Whether you’re an intrepid traveller to this neck of the atolls, or this is your maiden voyage across the Indian Ocean towards paradise, it’s hard not to be awed by the Maldives. A chartered seaplane takes you over an emerald ocean so clear, you could see down to its depths from the heights you’re flying at.
The destination this time is Joali, a name evocative of treasures and gems, just as it is an amalgamation of that elusive phrase, the joy of living. Situated north of the Maldives on Muravandhoo Island, a 45-minute plane ride from Malé on said seaplane, the island resort is located in the Raa Atoll, one of the deepest and largest in the world.
As the plane approaches the resort, the temptation to yell, “The plane! The plane!” (millennials will need to Google this), is great. Meanwhile, speedboats are waiting to transfer you from the seaplane to an extraordinary private jetty where smiling faces are ready to welcome you with flower leis under an undulating roof reminiscent, for some, of ocean waves from one angle, a manta ray’s wing-like fins in motion from another or even two fish kissing at yet another.
The Fantasy Island reference is telling of the sort of experience you’ll have here, with every conceivable attention to detail and sensorial splendour, hardly an overstatement for the group of select guests arriving at the resort for a special preview ahead of its opening. With no less than the design assistance of three architectural and design studios, Autoban, Turkish firm Atölye4n and Tokyo-based Studio Glitt, at the helm of Joali’s conception, the resort’s careful creation – and curation – is immediately apparent.
Concern for Joali’s surroundings sees the layout of the resort carefully designed so that its 73 luxury beach and overwater villas are built around the property, preserving at least 1,000 trees on the island as well as its coral reefs. A marine biologist has access to, and works closely together with, the resort to preserve and propagate coral replacing those ravaged by the devastating tsunami that hit the Maldives in 2004. While the aftermath of the tsunami has taken a toll on the coral reefs surrounding the resort, Joali’s waters are still teeming with marine life – schools of colourful fish, turtles and manta rays swim freely. The marine biologist is also on hand to take snorkelers and divers on longer expeditions, helping to educate even as they marvel at the abundant and varied sea life around them.
For those with less adventurous inclinations, a languid stroll or bike ride around the island will meander through some charming discoveries. Joali’s bid as both a literary and art immersive resort (a first in the Maldives) sees its communal Living Room stocked to the brim with books specially selected by theme. All villas have an equally curated book selection and just as impressive is the lounge at the spa, a welcoming space with books on wellness (yes, Marie Kondo is here too).
Its arty inclinations have also resulted in the installation of several distinct pieces, thanks to its art curators Zeynep Ercan and Asliala Onur of Istanbul-based company No LaB.
A treetop wooden deck, shaped like a manta ray and created by South African artist Porky Hefer, adds visual appeal while also providing a functional, unique space as a romantic dining venue. Heron, also designed by Hefer, is a unique installation that also acts as a quaint lounger from which to sip margaritas while viewing the vast main pool and the blue ocean beyond. Other international artists are also featured – from Israeli-born Zemer Peled, who has her sculpture of ceramic corals, a paean to the fragility of the ecosystem here, housed in the resort’s spa, to New York-based Misha Khan, whose installation is created underwater and guests are able to scuba dive through.
Certainly, Joali’s surroundings are postcard perfect if not unique. An organic herb and vegetable garden yields a fresh harvest for the resort’s dining spots, while a pristine whitesanded beach is privately accessed from your luxury beach villa with its own spacious pool and surrounded by tall coconut trees swaying in the breeze. If your choice of abode is the luxury water villa, then a hammock stretched over an expanse of ocean and your very own lap pool is certainly a sight for sore eyes.
A mid-century aesthetic informs the interior of the villas, matched by local timber, bamboo and terrazzo flooring, with Verde Lapponia marble from Norway for its bathrooms. Inside a luxury beach villa, an outdoor standing bath beckons, as does a private bar. An unobtrusive sound system, hidden in plain sight, plays the Beach Boys (my choice to match the interior) softly in the background via Bluetooth. Other thoughtful accoutrements include an eco-friendly faux-suede yoga mat, an Ardmore kimono in a heron and palm leaf print, ultra comfortable bedroom slippers, an eco-friendly coconut dental kit and Marvis toothpaste.
Also on hand is your personal valet, ready to take the weight, literally and metaphorically, off your shoulders. Call him from the tablet or personal mobile that’s available in every villa, and he will go at length to arrange for everything, from your transportation to replenishing the bar to making a reservation at Saoke, the stunning Noriyushi Muramatsudesigned overwater JapanesePeruvian fine-dining restaurant. In fact, a total of seven dining outlets, including two bars and a wine and cigar lounge, and a liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour, lets guests sample a varied, inventive selection.
More sensorial pleasures await. Joali’s spa carries the exclusive ESPA line and at least one of its expert therapists has served no less than royalty. Indulge in a full-body massage at the spa or have a healing, relaxing experience in the comfort of your villa. Right before that, practise a few sun salutations at the over water yoga pavilion, strategically located so you can catch a spectacular sunrise even as you go through your vinyasas . Despite the mission to put one’s feet up and relax, there’s so much to see and do here that it would be impossible to note everything down – and clearly, there will be something here (if not everything) to spark your joy. The smiles on those headed back for home, it’s been noted, tend to last for days.