How could I possibly be nervous about a holiday in paradise? I was off to Vakkaru in the Maldives where coconut palms sway, the sand feels like ivory satin and the sea takes on so many brilliant hues of blues and greens that sapphire, aqua or emerald cannot adequately describe it.
But as a solo traveller, I did wonder how I would pass the time when I got there.
It was fixed in my mind as a destination for honeymooners and families. So what could it possibly offer a single woman who has never been overly keen on adding to her crows’ feet by lying prone on a beach?
Paradise: Petronella Wyatt checked into Vakkaru alone, but left the Indian Ocean resort (above) ‘feeling like a goddess triumphant’
And arriving at Velana International Airport I certainly wasn’t reassured by the lovey-doveyness of the couples in the waiting room or the Gucci-clad parents with small children.
Yet as we took off again, heading to Vakkaru in a tiny seaplane, my spirits lifted with the arc of our flight path over numerous atolls, reefs and thatched villas in languid lagoons. There are thousands of islands in the Maldives, most are owned by the government and only 350 are inhabited.
When we landed at Vakkaru (which means island of coconuts), I was met as Marlon Brando was met by islanders in Mutiny On The Bounty – with flowers and scented teas – before being collected by my butler, Sato, who drove me to the villa.
When the buggy jerked to a halt, I can say with surety that this was luxe au naturel distilled into the stuff of which dreams are made.
Looking around I saw a vista of unparalleled peace. Walkways had been constructed over the sea and all points led to deserted beaches, jungle pathways and lagoons of glass-like transparency.
‘It struck me that I could be marooned here quite happily for months,’ says Petronella. Pictured is a villa with a tub overlooking the ocean
On entering my villa the first impression was the proximity of the sea. My four-poster bed had a straight view of the Indian Ocean, as did the sitting room which opened up to a terrace with an infinity pool. Floors were partly glassed over, with multicoloured fish swimming beneath.
As my stress levels dropped away it struck me that I could be marooned here quite happily for months. However, Vakkaru had different ideas about idleness.
My itinerary included snorkeling with turtles, treatments at the overwater spa, cooking with the executive chef, tennis with Vakkaru’s professional coach, wine tasting, lessons in how to make coconut oil and cinema under the stars. This was on top of a full moon dinner at the Italian restaurant (one of four) and a cocktail party at Lagoon Bar.
Indeed, I was to discover that being alone in the Maldives was the opposite of being lonely – the beauty itself envelopes you in a hug.
They even control time here – guests are asked to set their watches to one hour after the actual time, so that when you wake up you can still catch sunrise and enjoy cocktails as the sun sets.
After lazing in a blissful daze then plunging into the sea, I dressed for cocktails. The Lagoon Bar is elegant but simple, with a pier, sofas, tables with twinkling lights and a floor of sand. I wiggled my feet in its warmth and ordered the Maldivian version of an Aperol spritz – a refreshing concoction with a hint of coconut – and waited for sunset.
Petronella recommends ordering the Maldivian version of an Aperol spritz – ‘a refreshing concoction with a hint of coconut’. Pictured above is Vakkaru’s Cabana bar
It seemed as if I was on the edge of the world and had only to reach out and grasp the fushia orb that soon became candy pink, then burnished copper, then sank into the ocean with a fiery reluctance, leaving a panorama of colour in the sky that trembled on the cusp of night. This alone was an experience to inspire awe, and it was with a sense of wonder that I joined Sato as he drove me across jungle paths lit with flares to the Asian restaurant.
Everything here was technicolour for the taste buds with a backdrop of stars and swaying palms that even Hollywood couldn’t replicate.
I woke up the next morning to a floating breakfast. The cooks had prepared a feast and placed it in a heart-shaped basket floating in my pool – the warm, crisp croissants and spiced omelette occasionally got away from me as I fell back into the water with childish giggles.
‘Vakkaru gives you heightened experiences. Everything is more intense, more vivid, more alive,’ says Petronella. Pictured is the resort’s main pool
At the cooking lesson, in the oasis of an organic garden, I lost my heart to Driss, the executive chef.
I am prone to lose my heart to chefs, and Driss was a king among them. He had prepared hot breads, wraps and spiced salads of prawn and lobster, and together we cooked fish wrapped in palm leaves.
Vakkaru gives you heightened experiences. Everything is more intense, more vivid, more alive. Snorkelling with turtles, I touched the wonders of a live reef, and though it’s forbidden to touch turtles, their almost golden shells and silver heads have a visceral pull on the emotions.
Afterwards I washed my hair in the outdoor shower, stuck a flower in my messy updo and cycled to the cocktail party. Staff were making coconut oil from raw coconuts while others organised a hilarious hermit crab race for guests. Mine was a non-starter, but it was such fun I found myself with new friends and chatted away for the rest of the night.
I began to reflect that I was better off as a solo traveller, being able to do precisely what I pleased. If I wanted to be Garboesque, I could; if I wanted company, it was easy to find. I even had my own cinema screening of Hitchcock’s Rebecca on the beach, while waiters brought me popcorn and drinks. In the end, I didn’t want to leave Vakkaru. As I was handed into the seaplane I promised to go back, and if I have to beg, borrow or steal, I will.
How many times had I heard that it was ‘sad’ if a woman ate alone in a restaurant, or if she holidayed solo? Nonsense. And how patronising. The Maldives made me feel like a goddess triumphant. And that feeling has stayed with me.
Petronella Wyatt was a guest of Vakkaru. Seven nights in an Overwater Villa at Vakkaru Maldives with Turquoise Holidays costs from £4,099pp. Includes half-board, flights and seaplane transfers (turquoiseholidays.co.uk).