Fantasy Island
The Maldives

Concept dining

Breakfast at Niyama is an elaborate, buffet affair. On most days, we chose to take it outside by ‘Epicure’ with a view out to sea. We could have also breakfasted at ‘Blu’ on the other island, more suited to families. The resort wasn’t short of dining options and some of the resort’s vegetables are even grown in its own garden. You could tell that a lot of thought had been put into the food and beverage offering throughout Niyama. Each of the resort’s restaurants were exquisite and impressive and played very much into our Fantasy Island headspace. Our favourite was ‘Nest’ where Southeast Asian chefs (no doubt thanks to Minor Hotels) offer up a menu of delicious Far Eastern treats in an atmospheric, Avatar-esque, tree-house setting. Down below, a playful Teppanyaki restaurant provided for a theatrical lunch.

Back at ‘Epicure’, fresh all-day, themed dining is complemented by a Maldivian BBQ dinner a couple of times a week, setting the scene for a cultural dining experience, complete with drumming and storytelling through song. Resort junkies will know what to expect.

Niyama also has a signature, concept restaurant, ‘Tribal’. It is a unique, perhaps slightly over the top, Afro-Latin cuisine eatery; serviced by pan-African staff, who would every so often break out into song and dance from the continent. We found the whole thing a little uncomfortable and rather contrived, not to mention culturally insensitive. While the food was good – as appetising as ‘Grilled Warthog’ can be – we weren’t in a hurry to be repeat visitors.

But the resort’s food and beverage pièce de résistance was an offshore complex accessible only by speedboat, that offered two mindblowing experiences. The first, ‘Edge’, a Miami- style bar under a white, curved canopy, where we supped cocktails before adjourning to its fine-dining restaurant beneath the stars. On our visit, a German chef-in-residence created impeccable molecular- fusion cooking with touches of the Indian Ocean, each presented as a masterpiece on a plate. Guests can time their visits with these culinary events, held throughout the year.

The other experience was one we will never forget: ‘Subsix’ – where all our Little Mermaid, Under the Sea fantasies came to life in an underwater, sub-marine inspired bar and restaurant, with anemone chairs and capiz shells draped from the ceiling. All around us fish swam, as we dined – not only is it a place where we could find Nemo, we could also eat him. One night, they transformed this venue into a fun glow party where we danced up a storm, among the theatre of the reef.

Out and about

Perhaps it’s to do with our short attention spans, but oftentimes, we can get a little bored after a few days on a resort. But Niyama offered a wide range of activities to ensure that we never did. The resort itself is set on two islands, aptly named ‘Chill’ and ‘Play’ – they speak for themselves. So when you’re done with one, it’s only a ride across an Instagram-inducing wooden bridge to the other. It is here we learned to surf, under the expert guidance of Portuguese instructor Ricardo – who is everything you imagine a surf instructor to be – part of the resort’s watersports activity team, ‘Float’. The calm waters of the waveless lagoon was a great place to learn the basics. We also indulged in a jet-skiing trip to a nearby sandbank where we spent time enjoying being marooned; and a dolphin spotting adventure that resulted in us seeing a huge school of spinners, in part thanks to Niyama’s dolphin locator Alfred (who is actually a dolphin himself) – it’s a long story, quite possibly aimed at children, but we played along.

There are also other marine activities like fishing trips (big game, if you’re inclined – apparently popular among the resort’s Russian clientele) that can be arranged, as well as far more placid (and more us) champagne sunset cruises. Snorkelling and diving are also staple activities and the resort has a house reef, quite far from the shore and albeit a little disappointing. Going further out on the boat, we happened upon a shark and one turtle though, the proof being in the Go-Pro footage of us snorkelling. While we did spot some impressive marine life, it was not in the National Geographic numbers one might expect. It’s a problem all over the world – over-tourism and overfishing are scourges on this fragile ecosystem. The resort’s in-house Marine Biologist will tell you this and encourage you to ‘adopt a coral’, an activity where resort guests can take part in coral regeneration. Back on the island, we were never short of land-lubber things to do, be it relaxing at one of the numerous bars like ‘Dune’ or ‘Fahrenheit’; or grabbing an ice-cream from the deli and channelling our inner child at the activity centre. We even booked a private outdoor viewing of a movie on a big screen, under the evening sky, with comfortable beanbag sofas, champagne and endless popcorn. The Drift Spa was also conveniently located right across the sandy lane from our villa, so we were frequent spa-bunnies, sampling their signature stress-busting therapies, preparing us for life back in London after the holiday.

But one of our favourite activities was something not at all on the resort’s menu. And that was watching the beautiful sunset, on a swing, listening to chill-out music, with a rum-punch in hand at the ‘Surf Shack’, mingling with other guests. If you’re thinking that all this sounds just like any other Maldivian adventure, do take it from us that there’s something particularly special about Niyama. Yes, it fulfilled every luxury whim we had and it has an inherently playful side, which we loved – but we would go even further to say that the magic of Niyama is to do with its staff. Throughout our time, everyone went out of their way to make us feel special. Perhaps we’re not fussy guests, or they’re very good at what they do, but we felt the team at Niyama approached their customers as if they were friends and family, visiting their home. With resorts like these, there’s an expectation that with the upscale credentials comes stuffiness. But at Niyama, we didn’t feel this at all. In fact, it lacked all the austerity of other luxury, paradise resorts around the world. Instead, it was unpretentious, relaxed but definitely expectation exceeding. Calling it barefoot luxury would be absolutely wrong, but it’s really a place where you can kick off your shoes and do as you wish, with whom you wish – on your own perfect, little Fantasy Island.

Photography courtesy of Niyama Private Islands