An email from the Maldives authorities advising that my Covid documents are in order says: ‘Hope to see you soon on the sunny side of life.’
It is a pleasing human touch during what can be a stressful process. And there are few better places to take a walk on the sunny side than this tiny nation of scattered islands in the Indian Ocean.
And if there is urgency in the air, it is because the clock is ticking. Even if all the promises made at Cop26 are kept, the low-lying Maldives would still be at the mercy of rising sea levels.
Vibrant: The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives, pictured above, only opened in October, Max Davidson reveals
It is certainly a delightful part of the world, offering myriad subtle pleasures. There are 100-plus island resorts in the Maldives and, despite the horrors of Covid, new hotels continue to open.
After landing in the capital, Male, I take a seaplane to my final destination. A short hop over thrillingly blue waters dotted with atolls and I am on the beach with the sand in my toes and a glass of prosecco in my hand. The party can start.
The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives only opened in October. Finishing touches are still being applied. ‘There is no full-length mirror in my bathroom,’ I hear a guest yelp, as if she has found a snake in the shower. It is on its way, she is told.
Cora Cora is a class act, with no expense spared and friendly staff setting the tone. They are helpful without being obsequious: there is no bowing and scraping.
The setting is the Maldives in perfect miniature — a carless island you can walk around in 15 minutes. Soft white sand. Palm trees blown off-centre by the winds. A seascape of a thousand blues and whites. Honeymoon-worthy accommodation.
After landing in the capital, Male, Max takes a seaplane to Cora Cora (file photo)
Half the rooms, including mine, are built above the water on a long, curving jetty. The other half are built along the shore, fringed with frangipani.
There is a resident artist at Cora Cora who gives painting lessons, but you would have to be a painter of genius to capture the fugitive beauty of this landscape: the sea rolling and heaving under an ever-changing sky; the dainty vegetation; the beneficent sun.
Exploring the island barefoot — even flip-flops feel redundant here — yields pleasures both expected and unexpected.
The resort has ‘honeymoon-worthy accommodation’, writes Max. Pictured is a spacious Beach Villa bedroom
An open-air bathtub in one of the resort’s Beach Villas. Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa on an all-inclusive basis
The view of the water – ‘a seascape of a thousand blues and whites’ – from the porch of one of the guest villas
I was prepared for the infinity pool, the high-end spa, the bustling water sports centre, the pretty thatched restaurants, but not the historical museum next to the reception.
It has the most expansive collection outside the capital, and its artefacts, from Chinese porcelain to relics of the Dutch East India Company, are a reminder that, long before welcoming tourists, the Maldives sat on a busy East-West trade route.
Equally fascinating is the little archaeological site next to the museum. You can still see communal baths dating back centuries; traditional houses with carved wooden shutters; even the floor of an old mosque, through which a ginger cat saunters without a care in the world.
A bird’s-eye view of the resort. ‘Exploring the island barefoot — even flip-flops feel redundant here — yields pleasures both expected and unexpected,’ says Max
According to Max, you’ll find ‘soft white sand’ and ‘palm trees blown off-centre by the winds’ on a stroll around the island
Pictured is the resort’s historical museum, which houses everything from ‘Chinese porcelain to relics of the Dutch East India Company’
Another essential site for travellers with an interest in history is Ghost Island, a neighbouring isle accessible by boat.
It is barely half a mile across, but used to be home to more than 3,000 people before it was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Only two islanders lost their lives, but the damage to buildings was so extensive that the entire population had to be relocated, leaving behind a crumbling urban landscape redolent of Pompeii.
A rabbit hops through the ruins of the old hospital. A mouldy teddy bear lurks beneath a palm leaf. In the school, the light falls on fading mottos on classroom walls. ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ ‘It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’ Poignant stuff. Heart-warming, too. There is much to ponder as I return to base for the inevitable perfectly-mixed cocktail at an equally perfect sunset.
The high-end spa at Cora Cora. Max reveals: ‘In the spa, I spot a woman deep in a book entitled How Not To Get Old, which somehow feels like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time’
Pictured above is the poolside Acqupazza eatery, which Max describes as an ‘excellent Italian restaurant’
Diving off the coast of Male. A ‘sophisticated interactive app’ enables guests to book snorkelling trips at Cora Cora
For me, being the gregarious type, it is often the people as much as the scenery or the food which make a holiday memorable, and my fellow guests at Cora Cora are a gloriously eclectic mix.
I meet a synchronised swimmer turned movie actress, a diving-mad Mexican, a Russian family who ask me to sing Beatles songs, and pun-loving Julius from Germany, who orders Caesar salad for lunch. ‘I have to, with my name. I actually hate salads, but I love carrots.’
The salad is superb, like everything that emerges from the kitchen.
There is an excellent Italian restaurant and an even better Japanese one.
At breakfast, I am faced with everything from fresh fruit to blueberry muffins to Maldivian fish curry, which is so good I want to take some home in my suitcase.
Pictured is My Coffee – a bar and snack shop at the resort. Max is impressed by the ‘pretty thatched restaurants’ at Cora Cora
Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa at Cora Cora Maldives, on an all-inclusive basis.
Features return economy flights from London Heathrow to Male on Qatar Airways, and return seaplane transfers. Cost from £3,000pp based on two adults sharing (simplymaldives holidays.co.uk, 020 7481 0804).
The resort is not just car-free, but largely paper-free. A sophisticated interactive app enables me to book everything from spa treatments to snorkelling trips.
I spend one memorable afternoon kayaking along the shore, another making a scented candle to take home.
Nobody shouts. Nobody rushes. Nobody looks stressed or care-worn. In the spa, I spot a woman deep in a book entitled How Not To Get Old, which somehow feels like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time. One morning, the wind gets up, to the delight of a small boy, who runs along the beach, is knocked off his feet, gets up again and is blown over again, before collapsing in giggles.
‘That boy could be a president or prime minister one day,’ reflects a local man, smiling at his antics.
‘We want to send him away with such happy memories of the Maldives that we won’t be forgotten at future Cop meetings.’
Amen to that. Barely half a million people live in the Maldives. The ruling regime is not to everyone’s taste, but the country remains on a pedestal all of its own when it comes to aspiring holidays.
As I board the seaplane for my return journey, I cast a long, wistful look over my shoulder, my reverie only broken by the splash of a woman falling off her paddleboard.