Set on a palm-fringed atoll surrounded by the turquoise waters of a shallow lagoon, LUX* South Air Atoll is everything you’d expect from a 5-star resort in the Maldives.
As we approach in our float plane, I can see the long fingers of over-water bungalows stretching out into the lagoon, each with its own infinity pool at the tip. We’re greeted by about a dozen staff at the end of the jetty, a cold drink and even colder towel before we’re spirited away to our rooms.
This is barefoot luxury as you would expect it, staff clad all in white, hovering just out of sight until you need them, guests wandering around in loose-flowing kaftans and sarongs, or linen shirts and shorts. But it’s funky too, like a Caribbean beach club, with DJs spinning mellow tunes as you relax with an iced tea, in a deck chair or bean bag by the beach. This is where the beautiful people go on vacation.
The resort encompasses the entire island (as well as the several long fingers of over-water villas that stretch out over the lagoon), and in fact it is so large, it feels more like a luxury village. Free bicycles are supplied to get around, and a large golf buggy does a never-ending loop around the island to take you from one end to the other. Electric scooters are also available for hire.
There are several bars, several (infinity) swimming pools, a couple of beach clubs, a library, art studio, a coconut hut, tree of life wishing tree, kids club – even an ice-cream parlour.
I’m not in an overwater bungalow, I’m in a Beach Pavilion – this is entry-level luxury, and even this is larger than my apartment. A king-size bed looks out onto the beach through floor-to-ceiling French windows. A well-stocked mini-bar, sofa/day bed and bookshelf on one side, flat screen TV on the other.
Behind the bedroom, a double bathroom with walk-in wardrobes on each side and more French windows open onto a outdoor bathroom area with a large round bath.
There are larger Lagoon Pavilions which accommodate families, the luxury steps up a notch or two with the over-water Romantic Pool Water Villas and Temptation Pool Villas, which are adults only.
The dining options at LUX* are endless, you could easily stay here a couple of months (if only) and have a different meal each night. The two largest, buffet-style restaurants serve breakfast, with a range of food at each that is so diverse you won’t know where to start.
Everything from freshly baked crumpets and croissants, to handmade yoghurt, fresh fruit, Bircher muesli, cereal, porridge and any kind of freshly-juiced juice you can imagine, through to Asian options such as fried rice and noodles cooked to order on an enormous round skillet, Western choices such as omelettes, bacon and eggs, gourmet sausages and beans, even freshly made roti and dhal.
For a civilised morning tea (or rather, coffee), the cafe by the reception area is rather like a colonial country club, where the resort’s barista serves a very decent cappuccino.
On certain evenings during the week, at the larger restaurants, there are buffet Asian Feasts and Maldivian Nights, which include entertainment in the form of traditional Maldivian music and dancing.
For a more intimate dinner, there are also gourmet Japanese, Italian, Indian restaurants and for the party atmosphere, beach club ‘Beach Rouge’ serves tapas and tunes, and the beach bar hosts regular beach barbecues.
Beach Rouge has seating that extends out over the water so you can watch the reef sharks below you as you sip on a cocktail, and there is also an over-water bar at the other end of the island.
Good to Know…
Each day staff hide several ‘messages in a bottle’ around the island, each holding a prize; a voucher for a spa treatment perhaps or a bottle of wine; so worth having a look in the gardens as you explore the island.
The LUX* Me wellness sanctuary is located roughly at the centre of the long island and has over-water consultation rooms and a wide range of relaxing and therapeutic treatments.
The award-winning spa also incorporates a traditional Chinese teahouse, a relaxation area that overlooks the lagoon and a zen wellness pavilion where you can participate in a range of wellness activities, including yoga and meditation, all overseen by your wellness concierge.
Being located on a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean, most activities at LUX* involve water. Water sports include sailing, stand-up paddle board, jet skis and kite surfing, and of course snorkelling and scuba diving.
South Ari Atoll is home to a large resident population of whale sharks, in fact over 370 individuals have been identified and named by the manta research project located on a neighbouring island. As the dive shop manager tells me “you would have to be pretty unlucky not to see one”. During my stay in fact I saw three, two while scuba diving and once on snorkel.
Inside the lagoon there are some very pretty coral gardens, a small wreck and artificial reef made of old bicycles, and just outside the lagoon, beautiful coral walls and bommies absolutely teeming with marine life.
The resort has a full-time resident marine biologist who takes guests on daily guided snorkels with the whale sharks and other marine life, followed by interesting presentations back at the bar aprés-snorkel to help you identify what you’ve seen underwater.
One a year the resort celebrates its surrounding marine environment with a week-long event, in 2018 inviting the global heads of PADI, several marine biologists and dive-related media along for an Underwater Festival.
The resort is picturesque enough to be an Instagram star in its own right, with white sandy beaches, infinity pools and palm trees, however the resort has added a few more irresistible Instagram moments to photograph.
There are several over-water swings and hammocks, even a ‘window-to-the world’ that sits at about knee-depth in the lagoon – plenty of opportunities to create Insta-envy and inspire others to visit this stunning resort.
Deborah Dickson-Smith was a guest of Lux Resorts & Hotels, attending of the 2018 LUX* Underwater Festival.
LUX* South Ari Atoll is part of LUX* Resorts & Hotels. Find out more about here.
For more information about scuba diving in the Maldives, visit Diveplanit.