A wellness program is the best way to experience the Maldives in our opinion. Shara jets off to the 5* Hurawalhi Island Resort for an Ocean healing retreat with sound bathing, snorkelling and yoga 5.8 metres under the sea…
The Maldives exists in everyone’s Instagram-fuelled fantasies with white sandy beaches and sea water so vibrantly turquoise that it looks like a screensaver. What most people don’t know, however, is that it is the perfect backdrop for a wellness trip. Or at least it is at Hurawalhi Island Resort.
I arrive via a 40-minute seaplane journey from the Maldivian capital, Male. The aerial views are a sight to behold, as is the resort itself: a central island housing the restaurants and communal areas, connected to a long walkway going out to the sea with overwater villas branching off them. Located in the Lhaviyani Atoll, the hotel has the privilege of feeling utterly removed from reality, while also experiencing some amazing biodiversity.
What I quickly come to realise is that water is, well, everywhere. You’re never not looking at the Indian Ocean – and yes, it really is teal and aquamarine and azure and every other gorgeous shade of blue and green. The hotel has quite sensibly capitalised on this, and its wellness offering, called Ocean Healing, is based on the beneficial properties of the sea.
YOGA UNDER THE SEA
One day, we practice yoga 5.8 meters under the sea at the hotel’s underwater restaurant (more on that later). It has been converted into a studio for the day, with a 360-degree view of the Ocean and everything that lives in it from our yoga mats. A downward dog in a draughty London hall will never feel quite the same again.
The chance to go snorkelling is equally incredible – the water is crystal clear and there are several nearby reefs that make for ample fish sightings. There’s no need for a wetsuit; you simply jump in and go. The ease, you see, is all part of the luxury. You can find out more about the fish you may see at the resort’s Marine Biology Centre. The water is so nutrient-rich here, and the currents and sunshine so welcoming, that the water is almost aquarium-like and more than 2,000 species of fish and 200 species of coral live in it. Do look out for sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays and reef sharks, which are much smaller and sweeter than you may imagine.
MEDITATION & SOUND BATHS
One evening at sunset, we are driven by private boat to ‘Dream Island’ – a deserted pristine patch of sand just a couple of minutes away from Hurawalhi. Renate Hermes, who is the Group Spa Director for Duniye Spas, led us through a guided meditation as the sun went down and we used the lapping of the waves as the basis on which to base our inhalations. Living by the Ocean is perceived by many to have a positive effect on stress levels, and I’m sure if I could live here forever, I’d fully support that theory.
With a Master of Science in Sport Physiology and Psychology, Renate’s wellness journey spans over 3 decades and has taken her all over the world to Germany, Turkey, the USA and Bali. Over the past 13 years, she has established herself in The Maldives.
I ask Renate why she thinks the Ocean has such a powerful effect on healing. “Water is the most common substance on earth. Like the Earth, our bodies maintain a constant level of water. Our bodies are made up of 90% of water. The Ocean and Earth are like the body – a living, dynamic system. The planet, like our body, has long veins and arteries with water flowing through it, which are connected to one large thriving heart – The Ocean. Water gives us and the planet life. All life emerged out of the water”.
She tells me that to combat the challenges brought on by our modern lifestyles, “we need to find ways to re-connect to that primal connection we have with the Ocean and Mother Nature”.
The following evening, Renate led a sound healing session inside the spa. The intense relaxation was immediate. Whether it was Renate’s healing presence or the sound of the gongs striking the Himalayan singing bowls reverberating through us, the session left us feeling nothing short of euphoric for the rest of the trip.
The rooms at Hurawalhi Island resort are no less spectacular. It has just 90 villas and the whole place is adults-only, so there’s a sense of peacefulness and exclusivity throughout. My villa is on stilts over the water, so you can jump off the deck into the Indian Ocean – some rooms also have a private infinity pool on deck, too.
Beachside properties are available, but adopting the ‘when in Rome’ principle, I think sleeping over water is the way to go. As for the outdoor bath, it’s the stuff of dreams. Inside, wooden floor and neutral decor let the exterior speak for itself.
For those looking to be pampered, the Duniye spa has your name on it. Treatments are holistic and products organic – in short, there is nothing to stop you totally switching off and my Balinese massage is blissful.
Foodies will be equally content here. One night, we have dinner at 5.8, the hotel’s restaurant named for the fact it is 5.8m under the sea. Less scary than you may imagine, and with no oxygen issues for anyone wondering, it is a magical experience, eating in what feels like a glass bubble with fish swimming all around.
It’s the world’s largest all-glass under the sea restaurant, and you do feel in the presence of something special, especially as there are only 20 covers. And it’s no gimmick: the food is actually delicious. The seven-course tasting menu for dinner features poached lobster and seared wagyu; indulgent but perfectly portioned and prepared as to not be overly heavy. Menus are seasonal and can be adapted for vegetarians, too.
For something less formal, Canneli is buffet-style and the resort’s Kahibo restaurant has Asian street food, fun cocktails and sensational views. Much of the food is organic, biodynamic and grown locally – the resort even has a hydroponic green house – because Hurawalhi is as concerned with sustainability as it is with beauty and luxury. There are more than 4,000 sq m of solar panels on the island and the hotel is committed to favouring glass bottles over plastic.
With wellness travel and experience-led holidays now what many of us are looking for, the Ocean Healing program at Hurawalhi Island Resort is the perfect place to start for a mind, body and soul re-set. It is an incredibly romantic place and perfect for couples, but would be no less idyllic with a girlfriend or your mum. Either way, you will return feeling restored, balanced and pampered.
To make a booking visit the Hurawalhi Island Resort website
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