A sleepover with the fish in an underwater villa beckoned at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, just before COVID-19 hit. Carolynne Dear is glad she accepted the invitation.
Muraka’s master bedroom sits on the seabed.
I nearly turned the invitation down. A request to stay at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, twice voted best hotel in the world.
It seems ridiculous. But at the end of last year, Hong Kong’s anti-government protests were ratcheting up.
On the morning of my departure, I received a frenzy of WhatsApps from other mothers’ at my children’s school. Barriers had been thrown into the road, the school was unreachable. By the middle of the week, all Hong Kong schools had been closed indefinitely by the government due to the deteriorating situation.
But I decided to throw caution to the wind and so by the time I replied to them, I was lying flat-out on an icing sugar-sand beach, contemplating the gelato-hued waters of the Indian Ocean.
And who could possibly have guessed this would also be my last big trip before coronavirus took over the world? As my mother would say, if it’s going to be your last one, make it a good one.
The highlight of the visit was Muraka, a two-level residence whose master bedroom lies on the ocean bed, five feet below sea level.
The 600-tonne structure was built in Singapore before being shipped to the Maldives in December 2018. The residence took a full two years to build before it was hauled into place and tethered to the seabed using concrete piles.
Existing coral was carefully removed before the arrival of Muraka, and replaced around the structure once it was successfully in situ. The resort’s on-site marine biologists are now kept busy ensuring the structure enhances rather than impedes the surrounding reef. As part of the resort’s reef conservation programme, visitors can ‘adopt’ a coral and have it placed on the Muraka reef.
The submerged suite includes floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the bathroom and in the bedroom. The glass – in this instance acrylic – curves overhead for 180 degree views. And if all this marine activity is playing havoc with your sleep, there are remote control black-out curtains (perhaps even fish deserve a little privacy).
The property itself is breathtaking. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors swing back onto a large deck boasting an infinity pool and hot tub (it’s east-facing, so this is where you catch the sun rising in the morning) and there’s a further deck to the front of the property for sunset gazing, freshly mixed drink in-hand.
But the best was yet to come. Following the spiral staircase down (there is also an elevator) you find yourself surrounded by fish. The villa has had time to bed down and is now a part of the underwater ecosystem. Divers plunge twice a day to clean the windows, but the reef is beginning to make the interloper home.
Initial fears about claustrophobia dissipated as soon as I entered the luxe underwater bedroom. I felt perfectly comfortable in the oxygen-controlled, air-conditioned bedroom, but you can always decamp to the master bedroom upstairs if you need a break from the depths. The ocean-views above sea-level are almost as breath-taking.
The soft, snowy-white bed, it turned out, was the perfect place from which to conduct an underwater exploration. And despite remaining dry and unencumbered by gear, I still channelled that lovely feeling of total peace and other-worldliness that comes with diving.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is part of the Alifu Dhaalu Atoll, a 45-minute seaplane ride north of Male. The resort has been on the receiving end of the accolade ‘Best Hotel in the World’ not once, but twice. It has even featured on the Keeping Up with the Kardashians TV series.
But the one-year-old Muraka, located on a jetty that links the two islands that make up the resort, is next-level luxury travel. It is the world’s first underwater villa hotel and its launch followed that of Ithaa, the resort’s underwater restaurant.
The three-bed villa comes with a private 24-hour butler and chef, private jet skis and on-call fitness trainer.
During my stay, I sipped on signature cocktails and enjoyed incredible Maldivian inspired dishes. With this level of dining, the fitness trainer was maybe not such a bad idea.
If you’re looking for a family trip away from the crowds, holidays don’t come much more private than this.
At US$50,000 per night, the Muraka admittedly may not be within everyone’s reach, but this doesn’t mean to say you can’t enjoy the resort on a more modest budget.
Rangali Island is a stunning strip of sand in the Indian Ocean. The resort offers plenty of (above ground) villas and suites dotted across two islands. The two-bedroom Deluxe Beach Villas and Beach Villas are perfect for families, with ample space for two adults and two children. And the Beach Suites sleep six and include two private plunge pools and a private island host.
If you’re not staying in the Muraka, you can still enjoy an underwater experience at the resort’s underwater restaurant, Ithaa. Breakfast involved plates of pastries and a la carte hot dishes and plenty of glasses of bubbles amongst the bubbles. The established reef hosts a plethora of corals and fish and again I was lucky enough to see a couple of turtles glide past as I tucked into my pain au chocolat.
If you’re travelling en famille, the resort launched a new-look kids’ club in late 2019. The Majaa Explorers Hub is open daily and is complimentary for children over the age of three years. Daily activities are supervised by the experienced team and babysitting for littlies is available with 24-hours notice. There is an extra-charge for selected activities, such as motorized water sports.
For older kids, ocean watersports include catamaran sailing, glass-floored boat trips, kayaking, jet skiing and water skiing, paddle boarding and wake-boarding, wind-surfing, scooter snorkelling and X-Jetpacking and X-Jetblading. The on-site dive centre offers bubble-making courses for youngsters, adventure diver certification courses, day and night dives and open water entry-level and advanced certifications. I also enjoyed a fun evening on a dolphin-viewing sailing trip.
Asia Family Traveller was a guest of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.