small you have to practically crawl inside, and with just a handful of seats. The pilot – wearing just a pair of shirts, a t-shirt and some flip flops – gave us a (very brief) safety briefing and then sat down in front of us, fired up the engine and took off.
We watched the (at this point barefoot) pilot in front of us steer the plane in the most relaxed manner, and looked down over the turquoise sea speckled with lush green islands with white sand beaches.
Just a 30-minute seaplane flight and we landed on the water by the deck on the bridge, greeted by a whole host of staff providing water and refreshingly cold lemongrass-infused towels. Our bags were taken from us, and our long-haul flights and transfers already a distant memory.
The hotel offers free golf buggy taxis to comfortably transport guests between their villas on the two islands and spas, swimming pools, bars, the dive centre, shop, fitness centre and the seven restaurants, and so we were taken to our Overwater Villa on Rangali island in style.
The water villa was absolutely breath taking. The room was enormous with a comfortable lounge area (with fully stocked mini bar including chilled champagne), a glass-floored office space so you can see the fish beneath your feet, a generous bedroom with stunning ocean views, and a large bathroom with a walk-in shower, his and hers sinks and big bathtub – with plenty of bubble bath and candles. The best bit was the private terrace and spacious sundeck with jetted plunge pool and steps leading into the enticing lagoon below. It’s not hard to see why it had been voted one of “The Maldives’ Leading Water Villas” at the 2012 World Travel Awards!
After freshening up and taking in the views, we made our way to dinner. We walked barefoot along the silky soft raked sand paths through a very manicured ‘jungle’ of palm trees – we found shoes were rarely necessary throughout our stay as you can walk everywhere barefoot.
Guests are spoilt for choice with the hotel’s seven restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Jeremy Leung restaurant, a Michelin-worthy Mandhoo Spa restaurant, romantic Sunset Grill restaurant, an underground Wine Cellar with a degustation menu to complement tastings, and the world-famous Ithaa Undersea restaurant, which does exactly what it suggests: you dine 16ft below sea level looking out on to shoals of fish.
We decided to try and experience them all throughout our stay – starting with the Sunset Grill. As the name implies, we had the most amazing view of the sunset, and could even admire views of the islands from a distance. The menus came in the form of interactive iPads – an a la carte menu that you swipe from left to right and when you find a dish that floats your boat you can click on it for images and further details. The menu offered a selection of meat, seafood and salad dishes, and didn’t disappoint! Each dish was light, fragrant, fresh and flavorsome and the sea breeze, sound of lapping waves and flickering candlelight made it the perfect spot for a romantic dinner to start the holiday.
The following morning we strolled out into the sunshine and enjoyed the a la carte breakfast at the Vilu Restaurant on our doorstep. We sat by the water’s edge, mesmerized by the incredible view and bright turquoise sea, watching the traditional Maldivian boat take guests back and forth between the islands. The iPad menus include plenty of healthy options and juices and smoothies, as well as the more indulgent waffles and pancakes, and there was also a cold buffet area with plenty of fresh fruit, yoghurts, pastries, meats and cheeses.
After breakfast we explored our island (Rangali island) a bit more – then cooled down in the ‘Quiet Zone Pool’; an infinity pool for grown-ups only, with different depths for you to either lay down on or even just sit down to read – by far the best pool in the resort. At 10:30 a.m we were already getting sunburnt so decided to find shelter at the 11:00am cocktail hour at the Ithaa Undersea restaurant on the main island of Rangalifinolhu.
If you’re looking for a one of a kind experience, this is it. Every day at 11am they serve canapés and champagne (you need to book in advance) in the fully submerged glass dome so guests can come eye-to-eye with colourful and curious fish, including little black-tip baby sharks.
Ready to take on some more sunshine we took a golf buggy to the dive shop on the other side of the island, picked up some snorkels, goggles and fins, and were taken to their house reef by one of their snorkeling guides. We swam along the unspoilt reef surrounded by an abundance of fish and coral, swimming with schools of colourful fish, watching and listening to parrot fish crunching on the corals, swimming with harmless black-tip sharks and gliding alongside a large curious turtle who happily swam with us for about five minutes – stopping only to come up for a gulp of air – his tiny head popping up above the water.
Aside from snorkeling there are plenty of other activities on offer – including a starlight cinema, island hopping, fishing day tours, a glass-bottomed boat trip and sunset and sunrise cruises, and then there are the two infinity pools, modern gym, yoga classes, and a variety of watersports on offer including scuba diving, sailing and big game fishing.
Instead, we chose to do nothing and lazed on our private sundeck back at our water villa, napping, reading, and playing cards. Pure bliss.
After a cocktail or two on the beach at Rangali Bar, listening to live music and watching the sunset, we headed to the Mandhoo Spa restaurant for dinner. We sat above the water, watching fish swim under out feet as we perused the iPad menu. This restaurant came recommended for its focus on the five elements of Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Plant with an angle of healthier and more nutritional food. The flavours were phenomenal and creative, most definitely Michelin star worthy! We listened to the waves crashing along the beach nearby and spotted eagle rays and sting rays darting below, and had never felt happier.
After dinner a golf buggy took us back to our water villa where our bed had been decorated with rose petals spelling out ‘good night’, and we slept deeper than ever, with our bellies full, our skin still warm from the sun and the soothing soundtrack of the ocean underneath us.
After another sunny breakfast at the Vilu Reef restaurant nearby, we enjoyed a lazy morning at our water villa, reading, swimming and sunbathing, before being moved to a room upgrade for our final evening.
We were taken across the bridge to the other island to another water villa (a ‘Retreat Water Villa’) – even more jaw dropping than before! This water villa on stilts was so palatial it consisted of several rooms – including a separate room for the ‘bath’ (it was the size of a small swimming pool and took nearly an hour to fill!), and a separate powder room the size of our bedroom from the nights before, with its own seating area and his & hers sinks looking out over the ocean as well as our separate private spa treatment room. Both the bathrooms and the large bedroom offer access to the enormous private terrace divided over several levels, with a sunbathing deck, Jacuzzi and private steps leading into the sea below. Mind. Blown.
We strolled out to the overwater Elemis spa on our doorstep – a stunning spa set on stilts with views over the ocean and a whole host of treatments and Elemis products. A full body massage kneaded out any knots still remaining, and reduced us almost to a comatose state.
Feeling like a million dollars (its hard not to) we decided to spend our last evening at the Michelin starred Jeremy Leung restaurant – a restaurant divided over two floors with the ground level set on the beach with tables in the sand, and the second floor offering incredible views in a more refined setting. We opted for the busier beach area and were offered a menu of Hot Pots; we could choose a broth and a meat / fish option, that would then be cooked in front of us in a sort of cauldron. A waiter lit up the cauldron and brought out a dish of fresh lobster, crab, tiger prawns, fish, meats and vegetables, and slowly submerged each piece in the hot and bubbling spicy broth.
Feeling full (and our mouths slightly on fire from the spice) we headed to the Rangali bar on the beach to soothe our mouths with pina coladas and soak up the lively atmosphere and live music. After spending the rest of the evening dancing in the sand, we headed back to our fabulous room to wash off the sand in the enormous bath. Although it took a while to fill, it was worth it as we spent the rest of he evening in the candlelit bubble bath, enjoying views over the moonlit sea and toasting our last evening with a glass of bubbly, hoping to one day return to paradise.