Featured Destination: Manafaru, Maldives

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A longtime playground for European travelers, the Maldives has begun to garner attention by Americans, as well, thanks to celebrities like Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Madonna, and Penelope Cruz putting it on the radar. A nation consisting of 1,192 islands situated due south of India, the Maldives isn’t the easiest spot to travel to from the United States, but if you have the time (and money), it’s worth every minute (and penny) spent en route.

When to Go: Thanks to its equatorial climate, anytime of year is fair game in the Maldives. Days are longest from December to April, but prices are higher over holiday periods (obviously). May through November is the official low season due to tropical storms and extreme humidity, but if you don’t mind frizzy hair and the occasional rain shower, you might be better to go then (less people and lower prices make for a more enjoyable vacation for you!).

Where to Stay: You’ll immediately feel like you’ve landed in a tropical heaven as you’re led to your private villa at the Beach House at Manafaru’s, with its sandy paths lined with 700 banana and mango trees (located in the northern atoll of Haa Alif).

Upon arrival, you’ll spot a single wooden jetty that juts out into the vast Indian Ocean and a handful of staffers making their way to its end to greet you with a warm smile and glass of refreshing ginger-and-honey concoction in coconut shell.

Women in traditional Maldivian garments adorn you with fresh-flower leis, as the general manager Philippe, an attractive, deeply-tanned Frenchman, and his charming, equally-attractive Uzbeki wife, Veronica, proffer welcoming hands. In the distance, faintly lit, grass-topped huts dance atop the placid waters.

Once you’re escorted to your beachside villa, you needn’t check in upon arrival, that’s conveniently taken care of when your butler meets you at Malé International Airport prior to transferring to your domestic flight. The only sounds in the distance are the gentle waters lapping over the white-gold sands and the occasional breeze whipping against the enormous banana leaves that decorate your private back garden. The resident lizard extends its curious head to survey your intentions, but you’re already too well immersed in your lava-rock-bottomed pool to notice. Welcome to paradise; you’re home at last.

Here, in paradise, you’ll find sixty-eight waterfront villas, each with its own terrace and fiber-optic-lit pool, are for rent on four price levels.

The ultimate splurge is the Grand Beach Pavillion, a palatial duplex with a sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room. But all bungalows are bedecked with a fiber optic-lit Infiniti pool, iPod connector, open-air rain shower, old-fashioned soaking tub, wireless Internet access, flat screen TV, and shaded sala (think gazebo), in which guests can receive private spa treatments. Added luxuries include pillow and soap menus.

What to Eat: The island’s modern Asian-influenced continental fare can be explored at any of the island’s three restaurants–or even from the convenience of your villa’s own backyard if you prefer a more intimate meal. The resort’s signature dining experience Saffron offers the tastiest of Asian-fusion cuisine in a stylish and romantic setting perfect for those honeymooning or needing a break from the kids, while Medium Rare (obviously) caters to meat lovers with its mouth-watering steaks and lobsters drawn directly from the eatery’s central pond. Four Corners is ideal for the indecisive diner like myself: With a full buffet of food from all over the world, you can sample a little of everything, including comfort food from your own country should homesickness strike.

What to Do: The Maldives boasts some of the most crystal clear, unpolluted water on the planet. Even if you weren’t previously a diver, you should take this opportunity to complete your open water SCUBA certification at the island’s PADI center. If you’re not confident enough to take the full-on plunge just yet, test the waters with a little snorkeling first. Or book a boat trip to one of the nearby local islands and get a feel for what life is really like for the natives. (Spoiler Alert: It involves much dancing and drumming demonstrations.)

If active endeavors aren’t your thing, you’ll enjoy taking advantage of the Jungle Spa (the Chocolate Extravaganza is to die for), lounging in the Amazon Pool (complete with submerged benches), or making use of the resort’s many offerings, like the karaoke lounge or golf simulator.


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